Over the past three seasons, the Seahawks have been one of the best teams in the NFL by nearly any measure. They posted a 36-12 regular season record from 2012 to 2014, they won two NFC West titles, two conference championships and they earned a dominant victory in Super Bowl XLVIII.
And just about every time somebody explains how the Seahawks became an NFC juggernaut, the conversation understandably turns to Seattle's defense. There's a reason for that, of course. The Seahawks have allowed the fewest points in the league in each of the past three seasons, and the fewest yards in each of the past two. Based on both numbers and win-loss record, the Seahawks defense is and should be talked about as being one of the best in NFL history.
But as good as the Seahawks defense has been over the past few seasons, and as much credit as it rightfully gets, it's unfair to Seattle's offense to just say the Seahawks win because of their defense, or even that it's all about their defense and running game.
Yes the Seahawks have a great defense, and yes the Marshawn Lynch-led rushing attack is one of the best in the league, but the entire offense, not just that running game, has been a huge reason behind the most successful stretch in Seahawks history.
When the Seahawks were winning division titles and one NFC championship in the mid-2000s, it was largely because of a very good offense, but did you know that the 2003-2005 Seahawks scored only four more points than the 2012-2015 teams? By just about any measure, the 2012-2014 Seahawks have been nearly as good, and in some areas better offensively, than the teams known as the benchmark for Seahawks offense—we're focusing on the past three seasons and not this year because three games is too small of a sample size to have a ton of meaning.
Including Seattle's franchise-record 2,762 rushing yards last season, the Seahawks have 7,529 rushing yards over the past three seasons, the most in a three-year stretch in team history, and they have the third most total yards (17,046) over a three-year stretch. And while the Seahawks don't pass as frequently as the Mike Holmgren-led teams did, the three highest yards-per-attempt seasons in franchise history were 2012 (8.0 YPA), 2013 (7.92) and 2014 (7.69).
So no, it isn't just a strong defense and a running game that has led the Seahawks to so much success over the past few years, but even if the offense, outside of Marshawn Lynch, doesn't get the credit it deserves, players aren't too bothered by it. Winning tends to help with that.
"We have the number one defense, so obviously they're going to get a lot of love, which they should," receiver Doug Baldwin said. "We also have one of the best running backs in the league, so he's going to get a love as well. We're not worried about it. We just do our jobs, what we're told to do, what we're coached to do, we do it. When we pass the ball, when we need to make a catch, we're going to go out there and do it."
Part of the receivers' jobs is doing the dirty work that comes with running the ball as much as they do. To succeed as a receiver in Seattle's offense, it requires both an ability to and willingness to block, as well as the attitude it takes to give 100 percent effort every week even if the targets aren't coming.
"We feel like we have really special guys," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "We have real unique players out on the edge, and we ask a lot of them. They're blocking and they're just working really hard. They know that block is the difference between a 5- to 7-yard run and a 30-, 40-yard run. They're dogs back there, they work extra hard. Then they know they're going to have fewer opportunities, they just know that and have to be mentally tough to say, 'hey, this is who we are,' and kind of give it up to the team. Our guys are unique individuals that way."
The willingness of Seattle's receivers to do the dirty work should not, however, be confused with a lack of ability. That group of players that has been described as everything from mediocre to pedestrian to appetizers? They're a big part of the reason why the Seahawks—yes, the "they only win because of their defense" Seahawks—had the most completions of 20-plus yards, per pass attempt, of any team in the NFL last season, gaining 20 or more yards on 11.89 percent of their attempts.
The Seahawks are explosive in the passing game in part because of the play of quarterback Russell Wilson, in part because of the threat of the run, in part because of play-calling, and in part because of an opportunistic group of pass-catchers.
"We joke about it in the locker room, but as a receiver, any time you get a ball thrown your way, you've got to do something with it, because it could be your last target in the game," Baldwin said. "That mentality has something to do with it. Every target you get, every opportunity you get as a receiver in this offense, you have to make the best of it, because you don't know when the next one's coming. We take that to heart; every opportunity we get, we're try get as far as we can with it."
The Seahawks don't throw the ball frequently—they have attempted the fewest pass attempts in the league over the past three seasons—and they don't often push the tempo, which means fewer plays, so they aren't going to lead the league in volume stats like yards and scoring, but make no mistake about it, the Seahawks are an explosive team on offense. Measuring explosive plays as runs of 12 or more yards and pass completions of 16 or more, the Seahawks led the NFL in explosive plays last year with 135. They had explosive passes on 16.3 percent of their attempts, which ranked sixth in the league.
"We're explosive when we pass," Bevell said. "That's the balance we're trying to have. We run the ball more than anybody, and that helps us where we can fake it to Marshawn, everybody comes up to the line of scrimmage, and we should have opportunities to make big plays behind them.
"That's how you end up being the most explosive team in the league. We had more runs than anybody that were explosive, but then our passing, we're very efficient when we throw the football."
As Bevell notes, balance plays a big part in Seattle's explosive offense. The threat of Lynch often leads to extra defenders committed to stopping the run, which makes things easier for the passing game; the threat of Wilson as a runner and a passer makes it harder to key on Lynch only; and an underrated group of pass-catchers, which added Jimmy Graham and Tyler Lockett this season, is more than capable of exploiting one-on-one matchups if a defense overcommits to the run. The Seahawks offense, when it's clicking, presents a pick-your-poison scenario for defenses, the end result of which is often a big play.
"We've always been balanced," Wilson said. "We've always been the team that wants to run the football, and play smash mouth football, and also be very explosive in the passing game when we do pass it. So I think that's one of the reasons why we've been very successful."
Of course, it's not exactly cutting-edge stuff for a team to say it wants to make big plays on offense and prevent them on defense—every team wants to do that. But according to Bevell, the Seahawks thrive at that because of the emphasis they put on it.
"You usually get what you emphasize," Bevell said. "Some coaches might mention it, talk about it, but the emphasis we put on it here makes it on the forefront on everyone's minds. Really it all comes down to field position. Those plays are the plays that change field position."
And in a lot of ways, the Seahawks are so explosive on offense because of a defensive-minded head coach. Pete Carroll's background coaching defense helps him understand just how devastating a big play can be, so for as long as he has been a head coach, both creating and preventing big plays has been one of the top priorities along with winning the turnover battle.
"Being a defensive guy and a secondary guy from my start, it has always been the number one issue for a defense," Carroll said. "If you can't stop long plays, you're not very good. So it all begins there. That's always been part of our thinking, our philosophy. Offensively, we've always wanted to run the football and be explosive. That combination is a really good one-two punch on the offensive side. We've worked hard at it… The significant plays change the outcome of drives. You have one significant play on one side of the ball or the other, it can determine the results of that drive. We believe heavily in that and we try to be great at that."