They seem to have a point. After all, Wilson has ranked in the top 10 of ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating as one of the league’s most valuable passers six times since 2012, and he was the second-best passer of 2019 according to Pro Football Focus.
In any case, on Sunday, their prayers were answered.
Seattle’s first three plays against the Atlanta Falcons were passing attempts, as were 10 of the first 13 plays on Seattle’s opening drive. Carroll had Wilson drop back to pass on 18 of the Seahawks’ 25 offensive plays in the first half. And more importantly, six of 10 plays on first and second down were pass attempts, a reversal from years past, when rushing plays dominated Seattle’s early-down play-calling.
Partly as a result, Wilson and the Seahawks roasted the Falcons, with Wilson completing 31 of 35 passes for 322 yards, four touchdowns and a passer rating of 143.1, earning him NFC offensive player of the week honors. Wilson’s 88.6 completion percentage was a career high and a franchise record, and it tied for the third-best mark in NFL history for a quarterback attempting at least 35 passes.
“What we’ve been doing in practice showed up,” Carroll said. “Russ has been extraordinary all camp. He had a great summer throwing the ball to everybody, and he had perhaps his best throwing day, numbers-wise, just about as you could have. … Russ was in total command of the game and had a beautiful game.”
Seattle limited its rushes on second and long (six or more yards needed for a first down). Last season, Seattle used at least six running plays in second-and-long situations in eight different games. Last Sunday, the Seahawks had just two such attempts. Wilson even got a chance to throw it on fourth and five from the Atlanta 38-yard line. The result: a 38-yard touchdown pass to DK Metcalf.
“Honestly, I think he’s, in a way, underrated by the media or the fans,” said New England Coach Bill Belichick, who will face Wilson and the Seahawks on Sunday. “But I don’t really see anybody better than this player.”
If this is the new normal for Wilson and the Seahawks, the rest of the NFL needs to be on notice. But this looks more like an outlier, especially considering what Seattle (and the league at large) has done in the past and Carroll’s remarks after the game.
Notably, teams that lead the majority of a game tend to run the ball at a higher rate because they want to reduce their risk of a turnover and drain the clock. Last year, teams that won by 13 or more points — as Seattle did last Sunday — rushed the ball on more than half of their plays from scrimmage (58 percent). Since 2012, Wilson’s rookie season, Seattle has used rushing plays 60 percent of the time when it holds such a lead.
A more detailed way to look at this is through a metric called game script, which is a team’s average point margin for each minute of the game. Seattle led by an average of eight points from start to finish Sunday. In a game like that, we would expect the Seahawks to finish with 54 percent of their plays as rushing attempts. Instead, Seattle rushed the ball just 34 percent of the time in Week 1. Starting running back Chris Carson carried six times for 21 yards, and Carlos Hyde ran seven times for 23 yards. Travis Homer, third on the depth chart, had three carries. That will change going forward, Carroll said.
“Seven and six carries wasn’t enough for our guys, and we need to get more,” Carroll said, via the Seattle Times. “We were at 20 [runs]. We want to get more than that in general. But when Russ was completing every pass, we weren’t discouraged about moving the football. But we love running the ball, we always have, and those guys will get more carries as we move down through the schedule.’’
Running effectively against the Patriots could be critical. According to Pro Football Focus, the Patriots are projected to have the third-best secondary in the NFL. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore allowed a minuscule 47.4 passer rating when targeted in coverage last year. Teammate J.C. Jackson has never surrendered a catch longer than 28 yards in 30 regular season games. And safety Devin McCourty allowed 0.2 yards per snap in coverage in 2019, the ninth-best mark of 65 qualified players at the position.
Other potential trouble spots on Seattle’s schedule for pass-loving fans include a matchup with the Buffalo Bills (seventh-best secondary) and two games with the division rival Los Angeles Rams (ninth best). The Falcons’ secondary, by comparison, was rated as the third worst of 2020 by Pro Football Focus.