RENTON — As a percentage of offensive plays, no team in the NFL ran the ball more in 2018 than the Seahawks.
Seattle finished the year with a run-to-pass ratio of 52.44 to 47.56 percent, the only team in the NFL to run the ball more often than it passed it in a season in which the average team attempted seven more passes a game than it did runs.
Along the way, no team may also have engendered more controversy among its fans with the way it, well, ran its offense than the Seahawks, especially after a wild-card playoff loss to Dallas that left many observers scratching their heads that Seattle stuck as long as it did with a running game that was largely rendered ineffective by a Cowboys defense that appeared to be selling out to stop it (Seattle had just 73 yards on 24 rushes, 28 yards coming on one play).
Seattle coach Pete Carroll later said that knowing how the game turned out, he’d have done things a little differently (though he also largely defended the game plan and noted that Seattle did adjust to mostly throwing the ball down the stretch).
But in case you think there has been any second-guessing of the team’s overall offensive philosophy this offseason in the wake of that game — and especially after re-signing quarterback Russell Wilson to a contract worth up to $140 million that makes him the highest-paid player in NFL history — offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer made clear Tuesday the Seahawks are sticking with what got them to Dallas in the first place last year.
In his first media availability of the offseason on Tuesday following the Seattle’s eighth organized team activity (OTA) practice, Schottenheimer said the plan remains the same: run the football, then use that threat to set up explosive passing plays.
“We make no apologies for how we play,’’ Schottenheimer said. “We want to run the football. We want to be physical. We want to take our shots.’’
Schottenheimer said running well “is always going to be the objective for us. I think we are the best play (action) pass team in the league, I really do. Russ’ ability to throw the ball deep down the field was evident last year.’’
Schottenheimer, recall, was hired as the team’s offensive coordinator a year ago following Darrell Bevell’s firing. Carroll made reviving the running game Schottenheimer’s most important task.
By any measure, Schottenheimer succeeded as Seattle went from 23rd in the NFL in rushing in 2017, averaging 101.8 yards per game and 4.0 yards per carry, to first in 2018, averaging 160 yards per game and 4.8 per carry. Chris Carson also became the team’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Marshawn Lynch in 2015.
And in Carroll’s eyes, the passing game rebounding was no coincidence. After averaging a career-low 7.2 yards per pass attempt in 2017, Wilson averaged 8.1 in 2018, the third-best of his career (and sixth in the NFL) along with tossing a career-high and team record 35 touchdowns.
Whether a good running game really helps the passing game, though, has become a heavily debated topic in the football world, with lots of analytic studies making a case that there is not much correlation between the two.
But based on Carroll and Schottenheimer’s comments, the Seahawks undoubtedly think there is a correlation.
In fact, the Seahawks often pointed proudly last season to the Carolina game in November, when the Panthers made a concerted effort to stop Seattle’s running game, holding it to just 75 yards — the third-lowest total of the season. The Seahawks responded by predominantly throwing in the second half to rally for a win on the final play of the game, finishing with a season-high 322 passing yards.
“We have no question in our minds that we can win however we have to win,’’ Schottenheimer said.
Meaning, yes, the Seahawks will never be headed off from passing if they feel it’s what they have to do to win.
The Seahawks also felt their turnaround after two games in 2018 came by committing even more fully to the run. Seattle started 0-2 in 2018 with road losses to Denver and Chicago in which the Seahawks combined for just 38 runs and 69 passes.
Falling behind early in each of the first two games played a role in those numbers.
But after a 24-17 loss to Chicago in which Wilson threw his third interception in two games, Carroll and Schottenheimer met and reiterated that they would lead with the run and see where it would take them.
From Week 3 on — when guard D.J. Fluker also entered the lineup — Seattle rushed at least 28 times in every game (and for at least 113 yards in each game except against the Panthers) in going 10-4 to earn a playoff spot as Wilson threw just four more interceptions, a big reason Seattle also led the NFL with a plus-15 turnover ratio.
That belief in the run undoubtedly cost Seattle in the playoff loss. The Seahawks appeared to be waiting for their running game to suddenly turn on, the way it had almost every other game last season. They also felt they had abandoned it too soon in the opening two losses. To top it off, Carroll later admitted he also underestimated the impact of injuries to Fluker and J.R. Sweezy that he felt made it harder to run against Dallas.
But as Schottenheimer said Tuesday, that game did nothing to alter Seattle’s belief in the run itself.
In fact, with Doug Baldwin retiring and a receiving corps that could depend heavily on two or three rookies, Seattle could open the 2019 season leaning more than ever on a veteran offensive line that is built for the run, as well as a stable of running backs led by Carson and 2018 first-round pick Rashaad Penny, who has drawn raves for his play and conditioning this spring.
“I think the big thing for us just philosophy-wise, making sure that we kind of know who we are,’’ Schotteneheimer said.
Whether anyone else likes it or not.