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Let Russ Cook Tracker, Week 1

Is 2020 the year? Finally? This weekly column will tell

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons
i believe i can touch the sky
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Eons ago, in a long-forgotten year we’ll call “2019,” a phrase was born. To be fair, let’s give former Field Gulls contributor Zach Whitman his full due, immediately: he coined “Let Russ Cook.” Catchy, right?

Last Sunday, on the national FOX broadcast, on two occasions the announcing crew of Mark Schlereth and Adam Amin mentioned offseason chatter surrounding the Seattle Seahawks, and specifically how fans have clamored for a chef’s hat atop Russell Wilson’s majestic curls. And then they actually said the words Let Russ Cook, twice, in proper sequence even.

How could they not? The Seattle coaches had already begun, in front of millions of viewers, to let the man cook. But will they continue to do so? That’s what this weekly post will track, all season, until it ends, whichever way it ends.

The metrics I’ve chosen to measure cookiness are arbitrary. You may have your own standards. I’m not opposed to adding more, eventually. But these first four are hard to argue with, easy to define and defend:

A) More passing than running in neutral situations. This is defined by me as downs 1 and 2, with the win probability rate between 15 and 85 percent, excluding the final two minutes of each half. I’m looking for at the bare minimum a 55-45 ratio, preferably 60-40. Not opposed to 65-35, either. This is the main course. Can’t very well call it Russell’s kitchen if it’s the RBs who are... running the show. (Groan.)

B) Even more specifically, minimal runs on 2nd down and long. This playcalling subset is especially nefarious, as it ostensibly looks to instill a level of unpredictability, only for that to backfire a down later, when the Seahawks are forced to pass. Runs that lead to 3rd and 8 make Russ cook, which is not at all the same thing as letting him.

What A) and B) are trying to eliminate are false positives, i.e. games where the Seahawks pass more but only because Wilson was let loose at the end, to save the day. Or, days where RW played out of his mind on third down. Furthermore, it’d be nice to suss out when Pete Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer elect to establish the run in hopes of opening up the offense later. Which is in direct opposition to cooking principles, and has been statistically disproven anyway. But don’t believe me. Believe Sean, or Ted, or Steve and Sam, or Steven, or Jeff who owns the Philadelphia Eagles, a team you might have heard of.

C) Allow RW to run strategically in all quarters of the game, not just the fourth, enough to be Dangeruss on the ground at any time. It doesn’t have to be frequent, but it does have to happen. Scrambles induced by pressure will not count. I mean, not for our purposes at least. We’ll still get the yards in the game and stuff.

D) Go for it on short fourth downs in opponent territory, calling Wilson’s number in the process at least half the time. Long fourth down attempts are their own animal. Being “bold” on 4th and 10 from midfield because you’re down ten points and time is running out isn’t the real juice. So we’re gonna set the cutoff at 4th and 5 or lower.

According to the Football Outsiders Almanac, Seattle has gone for it on fourth down (all circumstances) just 10 percent of the time since 2015, lowest in the league. Maybe that’s a product of being ahead in most games, but it’s also a product of unwillingness to take the little chances, too.

The Seahawks don’t have to clear all four bars to officially be letting Russ prepare gourmet meals for the famished fanbase. Three’s probably enough. But imagine if they keep up all four.

Time for the first chart, hopefully the first of many happy ones.

Let Russ Cook Tracker, Week 1

Category 2019 This Week 2020 to date LRC grade
Category 2019 This Week 2020 to date LRC grade
Pass/run neutral sit. 51-49 67-33 67-33 A
Runs on 2nd & 9+ 61 / 166, 37% 0 / 9, 0% 0 / 9, 0% A
RW designed runs 11 / 31 1 / 28 1 / 28 A-
4th & short choices 6 of 25 1 of 2 1 of 2 B+

Line 1 shows the evolution of run-pass splits since 2019. This year it’s aces for Seattle, passing two-thirds of the time. Context? Yes, context. We have it.

If you want to know what the 2019 Kansas City Chiefs offense looked like, Sunday’s game in Atlanta was basically it. One could get used to such outbursts. (Ironically, the Chiefs passed on 50 percent of early downs in their opener. So maybe it’s silly to make too much of a single game.)

Line 2 indicates how often the Seahawks are running the ball on 2nd and 9 or more. They actually didn’t do it even once in Week 1, after being guilty of it more than a third of the time last year.

Line 3 tracks Wilson’s designed runs and their success. Would be nice to exceed both the 11 and the 72 numbers, and we’re well on our way.

Line 4 needs a bit of clarification. It doesn’t say that Seattle went 6 of 25 on fourth downs last year. That would be... false. They were 8 of 15, counting postseason.

What it means is that in 25 situations of 4th and short in opponent territory, the Seahawks entrusted Wilson with getting the first down only six times. (By the way, he converted three.) The 19 other times, they elected to kick it or hand it off. For eight consecutive games, Seattle declined to call a passing play for RW in fourth and short past midfield. In fact, they only went for it twice after the bye with a play meant for him. That’s... not letting him prepare anything, it’s sending him to the neighbors’ to beg for an egg because you didn’t plan ahead and ran out and now how are we gonna make these brownies?

Not many sweeping conclusions to draw since it’s only been one week, except look at those grades. Russ cooked, by my definition and probably almost everybody’s. You don’t need further evidence, but since we have this lying around...

Now it’s up to the Seahawks brass to keep it rolling, and not close the restaurant after a tough defensive line comes in and trashes the place one weekend.

— — —

To recap!

Putting the ball in Wilson’s hands for the whole fourth quarter because you’re down three scores and desperate: not letting him cook. Running extra on early downs to establish the ground game, setting up obvious passing situations on third down, and bunching most of his attempts there: not letting him cook. Although he’s certainly capable of grilling the defense in any situation. (Everyone sees what I did there.)

Others may have a different definition of what it means to LRC. Mine can fit in 12* words:

He’s your best player. Count on him more frequently and earlier.

*of course 12, what did you expect

All of this being said, there will come games where the Seattle running attack takes precedence in the early action. I wouldn’t dream of expecting the Seahawks to open every contest with 10 passes on their first 13 plays, scoring a touchdown on 4th and 5, and gaining 85 percent of their yards through the air. Other blueprints to victory exist, and the Carroll-Schottenheimer-Wilson collaboration would be unwise to not explore those, based on the matchup at hand.

However, in the end, the 2020 Seahawks belong to Russell Wilson, and the sooner everyone realizes it, the more games they will win.