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Clayton: Seahawks offensive formula doesn’t need more passing by Wilson

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson ran passing plays 54% of the time in 2019. (AP)

For the past two years, fans and critics of the Seahawks have pushed for them to be more of a passing offense because of the talents of Russell Wilson.

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Wilson was having an MVP season in 2019 until mid to late November when he was topped by the numbers put up by Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes. And one thing that makes it tough for him to win an MVP award – even though he’s having a Hall of Fame career – is the limited number of pass attempts he has in games.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll believes his winning formula is running the football, winning the turnover battle and having a top quarterback who can create victories in the fourth quarter. His formula works. The Seahawks have made the playoffs in eight of his 10 years in Seattle, and he’s been to two Super Bowls and is working on getting this franchise back there.

While this is a quarterback-driven league that is loaded with quarterbacks who can throw for 30-plus touchdowns and more than 4,000 yards and even up to 5,000 yards, Wilson has had three seasons of 4,000-plus yards in his eight years even with Seattle employing a run-first mentality.

Should the Seahawks turn into more of a passing offense? My opinion is no.

In his second year as offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer opened things up a little bit in 2019. The Seahawks ran the ball on 46 percent of their plays to 54 percent passing (including sacks) last season. Schottenheimer increased the number of passing plays, going from 29.4 per game in 2018 to 35.25.

The Seahawks had only five regular season games where they led at the half. They trailed at halftime in six of their home games, putting together a 3-3 record. Including sacks, Wilson averaged 10 pass plays a game in the fourth quarter, the most of any quarter for him and the Seahawks.

What people aren’t recognizing is the recent trend in the league to rely on the run more and more in the last couple of years. In 2019, for example, eight of the 12 playoff teams ranked in the top 10 in running the football, and that included the Seahawks, who were fourth with 137.5 rushing yards per game. That number would have been better had they not finished the season with their top three running backs injured.

The Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers were the NFC champions in the Super Bowl in the past two years, and much of that success was because of their running attacks. The 49ers averaged 31.1 running plays and 144.1 yards a game last year. That’s second in the league to the Baltimore Ravens, who went 14-2 averaging 206 rushing yards and 37.3 running plays a game.

If you look at Wilson’s career, the more he throws the ball, the tougher it is for the offense. In 2017, the Seahawks were a 40.6-to-59.4 running team and they didn’t make the playoffs for the only time since Wilson was drafted in 2012.

That’s why the recent signing of running back Carlos Hyde is so important. The Seahawks now have two 1,000-plus-yard rushers from last year: Hyde and Chris Carson. They should get Rashaad Penny back from his recovery from knee surgery after the first six weeks of the season, too.

Including the playoffs, the Seahawks lost three of their last four games while they were down at least one of their top two running backs. Had they had both of those backs healthy, they would have probably beaten the 49ers in the season finale and won the NFC West.

Getting back to the running trend, the Green Bay Packers, who averaged only 25.7 running plays a game, rushing on 43.7 percent of their plays compared to 56.3 percent passing, plan to add some of the Rams and 49ers running plays in 2020. Eagles coach Doug Pederson also plans to copy those plans in Philadelphia.

The Seahawks don’t need to do much more passing. They just need to run the ball better. Remember, they have had two playoff seasons being a running team the past two years.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton on Twitter.

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