This Sunday night's game between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers is a matchup of two of the top rushing attacks in the NFL. It is also a matchup of two very similar rushing attacks. Both teams feature power running backs, and both teams also deploy mobile quarterbacks and zone-read elements.
With that it mind, perhaps it is time take a look at the rushing attacks from a statistical standpoint and see if there are any significant differences between them.
Examined here are each team's last 10 games, including the Week 1 of the 2013 season and the 2012 playoffs. This sample was chosen because it represents the span of games in which 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick has been the starter for San Francisco.
Seahawks fans may want to take a very close look at game six on each of these graphs. That is Seattle's 42-13 victory over the 49ers last season.
Contrary to how the Seattle offense is represented by much of the media, Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson's running has only been a small part of the Seattle offense. There was no game in which Wilson had more rushing yards than the RBs, and there was only one in which the yardage totals were similar.
One thing that stands out in this data for the Seahawks is that their chances for victory are highly dependent on RB Marshawn Lynch. Other than the most recent game where Wilson bailed the team out throwing the ball, the lowest 2 rushing totals by the Seattle RBs are both losses for the Seahawks.
While Kaepernick accounted for a slightly larger percent of the 49ers total rushing yards, and he did eclipse the rushing yards of the RBs in two games, his running yards were still a small part of the San Francisco offense on average. The big exception is the playoff game against the Green Bay Packers, but that clearly is an an outlier and not characteristic the 49ers offense.
Another thing that stands out in the data is that Wilson's rushing yards are fairly consistent when compared to Kaepernick's rushing totals. Wilson never had a monster day on the ground like Kaepernick did against the Packers in the playoffs, and Wilson's lowest rushing totals aren't as low as Kaepernick's lowest either.
The opposite is true for the running backs. The rushing output of Lynch and the Seahawks RBs is much more variable than their 49ers counterparts. San Francisco RB Frank Gore's rushing production over the past 10 games has been incredibly consistent.
While total yards is interesting, it doesn't say much about how those yards were earned. Is a low output of total yards due to an ineffective running game or just a low number of rushing attempts? Yards per carry is the tool that's needed to answer that question.
The Seahawks have a pair of games where their yards per carry is rather high. Those are from blowout wins and are not characteristic of the teams typical rushing attack. Overall, yards per carry for the RBs is remarkably similar between the two teams.
The same is true for the yards per carry of Wilson and Kaepernick. Both are highly variable, and are constrained by similar minima and maxima.
Ultimately, there may not be much to be learned from this data other than that the teams have had a remarkably similar level of success in running the football. Although, given that the 49ers offensive line is almost universally thought of as being better than Seattle's offensive line, perhaps there is a conclusion to be made about either that opinion or the general quality of the running backs.
This data only hints at those conclusions, so perhaps that's a topic for another article.