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Seahawks OC on playing more through Russell Wilson: 'Let's give the guy the keys to the car'

The catchy phrase is "Let Russ Cook." When the Seattle Seahawks quarterback spent most of his games handing off, the fan movement that emerged put Russell Wilson in a chef's hat, begging the coaches to let him create wild and successful plays down the field.

In the mind of his coaches, the dramatic transformation that has transpired is different than that.

"It's not, 'OK, let's let Russ make all these amazing plays,'" Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer told this week. "We're just saying, this guy is a heck of a football player and he can help us win football games. Let's put the ball in his hands. I give Pete (Carroll) a lot of credit because it's different for him."

In fact, Seattle's offense is now different for everyone. No longer run-first, it's now Russ-first.

Currently, the Seahawks are the top passing offense in the NFL at 298.1 yards per game. Contrast that to 2018 when Seattle led the NFL with 52.8 rush percentage and 160 yards on the ground per game. They were 27th in pass yards per game.

Over the last two years, they've increased their passing yards per game over 40 yards in each year -- the largest increase in the NFL over that span.

During a free moment after practice on Friday, Schottenheimer detailed the evolution of the transformation. How did the Seahawks completely change their identity, creating an MVP candidate in the meantime?

"In the offseason, we started the dialogue -- like what would this look like?" said Schottenheimer, who has emerged as a potential head-coaching candidate thanks to his work in Seattle. "The biggest thing, we never wanted to lose our ability to still be physical. But let's give the guy the keys to the car a little bit. He's earned that. And we're all saying he's one of the best players in football and so, we went into it with that mindset, knowing we'd still be able to run the football. But when in doubt, we'd want Russ to have the ball."

Wilson is considered a frontrunner for the MVP because of it. But of course, it wasn't always this way. When Schottenheimer was hired in Seattle, his charge was simple.

"He wanted to re-establish the run with the Seahawks," Schottenheimer said. "We'd kind of fallen off a little bit."

Check. They had the top rushing offense. Then, midway through last year, there was the realization.

"I honestly didn't realize what a great player Russell Wilson was," Schottenheimer recalled from before he arrived. "I mean, I'd played him in St. Louis. But he gets this moniker of a great run around/scramble guy. No, this guy is one of the best passers I've ever been around, it's unbelievable. My point is, after Year 1, we're like, 'Damn, this guy is pretty good.' And go into Year 2, we're evolving."

Around Week 8, it hit.

"Pete and I were talking and it's like, 'Is this quarterback as good as we think he is?'" Schottenheimer said. "Holy (expletive), yeah he is. This guy is one of the best in the business. But not just quarterbacks, but one of the best players in football. And so, you saw us begin to trend a little more that way later in the year. We were turning it over to him a little bit."

Before this season, thanks to the back-and-forth nature of Zoom meetings (versus the teacher/student set-up of in-person meetings), the collaboration really took hold.

"We were able to have a bunch of dialogue, Russ and I," Schottenheimer said. "'OK, let's talk through this concept and what about this' and 'What can we add to the offense that we're missing?' It was a fun dialogue."

The result of that shift has been what you've seen on the field. Wilson has his say on Tuesdays regarding the game plan and has significant say pre-play to make changes. He's been empowered.

Couple that with DK Metcalf's emergence, and Seattle is downright explosive. And as Schotty notes, when Wilson recommends a play or pushes for a concept, it usually works. So, that trust has only increased.

"We got a really cool system of offensive to attack people," he said. "We've got our call-it plays, we got our tempo plays. But how do we let ourselves go and be a little bit more aggressive with our approach? And it just kind of fit for all those reasons.

"We're going to play our style. It's working."