How is it that an offense that ranked 27th in average passing yards during the regular season also led the NFL in explosive plays?
"Just us getting the opportunities," said Doug Baldwin, the Seahawks' leading receiver who also produced 20 of the team's 74 explosive passing plays – those of 16-plus yards.
|INSIDE THE EXPLOSIVE PLAYS|
The Seahawks led the NFL with 135 explosive plays during the regular season – runs of 12-plus yards and passes of 16-plus yards – and 61 explosive running plays. Here's a closer look at when they came and who made them:
Most explosive plays:
Most explosive running plays:
Not to mention also taking advantage of those opportunities.
"If it comes your way, you've just got to try and make the play, because you never know when it will come back your way," wide receiver Jermaine Kearse said. "So you've got to be mentally tough and just stay in it and be ready at all times."
The Seahawks' offense did a lot of good things during the regular season, including leading the league in average rushing yards (172.6), per-carry average (5.3) and explosive running plays (61) – those of 12-plus yards.
But it's the dichotomy between averaging 203.1 passing yards and producing all those explosive passing plays that seemed to defy logic. Until you look a little deeper.
The Seahawks also had the fewest passing attempts in the league (454). So with 16 percent of those attempts producing explosive passing plays, the Seahawks ranked sixth in the league. By comparison, the Philadelphia Eagles had 90 explosive passing plays, but they were 14 percent of their 621 pass attempts.
"I don't think we get enough credit for what we do in the passing game," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said after Tuesday's practice, when the Seahawks continued to prepare for Saturday night's divisional playoff game against the Carolina Panthers at CenturyLink Field.
That's an ongoing burden for Bevell, and Baldwin, and Kearse, and the other receivers who do their underrated thing in the shadow of a dominating defense that has led the league in average points allowed the past three seasons and average yards allowed the past two seasons; and a running game that produced a franchise-record 2,762 yards this season.
But that only makes the 74 passing plays of 16-plus yards that contributed to the Seahawks generating a league-high 135 explosive plays that much more meaningful.
"I think it's very significant," Bevell said. "It's something that we really strive for. It's something we talk about all the time with our guys. And it's great that we led the league in that."
It happened because the players went out and did what the coaches emphasized and talked about. And it wasn't just the marquee players.
Yes, leading rusher Marshawn Lynch had 27 explosive runs – including a career-long 79-yard scoring run against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16 that almost blew the roof off University of Phoenix Stadium. But quarterback Russell Wilson also had 27, including runs of 55, 52 and 40 yards.
And yes, Baldwin had those 20 explosive plays among his career-high 66 receptions. But Kearse had 12, on 38 receptions, including explosive plays of 60, 53 and 47 yards. And tight end Luke Willson had 10, on 22 receptions, including an 80-yard touchdown reception that was the Seahawks' longest play of the season.
Also contributing to the "explosive" passing game were tight ends Cooper Helfet, Tony Moeaki and Zach Miller; wide receivers Paul Richardson, Ricardo Lockette, Bryan Walters and Kevin Norwood; running backs Robert Turbin and Lynch; and even Wilson, who caught a 17-yard pass from Kearse.
"It's everybody, and it's all kinds of ways," Bevell said. "I think that speaks to the competitive nature of our guys, and what we're trying to do with them, that they can be explosive even though we run the ball as much as we do."
And the blocking by those good-hands guys also played a major, yet too-often overlooked, role in those league-high 61 explosive running plays.
Just ask assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tom Cable.
"This group has really been exceptional," he said. "And it's not just Doug and Jermaine. They've been the leaders in it because they've been in the system longer, but it's critical.
"Anything that goes beyond the second level, the linebacker level, is all on the receivers. That is 100 percent in relation to what the wide receivers are doing. Whether it's the quarterback keeping it on a read, whether it's a runner breaking out, it doesn't matter. Those guys are so committed to our system of running the football. You don't see that everywhere, and I think that's the point. You watch defensive backs play us and they're looking because they know they're going to get whacked by those guys."
Just because coach Pete Carroll expects these kinds of efforts doesn't mean he takes them for granted. And he also points to the player who has had an arm or legs in so many of them.
"Explosive plays within a drive significantly change your opportunity to score," Carroll said. "So it's really important to try and create those plays. We're very fortunate, and the quarterback really has a lot to do with that. Russell has made so many plays with his legs, as well as throwing the football.
"Marshawn's explosive plays as well, and guys catching and running and all that. But really it's Russell's contribution in the running game that has really accentuated those numbers and really given us a chance to be difficult to deal with."
And difficult to deal with the Seahawks have been, especially while winning nine of the last 10 games and six in a row to close the regular season. With the defense leading the league in fewest explosive plays allowed (76) and holding opponents to an average of 6.5 points in the last six games, the explosive plays by the offense have allowed the Seahawks to score quickly and, at times, in bunches – like the 21-point fourth quarter against the Cardinals in Week 16.
"The fact that our offense has so many different factors that people have to worry about, they can't stop big plays from happening," Helfet said.