Russell Wilson is starting to worry people — and not just opponents. The Seahawks, in so many words, are concerned that their sometimes-stuttering offense is defaulting into too much reliance on their sharp young quarterback. Wilson has handled just about everything handed him. But as football folks like to say: Opponents get paid, too.
Asked this week if the Seahawks were falling into bad habits around Wilson, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said, “That’s definitely something that we’re looking at. We want to make sure that the timing stays the way the timing needs to, that he’s not getting quick with protection issues that we might be having, that he’s not speeding up the clock in his head, and getting out of there before he needs to.”
In other words: Too much Gump, as in “Run, Forrest, run!”
It’s not as if the Seahawks aren’t still a ground team: The 218 yards rushing at Indianapolis was the highest single-game total in more than half a decade. But Wilson matched RB Marshawn Lynch’s total of 102 yards on the ground primarily because he ran nine times for 91 yards on plays that began as passes. Of the plays that stayed passes, he completed 15 of 31.
In Pete Carroll’s design, that’s not how it’s supposed to work. It’s a bad sign when the NFL’s No. 1 ground team a year ago is led in rushing by the QB.
As Seahawks followers know, injuries to tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini and center Max Unger put too many second-stringers in harm’s way. Wilson isn’t being given the time he needs, nor are the receivers getting separation quickly enough to make Wilson stick with the pass play. Unger looks like he will return Sunday, but that doesn’t solve all.
Wilson knows he’s perhaps the best in the NFL in scrambling away from pressure, so at the moment, he trusts his legs more than his teammates. But even with his sometimes-incredible escapes, only four quarterbacks have been sacked more times than Wilson’s 15. That doesn’t count the QB hits and hurries, nor the tackles he takes when his runs don’t end in slides or out of bounds.
The advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus ranked O-lines over the first quarter of the season and put the Seahawks next to last, ahead of only the Baltimore Ravens. The list was headed by the Cincinnati Bengals.
It’s possible to suggest that everything will be fine upon return to health. But the question is whether Wilson will remain upright to greet them. Starting with Sunday’s 1 p.m. home game with Tennessee, teams now can study a blueprint for success against Seattle provided by the Colts’ 34-28 win Sunday and know that Wilson can be harassed into ordinariness.
It’s not as if the Seahawks were terrible; they had a shot to win it in the final possession. But that final possession offered a tight little summary of the problem. Wilson’s first play was a 22-yard run from the pocket for a first down. Then followed an incompletion, a delay of game penalty, another incompletion and an interception.
Wilson was badgered into throwing poorly. Magic is rarely a long-term answer in sports, unless the term is followed by Johnson.
Carroll knows the script needs reworking, especially on third downs.
“We’re constantly making sure that we look at that,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff that goes (into it), whether it’s receivers understanding the timing that he has back there, and getting open in the time that they’re supposed to, him taking the correct drops, calling good routes for him. All of those things kind of go together.”
The other missing element is experience at tight end and fullback. In spring, it looked as if the Seahawks were set with solid young veterans in Zach Miller and Anthony McCoy. Then McCoy went down in May with an Achilles tendon tear and was waived. Now Miller, listed as questionable Friday when he did not practice, may miss his second game in a row with a hamstring problem.
Suddenly, Luke Willson, a rookie fifth-round draft pick from the minimal football hotbed of Rice University, is the starting tight end. Not only that, he found himself several times against Indy playing fullback or H-back, largely as a blocker to help protect Wilson’s backside from rushers getting past Paul McQuistan, the over-matched guard replacing Okung at left tackle.
For his part, Willson, an Ontario native who played youth soccer and hockey and signed a baseball contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, is an excellent athlete who nevertheless played no backfield positions until his first time around with the Seahawks.
“When I was drafted, I wasn’t thinking about starting right away, but you never really know,” said Willson, whose father played Canadian college football. “It’s a little different, playing fullback. It’s not anything I’ve done in college. Beginning back in OTAs (May), we were sprinkling it in some. I’m comfortable with it, and it’s fun.”
Good that he’s having fun, but learning a new position while starting in the NFL suggests that Seattle’s vaunted depth isn’t quite everywhere. The starting fullback, when he’s in the game, is another rookie, Derrick Coleman, who has yet to carry the ball this season. Willson has seven receptions for 105 yards.
Compared to the problems of most teams, Seattle’s weaknesses pale. But they are problems that lead directly to the franchise’s golden child. What the Seahawks need is a veteran fullback who can do it all. Like, say, last year’s incumbent, Michael Robinson.
Apparently for reasons of salary ($2.5 million) and health, he was cut just before the season. Gone, but lately, not forgotten.