The Cowboys will take on the Seahawks this upcoming week, and in case you haven’t been following the Seattle fanbase for the past year, allow me to introduce you to the #LetRussCook movement. In short, the Seahawks have traditionally been a run-first team under head coach Pete Carroll, even after Marshawn Lynch retired and Russell Wilson grew from a game manager to a field general.
But as Wilson spent the last two seasons making wild plays and snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, fans started calling for the Seahawks to start throwing more, especially on first downs. They wanted to trust their best player to make plays more often and #LetRussCook.
Two games into the 2020 season, and it seems that’s been the case. The Seahawks are throwing the ball on 58% of their first and 10 plays, good for seventh highest in the league, and they’ve posted a league-high 86% success rate on those plays.
More than that, Wilson is cooking something that smells really good. He’s completed 52 of his 63 passes for 610 yards and nine touchdowns. Think about that: he has nearly as many touchdown passes as he does incomplete passes. As a result, the Seahawks are 2-0, second in offensive DVOA, and Wilson looks like an early MVP frontrunner.
What does this have to do with America’s Team, you ask? Everything, because it’s time to #LetDakCook, too.
Why should Wilson have all the fun? Especially when Dak just won the Cowboys a game, once again, by doing everything that was asked of him and more. Against the Falcons, Prescott threw the ball a whopping 47 times and still completed over 72% of his passes for 450 yards. He had four total touchdowns, no interceptions, with one fumble that was partly a blitz issue and, truthfully, partly a Prescott ball security issue.
This isn’t as simple as just throwing the ball a lot. Jameis Winston threw the ball a lot last year, but no NFL team wanted him as a starting quarterback this year. #LetRussCook wasn’t about throwing the ball x amount of times in a game, but it was about throwing the ball more on early downs where defenses are less prepared for passing attempts.
It’s a fairly simple extrapolation of analytics that most people tend to understand, but hasn’t become the norm yet. On second or third and long, defenses pretty much know a pass is coming, much like defenses expect a run on very short-yardage situations. But on first and 10, it’s anybody’s guess. Most teams run the ball in that situation, so usually you expect a run, but there’s really no mandate to run or pass. That makes it slightly easier to pass, especially if that pass comes on a play-action fake.
That’s the theory behind it, but let’s see it in action. This is a breakdown of every team’s pass and run rates on first and 10 through the first two weeks.
Of the 14 teams that pass on 50% or more of their first and 10 situations, only five have a success rate below 50%. Four of those teams - the Panthers, Bengals, Dolphins, and Football Team - have either a new starting quarterback, new offensive play-caller, or both. The only other team in that category is the Steelers, featuring Ben Roethlisberger returning from an elbow injury that kept him out most of last year.
Then there’s the Cowboys. They’re fairly balanced on first and 10, throwing it on 48% of those situations, but with a success rate of 81%. Only the Seahawks have a higher success rate on first and 10 passes. It’s a stark contrast to Dallas’ 47% success rate on first and 10 run plays.
This is admittedly a small sample size, but it does strongly indicate that the Cowboys would stand to gain a lot by throwing more on first downs. There’s not a whole lot of convincing arguments against it, either. Sure, interceptions and sacks happen more frequently on passing plays than fumbles happen on running plays, but Dallas just watched their star running back fumble twice on 22 carries while Dak threw 47 times with just one sack and no picks.
Prescott has proven at this point in his career that the Cowboys can - and should - trust him to do good things when they put the ball in his hands. It’s time for Kellen Moore to start actually trusting him in such a way.
It’s time to #LetDakCook.