The great Seahawks and Russell Wilson debate: Salk, Heaps face off
When it comes to the Seahawks and quarterback Russell Wilson, two of 710 ESPN Seattle’s hosts find themselves on opposite sides of the spectrum.
Wilson, who is wrapping up his 10th NFL season, is once again the subject of trade speculation as Seattle wraps up a disappointing 2021 season that followed the wake of an offseason full of rumors that the star signal caller could be on the move.
After Sunday’s resounding 51-29 Seahawks win over the Detroit Lions, Salk took to Twitter to discuss the possibility that Wilson played his final home game for the Seahawks, and what that would mean to him if it ends up being the case:
I don’t know if Russ will play in front of these Seahawk fans again. But if he doesn’t, it will be because of his unwillingness to accept that he plays best in a system like the one we saw today. A run game w/ a QB who manages the game, protects the ball, and is VERY efficient.
— Mike Salk, 710 ESPN (@TheMikeSalk) January 3, 2022
Heaps didn’t agree with Salk that Wilson has been unwilling to play to head coach Pete Carroll’s preference of an offense balanced between a strong run attack and efficient passing game, and he fired back soon after.
Much much more to the conversation but sure it’s all about his unwillingness to play in a system you think is best. It couldn’t be about anything else… https://t.co/Zp031KxrS9
— Jake Heaps (@jtheaps9) January 3, 2022
On Thursday morning, the two were able to discuss Wilson and the Seahawks on the 710 ESPN Seattle airwaves during Heaps’ weekly appearance on Salk’s show.
“If I understand it properly, you took issue and disagreed with my thought last week that if Russ leaves it will be because he wasn’t content with the style of offense that they played on Sunday. Why?” Salk asked Heaps.
“I saw that and I said, boy, I can’t get on board with that at all,” Heaps replied. “Because there’s just so much more to the conversation about everything that has been going on, and it has not been solely just about the offense and number of pass attempts and all that. And I really look at this last Sunday against Detroit as why that’s just not true.”
During Sunday’s offensive outburst against Detroit, the Seahawks ran the ball 41 times for 265 yards while Wilson completed 20 of 29 passing attempts for 236 yards and four touchdowns.
Heaps called that game a “perfect mesh point” for Wilson and Carroll in terms of offensive philosophy.
Heaps, a former Seahawks QB who personally coaches Wilson in the offseason and is head coach of the Russell Wilson Passing Academy, wanted to make it clear that Wilson has no issue with the team wanting to run the football.
“He’s a pretty smart guy and understands that there’s great benefit to having a very good run game,” Heaps said. “And it’s also a great benefit to (offensive coordinator) Shane Waldron’s offense in terms of why he was brought here and all the different things that he could do. But a huge part of that is the effectiveness of your running game and then everything that you can do off of that, and expand this offense and bring in new elements to the table that can make it more modernized, can make it better.”
Responded Salk: “But didn’t they do those things this year? Didn’t they bring in a lot of that stuff? I mean, Russ helped to handpick Shane Waldron. Didn’t they do a lot of that this year?”
“They’ve tried to, yeah,” Heaps said. “I mean, they’ve tried to.”
Salk believes that the perceived issue between Wilson and Carroll stems from the 2020 season.
Wilson was an early NFL MVP favorite, playing at a record-setting pace during the first half of the year, but during a four-game stretch around midseason, Wilson threw seven interceptions and the Seahawks lost three games. After that, the Seahawks leaned into a more conservative approach offensively, which coincided with the defense, which had been historically bad in the first half, starting to make big improvements.
“My newest theory is that in that moment,” posed Salk, “Pete said, ‘We’ve got to throttle back the offense in order to help the defense.’ And at his core, Pete believes that the offense is there to work with the defense and that by throttling and being more conservative offensively, it helped the defense give up a lot fewer yards and a lot fewer points. Which, by the way, did happen at the end of last year as everything kind of came back together. And Russ at his core believes the best way in that spot would have been for him to just simply put up more points just to outscore everybody, and that would be the best way to overcome the problem.”
Heaps called that a “unique point” to look at for both Wilson and Carroll, and that “both of them are wrong.”
When it comes to Salk’s theory on Carroll, Heaps said the defense’s turnaround in the second half of the 2020 season came against “some of the worst offenses in the NFL” and “continuous backup quarterbacks.”
The crux of the issue in Heaps’ mind is that the Seahawks don’t have a good enough roster right now surrounding Wilson and the other top players on the team, and that the team didn’t stay convicted in its offensive approach and philosophy.
“When you look at the second half of the (2020) season, I believe – if you’re looking at this from a quarterback perspective, and this is where I think you’re trying to get to, Mike – (Wilson is saying) ‘I’m struggling here and I’m not performing to my standard. And instead of (Carroll) trusting me and allowing me to get through it, and some of these issues, you pull back the reins entirely because you’re not you weren’t comfortable doing it in the first place,'” Heaps said. “Right?”
“Well I don’t think it’s just that he’s not comfortable,” responded Salk. “I think he doesn’t think Russell Wilson has the same strengths as Aaron Rodgers or some of the other volume passers out there.”
When it comes to “volume passers,” Heaps noted that every quarterback with over 4,000 passing yards in 2021 has over 10 interceptions, while Wilson had 13 to go with 4,212 yards and a career-high 40 touchdowns in 2020.
“My point being is that with these offenses are structured and set up, they don’t pull away from that,” Heaps said. “They let those guys either play through it, or their offense is already geared around that. All together, there’s no way that they’re going to just pull the plug and go away from that. So I do believe that there is a uniqueness to what happened last year, that it’s not the norm of what you do … Russell Wilson has not been given the same ingredients that any of these other guys have been given from an offensive line perspective. And I don’t really think that’s debatable.”
Salk said Wilson appears to “want everything” in terms of a great offensive line, playmakers and defense, as well as to throw the ball 50 times a game.
“I don’t know that that’s a realistic thing for him to ask for,” Salk said. “You can’t have everything. You have to make hard decisions in the NFL. And honestly, I think if the Seahawks had a better defense, Pete wouldn’t need to pull back on some of the offensive reins and everything would be hunky dory. But honestly, I don’t think that’s the case right now.”
Going back to the win over the Lions, Heaps noted running back Rashaad Penny’s breakout game where he rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns. He then mentioned the Green Bay Packers and Rodgers, who is the reigning MVP and may win the award again this season.
“Their offense was fifth total in the league. They were ninth and passing they were eighth and rushing. That is exactly what Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson ultimately want,” Heaps said. “They both want the same thing. That to me is the epitome of what Shane Waldron is supposed to bring here to Seattle. Ultimately, that is the perfect mesh point between the two of Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson in their minds.”
Heaps said the big difference between the Seahawks and Packers isn’t just that Green Bay has the 2020 MVP, but it has a great offensive line that can perform in the run game and passing game. Heaps pointed multiple times during the conversation with Salk to Seattle’s line being an issue.
“That, to me, is the biggest problem that the Seahawks have right now,” Heaps said. “And I would say the same thing to Pete Carroll.”
Ghosts of 2018 and 2019
Salk said at his core, Wilson wants to throw the ball more. Heaps, though, said the Lions game is “a perfect example” that what Wilson and the Seahawks both want offensively are for Wilson to be efficient and throw for a lot of touchdowns. Salk’s response was that the game against the Lions used a brand of offense that the Seahawks had found success with for years.
“That’s what they used to do and Russ got frustrated by that,” Salk said. “And we had ‘Let Russ Cook’ and the MVP campaign. Why was he frustrated with that? It was working.”
Heaps pointed to how the 2018 and 2019 seasons ended for the Seahawks.
“Back-to-back playoff games in 2018 and 2019. And in 2019, when Russell was having, in my opinion, the best season of his career, you go into Green Bay in the divisional round and you try to run the ball with with Marshawn Lynch, (who) was on his last legs. Actually, he came back from retirement… and you try to run the ball,” Heaps said.
In 2018, the Seahawks lost 24-22 to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC wild card round, a game in which Seattle rushed the ball 24 times for just 73 yards in the contest. In 2019, the Seahawks fell behind the Packers 21-3 by halftime, and aside from scrambles by Wilson, the running game faltered despite the team trying to get it going.
Salk called it “revisionist history,” blaming the 2018 game in particular on the running game and not on Wilson, the defense or the offensive line.
“I think that a lot of this becomes revisionist history. Russell at some point decided he wanted to throw the ball more, they allowed that to happen and it worked for a little while,” Salk said. “Eventually he started throwing a lot more picks as defenses started to adjust. He ends up throwing seven picks in three losses in a four-game stretch, and at that point, Pete couldn’t allow it to continue. The point of the 13 or 14 interceptions those (other quarterbacks) throw in a year, Russell threw seven in three games, and they were getting blown off the field. I don’t know that I blame Pete Carroll for acting in that moment.”
Heaps strongly disagreed with calling it “revisionist history” when looking at those two playoff losses because the offensive philosophy put the team in a hole early in the games.
“‘Let Russ Cook’ ultimately started and was born from from those things: Don’t get yourself into a hole by trying to run the football first and foremost when you have an elite quarterback that you can lean into,” Heaps said. “And it’s not in every situation, Mike. And I’m not saying that Russell Wilson needs to throw the ball 35 to 40 times a game. That’s not it at all… The crux of the argument to me is when it comes down to it, these guys need better help up front for a number of different reasons. And it’s the one area that they have neglected to fix, not address, but fix … They’ve never really, truly fixed it. And until they fix it, this group is never going to realize their potential. They’re always going to be on the outside looking in.”
Listen to the full debate between Salk and Heaps, which includes thoughts on Wilson’s accountability, reactions to a report on Wilson’s view of what Seattle did last offseason and much more at this link or in the player near the top of the post.