Halfway through the season, the 6-2 Seahawks were celebrated for their forward-thinking offensive philosophy that put MVP front-runner Russell Wilson in place to rule the league as a gun-slinging, fearless, yet somehow surgical destroyer of opponents’ hopes and dreams.
Let Russ Cook was going to allow Seattle to overcome a historically putrid defense by simply outscoring whoever was unlucky enough to show up on the schedule.
The catchphrase showed up on national broadcasts, it wormed its way into small talk, and Russell himself even came out with a whole line of Let
Me Russ Cook branded kitchen doodads.
The 2020 Seahawks were going to go as far as Wilson carried them, preferably with an oven mitt, because that offense was scalding.
Fast-forward to 12-4 — and a division title! — only to find the team basically turned upside down, with the Seattle once-sievous defense carrying a gimpy offense to the finish line in December. Ken Norton’s crew allowed 16 points per game in the second half of the season. Which is good. Better than good. Better than better even. The 2014 LOB allowed 15.9 ppg, and they were aight.
Back to the present. By all appearances, Let Russ Cook ran its course as Pete Carroll wrested control away from the pass-first temptations of modern football and re-established defensive dominance and offensive caution as the Seahawks’ true identity.
Is that really what happened, though? Or is it a false narrative, cooked up by half-baked analysts? Only one way to find out. Open the 2020 cupboards with me.
Let Russ Cook Component 1: Neutral State Passing
As outlined before, this chart measures the game-by-game evolution of how frequently the Seahawks pass on first and second down when no team has a win probability over 85 percent. It’s what I call neutral game state.
There’s not a strong trend either way. A bit of a spike in the middle? If you break the season into quarters you get:
Weeks 1-4: 66-58-65-56, so slightly exceeding 60 percent overall
Weeks 5-9: 75-67-58-69, so above two thirds of the time, near 67 percent
Weeks 10-13: 61-55-59-69, so again back to the 60 range
Weeks 14-17: 48-56-61-61, dipping below 60 percent
Definitely a downward trend from the height of Let Russ Cook in Week 5, when the undefeated Seahawks were showing less mercy than a Cobra Kai black belt.
On the season Seattle ended up with 63 percent neutral state passing. They topped that only once in the second half of the year. It’s fair to say Pete, Schotty and the rest of the coaches backed off somewhat from a full-throated commitment to LRC on the passing front, without abandoning it entirely.
Let Russ Cook Component 2: Second And Long Runs
This is the rolling average, starting with Week 3, of how often the Seahawks ran on 2nd and long, with nine or more yards to gain. In 2019 they were guilty of it 36 percent of the time. Look at how they refrained from shooting themselves in the foot!
In all of 2020, the Seahawks offensive coaches had only one game where they ran more than three times on second and long. The restraint is admirable, and probably added points to the season total.
I mean, they cut their most useless running decisions in half. If they’d done nothing else new in all of 2020, the re-invention of the Seattle offense in this aspect alone would have been cause for celebration.
Part of letting Russ cook is not putting him in unrealistic scenarios where he has to play heroball, i.e. third and seven or more. It’s gratifying to see the Seahawks braintrust now understands this in ways we weren’t sure they did back in the day.*
*rest of the decade
Let Russ Cook Component 3: Russ On The Run
With the caveat that it’s not always easy to tell which runs are intentional and which are borne out of necessity, and the additional disclaimer that 2019 was a down year for the old Russellegs, the team and its star took strides to make sure he would be more dangerous on the ground this season.
I re-watched every Wilson run from the last two campaigns and tried my best to remove last-resort scrambles from the total. Another observer might come up with slightly different totals, but the numbers are far enough apart that the same conclusion is inevitable.
2019 final line: 12-48-4.0-0
2020 final line: 22-174-7.9-2
Wilson has been so much more explosive, too.
Interesting nugget included in the story: Russell Wilson has six runs of 20+ yards this year. He had eight combined in the previous three seasons.— Corbin Smith (@CorbinSmithNFL) January 2, 2021
Any chance we could get him re-unleashed for the playoffs, only earlier in the game, before defenses can smell his killer instinct? Asking on behalf of a nation of fans.
Let Russ Cook Component 4: Fourth Down Aggressiveness
All we were looking for before the season began was for the Seahawks to exceed their “Trust Your Star QB” quotient of 2019. It was 26 percent only that year.
Drum roll, but not really. You know they bested it. Ratcheted it up to 41 percent. Woot. Woot?
Half a woot. Because there’s always a but. The timidity we saw in the other categories is here too, hiding in plain sight. Through Week 12, Carroll okayed going for it on fourth down and short half the time — 8 out of 16 opportunities. After the Eagles game, just one in six.
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Overall, it’s indisputable that the Seahawks leaned fully into LRC in the first half of the season and only hit the brakes when Wilson started to get careless with the football. It’s pushing it to claim Carroll turned his back on a pass-centric offense because RW passed the football 558 times, a career high. Definitely not pushing it to say as Wilson goes, so do the Seahawks.
Seattle went 12-0 when RW committed one or fewer turnovers, and 0-4 when he gave it away multiple times. Yep, 12-0 and 0-4. That’s not game manager material — it’s game emperor shit. If Russ is gonna make t-shirts, it should be those.
The peak (or valley?) of Wilson’s slump sat right in the middle of the season. Ten turnovers and ten touchdowns in Weeks 7 through 10. It was an ugly time to watch the Seahawks offense. And it hasn’t been clear sailing since.
Whether Let Russ Cook cooled off because of Wilson’s performance, Carroll’s preferences, the defenses faced (three in the top six of DVOA), a mystery injury, clever opponent adjustments — the reason is doubtless more than singular. Each one of us is perfectly capable of crafting our own wrong opinion, which the Seahawks will then proceed to render moot the next time they play. Because that’s what they do.