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Commentary: The 6-1 Seahawks are no longer a running team, except when running up the score

UPDATED: Mon., Nov. 2, 2020

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, right, greets wide receiver Tyler Lockett before a game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in Seattle.  (Stephen Brashear)
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, right, greets wide receiver Tyler Lockett before a game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in Seattle. (Stephen Brashear)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

A few weeks back, Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer insisted that nothing had changed. Seattle’s dedication to running the football was still a staple of the offense regardless of quarterback Russell Wilson’s performance.

But seven games into the season, any such statement should be met with a three-word response: Oh, come on.

The Seahawks’ identity is essentially the inverse of what it was when it went to two Super Bowls last decade. Not just because the offense has been the most integral component to their six wins at this point, but because of how the offense is operating.

This, simply, is not a running team anymore – unless, of course, we’re talking about running up the score.

In Sunday’s win 37-27 win over San Francisco, the Seahawks (6-1) threw 37 passes and had 28 rushing attempts. That’s 57 percent passing. Six of those rushes, however, came via a Wilson scramble, which he does more than most quarterbacks in the league. Through 10 games, the Seahawks have thrown passes on 60.98% of their plays, good for eighth-most in the league. Perhaps as significantly, they have thrown on 62.57% of their first-down attempts, which is 10th in the NFL.

Not long ago, such percentages would have been unrecognizable for this organization. The only explanation would be that coach Pete Carroll had retired or that Seattle was trailing in every game and needed to hurl the ball in the air to catch up. Last year, for instance, the Seahawks were 27th in the league in pass-to-run percentage as they threw 54.34% of the time.

In 2018 they were last in the NFL, throwing just 47.56% of the time.

That was the season in which Wilson had the highest passer rating of his career (110.9). Can you really see them going back to that model?

That’s why the absence of starting running back Chris Carson and backup running back Carlos Hyde seemed to be of little concern Sunday. It’s why fill-in RB DeeJay Dallas being held to 41 yards on 18 attempts was of little consequence, either. Yes, all teams benefit from a strong running game to keep defenses honest, but Seattle’s passing game is so dynamic that it can invite their opponents into the huddle and still rattle off 300 yards.

It helps, of course, that Seattle has what may be the best 1-2 receiving punch in football in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett – to the point that it’s hard to say who’s the one and who’s the two. Two games ago, Lockett amassed a career-best 200 yards on 15 receptions against the Cardinals. On Sunday Metcalf tallied 161 yards on 12 catches and is fourth in the league in receiving yards. Throw in David Moore and tight end Greg Olsen, and Russ is working with a Ruth’s Chris-caliber menu.

The result has been a league-leading 34.3 points per game – more than two points more than any other team. The Seahawks’ season high since Wilson was drafted eight years ago? That would be 26.8 points per game in 2018.

Looks like the fans clamoring this offseason to “Let Russ Cook” knew what they were talking about. And though it’s impossible that social-media hashtags had any influence on their decision-making, credit the Seahawks coaching staff for making the adjustment. They have a bruising running back in Carson who will still get plenty of touches, but they’ve thrown out the usual game plan in order to throw.

Perhaps there will be a game in the next couple weeks that runs counter to the seasonlong strategy. A critical step in compiling wins in the NFL is to stay unpredictable. If an opponent expects a pass on most every play and prepares for that all week, then the Seahawks might be wise to try and cram it down their collective throat via the run.

Then again, it might be wiser to just keep doing what they are doing until someone can figure out how to stop it. No team has seemed to yet.

These Seahawks are passing on running first – and are passing their opponents by.

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