As is usually the case with defending Super Bowl champions, the Seattle Seahawks were forced to watch as other teams pilfered their roster in free agency this past offseason.
Changes on offense, in particular, had the potential to create some uncertainty.
Last year's leading receiver, Golden Tate, left to join the Detroit Lions. Offensive linemen Breno Giacomini and Paul McQuistan also departed on the open market.
Wide receiver Sidney Rice announced his retirement shortly after re-signing with Seattle.
To make matters worse, star running back Marshawn Lynch spent a good portion of the offseason threatening to hold out in search of a new contract.
For a team that entered the 2014 season with a monumental target on its proverbial back, the offensive turnover could have caused some early issues.
Fortunately, Lynch ended his holdout in late July in exchange for some financial concessions to his existing deal. With him back in the fold, everything appeared to be right with the Seahawks offense.
Marshawn Lynch will not receive new deal and added money he sought but Seattle expected to add some financial concessions to his contract.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 31, 2014
Head coach Pete Carroll made it immediately clear that Lynch would remain an important part of the game plan, despite the holdout.
"Marshawn has been the guy for us and we love the way he plays and everything he brings to this team. He's never taken a step backwards for us. He's never disappointed us." Carroll said, via ESPN's Terry Blount.
After watching the Seahawks dismantle the Green Bay Packers 36-16 in the regular-season opener, it is exceedingly clear just how important it was to get Lynch back with the team.
As long as Lynch is still hitting the hole on all cylinders, the Seahawks offense will remain productive.
Last season, he helped Seattle make its run toward the NFL championship with 1,257 yards rushing and 316 yards receiving during the regular season. He was rated the league's fourth-best running back for the season by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Lynch has been the Seahawks' offensive focal point since arriving in Seattle via a 2010 trade from Buffalo. On Thursday night, Lynch made it clear that the game plan still runs through him.
Against the Packers, Lynch racked up 124 yards of total offense and scored twice on the ground. His physical yet versatile running style helped wear down the Green Bay defense. He battered the interior of the opposing line with tough runs and spread the defense out with shifty outside runs.
Lynch's physicality was apparent and made an early, lasting impact on the Packers defense.
Michael Bennett said Packers defenders were afraid to make contact with Marshawn Lynch.— Dan Hanzus (@DanHanzus) September 5, 2014
Even more importantly, Lynch commanded enough attention to set up big plays from other members of the Seattle offense.
Quarterback Russell Wilson frequently gashed the Packers defense with runs and passes out of the read-option and struck deep on play action. He finished the game with 191 yards passing, 29 yards rushing and two aerial scores.
It was all too much for the Packers, who struggled to overcome the Seahawks' championship-level defense.
Marshawn Lynch status: Still a beast.............mode— Dave Rappoccio (@DrawPlayDave) September 5, 2014
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell deserves a good amount of credit for utilizing some creative, aggressive play calls. However, Lynch is going to remain Seattle's offensive star as long as he manages to set up the offense from the running back position.
Lynch's next opportunity to dominate a defense will come next Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, who ranked 27th in the league in run defense (130.2 yards per game allowed) during the preseason.
Expect Lynch to remain a focal point of the offense throughout the coming season and expect him to regularly deliver big-time performances like the one he provided on Thursday. While the Seahawks may continue to supplement the run game with runs from Wilson, Robert Turbin and Percy Harvin, this is going to remain a Lynch-heavy offense for the foreseeable future.