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Performance equals praise
A lot of people have been saying a lot of nice things about Marshawn Lynch.
Talk like this can sometimes be pooh-poohed as cheap, considering that it has come from opponents who are about the face the Seahawks’ Beast Mode running back. But Lynch has been matching their praise with his performances that have been right on the money.
Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt before the teams’ season opener in Arizona: “I know Marshawn Lynch is a good football player. … We know from playing them the last game in the season last year that they have a strong running game. That’s going to be a challenge for us and it doesn’t look like things have changed going into the first game of this year.”
Lynch’s retort: 85 yards on 21 carries for a 4.0-yard average, after running for 86 yards on 19 carries in last season’s finale.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett prior to Dallas’ Week 2 game against the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field: “There just aren’t a lot of backs in the league that run as hard as Marshawn Lynch does.”
Lynch’s retort: 122 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown run, on 26 carries for a 4.7-yard average.
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers before the Packers played the Seahawks on “Monday Night Football” at CenturyLink Field: “We were kind of hoping here when Marshawn was on the open market (in 2010) that we were going to get him, because he’s a big-time back. And when you add a piece like that, you can build around him.”
Lynch’s retort: 98 yards on 25 carries for a 3.9-yard average.
Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis before Sunday’s game against the Seahawks in St. Louis: “You can play Lynch and stuff him for 10 straight plays, and he’s running just as hard on play 11. He trusts his ability that much. He’s that kind of player.”
Lynch’s retort: 118 yards, including an 18-yard run for the game’s only offensive touchdown, on 20 carries for a 5.9-yard average; as well as a season-high four receptions for 37 yards.
Put all of Lynch’s praise-worthy performances together and you get the NFL’s leading rusher as the Seahawks prepare for Sunday’s game against the Panthers in Carolina. Lynch leads the league with 423 rushing yards on 92 carries, second-most in the NFL behind the Houston Texans’ Arian Foster (103); and the NFC in total yards from scrimmage (473), third in the league behind the Kansas City Chiefs’ Jamal Charles (512) and the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice (491).
But then, as Whisenhunt pointed out, this is nothing new for Lynch. Since Week 9 last season, no back in the league has run for more yards than Lynch (1,364). With his four-game total this season, Lynch is on pace to rush for 1,692 yards – 488 more than his career-best total from last season.
With Lynch, it’s not so much how many yards he runs for, but the way he runs to compile those yards. He is driven to an almost demented level. Calling him a power back doesn’t quite do him justice. Many of his better efforts come on plays where he should have lost 2 or 3 yards but somehow finds a way to push, twist and forge ahead for a yard or two.
What’s the source of not only this willpower, but the power Lynch has to impose his will on others?
“I don’t know,” Lynch said Wednesday. “I guess it’s just a part of me.”
Not to mention a huge part of the Seahawks’ running game ranking sixth in the league in rushing offense.
Coach Pete Carroll appreciates every slipped and broken tackle Lynch delivers; each play where he somehow turns what appears to be nothing into something; and especially those occasions when he takes something and makes it something special.
“He’s a ferocious competitor and he’s got extraordinary explosion – he explodes off of tackles,” Carroll said with an extra dose of his usual enthusiasm. “And he’s so strong. You notice how he runs with his feet part. He’s got such an amazing base that he doesn’t get knocked down easily. He just doesn’t go down easily.
“That means he’s alive, and you really have to finish off the tackles to get him down. He’s remarkably tough to get down.”
All of this from a guy who isn’t the biggest or fastest back around. In fact, five of the other backs ranked among the Top 10 in rushing are faster than Lynch – the Chiefs’ Charles, Dolphins’ Reggie Bush, Jaguars’ Maurice Jones-Drew, Bills’ C.J. Spiller and Vikings’ Adrian Peterson. Two others are bigger than the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Lynch – the Texans’ Foster and Patriots’ Stevan Ridley.
But none have more yards than Lynch. What sets him apart?
Ron Rivera, coach the Panthers and a former NFL linebacker, pointed to two elements on Wednesday, when he labeled Lynch “one of the premier backs in this league.”
First on Rivera’s list was Lynch’s combination of acceleration and vision. “He hits the creases and goes,” Rivera said. “I think his acceleration is tremendous and he’s got great vision.”
Darrell Bevell, the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator, sees Rivera’s vision assessment and raises him a pair of quick feet.
“He’s great with his feet and his eyes,” Bevell said. “I think his eyes move fast, and his feet move as fast as his eyes. So he’s able to react to what he sees as fast as he’s seeing it. Some guys may be able to see it, but they can’t react and get to it.”
Wait, there’s more. “And Marshawn also is unbelievable in making a guy miss in short spaces,” Bevell said.
No. 2 on Rivera’s list is an external component that is a not-so-secret key to Lynch’s success – his personal escort, Pro Bowl fullback Michael Robinson. “His fullback is a terrific blocker,” the Panthers’ coach said. “I like the toughness that Michael Robinson shows. I like his whole attitude, the way he plays the game.”
Rivera then added what might be considered an intangible, but is a very real reason for the Seahawks’ and Lynch’s success in running the ball.
“Their offensive scheme reflects who their offensive line coach is,” Rivera said, obviously referring to Tom Cable. “I think the whole of the way they play. They’re physical. They get after people.”
As a result, the rest of the backs in the league continue to chase Marshawn Lynch.