It’s the meme that swept over Seattle Seahawks fandom this offseason, much the way wildfire smoke has enveloped Washington this week:
“Let Russ cook.”
It was a plea for the Seahawks to unleash quarterback Russell Wilson to his fullest.
There’s been a belief among a growing part of the fan base that the Seahawks have not taken full advantage of their star quarterback’s abilities. That the offensive play calling was too conservative and that Wilson, perhaps the game’s greatest playmaker, should be given more opportunities to make plays.
If Sunday’s season opener was an indication, the Seahawks have taken heed and handed Wilson an apron and chef’s toque.
The Seahawks put on an impressive offensive display in their season-opening 38-25 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. And the most significant development may have been the manner in which Wilson was deployed.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is all about the “finish.” Carroll preaches constantly that’s it’s more important how a team finishes than how it starts. Historically that’s manifested itself in games with Seattle being conservative in the first half, particularly on offense as the team emphasized establishing the run and taking care of the ball.
To Carroll’s credit, it’s been a successful strategy. During Carroll’s tenure Seattle has always been a strong finisher. From 2010-2019 the Seahawks outscored their opponents 2,042-1,451 in the second half, and Seattle was 56-26 in the second half of seasons versus 46-33-1 in the first half. It’s made the Seahawks annual playoff participants.
However, the strategy also has often forced Seattle to play from behind. Those are the situations when Wilson had the reins untethered and we’ve seen him turn into Houdini. It’s the reason why Wilson has engineered 32 fourth-quarter/overtime comebacks in his career, the most by any NFL quarterback since Wilson entered the league in 2012. But it’s also been the source of playoff losses — notably Green Bay last year and Carolina in 2015 — when Seattle fell too far behind in the first half and the ensuing comeback came up short.
Meanwhile, the analytics crowd has chimed in with its belief that the whole concept of establishing the run is flawed, that passing the ball is a far better method for adding points than running it, especially when a team has a quarterback of Wilson’s caliber.
Well, Sunday’s game was evidence that perhaps Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer are listening to the noise.
Seattle, which has been one of the NFL’s most-steadfast establish-the-run teams under Carroll, opened Sunday’s game with three consecutive pass plays. In the first half the Seahawks called 19 passes on their 25 plays. For the game the Seahawks called passes on 68% of their first and second downs, the highest percentage of any team in the opening week. It was clear early on that the pattern had switched and Seattle was using the pass to set up the run instead of the run to set up the pass. Who would have guessed Chris Carson would be a bigger threat as a receiver (six catches for 45 yards and two touchdowns) than a rusher (six carries for 21 yards)?
And Wilson thrived under those conditions. He completed his first 12 attempts as Seattle scored touchdowns on its first two drives to grab the initiative, and the Seahawks led the rest of the way. Overall Wilson had one of his best games ever, going 31-for-35 for 322 yards and four touchdowns versus no interceptions.
Let Russ cook indeed.
“I think it’s just a sign of how we’ve worked this offseason,” Carroll responded when asked if this was an indication of how Wilson would be used from here out.
“This whole Zoom season, our guys did a marvelous job,” Carroll added. “Russ was intricately involved with all of that and it just showed. We were together and tight and functioning well. We were able to move the ball, even when we were backed up with some penalty situations and sacks, we came right back and converted. That’s confidence and belief. These guys have earned their way to play like that by the way they practiced.”
Wilson, for his part, didn’t take the bait on the question.
“I think we wanted to spread the ball around, get the ball to a lot of different guys,” he answered when asked whether the team coming out passing was the new normal. “We wanted to be aggressive in our approach just in general. I think we also wanted to be able to run the ball well, which we were able to do when we did.”
Not giving anything away there.
It’s too early for the “Let Russ cook” crowd to get excited. This was just one game, with a game plan against one specific opponent. No trend has been established yet.
But it just may be that the Seahawks have fired up the grill and handed Wilson the tongs.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.