By Gregg Bell | McClatchy News Service
ATLANTA — Was this Russell Wilson? Or Dan Fouts?
Wilson, the quarterback of Pete Carroll’s run-first, run-often offense, was throwing the ball all over. To seemingly all teammates.
Nine Seahawks caught his passes Sunday in a season opener that was unusual for more than having no fans and coaches wearing masks amid the coronavirus pandemic. Seven Seahawks had multiple receptions. Lead running back Chris Carson, with 2,400 yards rushing the last two seasons combined, had as many touchdown receptions in the first quarter of this game as he had all last season.
Wilson was cookin’ — to borrow from a wish that is more of a demand from many Seahawks fans.
Heck, Wilson even threw three screen passes to Carson. Seattle has gone seemingly entire seasons without three screen passes.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Carroll have been maligned for wasting some of the 31-year-old Wilson’s prime by running the ball too much particularly early in games. Schottenheimer barely ran it at all to begin 2020. He called passes on eight of the offense’s first 11 plays. That encompassed Seattle’s opening possession, which ended with Carson’s 3-yard touchdown catch.
Schottenheimer called passes on 28 of Seattle’s first 38 snaps of the season. That counts as pass calls two sacks of Wilson on the first drive, plus a lateral that statisticians count as a run outside to wide receiver David Moore. That was most likely designed to be a quick, hitch-route pass. The 28th pass call in those first 38 plays was Wilson’s 7-yard touchdown throw to new tight end Greg Olsen.
By then, all that throwing had the Seahawks ahead 28-12. The game was a cruise from there.
The surprised Falcons were looking around at each other as if Fouts and his old Air Coryell San Diego Chargers had decided to come out of retirement during a pandemic.
The final tally of Schottenheimer finally “letting Russ cook,” for one game, anyway: 31 completions in 35 attempts, 322 yards, four touchdown throws — and the Seahawks’ most points in a first road game of any season in 17 years, a 38-25 race past Atlanta. Wilson completed 88.6 percent of his throws, the best one-game mark of his career.
Wilson connected eight times with Tyler Lockett. He completed four balls to DK Metcalf for 95 yards. That included a 38-yard score on fourth down in the third quarter, a go-for-it move that put Seattle up 21-12.
“We spread the ball around all over the field,” Wilson said. “Obviously, deep balls to DK, Tyler running down the field. We mixed the quick game in, we mixed the mid-range game, all these different things we did. We got a couple screens in, naked (bootlegs). All the different plethora of plays.
“Versatility, conceptually, is really key, because it messes up the defense. They don’t who the ball is going to, where it is going to go.”
For one of the few times in the Carroll era, the ball didn’t go mostly on hand-offs to a running back until Wilson absolutely had to throw because of time, down and distance or score. Carson, beginning his contract year, had as many pass targets as carries: six. Number-two back Carlos Hyde debuted for the Seahawks with seven rushes. Seattle’s running backs rushed just 16 times for a mere 43 yards.
Counting a 28-yard bootleg run by Wilson, two quarterback scrambles on more called passes and the lateral that was really a pass to Moore, Seattle ran it 20 times.
“I think we wanted to spread the ball around, get the ball to different guys,” Wilson said. “We wanted to be aggressive in our approach, just in general.”
The Seahawks were so lethal having Wilson air it out, Olsen and fellow tight end Will Dissly ran into each other and just about hugged, right in the middle of the formation, just before the snap on Wilson’s touchdown pass to Olsen.
“It’s so funny, something so silly,” the 35-year-old Olsen said after his first touchdown for Seattle since signing in January. “I’ve had five people text me saying ‘Why are you and Dissly hugging in the backfield?
“We had a little of mixup coming out of the huddle so we had to switch sides and so we added a little shift to the play,” Olsen said. “I guess it looked funnier on TV. It didn’t feel that big of a deal on the field, but I guess on the broadcast it seemed like we had a little moment.”
Wilson had many moments. Again.
He moved into third place in NFL history for most games with four touchdown passes and one or no interceptions over the first nine seasons of a career. Sunday was his 11th such game. He moved ahead of Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Dan Marino, Drew Brees and Donovan McNabb. He trails only Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers on that list.
The highest-rated passer for road games in league history had a near-perfect rating of 143.1 in his pass-a-rama against the Falcons.
“It felt great,” he said. “For the first game of the year to step up like that, the guys made plays and we are very confident in what we are doing.”