RENTON, Wash. — Since the arrival of Marshawn Lynch, the Seattle Seahawks’ offensive DNA has been defined by running the football first.
This season that run game of the Seahawks was among the best of any team in the past 30 seasons, a combination of Lynch’s bullying style with the improvisation and agility of quarterback Russell Wilson.
But Seattle is not alone. The other seven teams left in the playoffs did quite nicely on the ground themselves — including Carolina, the Seahawks’ playoff opponent on Saturday — proving it’s still not entirely about the pass game.
“There’s a constant emphasis for us. The way we want to play,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.
While Seattle led the league in rushing and gets the bulk of attention for its philosophy of being so committed to the run game, they aren’t alone in leaning so heavily on the run. Six of the eight teams in the divisional round of the playoffs finished in the top half of the league.
Dallas was second in the league, but 25 yards per game behind Seattle. Carolina finished seventh, Baltimore eighth and Green Bay 11th. Even the Broncos, who averaged 111.6 yards per game, finished 15th in the league.
Only New England and Indianapolis finished in the bottom half of the league, but each still averaged more than 100 yards per game rushing.
Seattle concluded the regular season averaging 172.6 yards per game on the ground. While that doesn’t seem as if it’s an excessive mark, it’s among rare company over the past three decades.
Seattle had the third-highest per game average of any team over the past 30 seasons. Only the 2006 Falcons (183.7) and 2001 Bears (173.4) rushed for more yards than what the Seahawks did this season.
Seattle was ahead of that 2001 Chicago team for much of the season before slipping late. Not surprisingly, there is one significant connection between the 2006 Falcons and 2014 Seahawks: offensive line coach Tom Cable.
When the Falcons were running through the NFC South in 2006, Cable was serving as their offensive line coach. And for the past four seasons, Cable’s been in charge of Seattle’s offensive line and coordinating the run game.
“I just think it’s the guys,” Cable said. “The runner and the guys we’ve put in there, the tight ends. The receivers I think have had their best year to be quite honest about blocking on the perimeter and I think the addition of Will (Tukuafu) at fullback has really impacted us.”
The similarities of that Falcons team and the Seahawks go beyond Cable. The Falcons had a mobile quarterback with the threat to run in Michael Vick, while Seattle has Wilson.
Vick rushed for 1,039 yards that season, while Wilson had 849 yards rushing this season. Warrick Dunn was the workhorse running back for Atlanta, gaining for 1,140 yards in 2006, while Lynch has carried the load for Seattle with 1,306 yards this season.
“And a bunch of receivers and tight ends committed to running the ball. It’s all of that,” Cable said.
Carolina has thrived on the ground during its late-season run to reach the postseason. The Panthers are averaging 196.6 yards rushing per game during their five-game winning streak.
Jonathan Stewart has carried the load, averaging 104.8 yards per game with two touchdowns during that span. A healthier Cam Newton has also had an elevated role in the running game, averaging 56.2 yards per game with three TDs in the past five games.
One of the main reasons for the improved play is the Panthers have found consistency on the offensive line, starting the same five players for the past six games.
“I think now, you have a group of guys that’s played more games together as a unit consistently,” Stewart said. “It builds chemistry and a better awareness of what the guy next to you is going to do. It created a rhythm for our offensive line.”
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