The Seahawks lead the NFL with 11,925 team rushing yards since the 2011 season, and through the club's last 77 games, 64 of them have produced 100 or more yards on the ground.
But four games into the 2016 season, Seattle is averaging just 93.0 rushing yards per game, a number that ranks 18th in the NFL and is down from where the Seahawks have finished each of the past four seasons (161.2 per game in 2012, 3rd NFL; 136.8 in 2013, 4th NFL; 172.6 in 2014, 1st NFL; and 141.8 in 2015, 3rd NFL).
The Seahawks have seen considerable changes in their running back group this season, with longtime starter Marshawn Lynch hanging up his cleats this past February and giving way to Christine Michael, Thomas Rawls, rookies Alex Collins and C.J. Prosise, as well as recent free-agent addition C.J. Spiller.
Injuries to Rawls and Prosise have impacted the position group to a degree, but Michael's play has been solid. The fourth-year pro is averaging a healthy 4.6 yards per carry and currently leads the team with 290 yards rushing, while Spiller, a former first-round pick who caught a touchdown pass in his first game as a Seahawk, could possibly be in line for more snaps as Seattle awaits the return of Rawls and Prosise.
Despite those early-season success stories from Michael and Spiller, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday that "the numbers aren't where we like them in the running game. We need to get those going."
"We have to get better in the fundamentals," Carroll said of the Seahawks' ground game. "We are improving and we can see that. There's been a little bit of a lack of consistency in it."
Assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tom Cable echoed Carroll's sentiment: "I don't think it's very clean. I don't think we're very consistent, been kind of hit or miss."
The Seahawks have rushed for 112, 67, 127 and 66 yards, respectively, through the first four games of the year. Carroll said part of the reason for a lack of consistent production has had to do with the health of Russell Wilson. The Seahawks quarterback has been lethal with his arm but can pose just as much of a threat with his legs when he's not being slowed by ankle and knee sprains. After averaging at least 5.2 yards per carry through his first four NFL seasons, including a career-high 7.2 yards per tote in 2014, Wilson is averaging just 1.9 yards per rush this season while playing through his two setbacks.
"Then there's also been a big element of Russell not being a part of it as much," Carroll added in his assessment of Seattle's rushing attack. "He looks great and that's a great sign for us. The threat that he poses is always a benefit and has always been a benefit to our running game. He's averaging one yard a carry right now, that's not the guy we know. So as he comes back to full speed and he can be the factor, then it affects everything."
Added offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell: "He has a major impact on our run game. So I believe that it will help it. There's still things that we need to do to improve in the run game without him, obviously we had to make some adjustments while he's not at full strength that we can continue to iron out there, but obviously it will have an impact when he gets back."
There are positives to be gleaned from Wilson's lack of mobility, though. Cable called the situation "a blessing" for an offense and offensive line which through a majority of the Seahawks' first four games has proven capable of protecting a less-agile quarterback from some of the NFL's top defensive fronts, including Wilson's 300-plus-yard, three-touchdown effort in Seattle's Week 4 win over the New York Jets that saw him complete several throws from inside the pocket.
"I think this is actually a blessing," Cable said. "It's making everybody else have to perform at a different level around [Wilson], meaning we're more of a pocket-passing team now, our run game is different now, so we have to adjust that way and I think it's going to help us in the long run so that when we're all healthy and kind of back to normal, if you will, it should make us better."
Carroll said establishing a run game that the team can count on will be key for the Seahawks' ability to maintain the type of balanced offensive attack they like, and Wilson's return to health - he was a full participant at Wednesday's practice - should help the situation.
"Most of all we've just got to keep going," Carroll said. "We've got to keep hammering. We're really excited to keep hammering the football and get back to the numbers and the balance that we want."
The Seahawks returned to practice at Virginia Mason Athletic Center following an off-day to prepare for their game against the Atlanta Falcons.