RENTON — It’s hard to remember now, but it wasn’t long ago that the Seattle Seahawks lacked an offensive identity. In the first half of 2011, the Seahawks experimented with an up-tempo passing attack at times and they’d feature the run in other games. About the only constant was losing.
But prior to a Week 9 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, the Seahawks, who were 2-5, and who had thrown for 350 yards and rushed for just 61 in a loss the week before, and who had rushed for more than 100 yards only twice in their first seven game, decided enough was enough.
In preparing their game plan that week, head coach Pete Carroll and offensive line coach/assistant head coach Tom Cable made the decision that, results be damned, the Seahawks were going to commit to the running game from that moment on. The Seahawks went to Dallas and lost by 10 points that week, but they also rushed for 162 yards, including 135 from Marshawn Lynch, The Seahawks then went 5-3 in the season’s second half, the beginning of the franchise’s turnaround, while rushing for more than 120 yards in all but one of those games.
And I bring that up today not because it is an interesting and important piece of the Seahawks’ recent history, which it is, or even because the Seahawks are facing the Cowboys again. Instead, it’s worth revisiting the Seahawks’ mid-season change because they’re about to face a team that has done something very similar, and as a result, is off to a 4-1 start.
When the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks, who lead the NFL in rushing yards per game (167.2) host the 4-1 Cowboys, one of the NFC’s biggest surprises and a team that ranks second to Seattle in rushing (160 YPG), consider it a reminder that, even in today’s world of record passing numbers, there’s still a case to be made for the running game.
“So many times you see in football that a team gets a quarterback and says, ‘hey, we should throw 50 times a game,’ but then you turn around and they don’t win,” Cable said before the start of the season. “You look at what’s going on around the league, some teams, they get to be pretty good, and they still have issues. If you look at it, the physicality is usually what’s missing. That’s our style.”
And now it has become Dallas’ style as well.
It wouldn’t be fair to say the Cowboys are trying to copy the Seahawks’ success following Seattle’s title — they’ve been building the line that has helped lead this turnaround through the draft over the past few years. However, the way the Seahawks rolled to a title with a balanced offense and a strong defense does reinforce the changes Dallas has made.
“It can be reinforced through history,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said on a conference call. “A lot of great teams through the years have tried to win in this league a lot of different ways, and probably a lot of it has a lot to do with the guys they’ve had on their team — you try to use them as best you can to get the most out of them. But I think there has been a history in this league of the physical football teams winning; physical on offense when it comes to the running game, and physically on defense comes from your ability to affect the quarterback, stop the run and tackle.
“I think the best teams through the years have had those things; it shows up on special teams as well. I think it’s a big part of a team’s success — Seattle’s a great example — but back through the years, and certainly in my experience and (in the) history in this league, it has been the case.”
In recent years, the perpetually 8-8 Cowboys have lived and died on the arm of quarterback Tony Romo, and considering the phrase Romocoaster has become an accepted part of the NFL lexicon, that obviously hasn’t led to consistent results for Dallas. But with all of those young linemen coming into their own, and with DeMarco Murray off to a historic start, rushing for 670 yards in five games, Dallas suddenly looks a bit like Seattle when it comes to offensive philosophy even if the schemes differ.
The Cowboys are averaging 32.6 rushing attempts per game, tied for most in the league, while Seattle ranks seventh at 30.8. And as you might expect, the result, in addition to more wins, has been fewer heartbreaking late-game interceptions thrown by Romo, who has just one interception in Dallas’ past four games, all of them victories. The Cowboys have shown such a commitment to the run that they continued to run the ball even after falling behind 21-0 this season to St. Louis, coming back to win eventually while rushing 29 times and attempting 23 passes.
Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?
“They’re real committed to it,” Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright said. “They were down against St. Louis, and they kept running the ball to get back in it. We know (Murray) is going to get 20-plus touches, and we’re excited for it.”
As Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn notes, “it’s a really frustrating feeling,” when an opposing offense can impose its will on a defense with a the running game. It’s what the Seahawks have been doing since the middle of the 2011 season, and it’s what Dallas has done this year on its way to a surprise 4-1 start, and will attempt to do again today against the league’s best run defense.
“They’re starting to find out who they are,” said safety Earl Thomas, who has been battling Murray since they were on opposite sides of the Red River Shootout. “They’re a run-first team.”
And if you’re the type to believe in omens, Thomas has good news for you. He twice played in the rivalry game against Murray, and twice Texas came out on top, including in 2008 when Oklahoma was the No. 1 ranked team in the country.
“Me and him battled,” Thomas said. “We was going at it, and I always won, so let’s keep it that way.”
Passing numbers will continue to rise in the NFL, and yes, teams can win that way, but even in this era where 400-yard passing games are almost routine, there’s still something to be said for a strong running game. The Seahawks discovered that, beginning with a loss in Dallas back in 2011, and now in 2014 the Cowboys are finding out the value of a potent rushing attack.
“Seattle’s a great example of that,” Garrett said. “Their ability to be able to run the football makes the rest of their team that much better.”
Herald Columnist John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org