When the Seahawks hosted the Los Angeles Rams in Week 5, they came onto the field for their second offensive possession with offensive tackle George Fant reporting as eligible on three straight plays, and with a sixth lineman on the field, Seattle then proceeded to run the ball three straight times, gaining a total of 17 yards.
That possession ended in a touchdown, with the Seahawks running on seven of nine plays on a 74-yard drive. The Seahawks didn't end up winning that game, falling to the Rams 33-31, but they did further establish their philosophy on offense, rushing for a season-high 190 yards. With another matchup with the Rams coming up this weekend, the Seahawks know they'll again need to bring a physical and productive running game with them to Los Angeles if they're going to play well against one of the league's best teams.
"We did what we set out to do, which was establish the line of scrimmage, win that battle in the run game, which led to us being pretty good in pass protection, which is something that they kind of pride themselves as a pass rush," left tackle Duane Brown said of Seattle's success running the ball against the Rams earlier in the season. "I think we had a really good balanced attack. We were just a couple of yards away from kicking a field goal to win at the end, so it was a tough one, but as an offensive line, I think we just continue to establish our identity of being a physical group and running the ball."
And Seattle's running game success against the Rams wasn't a one-time deal. Starting with the win in Arizona a week earlier, the Seahawks have eclipsed the 150-yard mark in five straight games, and are averaging 169.2 rushing yards-per-game over that span.
"We've figured out how we want to play," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We know who we are. We have a real sense for that. That's very helpful and that's an accomplishment in itself."
And the Seahawks know that running the ball effectively will be crucial this week against a Rams defense that features a very dangerous pass rush, led by All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who has 10.0 sacks in the past six games.
"They have a very talented offense and most teams, when you get down by a couple scores, you have to air the ball out a lot, and that's when they pin their ears back," Brown said. "We were in the game the whole time just going tit for tat. They had to be focused on the run game and couldn't quite rush the passer like they wanted to so that's going to be crucial for us, to be able to do that again to be successful."
The Seahawks also know that sometimes, perhaps in this game, perhaps another week, those 5- and 6-yard runs won't happen on every play, but that they'll have to stick with the running game even if it isn't overly effective right off the bat.
"It's the commitment to it," Carroll said. "It's coming back to it and believing in it and keep going. When you are committed to the running game like we are, you don't get big runs all the time. You have to stay with it and keep hammering at it and make the space and make the yards and finish the plays and convert your third downs so that you get the extra chances to keep running it. It's really about commitment."
And part of that commitment has been the aforementioned use of Fant as a big tight end. Fant, who was slated to be Seattle's starting left tackle last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the preseason, wasn't used a lot early this season. But when Will Dissly went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 4, and then later with Nick Vannett missing a game with a back injury, the Seahawks found a way to get Fant more involved in the offense as an extra blocker, and with good results.
"We enjoy it," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "He's an awesome kid, he's a big powerful guy, he is very athletic, and he just makes us more physical. There's certainly things that we do with him, both run game and pass game, that he's probably the best skilled at those jobs that we're asking him to do so he's kind of built that way. We're always trying to evolve with it. There's always things that we're looking for that we can do more with him. He hasn't caught a pass but we do enjoy releasing him on passes—he can catch, that's for sure—but he's done an awesome job with it. The guys like when he's in there because he's a confident young man and they know that he plays with a lot of passion so it's been fun and again, we're always looking for different ways to develop that package and continue, and it's certainly grown over the past four or five weeks since we started doing it."
Schottenheimer jokes about throwing Fant the ball one of these days, but as a former college basketball player, Fant is confident in his athletic ability to make a play if his number is ever called.
"When I see a tight end do something, I'm like, 'Hey, I can do that,'" Fant said. "If it happens, it happens. I'll be ready for the moment."
Fant has in the past couple of games occasionally lined up as a slot receiver, an odd sight that got the attention of an unfortunate Lions defensive back on the first play of Seattle's win in Detroit.
"That was funny, man," Fant said. "The DB, was like, 'What the heck are you doing?' I went and blocked the heck out of him. That was fun."
For Fant, who played 20 snaps in last week's game, getting a chance to see significant playing time has been a big positive this season, because usually in the NFL being a backup offensive lineman means little or no playing time on gameday unless an injury occurs.
"I'm definitely embracing the role," he said. "I'm having a great time. From sitting last year to getting some good reps this year, I'm enjoying it and just trying to make an impact. It just makes me happy that the team has confidence in me to do the things they're doing in that package. I'm just blessed to get this opportunity."
The Seahawks' use of Fant, and their success doing it, is somewhat symbolic of what they want their offense to be. Seattle doesn't run every time Fant reports as eligible—they've hit some big play-action passes with him on the field—but in general, him coming into the game is a signal to opponents that the Seahawks want to run the ball, yet they're still finding a lot of success on the ground.
"That's our identity," Fant said. "We're going to run the ball. Like it or not, we're going to do it. It feels good to have that identity; everybody knows, get your mind right when you're playing Seattle this week, you know they're going to run the ball. Whatever they do doesn't matter. It's all about us. We've had that same attitude all year, and we're going to keep going with that attitude no matter what."