Russell Wilson's rushing numbers this season are among the lowest three-game totals of his NFL career. If he doesn't get his wheels churning, are the Seahawks in trouble?
In the revival of Seattle’s rushing attack Sunday against Dallas one thing was missing — Russell Wilson.
Wilson was credited with just two rushing attempts for minus-1 yard. The first went for no-gain and came on a third-quarter play in which he was credited with a fumble on a handoff to Rashaad Penny. The second was the kneel down to end the game, which resulted in a 1-yard loss.
Only five times in Wilson’s career had he run fewer than twice, two coming during his injury-ravaged 2016 season.
Last year, Wilson had four or more rush attempts in all but two games and rushed for at least 10 yards in every game, averaging 36.6 rushing yards per contest.
But in three games this season, Wilson has just 21 yards on seven carries. He has never had so few carries in a three-game stretch in his pro career.
Even in 2016, when from the second half of the first game he battled injuries that hampered him all season, his lowest three-game stretch of rushing attempts was nine. He had three or more rush attempts in all but three games that season.
Wilson had two carries for five yards against Denver and three for 17 against the Bears. And none have come off what was once a Seahawks bread-and-butter play: The zone read.
The zone read is a play where Wilson gets the snap and can either hand off to a running back or keep it.
It’s not that Seattle isn’t running the zone read, though it is running it less, according to numbers provided by Pro Football Focus. But so far, Wilson has yet to keep the ball on what PFF has charted as 13 zone read plays this season
Per PFF, here is the breakdown of zone read rushes by Seattle through three games:
- Chris Carson — 5 attempts, 22 yards.
- Mike Davis — 1 attempt, 1 yard.
- Rashaad Penny — 7 attempts, 11 yards.
That’s an average of 4.3 zone read rushes per game, for an average of 2.7 yards per attempt.
Last year, per PFF, the Seahawks ran roughly six zone read rushes per game, for an average of 4.1 yards per attempt with Wilson getting 94 yards on 16 zone read rushes.
Here’s the 2017 zone read breakdown, per PFF:
- C.J. Prosise — 4 attempts, 3 yards.
- Carson — 7 attempts, 40 yards.
- Eddie Lacy — 16 attempts, 55 yards.
- J.D. McKissic — 18 attempts, 58 yards.
- Davis — 18 attempts, 88 yards.
- Wilson — 16 attempts, 94 yards.
- Thomas Rawls — 18 attempts, 61 yards.
That’s 25 yards a game on zone read plays, more than half the three-game total of this season.
So yes, if you’ve thought the zone read seems less prevalent this season with new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer calling the shots instead of Darrell Bevell, the numbers bear that out.
But even more striking is simply that Wilson hasn’t been running (other than for his life on a few scrambles away from pressure).
As noted earlier, Wilson’s seven carries this season are the lowest in his career over a three-game span. His previous low is nine carries in three games — on a couple different occasions, including in the injury-ravaged 2016 season.
He’s only once had fewer yards in a three-game span. That came early in the 2016 season after Wilson suffered both a sprained knee and a high-ankle sprain and was held to just three yards over a four-game span from Week 3 (when he suffered the second of those injuries) to Week 6.
But even that season, once Wilson got a little healthier, his rushes began to pick up. Despite rushing for a career-low 259 yards, he averaged 18 rushing yards per game over the final 10 games, and 30 over the final six.
So is this just a three-game anomaly? Are Wilson and Schottenheimer still finding the proper balance in the new offense? Or will Schottenheimer’s offense make less use of Wilson’s legs? Is Wilson, now 29 yards old, simply choosing to run less? Wilson was on the injury report last week with a hamstring issue suffered late in the win over the Bears, but he participated fully in practice last week. And as noted, he’d barely run in the first two games, either, when presumably fully healthy.
The answer is probably some combination of each.
Wilson last week gave the same answer he always does when asked about his running: That his preference is always to hand the ball to the running backs and throw to the receivers, and that he’s never looking to run first.
Schottenheimer gave a more interesting answer, saying the mere threat of Wilson’s running might be enough.
“People know he has that capability, so they certainly are aware that he can do that,’’ Schottenheimer said. “Sometimes, it’s the threat of him running that opens up. I think the fact that people know that he can do that sometimes helps, and of course, we only want him to run when he has to.”
What’s also at play is that defenses more than ever are hemming in Wilson and putting the onus on the Seahawks’ offensive line and running backs to forge a running game.
Seattle was able to create just enough of a run game last week to beat Dallas, but the underwhelming 2.9 yards per carry can’t be ignored. That kind of average obviously won’t get it done all season.
And Seattle’s 3.3 yards per attempt for the season is 30th in the NFL after three games. That also won’t get it done.
Seattle averaged 4.0 yards per carry last season, despite having one of the worst rushing attacks in team history. That average was helped greatly by Wilson’s 6.2 yards per carry average (586 yards on 95 attempts).
Seattle’s worst yards-per-carry for a season is 3.3 in 1984, the year Curt Warner was injured in the first game and the Seahawks resorted to signing 34-year-old Franco Harris for eight games.
As the numbers show, despite the positive vibes of the Dallas game, the Seahawks have hardly fixed their rushing attack. There’s work to be done before we can say Seattle is truly back to running the ball the way it feels is necessary to be the kind of team it wants to be.
Also left unanswered is whether the Seahawks can get to that point without Wilson carrying as heavy a share of the load as he has in the past.
The guess here is it’d be a heck of a lot easier if we saw a little more of the Wilson of old.