With 3:52 remaining in the NFC Championship Game, Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell found his offense down two scores with little promise of more. Then Marshawn Lynch ran up the middle for 14 yards, and Seattle's chance at a Super Bowl was back on. In a hurry up situation with the season on the line, the Seahawks ran the ball seven times for 65 yards and two increasingly remarkable touchdowns. That the play distribution appeared more suited to the first quarter than the fourth was not by accident; all season long, the Seahawks rode Russell and the Beast to one of the best rushing offenses in recent memory.
In a modern era where quarterbacks are run out of town for completion rates below 60%, it's pretty difficult to justify calling more than a token amount of run plays each game. Where 24 quarterbacks threw for more than seven yards per attempt, only four running backs broke five yards per carry. Obviously some of this discrepancy is context driven, but there is almost no case where a rush is superior to a pass. The Seahawks defy this trend. Their 29.9% Rush DVOA makes them one of only nine teams to accumulate positive Rush DVOA for the 2014 season, and it's nearly triple that of the runner up Dolphins. It's not fair to compare them to their peers, so instead they're going to be compared to the best rushing teams in the league over the last 15 years. The statistic of choice for this comparison is going to be Pro Football Reference's Expected Points. That link takes you to the definition, but it's essentially an accumulation of how successful your play is compared to average, given time and field position, totaled over the course of a season. For reference, the average NFL team accumulated -26.1 EP this year by rushing, furthering the message that most running plays are garbage. The 2014 Seahawks, on the other hand, accumulated 60.92 EP on the ground. That's a really, really big gap.
The Y-Axis of that chart represents how large the EP gap was between the top two rushing teams over the course of each season since 2000, the first year Rush EP are calculated by Pro Football Reference. The X-Axis is how far ahead of average each of the best teams were within their given season. To say that Seattle lapped this years rushing attacks is an understatement; they were more like the only team on the track. The only other team close to them is the team that spawned the most dominant Madden player of all time, who also happened to employ Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett as a two headed monster of a backfield. That Falcons team managed to rack up 75.92 Rush EP, but that was in a much friendlier rushing climate. Priest Holmes and Curtis Martin each led their teams to over 30 Rush EP, and there were 740 more rushing attempts in 2004 across the whole league to boot. Despite what the final play call of their season might have implied, these Seahawks were definitely one of the two most dominant rushing teams of the last 15 years.
Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse may not have scared corners with their speed off the line, but they definitely did damage with their excellent blocking. The Seahawks were comfortably above the league average in Adjusted Line Yards for off tackle runs to each side, with their dominant choice being an outside run to the right.
Though offensive line rotations became commonplace due to injury, Seattle was able to consistently line up and beat teams with the running game. Russell Wilson was able to consistently get outside the pocket for large gains, and Marshawn Lynch has been among the league leaders in broken tackles for the last few years, boosting a very good offensive line into a dominant offensive rushing unit. These types of dominant units don't come around very often, and it looks like Beast Mode is on the move, but at least the Seahawks made sure to use their extreme advantage when they had it. Oh, wait.