Even before he was injured and missed three games, we had not seen much of Russell Wilson this season: The Seahawks have held the ball less than any NFL team since 2015.
As Wilson returns, it is imperative that he and the Seahawks stop relying on the deep ball so much and start converting third downs a lot more.
Wilson has been the best deep passer in the NFL for most of his career, and he remains potent on long balls – NFL-leading 9.6 yards per pass and 72% completions (right behind Kyler Murray for the NFL lead). But the Seahawks are a measly 31.3% on third downs – behind only Jacksonville – largely because Wilson usually looks long on third down (and Geno Smith brought that number down, too).
No team has made the playoffs with such a bad third-down rate since 2011, when the 49ers won 13 games despite a 28.1% rate (they had a stellar defense) and Denver won a weak AFC West with eight wins despite a 31.4% rate.
Wilson had a chance to see the game from a different angle as he stood on the sideline for losses against New Orleans and Pittsburgh and a win over Jacksonville. The Seahawks’ third-down rate actually got worse while he was out (it was around 34% when he was taking snaps).
Hopefully he can take some lessons from that.
“You get to see the game in a different perspective. I’m processing the coverages from that viewpoint,” Wilson said of his sideline time. He said he was watching the feet of cornerbacks, the movement of safeties, defensive hand signals, etc.
“The only part is you can’t do anything about it,” he said. “But you get to see what teams are doing and how they’re trying to do it.”
Seahawks Ring of Honor QB Dave Krieg experienced the same thing during his career.
He told The Seattle Times: “It’s not bad sitting on the sideline … even for a guy like Russell, because once you are out there playing all the time you don’t have a chance to look at it from the outside in during a regular-season game. And then when you do, it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ You see things a little bit bigger and clearer and you understand that just taking the simple stuff is really the answer.
“I don’t know why quarterbacks try to go for the gold all the time, but we do. But taking the simple stuff can be better.”
Taking the simple stuff. It’s what the Seahawks need to do more, especially on third downs as they look to extend their time of possession.
TOP is not a definitive predictor for winning. The 49ers were sixth in TOP in 2020 but won just six games, and Tennessee won 11 games despite being 28th in TOP (28:12).
But the Seahawks’ 25:52 TOP is the worst in the NFL since Chip Kelly’s high-tempo offense with the Eagles in 2015 averaged just 25:51 on the way to seven wins (Kelly won six before being fired). No other teams have had such low TOP going back to at least 2003.
The Seahawks had the worst time of possession in 2008 and 2009, and we all know how terrible those teams were (nine combined wins). These Seahawks are worse at holding the ball than those were.
Teams under 28 TOP have averaged just 3.5 wins over the past five years – it’s hard to score when you don’t have the ball. Relying on big plays is not a winning formula – unless the defense is so elite it can help the team withstand long scoring dry spells. Seattle’s defense is not there yet, although it has improved a lot since a terrible first month.
Seattle needs to step up the running game to create more balance. It ranks 21st in rushing at 102.9 yards per game. The home numbers are terrible – averaging just 82 yards in four games. The Hawks are 1-3 in those games, so you can draw a pretty easy correlation there. Run the ball better and convert some third downs and they probably are sitting at 5-3 instead of 3-5.
They have run a lot better on the road, averaging 124 yards in a 2-2 start. Even with Chris Carson out, the Hawks need to focus on running the ball well in Green Bay (and beyond). Keep the third downs manageable.
Wilson also hopefully learned something about throwing intermediate routes. He understands the Seahawks need to use their tight ends more – he said it this week – and hopefully he will follow advice from NextGen Stats: Shorter passes are key against the Packers’ good deep defense.
As Krieg said of Wilson’s time off, “I’m sure he learned something from watching. … It could be a silver lining that he’ll see something different.”
And hopefully we’ll see more of Wilson and company on the field the rest of the way. It has to happen if they want to make the playoffs.