How the Seattle Seahawks Have Become the NFL's Most Potent Offense

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How the Seattle Seahawks Have Become the NFL's Most Potent Offense
Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Totals of 284, 270 and 176. That is the amount of rushing yards the Seattle Seahawks have had in their last three games, respectively. In a league that's predicated and hyped up on passing the ball efficiently (and rightly so), the Seahawks have largely done it the old-school way and sprinkled in some new-school concepts along the way.

Football fanatics have almost forgotten the running game because of the recent concentration on the quarterback position. It is still important that a team has a strong running game that can wear down the clock and bury the opposition when it's needed most (e.g. late in games, short yardage, etc.). Moreover, running the ball opens up the playbook as the offense can attack the defense in multiple ways, such as with the use of the "play-pass," as Bill Walsh famously called it.

Seattle has used the play-action pass better than anybody in the NFL as of late, and a big reason why, aside from efficient rookie Russell Wilson, is its battering ram, Marshawn Lynch.

Lynch is one of the league's best running backs because of his physical style, vision and quick feet. He does a very good job of finding running lanes and has shown in the past that he can be counted upon to perform. When he's running well, the play fake is very convincing.

One way Seahawks coaches have gotten the ball rolling downhill with Lynch and Wilson is through the installment of the Pistol formation.

The Pistol has gained popularity this season, with many teams using it, including the division rival San Francisco 49ers. It could be argued that the Seahawks may have had the most success with it thus far, however, as it truly suits their running style.

The offense likes to get Lynch running downhill with power-run concepts, and that's what the Pistol does very well. The quarterback is aligned five yards off the line of scrimmage with the running back directly behind him, at seven yards. It looks odd at first, but it causes problems for defenders and their assigned keys, as seen against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night.

Every defender is given a set of keys to go through before the snap. For instance, if a running back is lined up offset, he may be tipping off that he is going to be running a pass route or a stretch run to the opposite side.

But the Pistol formation doesn't do this. With the running back directly behind the quarterback, there are no tendencies to take from the alignment.

On the opening drive against the 49ers, Lynch took the handoff from Russell Wilson and executed an inside zone stretch when his blockers administered combination blocks across the line of scrimmage.

Lynch patiently read the defense, seeking a running lane before hitting it in the C-gap for a 24-yard touchdown.

What the Seahawks have also done is incorporate the zone read-option from the Pistol and traditional gun formations. Against the 49ers, they had quite a bit of success with it against the weak-side defender. In the play below, they read unblocked outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks from the shotgun set with Lynch aligned to the right of Wilson.

As the case is with most linebackers or defenders being read, Brooks was in a bind, debating whether he should go after Lynch or Wilson. The football was placed at Lynch's belly while Wilson read. If Brooks crashed inside, Wilson would keep it; if Brooks stayed, he'd hand it off to Lynch.

Instead of following Lynch, Brooks stayed with Wilson in case he ran the ball, and a significant alley opened up for Lynch to run for a gain of eight yards.

One other thing that the Seahawks have done well in their dominant three-game stretch is use play action. It is one of Wilson's strengths and is very effective overall because of the aforementioned dominance in the run game.

Sticking with the 49ers game, the Seahawks were able to hit the usually stingy 49ers defense over the top with a 43-yard pass to wide receiver Doug Baldwin. Baldwin, lined up to Wilson's far right, was going to be running a vertical route that ended just inside the near hash while Wilson administered a play fake to Lynch.

When Wilson administered the fake, he sunk his shoulders to sell it and quickly spun his head around. While the defenders were staring at Wilson, Baldwin worked behind them, one-on-one with cornerback Carlos Rogers.

Once Wilson got his feet set, he launched the deep ball over the heads of the underneath defenders and slightly behind Baldwin, who hauled in the pass for a big gain.

With the forward pass taking the league by storm, the Seahawks are doing what they do best by running with power behind Lynch and throwing the ball with Wilson.

They have been constantly pounding the football down the throats of defenses with several formations, including the recently implemented Pistol set and the popular zone read-option.

This dynamic running game has led to big gains on the ground, leading defenders to add extra defenders in the box and subsequently get beaten over the top by Wilson's play-action passing. The offense has seen a significant improvement in its movement of the ball.

According to offensive line coach Tom Cable, a big reason why—besides the running game—is maturation (via Dave Boling of The News Tribune):

More than anything, it’s maturity, and with maturity comes confidence. When they grow into it, they start to take ownership. The other part of that is they understand if we do it right together all the time, they see what happens.

Now that the Seahawks have matured and are scoring at a record pace, they will have a chance to make a big-time run in the postseason. It may have seemed unrealistic weeks ago, but this is the formula of which Super Bowl champions are made. And the Seahawks are surely a contender to become one.

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