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Russell Wilson has done more with less in new-but-not Seahawks' offense

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Is Wilson's hot stretch sustainable? (1:59)

*Mike Clay dislikes Russell Wilson's passing volume, calling him a fringe QB1. (1:59)

RENTON, Wash. -- Russell Wilson's stat line after three quarters in Sunday's loss was a snapshot, even if an exaggerated one, of how differently the Seattle Seahawks' offense has operated this season compared to the previous two.

The Seahawks had taken a lead over the Los Angeles Rams when Wilson found Tyler Lockett for a 19-yard touchdown. They were making a bid at an upset after being listed as 10-point underdogs, largely with a running game that would finish with 273 yards, Seattle's most since setting a franchise record with 350 in 2014.

Wilson's numbers at the start of the fourth quarter: 8-of-11 for 61 passing yards, two touchdowns and a 125.4 passer rating.

This new Seahawks offense is a lot like the old Seahawks offense. It has a No. 1-ranked running game driven by a finally competent offensive line and a stable of runners who are more effective than any the Seahawks have had since the Marshawn Lynch days. That's put Wilson back in the role of distributor as opposed to the guy carrying the whole thing, which will make for a contrast in quarterbacking when the Seahawks (4-5) host Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers (4-4-1) on Thursday night.

Wilson finished the Rams game with 26 attempts, one below his season average. He's on pace for his fewest attempts since 2013, his second season. Yet his 21 touchdowns put him on pace for a career high, one example of how Wilson has done more with less of the offense on his shoulders.

"It's about wins and losses, and it doesn't matter how you do it," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "He's embraced his role as a leader on this team, and whether he's got to hand it off 50 times or throw it 50 times, he's ready to go do that to help us win.”

Schottenheimer was brought in as part of an overhaul of Pete Carroll's staff following a 9-7 season that left Seattle out of the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Part of Schottenheimer's appeal was Carroll's belief that his hands-on style and QB-centric approach would coax more even play out of Wilson.

It also helped that he was no stranger to the type of run-heavy offense that Carroll wanted to get back to.

The Seahawks have the lowest dropback rate in the NFL at 52 percent. It's their lowest mark since Wilson's rookie season in 2012, when they were also 32nd at 50.9 percent. They incrementally climbed to 26th in dropback percentage by 2015, and while that was the type of steady increase you'd expect from a team as its young quarterback develops, it wasn't the plan to jump all the way up to seventh and then third the past two seasons.

The Seahawks' inability to run the ball left more of the offense going through Wilson than ever before. He led the league with 34 touchdown passes last season, accounted for all but one of Seattle's 38 offensive TDs and became just the fifth quarterback since 1970 to lead his team in rushing. While he handled that well enough to be in the MVP conversation for much of the season, he started cracking over the final month under the weight of everything that was on his plate.

That Wilson was being forced to carry that much of the load was never what Carroll intended. He's always aimed for a balanced offense in which the quarterback operates as the distributor, like a point guard who takes care of the ball and gets it into the hands of the scorers. But Wilson had to play the role of scorer the past two seasons.

He attempted 30 or more passes 13 times in 2016 and 12 times in 2017. Wilson has had only three such games this year. It happened in season-opening losses to Denver and Chicago, when the Seahawks regrettably strayed from the run, and in a loss to the Chargers as Seattle was trying to erase a two-score deficit.

Wilson's struggles late in the losses to the Bears and Chargers -- he threw a pick-six in each -- have made his season far from perfect. Another would-be game-winning drive came up short last week against the Rams when his fourth-down pass sailed over Lockett's head, the latest instance of how Wilson and the Seahawks haven't had their usual finishing touch. His propensity to attempt to extend plays, always a dual-edged sword, has resulted in some bad sacks.

But the numbers say he's playing much more efficiently.

His 66 percent completion rate, 7.96 yards per attempt and 4.2 touchdown-to-interception ratio are all easily his best marks since 2015, while his 110.2 passer rating barely tops his career best from that season. After curiously struggling in the first halves of games last year, posting a completion rate of 59.6 percent and a passer rating of 78, those numbers have improved to 70.7 percent and 124.3, respectively. He's also been better on deep throws compared to last season, with his completion rate on attempts traveling at least 20 air yards going from 37.6 to 48.4. His passer rating on such throws has gone from 100.6 to 120.6.

That's been with his No. 1 receiver (Doug Baldwin) banged up for much of the year, two of his other top targets from the past few seasons (Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson) having moved on in free agency, and under a new coordinator for the first time in his career.

Carroll lauded Wilson's efficiency after Seattle's win over Detroit, when he completed 14 of 17 passes for 248 yards, three touchdowns and the first perfect passer rating of his career.

"He's capable of that," Carroll said. "I've always said he could be a 70 percent completion guy, and in this format and this style, there's no doubt in my mind he could be, and that's when we're really dangerous because there's no space in there for the other guys, so it's pretty good.”

The shift in Wilson's role from the past two seasons could make for a complicating factor in negotiations for an extension that are expected to take place this offseason, when he'll have one year left on his current deal. Will Seattle balk at putting Wilson near the top of the quarterback pay scale if he isn't doing the same type of heavy lifting as others?

It's a question for later. Of more immediate concern to all involved is whether Wilson and the Seahawks can avoid slipping any further in the NFC playoff race. They're two wins behind Carolina and one behind Minnesota, the two teams currently holding the wild-card spots. Atlanta and Green Bay are the two other teams ahead of Seattle in the standings.

According to ESPN's Football Power Index, the Seahawks' chances to make the playoffs would be 40 percent with a win over the Packers and would drop all the way to 13 percent with a loss, making Thursday's game a virtual must-win.

It's a win that Seattle will try to secure with equal parts Wilson's right arm and the legs of whatever tailback he's handing off to.

"I think he's doing an excellent job," Baldwin said of Wilson. "Being with a new offensive coordinator, a new run scheme, all the new details that are going into our offense, I think he's doing an excellent job of being him. He's done an excellent job. Obviously, the opportunities to throw aren't there as often because were running the ball so much more, and then our passing scheme is different than it has been in the past. I think he's doing an excellent job of what he's been asked to do."