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Are the Seahawks a run first team?

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Kansas City Chiefs v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

As the Seattle Seahawks have roared into relevance this season, the pundits have continually dubbed the Hawks a run-first team. There is no doubt that the Seahawks lead the NFL in rushing yards and are tied with the Baltimore Ravens for the most rushing attempts in the NFL.

However, as we approach the end of the season, some in the national media are once again turning their attention to the importance of the run game and arguing the running game is once again why certain teams are successful.

Now, it would be easy for me to point out that of those four teams, the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots have run the most offensive plays in the NFL, meaning that we’d expect those two teams to be near the top of the league in rushing attempts based solely on that fact. However, let’s look a little deeper and see exactly when those four teams are accumulating their rushing attempts.

Here are the breakdowns for rushing attempts and run/pass percentage in the first half and second half for these four teams.

First half rushing attempts

Team 1st Half Rush Attempts 1st Half Pass Attempts 1st Half Run:Pass
Team 1st Half Rush Attempts 1st Half Pass Attempts 1st Half Run:Pass
Seahawks 222 208 51.63%
Ravens 217 303 41.73%
Patriots 206 306 40.23%
Saints 193 286 40.29%

And then for the second half.

Second half rushing attempts

Team 2nd Half Rush Attempts 2nd Half Pass Attempts 2nd Half Run:Pass
Team 2nd Half Rush Attempts 2nd Half Pass Attempts 2nd Half Run:Pass
Seahawks 234 211 52.58%
Ravens 283 262 51.93%
Patriots 242 255 48.69%
Saints 252 229 52.39%

And then just for fun, here’s a look at the yards per carry for each of these four teams for the first half and the second half.

Yards per carry by half

Team 1st Half Yards Per Carry 2nd Half Yards Per Carry Overall YPC
Team 1st Half Yards Per Carry 2nd Half Yards Per Carry Overall YPC
Seahawks 5.05 4.45 4.76
Ravens 4.25 4.30 4.29
Patriots 4.44 4.10 4.25
Saints 4.42 3.96 4.15

So, based on this extremely small sample, it would appear that three of these four teams are worse at running the ball in the second half and overtime compared to the first half. Interestingly, this would seem to be a point of evidence against the actual establishment of the run, but based on a sample this small obviously nothing would be definitive.

In any case, back to the point of the article, the question is whether the Seahawks are a run first team. As noted, they obviously run the ball more often than any other team in the league. However, does that alone make them a run first team?

As we’ve seen through the season, the Seahawks offense appears to make the choice to run or pass based on a pre-snap read of the defense, and that happens to have led to them having thrown the ball less than they have run it. In short, they pass when the defense gives look A, otherwise they then default to a run play. The reads obviously vary by opponent and by style of defense the opponent plays, but at the end of the day, the offense is taking what the defense is giving it.

And for the most part defenses have chosen to allow the Seahawks to run, because as much as Chris Carson has emerged as a threat to steamroll the Hawks offense down the field one piece of real estate at a time, allowing Seattle to do that is a lot less dangerous than giving Russell Wilson the one on one look he wants deep to either Tyler Lockett or Doug Baldwin.

So, while the revamped Seahawks run game has produced 13 touchdowns for the team in 2018, the passing game has generated 14 explosive plays for touchdowns (16 or more yards, per Pete Carroll’s definition) and then has produced a further 20 touchdowns on non-explosive plays.

Thus, while it can certainly be argued that the Hawks are a run first team, at the end of the day they are a team that runs as well as they can as they wait for the look they want from the defense. And the instant they get the look they want from the defense, then all bets are off because there’s a very good chance we’re about to witness a big play.