RENTON, Wash. – For all the scrutiny that rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has received as the Seattle Seahawks' starting quarterback, the limited number of times he's thrown has made it difficult to fully assess how the first seven weeks of his career have gone.
Ultimately, Seattle is 4-3 heading into Sunday's game at Detroit and that's the most important number for the Seahawks. Most of Wilson's low passing numbers are by design, with the Seahawks asking Marshawn Lynch to carry the load of Seattle's offense and spotting Wilson's throws when needed.
Lynch leads the NFC and is second in the NFL in rushing attempts with 147 through seven weeks, and is on pace for 336 this season, which would easily be the most of his career. Meanwhile, the Seahawks have the fewest pass attempts of any team in the NFL and are on pace for the least amount of passes thrown in franchise history since 1977, when Seattle played just 14 games.
The Seahawks believe this can be a successful offensive formula, even though it's not the most exciting offense at times.
"There's a lot of good things that happen when Marshawn has the ball. He gets us going offensively because of how strong he is, how angry he runs. It brings some fire to our offense and gets us going," Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "As long as you're moving the chains and getting first downs, that's good. But as you know, it's hard in this league to get 10-15 play drives and finish those drives with scores because at some point you're not going to be make it all the way. ... You've got to have those explosive plays."
The concerns about Seattle's passing game come on the heels of Wilson's worst performance yet. He completed just 9 of 23 passes for 122 yards and an interception in the Seahawks' 13-6 loss at San Francisco last Thursday. Seattle's hope was that Wilson's dynamic fourth quarter a week earlier that led to a 24-23 comeback win over New England would carry over.
Instead, the loss to the 49ers only raised concerns about just how one dimensional the Seahawks offense is away from home. In his four road games this season, Wilson has thrown seven interceptions and just two touchdowns, averaging 164 yards passing and a QB rating of 55.7. In his three home games, Wilson's QB rating is nearly 117, he's averaging nearly 200 yards per game passing and he's thrown six touchdowns with no interceptions.
"He's obviously very comfortable at home, and we have played better at home than we did on the road. We just have to get through that," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.
Seattle is averaging 25 pass attempts per game and is on pace for 400 pass attempts this year. In the last 12 seasons, only five teams have attempted fewer than 400 passes in a season: Atlanta in 2004, Pittsburgh in 2004 and 2005, San Francisco in 2005 and the 2009 New York Jets. Not surprisingly, in three of those circumstances the teams were starting rookie quarterbacks — Ben Roethlisberger, Alex Smith and Mark Sanchez.
Perhaps surprisingly, the combined record of those five teams was 50-30 with three of those teams winning at least 11 games.
In no way is that an indication of how the Seahawks' season will go. But it's recent historical proof that playing with such a limited passing game can still be successful.
Seattle also has struggled passing in the middle quarters after finding success early in the game. The first quarter, where the first 15 plays are usually scripted, has yielded scores on Seattle's opening drive in the last three games. But that success has fallen off significantly in the middle two quarters, especially in the third quarter. Seattle has thrown for just 198 yards and a passer rating of 59.9 in the third quarter this season, before seeing an uptick in the fourth.
"I don't think we need to go searching for anything," Wilson said. "I think we have all of the talent, all of the right plays and the guys; we just need to make the plays at certain times."