clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Reports of Let Russ Cook’s demise are greatly exaggerated

Seahawks didn’t actually lean on the traditional run game to win key division matchup.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks
winning forever
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Oh well, it was fun while it lasted, the whole letting Russ cook. Alas, the Seattle Seahawks’ 2-3 stretch in the middle of an otherwise stellar season has cut short his culinary career, undercut Seattle’s hopes at a title, and subjected fans to watching the coaches re-establish the running game as the offense’s centerpiece —

***puts finger to earpiece***

“Yep. Yep. The math checks out.”

***faces camera again. straightens tie***

Hold on everybody, I’m getting new information. Breaking news.

Weeks 1-10 vs. all opponents: 364 passes + sacks, 215 runs. That’s a 63 percent pass rate.

Week 11 vs. Cardinals: 39 dropbacks, 23 runs called. That’s a 63 percent pass rate.

Well won’t we all be darned. Darned to dadgum heck. Nobody’s been chopped, eliminated from Top Chef and had to pack their knives, or failed a health inspection. (Actually the San Francisco 49ers have, enough health violations in a single season to start feeling sorry for them, which is a novel sensation, to say the least.) The box score may show 31 runs, 28 passes and 3 three sacks, and less than 200 yards in the air, but we’re still cookin’. Don’t worry. We’ll address the 197 yards passing. First, the tracker.

Let Russ Cook Tracker, Week 11

Stat 2019 2020 goal 2020 to date Grade (cumulative)
Stat 2019 2020 goal 2020 to date Grade (cumulative)
Neutral downs passing 51-49 55-45 65-35 A
2nd & long rushing 61/166, 37% Below 25% 18-85, 21% A
Designed RW runs 11-31-0 Use him earlier 15-140-2 A
4th & short past midfield 6/25, 26% Above 26% 6/13, 46% A

Ahem. Through ten games, the Seahawks have:

A) Turned into the pass-heaviest team in the NFL on neutral downs. In 2019 they were the 12th run-heaviest team (12th, huh);

B) Cut their propensity for running on 2nd and 9+ by almost half;

C) Made Wilson an integral part of the intentional running game again, earlier and more effectively;

D) Become almost twice as likely to go for it on fourth and short in scoring range instead of settling for field goals.

The sea change — SEA change? Get it? Get it? — behind 2020’s offense is practically impossible to overstate. And while it may slow down, it didn’t in Week 11.

Still, three interesting results from the Cardinals victory do throw a veneer of doubt over whether the transformation will last through the entire season.

There are the aforementioned 197 yards. That’s a volume number reminiscent of 2012-2014 Russ, when he averaged 207 yards a game. You’ll recall that the Seahawks won six playoff games in those three seasons and could’ve won two more with a little better fortune and execution. Wilson could lead the league in yards, TDs and passer rating and a small part of Pete Carroll would still pine for the days his quarterback threw it less than his backs ran it.

And then there’s the inspiring performance of Carlos Hyde, who looked like prime Chris Carson out there, pinballing defenders at the goal line and collecting 95 yards on 17 touches. He fell forward, he had burst and vision, and he scored. Paste the penultimate sentence of the previous paragraph here, for effect.

Finally, the 4th and 6 punt from the 48. It must be addressed. Not because it was a ghastly decision — it was bad, but garden-variety bad, not ghastly. But because the kick worked out well by results-based analysis. It led to a grounding penalty (thanks Jamal Adams) and then a safety. You punt the ball from midfield to set up situations that lead to safeties and/or punts right back to midfield. The Seahawks defense has not proven itself capable of coming through on a consistent basis after a punt, so any result that reinforces Carroll’s propensity to kick it is harmful in the long, probabilistic run.

Tl;dr? He may want to punt it more after this, which isn’t great.

And yet. And yetter, and yettest.

The Seahawks’ fortunes aren’t tied to how well Carroll follows the recipe in the Tracker. They aren’t tied to defensive performance. (More on all this in a future post.) They aren’t even tied to how bad of a call the holding on Damien Lewis was, which short-circuited a potential blowout.

They’re connected directly to Wilson’s execution.

Seahawks record when RW has 0 or 1 turnovers: 7-0

Seahawks record when RW has 2+ turnovers: 0-3

It’s almost like Carroll should make “Protect the Ball” one of his founding philosophical principles oh wait.

Wilson isn’t going to win an MVP with 197-yard days. But he will win almost every game when he takes care of the ball, converts third downs, avoids sacks and runs opportunistically.

Which are MVP-level behaviors on a division-leading team and completely compatible with Let Russ Cookism. Whether or not RW reaps the individual reward is another story. Which we’ll write.