Rost’s 3 Seahawks Questions: What does the offense look like without Wilson?

Oct 13, 2021, 9:59 AM
Seahawks Russell Wilson, Geno Smith...
Geno Smith will be the Seahawks quarterback while Russell Wilson recovers from surgery. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Seahawks (2-3) are getting ready for the primetime spotlight once again, but this time it’ll be with Geno Smith at quarterback for a Sunday night matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-3).

Heaps: Why Smith can successfully lead the Seahawks until Wilson returns

Here are the three biggest questions facing this up-and-down Seattle team:

What does the Seahawks’ offense look like without Russell Wilson?

Might as well start with most obvious question first.

Fans got a preview of backup quarterback Geno Smith steering the ship in the second half of Thursday’s loss to the Rams, and what they saw was impressive. Smith put together a 10-play, 98-yard touchdown drive to narrow the Rams’ lead to 16-14. Ultimately it wasn’t enough to win the game – the Rams scored on the subsequent drive and an interception of a Smith pass intended for Tyler Lockett ended any hope of a last-minute comeback – but it was enough to make a case that the Seahawks could be in safe hands for the next month while Russell Wilson recovers from surgery to his injured finger.

Given Wilson’s availability, Seahawks fans haven’t seen much of Smith. He’s attempted just nine passes from 2018 to 2020 and hasn’t been a regular starter since 2014. But Carroll’s impromptu scouting report – offered during a Monday press conference – was encouraging.

“He takes great pride in the work and knowing the details,” Carroll said of Smith. “He’s really sharp with calls and checks and all that kind of stuff. He’s a really good athlete. He’s got a tremendous throwing arm. He’s got a great arm. He can throw the ball a mile, he can throw the ball on the move, going in both directions. He scrambles and he’s a tough competitor. He’s got good touch, too. He throws the ball impeccably well. He’s got great throwing mechanics and all of that. And so, he can make all the throws.”

I’ll stop you here for one second to say this: Wilson will return as the starter when he’s healthy. Smith is perfectly capable of playing well, and if this team improves its record over this stretch, then all the better for the Seahawks. But whatever your complaints about quarterback contracts, the Seahawks chose to pay Wilson $35 million a year for a reason: he’s a franchise quarterback in a league where there are not 32 passers of that caliber.

That said, fans and reporters alike are going to be curious about what a Seahawks offense looks like without Wilson, who has been under center for nearly a decade without missing a start. Offensive weapons like DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett certainly help with the transition to a new passer.

Getting running back Chris Carson back would certainly help as well, which leads us to our next question…

Will Chris Carson return?

Carroll sounded optimistic Monday.

“He had a big turn over the weekend, so we’ll see how it goes,” Carroll said, confirming later that the turn was meant to be interpreted as a positive.

Carson missed Week 5 with a neck injury that, based on earlier comments from Carroll, appears to be a flare up of a longer-term issue rather than a new injury. A return on Sunday gives Smith and offensive coordinator Shane Waldron another weapon, even if it’s against a Steelers defense that’s played well against opposing running backs. The Steelers’ defense has performed better against the run (100.4 yards allowed per game, ninth overall) than they have against the pass this year (260.6 yards allowed per game, 19th overall).

Can the defense take advantage of the Steelers’ offense?

I should preface this section by adding that the Steelers’ offense was struggling until last week’s win over the Broncos. Pittsburgh was 7-of-12 on third down (58%) and put up 27 points against a Denver defense that has given up the third-fewest yards per game, trailing only Buffalo and Carolina. Running back Najee Harris finished with 122 yards on 23 carries while wide receiver Chase Claypool accounted for 130 of Ben Roethlisberger’s 253 passing yards. Speaking of Roethlisberger, the longtime vet received his highest grade of the season from Pro Football Focus (77.1).

Still, it’s a group that hasn’t found consistent production this year. Overall, they’re 27th in yards per game (295.2) and near the bottom of the league in scoring (18.8 points per game). They’re 31st in rushing offense (73.6). That 122-yard performance from Harris was impressive, but it was also the single best performance by any Steelers running back this season; the team rushed for 39 yards against the Raiders and 45 yards against the Bengals. They’ve also turned the ball over at least once in each of their last four games.

If the Steelers ride the success of their win against the Broncos, Seattle’s defense is in trouble. But if they look anything like the team fans saw over the first four weeks, then a struggling Seahawks defense will have an easier time keeping Smith and the offense in this game.

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