Can the Seahawks’ offense be physical and still ‘Let Russ Cook’?
Things were looking up for the Seahawks under a new pass-happy offense during the team’s first five games. But Seattle dropped three of four after starting 5-0, and Wilson, once believed to be the front-runner for NFL MVP, wasn’t playing anywhere close to his best football.
During that four-game stretch, the Seahawks lost or were without their two top running backs in Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde, and opposing defenses were able to key in on the pass, disrupting Wilson in the pocket and taking away key plays in the passing game. In those three losses, Wilson had 10 turnovers.
In that 5-0 start, the “Let Russ Cook” offense was off and running, but that pass-first approach struggled mightily against the Cardinals, Bills and Rams in Seattle’s three losses. In previous years, the Seahawks have leaned on a power run game on offense and that had gone away this year as Wilson was the clear star of the show. That had some questioning if the Seahawks were no longer a physical football team, especially as the defense was struggling.
Hyde returned and had a good game with 79 rushing yards and a touchdown in the Seahawks’ Week 11 win over Arizona, and the run game was key in the victory as Wilson had under 200 yards. That led former NFL quarterbacks Jake Heaps and Brock Huard to discuss on 710 ESPN Seattle whether the Seahawks can be physical on offense while letting ‘Russ cook.’
“It’s easy for me to say no,” Huard said. “That would be the better debate and better radio answer and everything else, but I think to play to the strengths of the entirety of this team, including its quarterback, I think their game plan last Thursday against Arizona of being physical, of being balanced, of running the ball, of committing to running the ball and letting Russ be as efficient as he’s ever been is the best recipe for this team.”
Huard noted that the Seahawks’ commitment to running the football in Week 11 reminded him of early in 2018, which was the first year with Brian Schottenheimer as Seattle’s offensive coordinator. The Seahawks started 0-2 and turned the ball over too much while not running the football too often. That team flipped a switch and Carson ran for over 1,000 yards on the season, and despite the poor start, the Seahawks made the playoffs.
Huard also added that when the Seahawks were struggling the last few weeks, Wilson was getting hit way too much. In those three losses Wilson was knocked down 28 times, including an NFL-high 16 times in Buffalo.
Heaps thinks that despite Wilson’s low passing yards total against the Cardinals in Week 11 that the team was able to both be physical and have the quarterback “cooking.”
“If you are going to be a playoff team, if you are going to make a serious run at this thing, you do need to be balanced. You do need to be physical,” he said. “What you saw (against) the Cardinals, to me, was a perfect marriage of ‘Let Russ Cook’ and being able to be physical and balanced. The reason why I say that is because a lot of those plays were passing plays.”
Heaps pointed out that Wilson was able to take off and run 10 times for 42 yards, all of which were on passing plays, and that he was also repeatedly changing plays at the line of scrimmage to runs for Hyde. He said it reminded him of Peyton Manning running the show with the Indianapolis Colts, even though their running game with Edgerrin James wasn’t as physical as the Seahawks’ two lead backs are.
“Carson and Hyde, they play with a physicality. It’s trying to marry (power running and letting Wilson pass regularly and more aggressively) and let your quarterback always keep you one step ahead,” Heaps said. “And on Thursday night, it was yes, we don’t have to pass the ball every down, but you finally had a starting-caliber running back to run a lot of schemes that they’re comfortable doing and I think that was the missing equation when you look at the third quarter and beyond (since the Week 7 loss to the Cardinals).”
Huard said he thinks “Let Russ Cook” isn’t an accurate name for what Wilson and the Seahawks want to do on offense.
“It’s not ‘Let Russ Cook,’ it’s ‘Let Russ Control,'” said Huard, a former backup of Manning with the Colts. “When you brought up Peyton Manning, that’s what he was. He was in complete control of the game, of the play calls, of the line of scrimmage, of what the plan was going in and what adaptations maybe had to be made and checks during the game. It’s ‘Let Russ Control.'”
Huard said even while throwing for under 200 yards, Wilson was in full control of the game and offense against the Cardinals while making plays with his legs and finding big plays in the passing game. That wasn’t really the case when the Seahawks lost in Arizona in Week 7 or in the other two losses as Wilson tried to do it all for Seattle with Carson and Hyde hurt.
“I think what you see is Russell doesn’t mind letting the run game take some of the burden off of him much like (Manning, Tom Brady and now Aaron Rodgers have),” Huard said. “That run game can be productive and man, I want to hand the ball off and let others do their thing.”
When Wilson was at his best for the first five weeks of 2020, he was throwing it more while being efficient, and Heaps said part of why he was able to do that was because opposing defenses still had to be ready for Carson and Hyde.
“There was a perfect counterbalance,” he said.
Heaps added that how the offense operates now is almost a mirrored opposite of how it was when the Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2013.
“At one point, led by (running back) Marshawn Lynch and this defense, they ran the ball down your throat and that was the weapon of their offense,” he said. “Well, the counterbalance was Russell Wilson to let him make those big plays in the passing game and keep teams off balance. They had to respect that element. But you have to have that counterbalance and that’s what Carlos Hyde and Chris Carson tie up so beautifully for this offense and that’s when it’s truly at its best.”