RENTON, Wash. – After throwing for a career-high 367 yards in Los Angeles on Sunday, Geno Smith said the only stat that mattered was the 27-23 on the scoreboard.
“The win means something,” Smith said. “The numbers don’t mean a thing.”
There is one number that does matter to coach Pete Carroll – completion percentage.
“I’ve always expected us to be a 70% completion team,” Carroll said Wednesday. “That’s always – that was the goal.”
That was a statement Carroll made more than a few times during Russell Wilson’s 10 years in Seattle.
Wilson got close. His best as a Seahawk was 68.8% in 2020, which is also a team record.
Wilson has the top four completion percentage marks in Seahawks history, though he never did lead the NFL. One Seahawk has – Dave Krieg in 1991 at 65.6%, the best in Seahawks history. Matt Hasselbeck completed 65.5% in 2005.
In his first year as a Seahawk, Smith is threatening to blow those marks away.
With five games left, Smith is completing 72.7% of his passes, which leads the NFL and is the fourth best for any QB in league history through the first 12 games of the season.
If it stands, it would also be the third best for a full season in NFL history behind Drew Brees of New Orleans in 2018 (74.4%) and 2019 (74.3%).
And hitting the 70% mark has been rare in NFL history, happening only 19 times, according to Pro Football Reference.
Illustrating how the game has evolved through the years – with numerous rules changes over the last five decades helping the passing game as well as a general shift in coaching offensive strategy to emphasize shorter and less-risky throws with systems such as the West Coast offense – only four of those happened before the 2011 season.
“Slinging” Sammy Baugh of Washington set the completion-percentage record in 1945 at 70.3%, one of the biggest statistically anomalous seasons in NFL history. Nobody hit 70 again until Ken Anderson of Cincinnati at 70.6% in 1982.
So why does Carroll value 70%?
He sees it as a nice, round target at which to shoot that he thinks is realistic given the Seahawks’ preferred style of play.
Carroll said he knows “how hard it is and how few times that happens (to complete 70%). But that’s always been the expectation I’ve had because we’re trying to throw stuff that you can have those expectations. We’re not chucking the ball over the yard and just hoping that we get stuff down the field. Everything is really designed to maximize efficiency in complement with the running game. So that’s what I’ve been saying for a long time.”
Shorter passes are obviously easier to complete, and Wilson’s best percentage year in 2020 came in a season when he averaged his lowest intended air yards per target (or how far the ball traveled) of his past four seasons in Seattle (PFR began providing the stat in 2018) at 8.6.
Wilson averaged 9.9 air yards per attempt last season, which led the NFL, in part a function of the Seahawks playing many more games in which they were trying to come from behind, completing 64.8% of his throws.
Smith is averaging 7.5, which ranks just 17th in the NFL. Showing how efficient he has been – the key to Carroll – he not only leads the NFL in completion percentage but is fourth in yards per attempt at 8.1 (Wilson averaged 7.8 in his Seahawks career).
That might seem like a lot of numbers to define what the eye test makes obvious each week – Smith is playing as well as any QB in the NFL.
He’s playing at a level that has been one of the biggest surprises in the league this year, even if almost everyone involved with the Seahawks professes they always knew Smith had it in him.
It’s not just Smith’s overall completion percentage that has impressed but also his consistency. He’s been at 64.0% or better in every game, and over 70% eight times, including Sunday against the Rams when he was 28 of 39 (71.8%).
That puts Smith in some additional rarefied NFL air. He has completed at least 60% of his passes and finished with an 80 or better passer rating in every game in each of the first 12 games.
That ties an NFL record and has been done by only two others – Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay in 2011 and Peyton Manning of the Colts in 2009. As the Seahawks noted in their official media release this week, Rodgers and Manning won the MVP those seasons. Steve Young did it the first 10 games in 1992 for the 49ers, a year he also was named MVP.
While Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts are considered the front-runners for MVP, though the new ballot – voters will select a top five rather than just one – would seem to assure Smith will at least get some votes.
“He’s doing it,” Carroll said of Smith being at the vaunted 70% completion number. “It’s really how we thought it could be. … We’ll see if he can continue that or not. I don’t know. But he has shown that he can run this offense and he’s in command of it, and he maximize the principles and the concepts. And last week was a great example again.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.