The Seahawks' offense showed some promise before a fourth-quarter collapse against the Bengals on Sunday.

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RENTON — The Seahawks have been a team with a clear offensive identity under coach Pete Carroll: Run the ball, limit turnovers, connect on a few big plays.

In fact, Carroll told fans a few years ago, “The circle of toughness on this football team would not be there if we were a throwing team.”

He went on to say something that still is relevant today: “This is one of the most important elements of leading an organization or a club or a business is that you know who you are. … I think it’s so crucial that we’re in touch with that.”


Carolina @ Seattle, 1:05 p.m., Ch. 13

But the Seahawks haven’t always looked like the same Seahawks on offense this season, and Carroll has said his team is searching for where it is. It certainly has appeared that way on the field.

That’s why Sunday’s 27-24 overtime loss to the Bengals, before the fourth-quarter collapse, offered some promise. The Seahawks ran the ball effectively with rookie running back Thomas Rawls. The offensive line played its best game. The Seahawks limited turnovers, although their one turnover was a costly one in the red zone, and hit on a few explosive plays.

The Seahawks rushed for 200 yards for the first time this season, and quarterback Russell Wilson carried the ball a season-low three times. (Sometimes when the Seahawks pile up rushing yards, it’s more a product of Wilson’s scrambling.)

“It looks like we’re starting to find our run game and really understanding what our identity is again,” left tackle Russell Okung said.

That’s an important step to take if the Seahawks are to turn this season around, even if the blown lead soured any signs of progress.

Rawls showed some of the same traits that have made starter Marshawn Lynch Seattle’s pulse. Rawls was patient. He found the cutback lanes. He picked up extra yards after contact.

Each running play for the Seahawks is like a little concert between the running back and the offensive line. Former NFL fullback Heath Evans once said the running back acts as the conductor, only he’s behind the band. By his pacing, by the number of steps he takes, he influences where defenders end up in relation to where offensive linemen are targeting to block.

It’s not easy, and it’s why teammates and coaches praise Lynch for his intelligence. His demoralizing runs are one thing, but he gets to that point by being a maestro.

It would be unfair to expect Rawls to be so advanced so early, but he’s shown tendencies. Listen to how he talks about his 69-yard touchdown run in which the offensive line blocked right but Rawls read the hole on the back side and cut back left:

“I trust my instincts,” he said. “I trust the big boys. And I saw the flow.”

Those are crucial elements for a Seahawks running back, and the ability to tie them together on one play — the instincts, the trust and the vision — produced a touchdown.

But even on the smaller plays, Rawls showed promise. On second-and-one early in the fourth quarter, Rawls lined up behind fullback Derrick Coleman. Two Bengals defenders came free off the edge, clogging Rawls’ path. Coleman picked up one of the defenders. Rawls was agile enough and decisive enough to slip by Coleman’s block and avoid the second defender just enough to get a first down.

It was only 1 yard, but it’s the type of savvy run that adds up.

Lynch could return this week, and if he does, Carroll said Rawls ideally would get eight to 10 carries a game.

The offense still faces significant questions: How will it get tight end Jimmy Graham involved? What went wrong in the fourth quarter and overtime when the offense stalled?

But at least in some ways the offense returned to the identity that has been the Seahawks’ successful calling card the past few years.