It actually reminded Cofield of the offense he has faced each day in practice since training camp. The Redskins, after all, have run the ball more than all but two teams. One of them, the team that has rushed more than any in the NFL this year, is the Seahawks.
And so Sunday’s playoff game at FedEx Field will provide a reminder that the NFL still has a place for offenses predicated on rushing the ball, that teams can lean on running backs and still keep up with the aerial shows that take place on most fields each Sunday.
The focus will undoubtedly be on star rookie quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, who have led the fourth- and ninth-highest scoring offenses in the NFL. But both teams base their offensive philosophy on a powerful, prolific running game, an endangered species in a league in which 5,000-yard passers have become commonplace.
The contest features the league’s second- and third-leading rushers in Alfred Morris, named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday, and Marshawn Lynch, who ran for 1,613 and 1,590 yards this season. On the sidelines will be Mike Shanahan and Pete Carroll, two coaches who have been around since the 1990s and have not abandoned the platitudes that dominated those times about running the ball and stopping the run.
“A lot of teams have been very successful the last five, six years not having a great running game, but usually good enough,” Shanahan said. “It’s always been my philosophy to have a balanced offense. When bad weather occurs, you’re able to have a little more balance.”
The success of the Redskins and Seahawks does not represent a league-wide smashmouth revival. Teams rushed 27.2 times per game this season, tied with 2010 for the lowest mark in NFL history. Rushing remains largely absent from some of the best offenses – the No. 3 seed Green Bay Packers have not produced a 100-yard rusher in 43 games.
But they prove a strong running game still has a place in a league where point totals skyrocket like the score on a pinball machine. While rules and strategies have made passing the dominant form of offense, when teams choose to run, they do it better now than ever. As defenses have changed in personnel (smaller, quicker linebackers) and scheme (more five- and six-back defenses on early downs) to combat pass-happy attacks, running has become easier, too. NFL teams gained 4.3 yards per carry this season, tied with 2011 for the highest average ever.
“It’s the game of football,” Carroll said. “If you have the proper commitment and you build around it, [running the ball] may be the best way you can count on being consistently successful.”
The NFC playoff field is a bastion for those thirsting for pulling guards rather than five-wide receiver formations. The Vikings made the playoffs in Week 17 as Adrian Peterson bulled his way to a 2,000-yard season. The 49ers, led by bruising running back Frank Gore and quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who ran the Pistol offense in college, will watch the first round with a bye.