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January 21, 2021
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Could Seahawks be reverting to more running, less Russell Wilson cooking?

RENTON, Wash. — Over the first 10 weeks of the season, no team dropped back to pass as often as the Seattle Seahawks. Their offense went through Russell Wilson more than ever before, especially during the three games they played without their top two running backs, Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde.

But signs point to a shift back to their more familiar run-heavy approach.

Consider what happened in their 28-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 11 and what coach Pete Carroll said afterward.

When asked what Carson brings to the Seahawks — who expect to have him back for Monday night’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN) — Carroll pointed to what Hyde did against Arizona while totaling 95 yards and a touchdown on 16 touches. Hyde, playing for the first time since he and Carson were injured in Week 7, racked up 79 of those yards on 14 hard-charging carries.

“The best, the most obvious illustration is look what we looked like with Carlos and look at him running and attacking the line of scrimmage and hunting guys on the sidelines,” Carroll said. “He catches the checkdown and he’s gonna knock somebody out. He chases a guy out of bounds to try to run over somebody. That toughness that that shows and that impact is what Chris brings. Chris is that. During the night, I was imagining if we had Carlos and Chris running, what that would be like in terms of the style of play.”

Then Carroll really seemed to turn the heat down on the #LetRussCook stove.

“Early on [this season] when we didn’t have to run the ball much because we were rolling throwing the football, those guys were out there and we almost took it for granted,” he said. “I’m disappointed about that because that’s the element of our football that makes us this style of team that we are and it makes Russ’ job different than it is when he has to throw the ball 40 times or 50 times. He certainly can do it and loves doing it and we don’t mind doing it, but our football is better shaped when we’re balanced and we’re attacking you and we can play off of that. It fits the defense; it fits the special teams. It’s the statement of the way we play.”

The Seahawks went into this season with a plan to lean more on Wilson’s right arm, as the “Let Russ Cook” rallying cry had implored them to do. While that shift away from their long-standing reliance on their running game under Carroll started by design, it continued out of necessity. The Seahawks allowed the most passing yards through nine games in NFL history — and needed only eight games to do it. Their defense allowed an average of 29.5 points per game over the first nine weeks, third most in the NFL.

Their 69.2% dropback rate over the first 10 weeks was tops in the NFL. They were 31st in dropback rate at 54.9% from 2018 to 2019, Brian Schottenheimer’s first two seasons as their offensive coordinator. Their rate increased to 71.9% in Weeks 8-10 as Carson (foot sprain) and Hyde (hamstring) were both sidelined.

But with Hyde back against Arizona, Seattle’s dropback rate fell to 62.3%. The Seahawks’ defense, meanwhile, turned in its best performance of the season, continuing the improvement that started in the second half of their loss to the Los Angeles Rams the week before.

Wilson, who wanted to see an increased reliance on the passing game as much as the Let Russ Cook crowd did, seemed to push back when asked about the idea that Seattle needs to run the ball more over the season’s final stretch.

“Balance is always great but I think that we’ve got to do whatever it takes to win,” he said. “I think that’s the reality. Obviously, we won a lot of games early on and did a lot of special things throwing the ball and things that have never been done before. I think in the running game we’ve done some great things, too, and to have our running backs healthy, we want to have everyone out there.

“We want to have all of our best players out there and get the ball, facilitate it whether it’s running it or throwing it, all of that stuff we want to be able to do. So it makes us very versatile, which we love. So I think when we can have an offense where you can hit from all cylinders, I think that’s a great thing.”

Wilson was the clear front-runner for MVP early in the season when he was on a record touchdown pace. But he fell behind Patrick Mahomes due to the worst turnover funk of his career, which included seven interceptions over a four-game stretch before his mistake-free performance against Arizona.

Schottenheimer didn’t see a correlation between Wilson’s interceptions and the absences of Carson and Hyde, which forced Seattle to use complementary backs like DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer in early-down roles. But Schottenheimer did echo Carroll’s words about the Seahawks’ offense being at its best when it has balance.

Or, as Schottenheimer colorfully put it: “We’ve got Russ cooking and Chris grilling steaks and Carlos is making desserts. We’re always really good when that’s going on. If you watch those celebrity cooking shows, it’s always good when you’ve got extra guys in the kitchen, so that certainly helps us.”

The game against the Eagles begins a four-week stretch for the Seahawks against opponents with a combined record of 10-30-1. All four of those opponents (Philadelphia, the Giants, Jets and Washington) rank 25th or lower in offensive points per game, which might prevent the need to engage in shootout football.

“Early on when you guys would say, ‘Hey, this style is different’ or whatever, ‘This isn’t the formula they used to use,’ I wasn’t worried about that because I knew we could run the football,” Carroll said. “We just didn’t have to, kind of, early on. But now we do and you can see it. As the defenses are catching up and they’re slowing things down and not as many points are being scored, you’ve got to balance out and have everything available … Chris brings us that.”

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