To the casual spectator, playing wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks may seem like one of the least glorious jobs in the NFL.
After all, playing to the philosophical ideology of coach Pete Carroll, the Seahawks remain the only team in the league calling more run plays than pass plays this season. With 380 rushing attempts in 12 games, Seattle has kept the ball on the ground 51.1 percent of the time, nearly three percentage points ahead of second-ranked Houston.
With such emphasis placed on running the ball, quarterback Russell Wilson has attempted 26 or less passes in seven games already this year. He currently ranks 24th among qualified quarterbacks in pass attempts for the season, limiting opportunities for his receivers who spend a great deal of time blocking on the outside.
Despite the lack of volume in the passing game, however, Wilson has already thrown 29 touchdowns divvied up to nine different receivers. And though the receiving corps doesn’t benefit from the same number of targets found on other teams, if you’ve seen their recent run of end zone celebrations, there’s no doubt this group has great chemistry and is having a blast in Seattle.
“Our guys are really connected, chemistry-wise, and understanding what’s got to happen after the normal rhythm of the play and they’re really good at it.” Carroll said following Sunday’s 43-16 romp over the 49ers. “You’ve seen this week in and week out. We keep finding guys, and it’s not always the same guy, they’re all in on it and doing a good job of finding Russ in his throwing lane.”
Case in point? In a win over Carolina the week prior, receiver David Moore recorded his first 100-plus yard game and caught the crucial game-tying touchdown on fourth down in the fourth quarter. Against the 49ers, he didn’t even receive a single target as Wilson spread the ball around to other receivers.
Instead, veteran Jaron Brown finally had his breakthrough game as a Seahawk. As Carroll stated, different players continue to step up, and this weekend, it was Brown’s turn to shine.
Playing against a maligned 49ers defense, Wilson threw three touchdowns on his first six pass attempts, yet another incredible display of efficiency by a quarterback who has mastered the craft of maximizing opportunities in the Seahawks run-heavy scheme. Even more impressively, his first three attempts went for 102 yards and two touchdowns, indicating he wasn’t simply throwing check downs for easy completions.
After Seattle called three straight run plays to open the game and was forced to punt, Wilson connected with a wide-open Brown for a 45-yard gain on second down on the next possession. After nearly stalling in the red zone, Wilson stepped back in the pocket and fired a strike to Brown on an out route in the end zone, giving the Seahawks an early 7-0 lead.
How did Seattle celebrate? Brown, Moore, Tyler Lockett, and Doug Baldwin teamed up to reenact the famous “Tip” play from the 2013 NFC Championship game, an ode to former teammate Richard Sherman, who now plays for San Francisco.
“In that celebration, I was at quarterback and Doug seemed to tip the ball to another defender who was on his team.” Brown told reporters after the game. “I don’t know, you guys should know that one, you have to get the reference. I’m pretty sure it was the NFC championship, same corner maybe, I don’t know.”
On Seattle’s ensuing drive, Wilson decided to share the wealth after letting Brown bask in the glory on the previous possession. Going after another former Seahawk, he noticed linebacker Malcolm Smith in coverage against the speedy Lockett and capitalized, hitting him for a 52-yard touchdown.
“That was one of the parts of the read.” Wilson responded when asked about seeing Smith in coverage against Lockett. “It was really more that I thought the line did a tremendous job of allowing me to step up there and give us some extra time. We had Doug [Baldwin] underneath coming across the field around 10 yards running in. I just kind of pumped it, stepped up, and then here goes Tyler behind the defense. That’s always a good thing when he can run. He made a great play and a great catch, and scampered into the end zone.”
Not wanting to leave his top receiver in the dark, Wilson swiftly added a third touchdown pass to the always-reliable Doug Baldwin, helping Seattle jump out to a 20-0 lead late in the second quarter. He’d later add one more touchdown to Brown, who showed exceptional improvisation skills to break away from Sherman in coverage as Wilson created time in the pocket.
For the afternoon, Wilson completed 11 of 17 passes for 185 yards and four scores, increasing his touchdown percentage to 8.9 percent on the season, trailing only Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs.
“Our receivers were excellent tonight. They made tons of plays when we needed to.” Wilson said. “We didn’t throw that much, but we were able to make a lot of huge plays when we did. So, that was exciting. You have to give credit to the offensive line for giving me enough time to make those throws.”
What’s the key to Seattle’s success making the most of limited passing opportunities? For Wilson, it’s all about balance, as he credits the play calling of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and the Seahawks overall dedication to running the ball for creating easy completions in the play action passing game.
“You always want to have great balance because it causes problems for the defense.” Wilson said. “Just that mixture is key for us. I think coach Schottenheimer is doing a tremendous job, he’s dialing everything up. It’s a lot of fun. We get to work, you get to study a lot, and get ready for the week. You go into the game, and you feel really excited and prepared. That’s key. And it all starts with our offensive line doing a great job.”
Seattle’s receivers are also making the most of their reduced targets. Lockett already has a career-high nine touchdown receptions and 20 percent of his receptions have been in the end zone. Brown, who joined the Seahawks as a free agent in March, only has 11 receptions the entire season, but five of them have been touchdowns.
Most teams in today’s NFL would have issue taking the football out of their quarterback’s hands, but while the rest of league zigs, the Seahawks have zagged, continuing to prioritize running the ball. Efficiency remains the name of the game in Seattle, and as Carroll’s team racks up the wins and Wilson keeps piling up touchdowns to Baldwin, Lockett, Moore, and Brown, the results speak for themselves.
“We came here to be the best in the world by the end of it all. We have a long ways to go, but we believe that we can do that.” Wilson proclaimed. “You think about different guys across the board, from Doug, to Tyler’s growth. Having J.B., Jaron Brown, just to see what he can do for us. David Moore. There’s so many different guys. So, it’s an exciting time.”