Return to the run: It's in the DNA of these Seahawks coaches

Asked about the hallmarks of his offense, the first thing new Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said was, "Obviously, the running game." AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

It takes no time to jog Damien Woody's memory when he's asked if any good stories come to mind about playing for Brian Schottenheimer, the Seattle Seahawks' new offensive coordinator who was brought in to, among other things, help revive a stagnant run game.

"Oh, yeah," Woody, the ESPN analyst and former NFL offensive lineman, says with a chuckle. "I remember when we played the San Diego Chargers in the divisional round of the playoffs."

That was in January 2010, when Schottenheimer was the New York Jets' OC under first-year head coach Rex Ryan. The Jets had reached the playoffs as a 9-7 wild-card team and were heavy underdogs on the road against the 13-3, second-seeded Chargers. But there they were on the verge of a stunning upset, ahead 17-14 with 1:09 left, facing a fourth-and-1 from the Chargers' 29. The Jets called their final timeout to ponder the decision.

"I remember Rex was like, 'Should we go for it?'" Woody said. "And Brian Schottenheimer was like, 'F--- yeah, we should go for it! Let's ice this thing!'"

With only a yard to gain, rookie Mark Sanchez at quarterback and the NFL's top-ranked rushing offense, there was no doubt what Schottenheimer would do once the Jets decided to go for it on fourth down. Thomas Jones took a handoff from Sanchez, followed his fullback up the gut and picked up 2 yards.

Game over.

"I don't remember the exact playcall, but it was what we called a blast play," Woody said. "We literally ran it right in the teeth of the defense, and we just knocked them back like 4 yards, got the first down and won the game."

That's a perfect example of one of Schottenheimer's stated goals for the Seahawks' offense that he's now overseeing: to be able to run the ball when the defense knows it's coming.

Simply running the ball more effectively than the Seahawks have the past two seasons would go a long way toward returning them to postseason contention following a 9-7 finish that left them out of the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Running the ball became a priority that influenced several offseason moves, beyond drafting running back Rashaad Penny 27th overall. It's why the Seahawks signed 6-foot-5, 342-pound D.J. Fluker to play right guard and, to some extent, why they replaced Jimmy Graham with better blocking tight ends in veteran Ed Dickson and fourth-round pick Will Dissly.

This goal also factored into the overhaul of Pete Carroll's coaching staff, which included Mike Solari taking over for Tom Cable as the offensive line coach and Schottenheimer replacing Darrell Bevell as the coordinator.

What mostly drew Carroll to Schottenheimer, despite his underwhelming track record as an OC, were his pliability and his hands-on work with quarterbacks, which the Seahawks believe will bring out the best in Russell Wilson. It helped that Schottenheimer's run-game background aligns with the balance Carroll desires.

Asked what the hallmarks of his offense are, the first thing Schottenheimer said was, "Obviously, the running game."

"When you emphasize things in coaching, you normally get results," he said. "That's just something that we've talked about from the very beginning when I first started talking to Pete. You've got to have the ability to run the football when people know you're going to run the football. And when you lose that, you become one-dimensional, and that's hard."

Schottenheimer's offenses with the Jets tended to be run-heavy relative to the rest of the league, even before Sanchez and the "ground-and-pound"-minded Ryan arrived in 2009.

ESPN Stats & Information measures dropback percentage (which factors pass attempts plus scrambles and sacks and excludes spikes) and non-dropback percentage (rushes excluding scrambles and kneel-downs). Those reflect the design of a play and therefore illustrate offensive intention better than simply comparing rushing attempts and passing attempts.

In Schottenheimer's six seasons (2006-11) with New York, the Jets finished, in order, eighth (46.4 percent), 11th (42.5), 17th (41.8), first (56.7), second (47.8) and 12th (40.9) in the percentage of offensive plays on which the quarterback did not drop back to pass.

His offenses with the St. Louis Rams (2012-14) finished 20th (38.3 percent), eighth (41.6) and 11th (40.0) in that category.

Under Bevell, Seattle went from first in non-dropback percentage in 2012 -- Wilson's rookie season -- to 30th in 2017, with the percentage decreasing every year (see chart). While much of that could be attributed to the expected shift of an offense that puts more on its quarterback's plate as he develops, the spike over the past two seasons was not by design.

The Seahawks and their ever-changing, post-Marshawn Lynch stable of backs haven't run the ball nearly as much since 2015 because they haven't been able to do so nearly as well. It has been out of necessity that much more of the offense has gone through Wilson of late.

While there's debate about the importance of a good running game and the efficiency of rushing versus passing, Carroll would point to the fact that nine of the 12 playoff teams from last season ranked among the top 10 in rushing (only one playoff team, the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 20, finished in the bottom half in rushing).

Carroll could just as easily point to his own team as an example. The Seahawks finished between first and fourth in rushing every season from 2012 to 2015. They made the playoffs in all four seasons, won the Super Bowl after the 2013 season, nearly repeated the next year and in 2015 scored the second-most points in franchise history.

Seattle has fallen to 25th and 23rd in rushing the past two seasons.

Running the ball is in Carroll's DNA, and he isn't going to change his stripes at 66.

The Seahawks might need all of training camp and the preseason to determine who will be their primary runner. Incumbent Chris Carson took the first-team reps over the offseason and was by far the most impressive of Seattle's running backs, apparently back to full-speed after his rookie season was cut short by injury. But first-round picks such as Penny usually don't stay on the bench for long.

Whoever it is, the Seahawks expect to run the ball better -- and thus more frequently -- in 2018. Schottenheimer shouldn't need any reminders of those marching orders.

"It's a commitment," Carroll said. "It's a commitment to that's the style of play. That fits directly. You go back a couple years ago, when he had Mark Sanchez back there, starting him off, and they ran the football like crazy, and they [advanced to two AFC] championships there, really with a young quarterback based on the commitment to the run and playing defense.

"Well, you know us. That's something that we understand about how you play the game of football. He's committed to it. He gets it, and it's also why connecting with Mike Solari was so important, too, because they had somewhat of a common background and like commitment and all that and were all on the same page on it, so that was all very necessary. So it really goes back to commitment, and then you've got to get your guys in the right spots and do it."