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Let Russ Cook Tracker, Week 2

Still in the kitchen, chopping and mincing and doing various food preparation thingies

NFL: New England Patriots at Seattle Seahawks
and after you add the chicken, sausage and shrimp, you cover and let it simmer on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Let Russ Cook, episode two! Today’s show is brought to you by L.J. Collier’s Uprootin-Newton Landscaping and Lano Hill’s Pest Removal Services. Thanks as always to our sponsors. If you’d like to help bring Let Russ Cook to the masses, and have recently made a victory-saving play in an NFL primetime game, please contact our producers.

Every week this space will compile and recount how thoroughly the Seattle Seahawks are allowing Russell Wilson to be everything he can be. Let Russ Cook, for our purposes, is defined as:

  • Passing quite a bit more than running in neutral game script (goal is 60-40)
  • Especially not running on second down and long (9 yards or more)
  • Using his legs too, by design instead of necessity
  • Not being shy on fourth down and short past midfield.

(Last week’s column, with more explainers and maybe better jokes, can be found here.)

Let Russ Cook Tracker, Week 2

Category 2019 This Week 2020 to date LRC grade
Category 2019 This Week 2020 to date LRC grade
Pass/run neutral sit. 51-49 56-44 60-40 A-
Runs on 2nd & 9+ 61 / 166, 37% 4 / 6, 67% 4 / 15, 27% B+
RW designed runs 11 / 31 1 / 21 2 / 49 A
4th & short choices 6 of 25 0 for 1 1 of 3 B

One note on the second downs before anything else. It may sound deflating — and not in a Tom-Brady-I-like-my-balls-softer-which-isn’t-cheating-kind-of-way — to discover the Seahawks chose to run on four of six long second downs. Especially after they were so good in Week 1 at avoiding it. But the 4-of-6 number is a lie, an untruth uttered by slippery statistics, maliciously masked by iniquitous integers.

One such run was a semi-designed Wilson keeper that went for 21 yards. Another was officially counted as a one-yard RW scramble even though it was a pass attempt — the future MVP was flagged for an illegal forward pass after he elected to cross the line of scrimmage first. (Which was bound to bite him eventually.) Yet another run came on 2nd and 26 with under a minute remaining in the first half. Seattle was just running clock, in a situation that called for it, no less.

The Seahawks legitimately ran once on second and long, in the first quarter, when Carlos Hyde gained 9 yards on a 2nd and 12. The box score will ask us to assign four runs’ worth of guilt over the course of the game, but it’s more like one rush plus a clever quarterbacking decision to keep it on the ground.

So the only thing missing in Week 2 was a fourth-down attempt. Pete Carroll punted on 4th and 5 from the Patriots 42 in the first half. I mean, he sent Michael Dickson out to do his dirty work, but it was still his call. Those who don’t believe Carroll will consistently trust Wilson on fourth down get another quiver in their bow. I’ll be honest. It could go either way, and that’s kind of thrilling.

Because based on the statistical evidence, there are few ways to say this more clearly: we are entering the very specific twilight zone where a Carroll offense is built around the passing game.

How long does this go on? Who knows! It does bring to mind a similar metamorphosis from the previous decade of football. The Patriots offense was good but not unstoppable for Tom Brady’s first six years with Bill Belichick. Then came 2007, their seventh year of collaboration, and New England passed 58 percent of the time, a modest four percentage-point jump from their previous high. They won all 16 of their regular-season games. In case you’d forgotten. Sometimes it’s the little alterations in your game plan that end up being the biggest. Four more percent passing means about two fewer wasted plays per game.

If Sunday night taught us anything, it’s that two play calls can very, very easily swing the game the other way.

Coaches change. Poor coaches do it too frequently, or too rarely. Great coaches evolve just enough to maximize their team’s potential without forgetting what got them there.

— — —

Speaking of maximizing potential: Russell Wilson. Maybe the Atlanta secondary was poor, and maybe the New England secondary isn’t as elite as it was in 2019. But even if the Pats are only very good, or just plain good because teams morph from year to year, throwing five touchdowns against them is still impressive.

Completing 82.5 percent of your passes through two games is still impressive. One out of seven throws that leaves RW’s hand ends up a touchdown. That’s triply impressive.

So’s this:

Wilson will carry a 140.0 passer rating into Week 3, which is artificially deflated by the interception that bounced out of Greg Olsen’s mitts.

The Seahawks quarterback is playing his position better than anyone alive right now, at exactly the moment his coaches began to place increasing trust in him to do so. That’s a recipe for a sizzling offense, the surest path back to eating out of the Super Bowl again.