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NFL Countdown #22 and Not Enough Cooks in the Kitchen

NFL Countdown #22: The Seahawks finally let Russ Cook to open the 2020 NFL season.

Russell Wilson threw a record-tying 22 touchdown passes in his first six games, and finished

the year with his highest TD total of his career despite turning off the gas after Week 10.

The football community has several aspirational phrases that we love to repeat ad nauseum until they become true. “Tank for Tua” was a common refrain throughout the Dolphins chaotic 2019 season. A Matthew Berry special, “Free Aaron Jones”, may have actually put some pressure on the Packers to treat their star runningback as a bellcow. And my personal favorite, “Let Russ cook”, led to one of the most exciting half-seasons of football we may ever see.

Russell “Mr. Unliiiiimited” Wilson was drafted 75th overall by the Seahawks in 2012 and quickly earned the starting job over Matt Flynn, who had just signed a 3 year/$19.5 million deal with the team. Wilson led Seattle to their first winning season since 2007, and has started 16 games while keeping the Seahawks above .500 every year since. He brought his team to two Super Bowls in his first three seasons, and has missed the playoffs just one time over his nine years in Seattle. Wilson had been supported by one of the greatest defenses of all time earlier in his career, but was still asked to play conservative football after the Legion of Boom devolved into the Legion of Whom.

Russell Wilson has been hyper-efficient throughout his tenure in Seattle, ranking in the top ten in passing touchdowns 7/9 years despite landing inside the top ten in passing attempts just twice. This disparity between opportunity and production, paired with excitement over second-year physical specimen DK Metcalf, led the football community to start cyberbullying the Seahawks staff to let their 6-time probowler air the ball out in 2020.

The 2020 Seattle Seahawks came out of the gates hot, with Russell Wilson throwing for 14 touchdowns in their first three games. It seemed that Pete Carroll was finally willing to hand Wilson the keys to the kitchen and let the man throw the ball as much as a player of his caliber should.

Brian Schottenheimer set up shop in a pressbox for the first time in 2020, and the aptly named Skybox Schotty had the best seat in the house as Russell Wilson’s “moon balls” soared higher than the pregame flyovers. Offensive coordinators show us their priorities with how they call plays on first & second downs in the first half of games. With a view of the whole field and a looser leash from head coach Pete Carroll, Schottenheimer called passing plays on early downs at the highest rate in the league (64%, per Sharp Football Analysis) over the first nine games of the season. Russ threw 14 touchdowns in the first three weeks of the season, and ended up tying Peyton Manning’s record of 22 touchdowns through his first six games.

Over the final seven games, Pete Carroll seemingly put the restrictor plates back on his quarterback and offensive coordinator. The Seahawks passed on first-half early downs at a 57% clip over this stretch (13th in NFL), and we can see that while the Seahawks were still winning games, these early-down runs killed drives and reduced the scoring output of this once potent offense. Over the first 9 games the Seahawks averaged 32.2 points per game, which fell to 24.1 after they went back to their old conservative, run-first ways. This figure is even more striking if you remove their 40-burger against the hapless Jets in Week 14, and their average over the final stretch drops to 21.5.

Brian Schottenheimer was kicked out of the skybox and removed from his offensive coordinator position after the Seahawks lost their first playoff game against division rival LA Rams. Pete Carroll has since gone on record multiple times saying he didn’t like Skybox Schotty’s aggressive approach, and wanted to return to pounding the rock. In their pass-first phase of the season, Wilson threw a combined 7 interceptions in their three losses and averaged 1.1 over those nine games. After Carroll put the leash back on his quarterback, Russ’s interception rate fell to 0.43 over the final seven games. It brings me no pleasure in reporting that turning off the stove on Russell Wilson actually led to more wins for the Seahawks. I hate it, it’s gross, and I think there is no reason for any team to hand the ball off to Carlos Hyde when RUSSELL WILSON is on the field. Touchdowns are fun. Moon balls are fun. Carlos Hyde – although he may be a really nice guy – is not fun.

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