Russell Wilson wants to 'cook'; will the Seahawks let him?

RENTON, Wash. -- Something different happened when the Seattle Seahawks hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 9 last season:

They came out throwing.

Eight of their first nine offensive plays were Russell Wilson passes, a noticeable deviation for a team known for establishing its running game under coach Pete Carroll.

The Seahawks' offensive approach early in that overtime victory might be instructive when it comes to one of the more fascinating subplots of their 2020 season -- whether Carroll and coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will alter the way they use their $35 million-a-season quarterback.

A vocal segment of the Seahawks' fan base hopes so. They've started a social media movement called "Let Russ Cook," which has become a popular hashtag on Twitter and even made its way onto T-shirts. It's a plea for the Seahawks to lean on their best player in what has long been one of the NFL's most run-heavy offenses.

To Jake Heaps, Wilson's former Seahawks teammate and now his personal quarterback coach, that doesn't necessarily mean throwing the ball 40 times a game. The Seahawks could let Russ cook simply by putting the ball in his hands earlier.

"Establishing the run is great, and it's needed in every NFL football game and every football game in general, but establishing the run doesn't mean you have to have more run attempts in the first quarter and second quarter of games in order to do so," said Heaps, who also co-hosts on 710 ESPN Seattle. "So instead of being balanced and focusing on establishing the run, it should be being balanced and leaning into your star quarterback, arguably the best quarterback in the league in Russell Wilson.

"You don't have to lose your identity as an offense but you also can ... continue to keep growing and adapting your offense as you go from year to year."

In Schottenheimer's two seasons in Seattle, the Seahawks have dropped back to pass on 47% of first-quarter offensive plays, the lowest percentage of any NFL team, according to ESPN Stats and Information. For comparison, the Kansas City Chiefs are first at 70.2% over that same span with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. Seattle was fifth in first-quarter dropback percentage (60%) from 2016 to 2017, Darrell Bevell's final two seasons as OC.

Counter to what you'd probably expect, Seattle's scoring average in the first quarter has been notably higher over the past two seasons (4.63 points/tied for 13th) than in 2016 and 2017 (3.09/T-28th) despite the shift toward more running and less Wilson early.

Wilson was diplomatic when asked about his position on "Let Russ Cook," saying all he cares about is winning. But when a more pointed follow-up asked him if he agrees with the sentiment that he needs to be involved sooner, Wilson gave his wholehearted endorsement.

"Yeah, I definitely think so," he said before noting that since his rookie season, the Seahawks are 57-0 (including playoffs) when leading by four or more points at halftime. He leads all NFL quarterbacks with 32 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime during that stretch.

"Getting ahead is a key thing," Wilson said. "I do definitely believe in finishing strong. We've won a lot of games in the fourth quarter and been [able] to do some fun things in the fourth quarter and the ends of games, but let's treat every quarter as the fourth. I think that's kind of my mentality always."

Heaps points to the Tampa Bay game as proof the Seahawks can achieve offensive balance without hammering their run game from the start. Chris Carson finished with 105 yards on 16 carries, and the Seahawks' 145 rushing yards were more than their season average. That was against a defense that entered the game as the best in the league against the run by a wide margin.

Schottenheimer might have had that game in mind when he said matchups will help determine how early and often the Seahawks lean on their ninth-year quarterback over their run game.

"We all know Russ is an elite player ... and we want him to be involved, and we want him to impact the game early, we want to start faster," Schottenheimer said. "But how does that look each and every week? We don't know that. It all depends on the opponent that we're playing."

In Heaps' view, Schottenheimer doesn't get enough credit for the job he has done aiding Wilson's growth and fixing the Seahawks' run game, the two things Carroll hired him to do. Heaps believes the relationship the two have developed has been beneficial in a way many observers don't notice, saying Schottenheimer has helped Wilson better manage the line of scrimmage and given him more of a green light to change plays.

But that 47% dropback rate in the first quarter ...

"At this point of Russell's career and where this group is at as a whole, that, to me, that statistic just simply cannot be anymore," Heaps said. "There has to be growth and adaptation to that offense, and I can't understand why there would be a fight against that."

Heaps hears opposition from those who believe that what isn't broken doesn't need fixing. After all, Wilson has been efficient enough to play at an MVP level. Seattle's offensive approach has worked well enough for the Seahawks to win at least 10 games and reach the playoffs in seven of Wilson's eight seasons.

On the other hand, they haven't advanced past the divisional round since they lost Super Bowl XLIX in February 2015. And they've arguably never had a collection of skill players as talented with Greg Olsen leading a loaded group of tight ends, Phillip Dorsett and eventually Josh Gordon joining Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf in their receiver corps, and Carlos Hyde complementing an already strong backfield.

So will they let Russ cook?

"I've said this to you that Russ is the best he's ever been," Carroll said. "He's as far along as he's ever been. He's got a fantastic group of guys that he's learning and growing together with. ... It's a really good group he's working with and he knows he has a running game. He knows he has a running game. Carlos Hyde has just accentuated that, too ... what we have depth-wise. So Russ, he's going to do everything he can. We're going to try to give him every opportunity to kick butt in every opportunity he gets. So you're gonna have to wait and see what that all means."