Let's just get this out of the way first so there isn't any confusion: no matter how good Russell Wilson and the Seahawks passing game were in the second half of the season, no matter how promising Wilson's future looks going forward, the Seahawks will be a team that strives to have balance on offense so long as Pete Carroll is calling the shots around here.
"We have a great commitment to the run game," Carroll said last month, even as his team and quarterback were putting up historic passing numbers. "For all of the football gods that have ever spoken of this game and how you're supposed to play the game, it goes back to the history of it. This game is won on the ground, and won on both sides of the ball. You have to be able to do that if you want to be a long-term, consistent winning team."
OK, so now that the disclaimer out of the way, there is absolutely cause to be excited about Seattle's passing game, and in particular the progress shown in the second half of the season. Sure, the Seahawks will still strive to run the ball well in 2016, but that doesn't mean an efficient and explosive passing attack won't also be a huge part of their future.
Through three and a half seasons, Wilson was a very good quarterback who produced big plays with his arms and his feet, took care of the football, and was a big part of Seattle's success. After the bye last season, Wilson was, unequivocally, one of the very best passers in the game, while still bringing the extra element that comes with his mobility. Wilson finished the season with an NFL best 110.1 passer rating, set franchise records for touchdowns, passing yards and completion percentage, and had an absurd 24-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio over the final seven games. And Wilson was far from alone in this turnaround. The offensive line, which struggled to protect Wilson in the first half of the season, showed drastic improvements, and the pass-catchers—Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Tyler Lockett in particular—made big play after big play, providing a glimpse of what Seattle's receivers can do given more opportunity to shine.
There are no guarantees the Seahawks simply pick up where they left off when the 2016 season begins, but the improvement shown by Wilson and everyone around him is one of the biggest reasons for optimism going forward.
"I couldn't be more excited about it, really," Carroll said. "We made so much progress in such crucial areas. If we can come back and be anywhere near that kind of efficiency in the red zone and on third down, and the targeting of our receivers, and the high level of accuracy we had there. Getting Jimmy (Graham) back in it, and Paul (Richardson) back to competing with us too, that's a real boost to us and we're excited about it. We can go down the field if we have to, we can throw the ball really quick, and we can do all kinds of stuff."
While the Seahawks would have preferred things went differently in their playoff loss to the Panthers, one thing that falling so far behind did provide was a chance for Wilson to show what he could do if asked to throw the ball at a much higher rate. Facing a very good Panthers defense that knew the Seahawks had to throw the ball, Wilson went 21 for 31 for 255 yards and three touchdowns in the second half.
"Russell showed all of the things we would have hoped to see in really consistent fashion this year, and a huge game (against Carolina) to get us back in the game," Carroll said. "You always want to ask us, what if you had to throw the ball a lot, what would happen? We had to throw it almost 50 times, and he did a great job. The more we got into it, the better he was. He did a fine job of doing that for us."
There has always been talent in the passing game on Seattle's offense, but for numerous reasons, there has never been a stretch of play out of Wilson and everyone around him that matched what we saw in the second half of last season.
"We have so much talent, we have so much ability," said Baldwin, who caught 12 of his team-record 14 touchdowns in the second half of the season. "It's not about your potential, it's about what you actually go out there and do. We've shown we have the capability to do that, but we have to do it at a more efficient rate and more consistent rate. We'll get better, that's part of the process."
As good as Seattle's passing game was to finish the season, Carroll sees room for even more growth, which is why he plans on "going to school" with Wilson this offseason so the quarterback can better understand the game from the defensive perspective. And Wilson, like his coach, is both encouraged by what occurred last season, and excited about what the future might hold.
"The sky's no limit," Wilson said. "I think with the ability that we have, and the guys coming back in terms of Jimmy and Thomas Rawls getting healthy too, as well. Just the things that we were able to do in the second half of the season. It took a second for us to get into that flow-state in terms of making those plays and doing all that. I told you guys all year. We're just one, two plays. We're right there. You could really feel it, sense it on film, see it on the field. Once we clicked, we clicked. Nobody could really beat us because of how we were playing. You get ecstatic about the opportunities that come down the road, but all that's potential. I think that we showed it, and we showed what we can do for such a long time. When I say it's all potential, you've got to put the work in. You've got to put the work in this off season, you've got to put the work in talking to the guys, the communication. You've got to figure out where we're going to go as our collective group. It's the time going with the receivers. Then you get back in the groove again. I think coach Bevell did a tremendous job calling the plays this year. He really put us all in a great position to succeed, and that's what it takes."
After traveling with the Seahawks all season, team photographer Rod Mar selected his favorite and most memorable photos from the 2015 season Eye on the Hawks photo essays.