As the Seahawks open the season, one of the major points to watch will be the evolution of Russell Wilson and a fully Baldwin-less offense in Year 2 under Brian Schottenheimer.
The Seahawks put a lot of resources (financial and draft) into their passing game in the offseason, which led some to suggest (or hope) they are now building entirely around Wilson and are going to throw the ball all over the yard.
Clearly, people who think Carroll is going to sway from his run-focused approach are dreaming — and not really paying attention. Remember, Carroll is all about that circle of toughness — imposing his will on both sides of the ball.
As Carroll recently told 710 ESPN: “We want to play off the running game. … We want to run the heck out of the football. We love that part of the game, but we love everything that comes off that.
“We hopefully are going to show you a wide-open attack that makes you have to defend the run and makes you have to defend Russell sitting back there bombing footballs. We want to get the ball down the field and attack the heck out of it. That’s a big deal to us.
“I’m not real excited about dinking the ball around and just trying to move the football that way. We have the ability to do that, but I don’t want to feature that. I don’t think we get enough to the physical side of the game. I would love for us to be really unique again with our commitment to the run and what we play off that.”
But they need to be able and willing to throw it more consistently than they did in 2018 (especially in that unnecessary playoff loss to Dallas).
Last season, Wilson set career highs with 35 touchdown passes, an 8.2 TD percentage and 110.9 passer rating. And his 1.64 interception percentage and 65.6 completion percentage were the second-best of his career. By the numbers, it was an excellent season — one of the most efficient in NFL history.
But it was not without its serious flaws: a career-high two pick-sixes that helped cost games against Chicago and the L.A. Chargers, a fumble that gave the Rams a winning touchdown, a lack of trust in receivers not named Baldwin, his usual proclivity to run himself into sacks and an inability to rally comebacks. As well as he played for much of the season, Wilson could have lifted his team to two or three more wins if he had played more consistently.
It’s not all on him, of course. Carroll and Schottenheimer messed up the start of the season and then cost Seattle a playoff win by stubbornly trying to run against Dallas’ stout front seven, even as Wilson had great success throwing the ball in that game (8.6 yards per attempt).
That was the nadir in a first season for Schottenheimer that ended as poorly as it started and had plenty of head-scratching moments. Seattle receivers too often were seen running the same routes on the same play, at the same distances — making it very easy to cover them. Schottenheimer also tended to use a very predictable pattern of play calls — often the staid run-run-pass — that made it hard to throw the ball consistently well. He also ran a lot of the same plays repeatedly and did not notice in-game trends at times — e.g., Chicago’s Prince Amukamara constantly jumping routes, which led to a game-deciding pick-six.
The Seahawks made Wilson the top-paid player in the NFL this year, and now they need to help him play like it. They also drafted three receivers as they braced for the release/retirement of Doug Baldwin, and they will hope D.K. Metcalf and John Ursua can help a receiving corps that is pretty average behind Tyler Lockett.
It is up to the coaches to make the best use of those resources. And we have to hope Schottenheimer worked on creating better route trees for his receivers and plans to use tight ends more, vary play combinations and throw on first down & second-and-short half the time.
Schottenheimer also needs to coach Wilson to get rid of the ball on time and not take sacks, and he needs to give him better options over the middle, where Wilson often can’t see shorter receivers.
As top NFL X’s and O’s analyst Greg Cosell said earlier this year, Wilson will “always leave throws on the field, where he doesn’t pull the trigger, simply because he can’t see them. But that’s part of his game, and you just understand that.”
With Baldwin gone, Wilson also needs to develop more trust in Lockett and his other receivers. Wilson and Lockett put together a perfect passer rating last season while hooking up for 10 touchdowns, but the quarterback knows they can do better.
“There are more touchdowns out there,” he said. “We want the ball in his hands. … Let’s see how many touchdowns he can score.”
Schottenheimer plans to help Lockett get open. “The best weapon for us is when they don’t know where Tyler is going to be, so we’ll move him around,” Schottenheimer said last spring. “He can do so many things so well. He sees the game instinctively so well that he’s a hard matchup.”
Jaron Brown also should be more involved. He scored five times on 19 targets last season — making everyone wonder why he disappeared for long stretches.
“I thought Jaron Brown did a fantastic job for us last year in an underused role,” Carroll told 710 ESPN. “We need to use him more, because he’s a guy we can lean on. He’s got all of the stuff. He played really well for us. It’s just the ball didn’t go to him last year. It’s going to more so this year. He’ll be a bigger factor right off the bat.”
But it all comes back to Schottenheimer and Wilson, who should be in better sync in Year 2 together.
“The communication is really good,” Carroll said this week. “The familiarity is excellent. Probably, more than anything, Brian knows Russ better. He knows what he can do and how he does stuff and how he thinks and operates and functions and all of that. He’s been able to, all throughout the offseason, adjust things to fit strengths that we have. They’re really in the midst of a really strong relationship, and it’s really figuring to be a real positive for us.”
Wilson and the offense looked good in limited preseason time, and Carroll thinks the quarterback is primed for his best season.
“Russ is the best he’s ever been,” Carroll said. “There is no question. He’s the smartest, the farthest along, the most aware, the most in control. He had a great year last year in controlling the offense, and he’s just another step towards more of that.
“He’s ready to play his best football.”