Take The Kid Gloves Off Of Russell Wilson
The Seahawks’ strategy so far this season has been to run a scripted drive to start the game, rest on their laurels with the run game until the 4th quarter, then try to rally for a last minute, small-margin victory. It seems as though the Seahawks will come out of the gate each game with a scripted drive, allowing Russell Wilson to roll out, or step up and throw the ball down field. They’ll mix in some runs, keeping the defense off guard, and both sides of the ball generally have some success. The Seahawks have scored first in every game they’ve played this year. Mixing it up has worked for the Seahawks.
It seems, though, that after the Seahawks get their first score, the game plan gets more conservative than Glenn Beck. Once the Seahawks are on top, the offense becomes maddeningly predictable. Run, run, pass, punt. Run, run, pass, punt. If I can call the plays by looking at the formation on TV, I’m pretty sure the professional football players on the field understand what is coming, too. That’s not to say that running the ball is bad–when you have Marshawn Lynch, you want to run the ball, a lot, even. The thing is, though, you can still be a run-heavy offense and not use Russell Wilson like you’re hiding a high schooler at quarterback.
When Russell Wilson has had the playbook “opened up” for him, he’s performed very well. Against New England, Wilson completed 16-of-27 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns against zero interceptions. In that game, he went 3/3 for 57 yards on the first drive. On the second drive, he went 3/4 for 74 yards and a touchdown. So in the first quarter, Wilson went 6/7 for 131 yards out of . In the second quarter, he went 2/3 for 24 yards. That’s three pass attempts in 11 total plays. In the third quarter, he went 2/6 for 22 yards, in 12 plays. So, the Seahawks, in the second and third quarters, attempted to pass just nine times in 23 plays, going 4/9 for 46 yards on those plays. In the fourth quarter, Wilson was 5/9 for 106 yards and a touchdown, out of 15 plays ran For those keeping track at home, in the first and fourth quarters with “aggressive” playcalling, Wilson was 11/16 for 237 yards and two touchdowns. Pretty clear that the less “conservative” routes led to greater success for this offense.
But all right, that was against New England, and Football Outsiders ranks their pass defense as the 29th in the league. Fine. But Wilson’s second best game came against the Carolina Panthers, who have the 14th best defense against the pass. In that game, Wilson completed 6/7 passes for 69 yards. That’s seven pass attempts in 14 plays. In the second and third quarters, he was 12/16 for 139 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions. One interception was a terrible, terrible, awful throw. The other should’ve been a completion that Marshawn Lynch dropped into the hands of the defender. So all-in-all, a pretty unusually open playbook in the middle of the game against a team in the upper half of pass defense yielded 75% completions, one deserved pick, one fluky pick, and a touchdown. I’ll take the stupid interception in trade for that production.
For whatever reason, though, Carroll just closes the playbook as soon as the team gets a lead. In the fourth quarter of that same Carolina game, Wilson went 1/2 for 23 yards in twelve plays, all while the Seahawks had just a three-point lead that became a six-point lead. After gaining a six-point lead last Thursday, Carroll again shrunk the list of plays available to Wilson. In the first and fourth quarters of games, Russell Wilson has completed 59/99 passes for 702 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception, good for a 90.5 QB rating. In the second and third quarters of games, Wilson is 45/77 for 528 yards, four touchdowns, and six interceptions, good (bad?) for a 64.2 passer rating. Not to mention the 22 fewer attempts.
It’s obvious that Pete Carroll just doesn’t want to make Russell Wilson throw unless he has to, to get a lead early, or come from behind late. Which is weird, because when Russell Wilson is given more opportunities to throw and keep the offense diverse, he performs better. Perhaps calling routes that go further down the field, and not restricting the playbook to roughly 65% running plays in the second and third quarter may allow the offense to move the ball better. Russell Wilson has performed well when asked to throw the ball with any sort of regularity. Russell Wilson is not the problem–the problem is that the Seahawks don’t want to let him throw the ball with regularity. If the number one priority is “don’t fuck up” instead of “go win this game,” then he’s going to develop at a snail’s pace. If he’s your quarterback of the future, you have to trust him. Trust him, Pete.