The Seahawks have had a lot of success in the Pete Carroll/Russell Wilson era. The combo is two wins shy of 100 regular-season victories together, making them one of the most successful pairings to ever do it in the NFL. But one cloud that’s occasionally blocked out the sun of an overall brilliant partnership is the fact that the Seahawks are perceived to have not maximized Wilson’s talents as a passer over his nine seasons — the notion that they don’t let Russ cook.
In 2020, under OC Brian Schottenheimer, Russ did cook… for seven weeks. With 26 TD passes to just 6 INT over his first seven games of the season, he put together what might have been the best stretch of his career. But things unraveled from there, as he threw just 14 TD to 7 INT over his final nine games of the regular season, a stretch our Greg Cosell called the worst football of Wilson’s career. It all came to a head with a miserable playoff performance in a first-round exit against the division rival Rams, when Wilson completed just 40.7% of his passes in an embarrassing loss. It was, from a completion percentage standpoint, the second-worst game of Wilson’s entire career, after a loss to the 49ers in his rookie season.
So Schottenheimer was fired, and the Seahawks made an intriguing hire in Rams passing-game coordinator Shane Waldron. While the “Let Russ Cook” faction might be initially intrigued by the hiring of a “passing game coordinator,” don’t get this twisted — Carroll wouldn’t hire a coordinator without the two being philosophically aligned, and the disappointing end to the 2020 season in which the Seahawks initially gave Russ a lot of freedom might mean the run game is here to stay, as it always has been under Carroll.
The big question in Seattle is this — is Wilson happy about any of this?
Waldron wore many hats with the Rams in his four seasons under Sean McVay. He came over from Washington with McVay and was initially the Rams’ tight ends coach in 2017. He moved to being the “passing game coordinator” for the Rams’ Super Bowl run in 2018, added QB coach to that title in 2019, and ceded QB coaching duties in 2020 to OC Kevin O’Connell and assistant QBs coach Liam Coen (now the offensive coordinator at the University of Kentucky).
Waldron’s only previous experience as an offensive coordinator came in 2011, in high school. But he’s worked with the Patriots under Bill Belichick, Washington unde Jay Gruden, and now McVay. In the NFL, he’s only called plays during the preseason, but my assessment is that “play design” is more important than “play calling.” And there’s no doubt that McVay and his staff have been among the premier designers in the NFL for the last four seasons.
While Waldron’s recent background is as a passing-game coordinator, keep in mind that the Rams’ passing attack was based entirely around their run-game concepts, which focused on the wide zone, and they ran play-action concepts off of that. They often moved the pocket for the immobile Jared Goff, which theoretically is a fantastic fit with Wilson.
But the Seahawks struggled in their last few years under Darrell Bevell at OC and Tom Cable at OL coach, when they were overwhelmingly a zone-blocking team. Under Schottenheimer and OL coach Mike Solari, the Seahawks mixed in a lot more gap-scheme concepts than they did in the heyday of Marshawn Lynch, though they continued to run zone (as every team does). Will that change under Waldron? Given his background, you’d think so.
In his introductory press conference with Seattle media, Waldron told reporters that his offensive approach is “always going to be all about the ball. It starts there from an offensive perspective. There is no greater statistic that leads to wins and losses than that turnover differential.”
This comment was staggering to me, not for its content, but because it’s nearly word-for-word with one of Carroll’s many catchphrases and platitudes he’s developed in his time with Seattle: “it’s all about the ball.”
The Seattle Times’ Bob Condotta brought that line up when he deconstructed Schottenheimer’s firing in January. He noted that the Seahawks were passing the ball 62.45% of the time through their loss in Buffalo, which was a massive turning-point of the season for them. Wilson turned the ball over four times in that game, and it seems to have been the beginning of the end for Schottenheimer, and Russ’ time in the kitchen.
Now, Wilson’s on a media tour discussing how much he’s getting hit — he’s very much into blaming his often underwhelming offensive line for his struggles late in 2020 and in previous years. (Some, like PFF and Greg Cosell, would argue that Wilson deserves a significant part of the blame for the hits he takes.)
The biggest question for fantasy here is if the Seahawks can bridge the divide they have with Wilson. If making improvements along the line is something he wants, I would doubt Waldron would argue against it — the Rams’ only year missing the playoffs McVay came in 2019, when their elite offensive line regressed to one of the league’s worst.
Meanwhile, in McVay’s other three seasons with LA, the Rams ranked 11th or higher in the NFL in rushing percentage. There’s no doubt Carroll has seen the Rams’ run game up close the last four years, and I have to think the way it dictates what LA does offensively made Waldron a very appealing hire for Carroll.
Play action was the foundation of Waldron’s pass game in LA, and fortunately, he has one of the NFL’s best play-action QBs. Wilson finished 6th in the NFL with a 116.6 QB rating on play action in 2020, despite being 20th in play-action rate (PFF). But that was actually Wilson’s worst QB rating on play action under Schottenheimer — he was above 120 in each of the previous two seasons. The play-action game will be excellent for stretching the field with WR DK Metcalf, and Tyler Lockett should be excellent out of the slot, where both Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp have scored a lot of fantasy points over the years.
As for the run game, Chris Carson is a free agent, so you wonder if Seattle will make bringing him back or acquiring someone else a priority. In this offense, Carson should provide enough juice to make him a top-36 fantasy pick, and he showed in 2020 that he’s more than capable as a receiver, too, which would be a nice boost for fantasy in this offense.
Everything comes back to Wilson, and frankly, this seems like an offense he should thrive in, should he and the Seahawks mend their fences. But for Russ supporters hoping for a 60% pass rate, you might want to consider becoming a Chiefs fan.