The Seattle offense never really found its identity this year. Not the identity that Pete Carroll wants his team to possess, at least. As I’ve written about before, Carroll’s ideal offense brings the fight to the defense, wearing it down with a physical running game; then, when the opponent is tired of trying to tackle the grinders, Carroll’s QB can throw the ball over the D’s head.
“[It’s] the way we want to play,” Carroll told 710 ESPN Seattle in 2013. “We want to be physical, we want to be tough, we want to attack you, we want to get after you, we want to make sure you know you’ve played a very hard football game; when you play our team, we’re going to beat the hell out of you if we can. You don’t get that feeling when you’re a throwing team. You can’t get that.”
That’s why it was so weird to see Seattle function primarily as a pass-first team this regular season, with the offense calling pass plays 64.5 percent of the time, seventh most in the NFL. That was out of necessity, but not by initial design: Quarterback Russell Wilson fought through knee and ankle injuries all year, limiting his ability to contribute in the read-option run game, and the rest of Seattle’s normally punishing rushing arsenal all but disappeared amid injury and ineffectiveness. A year after finishing third in the NFL in rush yards, the team ranked 25th.
The regular season trained us to believe that the only way Seattle was going to put points on the board against the Lions was for Wilson to air it out early and often. And at times he did:
But he wasn’t the driving force for Seattle in Saturday’s 26–6 win over Detroit — that was running back Thomas Rawls. Despite huge preseason hype after a breakout 2015 campaign, the running back averaged just 3.2 yards per carry in 2016 and missed considerable time to injury. Against Detroit, though, Rawls looked fresh, coming out of nowhere to run like a man possessed behind Seattle’s often-hamstrung offensive line, which opened up some big holes for the running back for what felt like the first time all season.
Boasting a gait that can only be described as “berserker-esque,” Rawls carried the ball 27 times for 161 yards — a Seahawks franchise postseason record — and punched in a fourth-quarter touchdown. He finally provided that “beat the hell out of you” foundation Carroll wants but that Seattle’s offense has been badly missing for most of the season. For the first time in months, the Seahawks actually looked like the Seahawks.
They picked a good time to regain their form, because now they’ll have to take their run game on the road to Atlanta for the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. For much of the season, it would have been reasonable to wonder whether this Seattle attack could muster enough offense to hang with Atlanta — a team the Seahawks beat earlier this season but also a team against whom Carroll’s crew managed just 2.7 rush yards per attempt. With the ground game back, though, this finally looks like a team that can trade scores with MVP front-runner Matt Ryan. At worst, a revived run game will help Seattle move the chains, extend drives, and control the clock, keeping the ball out of Ryan’s hands for as long as possible. At best, it’ll unlock the potential key to another championship run.