I wrote last month about some of the negative consequences to the “Let Russ Cook” mantra coming from many NFL observers and Russell Wilson fans regarding the Seattle Seahawks opened up their passing game in the first half of their games. The Seahawks went on a two-game losing streak in the middle of November with losses against Buffalo and the Los Angeles Rams, which were Wilson’s two worst games of the season. Wilson was responsible for seven turnovers himself, including four interceptions. The conventional wisdom was that the coaching staff was asking him to do too much.
Head coach Pete Carroll appears to have taken a step back from the “Let Russ Cook” philosophy in their 28-21 victory on Thursday Night Football on November 19th. For the second time all season, Seattle ran the ball more than they passed — they had 31 rush attempts for 165 yards, with Wilson completing 23 of his 28 pass attempts. He did not commit a turnover. The commitment to running the ball also helped them control possession of 35:07 minutes of that game, which kept Kyler Murray off the field. Arizona managed only 314 total yards in what was the fewest yards the Seattle defense had allowed all season. Those 314 yards were also the second-lowest mark that the Cardinals had generated in a game up to that point of the season.
That performance is evidence of two of the benefits of running the football that too many in the football analytics community fail to appreciate when critiquing the “establish the run” mentality. First, running the football lowers the propensity of the quarterback turning the ball over. Fewer pass attempts are fewer opportunities to throw interceptions. And the quarterback will fumble the ball less if the ball is not in this hand. Of course, the player with the football can still turn the ball over with a fumble mistake, but it would be interesting to study if quarterbacks in the pocket are more susceptible to a fumble than running backs. Running backs expect to be hit while quarterbacks focused on passing the ball are vulnerable to blindside hits.
Second, running the football burns time off the clock, which can lead to fewer offensive possessions from the opposing offense. Murray (or Deshaun Watson, et al) can not score from the sidelines. And defensive players who asked to play fewer snaps retain more energy at the end of the game. Some defensive coaches make the case that defensive players only have about 50 plays in them before their productivity begins to decline. That would be another intriguing area to study.
Seattle goes into their Monday Night Football game at Philadelphia to conclude Week Twelve of the season with 33 sacks on the quarterback. That mark ranks 30th in the league. The Seahawks are also 31st in the NFL in Adjusted Sack Rate on offense. With quarterbacks like Joe Burrow out the year with season-ending injuries, asking Russ to cook a little less may also be the best way he can still be in the kitchen come playoff time.
Best of luck for us — Frank.