Marshawn Lynch is a legend, a likely Hall of Fame player for his 2011-2014 run with Seattle, and it’s natural that 49ers fans might feel a little nervous about him having a breakout game Sunday.
But he’s 33 now, unofficially retired for the second time, and coming in the cold. How well did his play in his last two seasons, with Oakland?
The easy answer is “not well enough to be on a roster.” But it’s a bit more complicated than that. Even after a year off in 2016, Beast Mode ran well for the Raiders. He wasn’t the bell cow he once had been, but for 13-15 carries a game, he gained a very credible 4.3 yards per carry, as good as his 2011 and 2013 seasons.
His touchdowns were down to 0.48 per game, from 0.76 in his best four years, but he remained a threat in the passing game with 35 receptions on 51 targets for 235 yards over his two Oakland seasons (21 games). And he fumbled just once on 297 carries.
2018 was a bit more complicated. He played six games before an inguinal groin injury ended his season, and five of them were pedestrian — averaging 3.4 to 3.7 yards per carry.
His one excellent game came in Week 3 against Cleveland, where he racked up 130 yards (6.5 average), including a 52-yard scamper. The Niners defense has shown some vulnerability against the run this year, but they are nowhere as dysfunctional as the Browns. In 2018, Cleveland 28th in the league, giving up 135.2 rushing yards per game.
Another sign that Lynch is unlikely to dominate: Seattle signed him only for this season, as little as two games and no more than five. And what they’re paying seems shockingly low to me:
For his return to Seattle, #Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch will make $60,588 in Week 17, plus whatever the playoff share ends up being… plus his share of online sales of “Unfinished business” and “Back in Action” apparel on his website.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 26, 2019
That said, Lynch remains dangerous because he is very talented and played the past two years solidly. If his “secret workouts” have been vigorous enough, the combination of rest and big game motivation means that he is definitely capable of a big game Sunday. And that’s the only game that matters to San Francisco.
He came back in 2017 after an entire season off and played solidly. Doing anything like that for Sunday’s game and the playoffs would be a huge win for Seattle.
The NFL season is a grind, especially for running backs, and fresh legs can give a solid player a big advantage late in the year. C.J. Anderson — who also worked out for the Seahawks this week — demonstrated as much last year, and he was the key to the Rams getting to the Super Bowl after Todd Gurley’s knees crumbled into gravel.
Time remains undefeated, though. After his miracle run last winter, Anderson lasted only two games with Detroit this year (2.7 YPC) before they cut him. After Seattle passed on him this week, Anderson disgustedly announced that he was “done with ball.”
The kicker is, he’s just 28 — five years younger than Lynch.
The Bottom Line
Whatever kind of shape Beast Mode is in, there is no way to spin these injuries as a good development for Seattle.
Losing your top three running backs (Chris Carson, C.J. Prosise, and Rashaad Penny) for the season in December is horrible for any team, and if Lynch or Turbin were some kind of improvement on those backs, they would already have been on the roster.
Earlier, I casually said that Lynch would be capable of a big game “if his ‘secret workouts’ have been vigorous enough.” That’s a very big if. As you’ve no doubt heard, he was pouring tequila shots at a Raiders game two weeks ago.
His health is also a concern. The inguinal groin strain that ended his stint with the Raiders in 2018 was the same injury that caused him to retire from Seattle in 2015 (an inguinal groin sports hernia, that time.)
More likely, Lynch’s biggest impact will be exciting the crowd and his teammates, many of whom are openly in awe of the legendary running back.
If the Niners play tough, though, Lynch should remain more of a historical legend than a breakout player Sunday night.