The Raiders fell to 4-12 this year because their top running back, Darren McFadden, could not run effectively - and the offensive line no doubt contributed - in the new zone-blocking scheme that offensive coordinator Greg Knapp brought with him.
Ironic then, and a little cruel, that one of the big reasons the Seahawks are doing so well - and totally scare No. 1 seed Atlanta on Sunday - is because running back Marshawn Lynch totally bought into former Raiders coach Tom Cable's zone-blocking scheme.
Lynch approached Cable, the Seahawks' offensive line coach and assistant head coach, halfway through the 2011 season and said he was finally ready to change his running style, to just make one cut and go. No hesitation.
"What he showed me is that he had the courage to accept something new," Cable told the Seattle Times. "I say courage because it takes that to actually change your mind-set and go to something different."
Since that conversation, Lynch has run for more than 100 yards 17 times in 26 games and is averaging 4.9 yards per carry. The former Cal star was getting 3.5 yards a pop before the change.
Last week, Lynch led the way to Seattle's first road playoff win since 1983. He had 20 carries for 132 yards and a game-winning 27-yard touchdown run. Lynch had fumbled earlier in the game, but he also made a game-saving play in the second quarter. Russell Wilson had fumbled, with the Seahawks down 14-3, and Lynch scooped it up and ran 20 yards to set up a Seattle touchdown later.
"That had to be an extraordinary play," coach Pete Carroll said. "Dead run, scoop it up and keep on going. That was a huge play for us ... it happened so fast you could hardly believe what he did."
Wilson, the rookie quarterback, has been a revelation, but it has been Lynch's violent running and Cable's smash-mouth offensive line that are the foundations of the offense, and matches the hard-hitting persona of the team's defense.
"We have some beliefs here," Cable told ESPN Radio. "I think obviously you have to throw the ball to score points in this league. I don't think there's any secret about that.
"But, I think in the end, you can be a flash-in-the-pan team, or you can be a legitimate champion, and not just go after it one year, but maybe two, three, four years in a row, and to do that, I think you have to have a physicalness to you, where you can close teams out. ... To be dominant, you've got to have a physical presence."
Cable had a 17-27 record as head coach of the Raiders, and was fired after an 8-8 2010 season and a famous "We are not losers anymore" speech to his players. Owner Al Davis eviscerated Cable in a news conference, going over Cable's on-field and off-field issues. Carroll hired him the same day.
Waiting for Cable in Seattle was a powerful runner in Lynch, but that was only scratching the surface.
"He's as smart a football guy as I've been around," Cable said. "Some people don't get to know that because he won't share that with you. He won't open up very much."
Lynch finished this regular season with 1,590 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground, averaging 99.4 yards per game. He had a career-best 10 games with 100 or more rushing yards, and his 1,590 yards ranked him third in Seahawks franchise history.
Over the past six games, Seattle has thrown in a read-option with Wilson. It's worked extremely well as defenses freeze to see if Wilson really gave Lynch the ball, at which point Wilson has a good head start downfield. He's run for 329 yards the last six games after gaining 227 on the ground the first 11.
Much of the credit for the team's running success should go to Cable and his offensive line. Left tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger are both going to the Pro Bowl, after not being impact players before Cable arrived before the 2011 season. Left guard John Moffitt, right guard Paul McQuistan, who started 12 games in four years with the Raiders from 2006-09, and right tackle Breno Giacomini round out the nasty line.
It's not by accident that Seattle had the highest percentage of run plays in the season. That was Carroll's plan when he gave up a fourth- and fifth-round pick to Buffalo in 2010 for Lynch, and then hired Cable before he hired offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
Lynch "has been just a pillar of strength in terms of consistency," Carroll said. "He just has done it game after game after game after game. ... He's strong, he's physically right. He's tuned in, and he trusts everything he's seeing up front, so he's hitting it.
"It's been really fun to watch."