In something that has never before happened in the franchise’s 41 years, Seattle ended the season with its leading rusher no longer on the roster.
When the Seahawks and the Lions take the field Saturday for a wild-card playoff game, they each will do so without the player who was their leading rusher this season — an oddity that is symbolic for two teams putting to the test the theory that you need to run well to win in the NFL.
In something that has never before happened in the franchise’s 41 years, Seattle ended the season with its leading rusher no longer on the roster — Christine Michael, who is in Green Bay. Michael was released in November after rushing for 469 yards in nine games — 120 more than the Seahawks’ next leading rusher, Thomas Rawls.
Meanwhile, Detroit’s leading rusher, Theo Riddick, is on injured reserve with a wrist injury suffered Dec. 4. Riddick had just 357 yards rushing (Zach Zenner, who has since taken over lead tailback duties and finished with 334 yards.)
If you don’t count Michael’s stats as a Seahawk, then every team in the NFL finished the year with a leading rusher with more yards than either Detroit or Seattle.
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That Detroit struggled to run the ball this season — finishing 30th in the NFL — was no surprise. The Lions have an offense built around the passing arm of Matthew Stafford and they were last in rushing in 2015.
For the Seahawks, though, this season marked a somewhat stunning change in offensive personality.
Playing without longtime star running back Marshawn Lynch, who retired after last season, and an offensive line featuring three first-year starters, the Seahawks rushed for just 1,591 yards, 25th in the NFL. They had ranked fourth or better each of the last four years. That total was also the sixth-lowest in team history in a 16-game season.
Maybe it could be said the Seahawks are finally falling in line with the rest of the NFL.
The league continues to evolve, with the passing game becoming more dominant. According to Pro Football Reference, teams attempted an average of 35.7 passes per game this season, tied for the most in NFL history, while attempting 26 rushes, the fewest in NFL history.
Seattle was almost right on target with those averages, attempting 35.4 passes per game and finishing with a team-record 4,422 passing yards, while attempting 25.1 runs a game.
Still, even if the value of running is increasingly debated (the 2-14 49ers finished fourth in the NFL in rushing yards), Seattle coach Pete Carroll is not entirely comfortable with the team’s rushing attack entering the playoffs.
“We are not pleased with it now,’’ Carroll said Monday on his weekly radio show on ESPN 710 Seattle. “It is not anywhere near where we want it to be. But we are still working at it.’’
The Seahawks held out hope that the running game was turning a corner when they rushed for 127 or more yards in four straight games, against the Eagles (152), Tampa Bay (127), Carolina (240) and Green Bay (136).
But the running game, well, ground to a halt in the final three games with just 237 yards on 82 carries against the Rams, Cardinals and 49ers, an average of 2.8 per attempt. Seemingly most distressing was being held to 87 yards on 25 carries by a San Francisco team that was last in the NFL this year in run defense, allowing 165.9 per game, a franchise worst.
Rawls, who had shown signs of being back to his rookie-year form with a combined 173 yards on 27 carries against the Panthers and Packers was held to 56 yards on 35 carries in the final three games, and just 14 on eight against the 49ers.
Seattle’s best rusher the final two game was little-used rookie Alex Collins, who had 55 yards on seven carries against the 49ers and 83 yards on 14 carries the last two weeks after rushing for just 42 yards on 17 before that.
“I thought he looked really good,’’ Carroll said after the game Sunday. “Alex did a fine job. He’s made some really good statements here the last few weeks, and really gives us a really comfortable thought that he can get in there and do some good stuff.’’
While Rawls remains the Seahawks’ lead running back, that they could be depending to any degree on Collins — who six times this season was either inactive or didn’t play — speaks to a vastly different state of offensive affairs.
Carroll, though, says what Seattle won’t do is stop trying.
“We are going to keep running it,’’ Carroll said on his radio show Monday. “We have to keep running it to make sure that we have the mix that we want.’’
And if there was a bright spot against the 49ers, Carroll said, it’s that Seattle had almost half of its rushing yards — 42 — in putting the game away in the final quarter.
“It doesn’t always matter how you run the ball early in the game,’’ Carroll said. “It’s how you finish running the ball so you can finish the game just like we needed to do.’’