How the West will be won

With only one proven quarterback (Matt Hasselbeck), it’s not surprising the division features multiple teams that rely on their ground attacks.

After watching prolific passing attacks rule the roost in the NFC West for decades, observers should ready themselves for a dramatic change this season.

Coach Pete Carroll’s arrival has led to a change in the Seahawks’ offensive philosophy. Seattle is shifting from the pass-first tactics favored by Mike Holmgren to a more balanced strategy that will emphasize a physical running game.

Carroll’s hiring zone-running guru Alex Gibbs is indicative of his desire to pound the ball between the tackles. Gibbs, who has orchestrated several top-ranked rushing attacks during his illustrious career, is installing his vaunted zone-based scheme in Seattle. The simple design will allow the Seahawks’ runners to be decisive with reads.

In Gibbs’ system, offensive linemen block defenders that step into their assigned areas rather than take on the man aligned over top of them. The scheme often assigns multiple players to work together through areas to create a series of initial double teams at the point of attack. The beauty of utilizing the method is that it allows blockers to be aggressive off the ball due to the presence of help from a teammate. When used in conjunction with the one-cut rule (backs are allowed to only make one-cut before attacking the line of scrimmage in an effort to limit negative plays), the scheme can result in huge gains.

The Seahawks attempted to implement the system last season under Greg Knapp, but things went awry after a series of injuries ravaged the offensive line. However, the team has taken significant steps to improve the unit during the offseason.

Tackle Russell Okung, the team’s first of two first-round picks, will team with free-agent addition guard Ben Hamilton on the left side. Though the duo will need to quickly develop chemistry, the Seahawks will undoubtedly direct their running game behind them.

Although the changes to the offensive line have created optimism, the draft-day trades that brought LenDale White and Leon Washington to Seattle are what truly have hopes running high regardless of having to let Lendale White go.

The rush attack will also receive a jolt from Washington, a change of pace back. He has the quickness to get to the edge on outside runs and the burst to reach the second level on draws and delays. Although Washington must fully recover from the broken leg that prematurely ended his campaign last season, his eventual presence will give the Seahawks an explosive tandem in the backfield.

Even if Washington is slow to recover, the running game has the potential to thrive thanks to the presence of Julius Jones and Justin Forsett.

While the Seahawks only ranked 26th in rushing last season with the duo as the featured runners, each has shown promise as a complementary option. Forsett, in particular, has produced big games (two 100-yard rushing games when given 17 or more carries) when he had the opportunity to tote the rock extensively. He could settle in a vital role as the second or third runner in the rotation.

With opponents still likely to focus on shutting down Hasselbeck, the rebuilt running game might pack enough punch to carry Seattle back to prominence.