|Timothy T. Ludwig/US Presswire|
In a pass-heavy league dominated by the play of the quarterback, the ground game is still very much alive.
It's no coincidence that the top five teams in rushing attempts -- the Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots, Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers -- are surging toward the playoffs.
One of those teams, Seattle, has emerged on offense this season on the arm of a rookie passer, Russell Wilson, and the legs of Marshawn Lynch. Lynch isn't a new name around these parts, but his role in Seattle's scheme has helped the sixth-year pro become one of the NFL's most feared and productive backs.
Let's take a closer look at what makes Lynch successful in this attack:
In sync with the big uglies
The Seahawks are one of a handful of teams that employ a zone-based blocking scheme to make their ground game go.
Many teams still lean on man-block fronts that ask linemen to overpower defenders. The zone blocking scheme customarily asks linemen to move laterally, like a wave, taking out defenders at the point of attack. It relies less on what the defense throws at them and more on disciplined movement to create lanes for runners.
When zone-blocking teams part ways with a back, it's not unusual to see that player to wind up -- if he's still worth a damn -- on another zone-blocking club. It's a system that takes time to learn for blockers and runners.
Lynch's 13-yard touchdown run in Sunday's 50-17 win over the Buffalo Bills is a good example of what happens when this "wave" of linemen move as one. The network feed is above, but the All-22 clip below provides a sense of how Lynch also makes smart choices behind his blockers.
More than a runner
Take a look below at this 14-yard connection between Wilson and Lynch.
The play-action pass works extremely well in Seattle's offense for a number of reasons: (1) Opposing defenses are hyper-aware of Lynch and cannot ignore the run. You don't need a monster ground game for successful play-action passes, but it helps. (2) Wilson, in his rookie season, is a fantastic salesman. His body control and execution on the fake handoff cause the defense to pause.
Lynch does a nice job on this play of selling the carry before popping into a gap in the defense. The Bills, meanwhile, do a poor job of putting a helmet on him. Upshot: A first down for the 'Hawks.
Final note on Lynch: He understands where the marker is and finds a way to get there. You'd be surprised how often this doesn't happen on third down around the NFL.
A sizeable part of what makes Lynch a special player has little do to with blocking schemes or selling the fake handoff. Lynch is simply one of the most physical backs in the game.
This 54-yard burst below tells the tale: Check out the blazing speed, the powerful legs, the stiff-arm at the end of the carry.
Lynch was doing this in Seattle two seasons ago -- and especially down the stretch in 2011 -- but the 2012 version of Beast Mode is king. We're seeing a more possessed, purposeful runner this season. More physical, too.
Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.