Except for what he apparently did to an opposing player’s shoe, Russell Wilson is throwing less.
And he’s throwing best. The best, in terms of efficiency, of his career.
Pete Carroll says it’s a “marvel.”
No quarterback in the NFL who has started each of his team’s games has thrown fewer passes than the Seahawks’ franchise QB this season. His 326 attempts are his fewest passes through 12 games since the 2012 (317 throws) and ‘13 (305) seasons. Those were his first two years in the league, when Seattle has Marshawn Lynch and were only beginning to trust Wilson to win games by himself, if need be.
Yet Wilson has thrown 29 touchdown passes this season. That’s the fourth-most TD throws in the league. That’s also the most Wilson’s had through 12 games in any season of his seven-year career.
You want efficiency in your Seahawks offense that was going backwards passing 73 percent of the time through two games to start the season, both losses? Here’s some more math:
Thirteen percent of all Wilson completions go for touchdowns. Only Kansas City’s wondrous Patrick Mahomes has a higher TD rate among completions (14.2 percent).
Mahomes (41), Andrew Luck (32) and Drew Brees are the only QBs who have thrown for more touchdowns this season than Wilson. Mahomes has thrown it 103 more times than Wilson. Luck has 163 more passes. Brees has passed 58 more times, about two games’ worth more throwing than Wilson.
Wilson has more touchdowns throws than Jared Goff, who has thrown it nearly 100 times more for the NFC West-champion Rams. Wilson has three more touchdown passes than Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, who has thrown it almost 200 more times. Wilson has five interceptions all season, to Roethlisberger’s 13.
Wilson’s passer rating through 12 games of 115.5 will be, if he sustains it over the final four games, his career high for a season.
Sunday in the 43-16 win over San Francisco, Wilson threw three touchdown passes on just six throws in the first half. That’s unheard-of efficiency, scores on 50 percent of one’s passes. Three of his first four completions against the 49ers went for TDs.
“We’re maxing out on the attempts,” Carroll said. “Unusual that you would get so much out of six passes in the first half of the game. But that’s playing off the running game, and we’re taking advantage of that. It’s not really how many shots we take out of it, it’s really what we’re getting out of it and we’re really getting a lot of production.
“Russ has thrown 29 touchdown passes at this point. With the numbers of attempts, you kind of marvel: ‘(How) how could you be that on it?’
“But he is.”
This, Wilson’s career-best efficiency, is why these Seahawks run so often. It’s not only to gain yards on the ground, though Seattle is doing that better than any other NFL team at 149 yards rushing per game.
The mere fact of running the ball so often has forced defenses to play the Seahawks more honestly. It’s slowed down foes’ pass rushers, which in turn has helped Seattle’s offensive line that for years, including this one, has struggled to pass protect on consecutive downs and series when the opponent knows what’s coming.
No other team has run more than Seattle’s 380 rushes. The Seahawks do it so often early in games—seven and four consecutive carries to begin games, 10 rushes in their first 12 plays Sunday against San Francisco—to set up play-action passing later in games.
“We keep doing it so that we can use the play-action stuff and get the ball over top of them. That’s part of it,” Carroll said. “And if they’ve got to commit that hard (to stopping the run), it does give us space to throw the football.
“That’s how it fits together.”
Look how it’s helped Germain Ifedi. All the early running in games forces pass rushers to take the second or two at the snap to read run or pass. That’s the second or two Ifedi needs to get outside from right tackle and meet edge rushers to block them.
Last year and through the first two games of this season when the Seahawks had the lowest run and running-back production in many years, Ifedi led the league in penalties holding and committing false starts trying to slow sack men coming off the edge with no regard to Seattle running the ball instead. And Wilson was under siege.
When the Seahawks were throwing it all around the lots in Denver and Chicago to begin the season, Wilson got sacked 12 times. That was the most in the league through two games, and Seattle was 0-2. When Von Miller, Khalil Mack and their friends knew the Seahawks were almost always going to throw, Seattle’s linemen had little chance in slowing them from pressuring Wilson.
Carroll admitted last month he overestimated at the time how improved his offensive line was in pass blocking after replacing line coach Tom Cable with Mike Solari and signing new starting guards D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy.
So after the loss at Chicago he went back to his promise since January to run the ball more. And the Seahawks (7-5) have won seven of 10 games to seize an inside track to the NFC playoffs entering Monday night’s home game against Minnesota (6-5-1).
They’ve run it more than they’ve passed in every game since that Chicago loss in mid September, except for two.
Against the Chargers Nov. 4, Seattle’s defense gave up huge plays to Philip Rivers, the Seahawks fell behind by two scores and had to throw, and Los Angeles sacked Wilson four times in its 25-17 win.
Two weeks ago at Carolina, the Panthers devoted nine and sometimes 10 men to the line of scrimmage to stop the run. But Seattle still ran it enough on situations such as Chris Carson on third and 3 early in the fourth quarter that on third and 3 with 1 minute left, Wilson had enough pass protection to slide left, look from his left to his right to find Tyler Lockett breaking deep on an improvisational route. Wilson hit Lockett with the 43-yard pass. That set up Sebastian Janikowski for his winning field goal with no time left.
Wilson and Lockett did it again last weekend against the 49ers. After all of Seattle’s running early, Wilson had the time to allow Lockett to run from right to left on a diagonal across the field past linebacker Malcolm Smith for a 52-yard touchdown. That extended Lockett’s career high of nine touchdown receptions this season.
The most efficient game for Wilson this season—14 completions for 248 yards, three touchdowns and the first perfect passer rating of 158.3 of his career—came when Seattle ran it 42 times and threw just 17 in a two-touchdown win at Detroit Oct. 28.
“You always want to have great balance because it causes problems for the defense,” Wilson said.
“It helps definitely, for sure, in terms of what we can do across the board. We want to play-action it. We also want to drop back in the empty (backfield) game. We want to be able to throw it around the ball park, but also we want to be physical. And we want to be able to run the ball downhill. Just that mixture is key for us.”
Early this season first-year coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was learning. Learning what Wilson can do. What Carroll wants. Most of all, what his linemen were and were not capable of executing consistently. The result: two losses to start the season while the play caller, coach and quarterback were figuring each other out.
“I think Coach Schottenheimer is doing a tremendous job,” Wilson said. “He’s dialing everything up. It’s a lot of fun. We get to work, you get to study a lot, and get ready for the week. You go into the game, and you feel really excited and prepared. That’s key.
“And it all starts with our offensive line doing a great job.”
Carroll echoed Wilson after the win over San Francisco.
“I think it’s a really nice job from Schotty, on down through the guys that are really on the same page,” Carroll said. “They understand and they’re executing really well.”
Asked about Wilson’s progress from the 12 sacks and game-losing interception late in the 24-17 loss at NFC North leader Chicago in week two, Carroll said: “I think he’s in better control of what’s going on up front, in the running game and also protection-wise. He and (center) Justin Britt were doing a really good job of working things out and figuring out stuff to put us in the right spots.
“I think that the development of the pass protection has been really obvious, and Russ has taken advantage of that. That’s why he’s been able to be more effective getting the second looks and sliding up in the pocket, and hitting Tyler on the big play was a perfect example of that. Really good protection. He gets to move to give one more beat to get Tyler a chance to get behind him and deliver the throw.
“I just think it’s connected with what’s going on up front. But his overall command of what we’re trying to get done communication-wise has really helped the other guys play well.”
None of it—not Wilson’s 29 touchdowns on the fewest throws by an NFL full-time starter, nor Seattle’s winning and inside track to the playoffs—wouldn’t be happening without the run first.
“We don’t think we’re not going to throw it. We want to take advantage of it off the running game,” Carroll said.
“It’s no secret. So I don’t mind saying it.”