The Seahawks and Cowboys like to run the football.
That’s rare in today’s pass-happy NFL.
Seattle was, in fact, the only team in the league to run the ball more times than passing it this season.
That commitment to the ground game led the Seahawks to the top rushing offense in the NFL.
The Cowboys finished 10th, with bruising running back Ezekiel Elliott’s 1,434 yards claiming the rushing title.
“He’s a great player and he runs strong, he’s elusive,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said this week. “… I don’t know him at all, but I am sure he’s a great competitor, he just plays like it.”
Elliott ran for 127 yards against the Seahawks in September, but Seattle harassed quarterback Dak Prescott with five sacks and claimed a 24-13 win. Seahawks safety Earl Thomas intercepted two Prescott passes.
“They’ve got a lot of playmakers, up-the-field guys who affect the quarterback and disrupt the run,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of the Seahawks defense this week. “They always seem to be around the ball.”
Thomas has since been placed on injured reserve and the Cowboys have bolstered their passing game by adding receiver Amari Cooper in a midseason trade with Oakland.
At their core, however, the Cowboys are Elliott’s team. In addition to his rushing totals, Elliott caught 77 passes for 567 yards. His combined 2,001 yards from scrimmage accounted for 38 percent of the Dallas offense.
“He is definitely a tough dude to tackle,” Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said of Elliott. “He seems to always fall forward so it should be fun.”
Seattle will counter with a trio of running backs who have all ran for more than 100 yards in a game this season led by Chris Carson, who is also gaining a reputation for falling forward in his second season out of Oklahoma State.
Carson finished fifth in the NFL with 1,151 rushing yards this season, while veteran Mike Davis ran for 514 yards and rookie Rashaad Penny added 419.
“They ran the ball effectively against us,” Garrett said. “They made big plays in the passing game, we didn’t move the ball real well and they took the ball away from us. It’s a good formula for them.”
After handing the ball just 13 times to Carson in the first two weeks of the season, Seattle made a focused effort to get him going against Dallas. The Seahawks ran 39 times, with Carson getting 32 of those carries for 102 yards.
“That wasn’t what became a little bit more standard, what we were shooting for during the season, but it was a step in the right direction,” Carroll said. “The commitment came through.”
That commitment continued throughout the year, with Seattle rushing for at least 150 yards in 12 of the next 13 games.
“Obviously, we got the running game going that game,” Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “That’s kind of the thing you think about, but Russ (Wilson) still played well. We still did a nice job on third down (and in the) red zone, stuff like that. It was the first game of the year that I thought we played a really good, solid football game.”
It was also the first game D.J. Fluker started at guard for the Seahawks. His addition to the offensive line, as well as the re-signing of fellow guard J.R. Sweezy, has been credited for kick-starting Seattle’s rushing attack.
“Our offensive line has been really, really good,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “D.J. (Fluker) – I think that was his first game playing – he did a tremendous job stepping in there. (J.R) Sweezy is a big deal for us, too.”
Sweezy is questionable to play Saturday because of a foot injury. Carroll said his status will be a game-time decision.
Whoever starts for Seattle, one thing is certain. There will be an all-out effort to run the football, just as there has been since the Week 3 win over the Cowboys.
Carroll made it clear, as well, that Carson will again be a big part of it.
“Well, he’s raring to go again,” Carroll said. “Here we are 18 weeks into it and he’s really at the top of his game and feels great.”
He also emphasized the fact it will be a team effort.
“It isn’t on one guy to get it done, for obvious reasons” he said. “And it’s worked out fine.”
NFL rushing leaders:
- Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas – 304 carries, 1,434 yards
- Saquon Barkley, N.Y. Giants – 261 carries, 1,307 yards
- Todd Gurley, L.A. Rams – 256 carries, 1,251 yards
- Joe Mixon, Cincinnati – 237 carries, 1,168 yards
- Chris Carson, Seattle – 247 carries, 1,151 yards