It doesn’t matter whether or not Marshawn Lynch is in the backfield on Sunday for the Seattle Seahawks: their running game is going to be a tremendous test for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ improved rushing defense.
To be clear, Lynch will not be in the backfield at all, after just having undergone surgery to combat a sports hernia that he has been dealing with. And the team has already jettisoned two other running backs this year.
But no matter who has been in the backfield, the Seahawks have continued to produce on the ground. They enter this week as the clear frontrunner in terms of the best rushing offense in the league, averaging 148.6 yards per game, a full 6.4 yards per game better than the next closest unit.
Add to that the fact that their 4.8 yards per carry trails only two teams on the year—one of them admittedly being the Steelers themselves—and their better than four to one rush-to-first-down ratio, and you can begin to understand why Pittsburgh’s defense will be challenged.
Theirs is a defense, by the way, which ranks a more than respectable fifth in the league, averaging just 93 yards per game on the ground, within six yards per game of the top-ranked Falcons run defense, and better than 50 yards less than what the Seahawks churn out per game.
The Steelers’ 3.8 yards per rush allowed is also tied for eighth-best in the league, while they have allowed just five explosive runs and only three rushing touchdowns on the year, while forcing a league-leading nine fumbles.
For the Seahawks, however, rookie Thomas Rawls has been phenomenally productive in Lynch’s absence, in spite of the fact that Seattle’s offensive line is far from anything to boast about.
In 10 games with four starts, Rawls has compiled 604 yards on 101 carries to go along with two rushing touchdowns, adding a third touchdown on one of his six receptions. He is averaging six yards per carry, while Fred Jackson, the 34-year-old veteran and possibly the only back older than DeAngelo Williams, has averaged 4.3 yards per carry in limited work.
Of course, the straw that stirs the drink for the Seahawks on the ground is quarterback Russell Wilson, perhaps the most dangerous quarterback in the league on his feet. He himself has 385 rushing yards on 73 carries, averaging 5.3 yards per rush.
It’s not just his production as a runner, however, but the mere threat of his ability to run, that contributes to the overall success of the Seahawks’ running game. Virtually every team that has sported a particularly mobile quarterback down the line has seen it benefit their running game because of the threat that he presents in trying to contain him off play action.
On Sunday, the top-ranked rushing attack will square off against one of the league’s best rushing defenses, based on the numbers, and something will have to give. The lowest the Seahawks have gained on the ground in a game this year, by the way, has been 110.