“Let Russell Wilson cook” should be a self-explanatory phrase. Wilson is entering his ninth season with the Seattle Seahawks and in almost a decade, he’s been the true mastermind behind this offense. His wizardry and ability to make a play happen out of thin air has been mystifying the NFL world. It’s also the cause of mind-numbing confusion when we see play-calling hamper that alchemy over and over and over again.
We’re not the only ones confused. When asked about that phrase, “Let Russell Wilson cook,” head coach Pete Carroll said, “I don’t know what that’s about,” and therein lies the problem. I’m not coming for Carroll—even though doing so would be valid—but being unable to identify the problem while in the same breath acknowledging Wilson is in his prime is, well, part of the problem that has put this offense in compromising situations.
Carroll has vowed to give Wilson more control. He wants to give the perennial passer more opportunities to be a factor, which I loosely translate to earlier opportunities. The Seahawks have largely underutilized Wilson early in games and early in downs. He’s often praised for his late-game heroics. There are few active quarterbacks better under the pressure of the clock and a point deficit. Since entering the NFL in 2012, Wilson has engineered 21 fourth-quarter comebacks and 28 game-winning drives. In 2019, Wilson tied—with the Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen and the Houston Texans’ Deshaun Watson—for the most game-winning drives (five) and tied again—with Allen and the San Francisco 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo—for the most fourth-quarter comebacks (four). But it doesn’t have to be like this.
“Look at all of the successful teams that won all these games again last year,” Carroll said while he spoke with ESPN 710 Seattle’s John Clayton earlier this month. “All of them were balanced teams. So, we’re not going to take anything away from Russell’s ability to produce. We want to maximize his opportunity.
“He’s at his best. He is in the most command he’s ever been. He and [offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer] and the offensive staff, they have worked this offseason to a point where we are ready to unveil it, the best version of us. That means the best version of Russ.”
One way to maximize Wilson is to throw more on first downs. The Seahawks remained fairly balanced in their rushing and passing attack last season. Seattle finished the season averaging 374.4 yards per game with 137.5 on the ground and 236.9 in the air; of the seven teams that had more yards per game only two—the 49ers and Baltimore Ravens—were as balanced or better.
Seattle has already begun to throw more on first downs. From 2018 to 2019 the Seahawks went from rushing on 40.59% of first downs to 35%, and this led to an increase of almost 10% (47.65% to 56.58%) on their passing first-down percentage during that same timeframe. We’ve wanted to see Seattle more aggressive on offense, and while Carroll is never going to completely let Wilson take control—he likes a balanced offense too much to do that—there’s a slow progression to get Wilson going earlier, which is proven to be effective.
The Seahawks need to be more aggressive sooner, especially considering the top receiving targets Wilson is working with. Tyler Lockett has been a reliable target and the team’s top wide receiver these past two seasons following Doug Baldwin’s 2018 retirement. D.K. Metcalf is coming off a 900-yard, seven-touchdown rookie season, and Phillip Dorsett now joins the team looking for a breakout season after improving the last three years in the New England Patriots’ offense. Seattle also has the tight end tandem of veteran Greg Olsen and Will Dissly, who, when healthy, has been an extremely efficient pass-catcher.
I imagine Carroll will try his damndest to continue establishing the run, but that shouldn’t be the case. The position battle at running back—which features incumbent Chris Carson, free-agent addition Carlos Hyde and a No. 3 spot open between Rashaad Penny, Travis Homer, and rookie DeeJay Dallas—this season could be an interesting wrinkle in this team’s plans. With no preseason, we could see that battle play out the first few weeks, but we already know what works in the pass-happy NFL: a dynamic quarterback.
Let Russell Wilson cook.