There’s been a lot of talk of how great a fit strong-armed Matthew Stafford is for the Rams’ offense under Sean McVay. There needs to be more talk about how Russell Wilson is an even better fit for the Rams’ offense — he just happens to be playing it in Seattle.
The Seahawks’ future Hall of Fame quarterback is off to his typical strong start, but now he’s doing it under first-year offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, who served as McVay’s passing game coordinator for three seasons. The numbers and play have both been taken to a whole new level.
After four games: Wilson is leading the NFL in passing efficiency with a sparkling 129.9 rating. He’s doing it while also averaging a league-best 9.6 yards per attempt and 11.2 adjusted yards per attempt. He’s also completing passes at a career-best clip of 72.5 percent. He’s also thrown 9 TDs to zero interceptions.
So how is Wilson even better while he is throwing only 57 percent of the time, a frequency lower than last season? Here’s a breakdown of the Seahawks’ Rams-like attack:
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A little more personnel, a lot less predictability
Last season, Wilson’s two ace wide receivers Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf combined for 183 catches on 261 targets with 2,357 yards total and 10 TDs each. Although relying on those two special complementary talents produced big results, defenders could focus their attention to taking one out of the game.
This year, that duo is on pace for 247 targets over one extra game. Both Lockett and Metcalf are on pace for 85 catches and each has scored 3 TDs, headed for double digits together again. At the same time, they are tracking toward a bump in receiving yards to 2,626.
The Seahawks brought tight end Gerald Everett along with Waldron from the Rams and he and holdover Will Dissly have allowed the team to increase the use of 12 personnel with less of 11 personnel (three wide receivers). The team added rookie Dee Eskridge to be a third key cog at wideout, but while he’s battled a concussion, Freddie Swain (9 catches on 12 targets for 125 yards and a TD) has given them a dangerous No. 3 when needed.
The Rams also have been a primary three-receiver team with McVay. The signature of that is having inside-outside versatility with Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods to dictate matchups.
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Lockett was in the slot 54 percent of the time on his routes last season. That number has dropped below 23 percent this season. Metcalf, built for the outside at 6-4, 235 pounds, has seen a slight bump of work inside. Lockett and Metcalf, like Kupp and Woods, have become interchangeable between speedy vertical threats and quick short-to-intermediate possession receivers.
The Seahawks have been balanced in getting them ball so Wilson always has an option. The other Rams-like element is toggling between backs, tight ends and an extra wide receiver depending on the matchup in the passing game. Wilson isn’t a big checkdown guy — why would he be when he can extend plays with his feet and some of his deep balls look like extended handoffs? But he’s finding more diverse ways to push the ball downfield and not hold the ball as long, either.
Seattle was not “multiple and versatile” with Brian Schottenheimer. It was more calculated in its aggressiveness with Wilson, instead of stepping on the gas like it should almost all the time. Waldron has recognized he can almost do anything with Wilson and trusted him that way.
Still running team at heart with better shots off play-action
Waldron was the passing specialist for McVay, but he paid close attention to the running game being a foundation to set up everything else. The combination of Chris Carson and Alex Collins has been effective behind a sturdier offensive line. Even though the run play frequency has been a raised a bit, the rushing attack is more of a complementary force given Wilson’s amazing efficiency in passing for more with less.
Some would say running is a waste of time on early downs when you have a passer of Wilson’s caliber. Then again, it’s allowed Waldron to create more play-action chances and Wilson also has responded with better play in those situations.
The Rams have had 26 play-action passing attempts this season with Stafford, averaging an incredible 11.8 yards per attempt. The Seahawks are up to 36 such attempts with Wilson, averaging 12.0 yards per attempt.
Wilson also leads the league with an 85.4 percent on-target percentage with his passes. The Rams with Stafford are at only 76.9 percent. Stafford has gotten plenty of hype for something Wilson is doing at a superior level in a similar system in the same season.
The Seahawks couldn’t afford another season of stodginess where Wilson would cool off in the second half of the season. He looks locked in to the point there will be no easy way to defend them now or later. He also gives Waldron the rushing element when things break down that Stafford can’t give McVay.
Now Seattle finally has the offense in which Wilson was meant to play and it’s all thanks to the Rams’ concepts.
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