Most Seahawks fans — hell, most Seahawks players — are happy when Russell Wilson scrambles from the pocket and turns up-field. It usually means a notable rushing gain, as well as re-calibration of the game plan by a grumpy defensive coordinator to account for maneuvers that resemble a summer fly trapped in a jar.
Delight was never more evident than Sunday against Washington, when his 10 carries for 77 yards made him the game’s leading rusher. But there was an asterisk: The Seahawks lost to a mediocre team.
Wilson also had his second-lowest passer rating of the season at 70.3, barely ahead of the 69.7 he posted in the touchdown-free loss in the season opener at Green Bay. His career average is 99.2, and the NFL leader this year is Kansas City’s Alex Smith at 113.9.
There’s not necessarily an inverse correlation between Wilson’s productive running and diminished passing. But there does seem to be problem with mostly young offensive linemen not knowing what he’s up to behind them.
That tends to result in holding penalties, three of which were called Sunday among 16 Seahawks infractions, one shy of the single-game team record set in 1984.
The Seahawks were dunned 138 yards, or about what the feds gave the Corleone family. The don of the group is RT Germain Ifedi, who leads the NFL with 12 penalties. Thanks in part to the second-year man from Texas A&M, the Seahawks lead the league with 82 penalties, and are on pace to break the NFL record of 163 set by Oakland in 2011.
Since the Seahawks also led the NFL in penalties in 2013 and 2014 — the years they were rewarded with Super Bowls — it’s possible the federal government will extend its seven-nation travel ban to include Seattle.
The Seahawks also lead with 28 pre-snap penalties, those nasty little crimes like parking in a loading zone, unmatched socks and ending sentences with prepositions.
According to assistant coach Tom Cable, seven of the season’s 10 holding penalties came during quarterback scrambles.
“The truth of it is, he’s the best in the game at what he does,” Cable said of Wilson’s improvisational skills. “We have to adapt. But if we can stick to: ‘If you feel him go, let go,’ we can cut down penalties. It’s hard.”
Cable referred to his line’s tendency, as Wilson begins to run, to keep holding the defender after he has made a move to chase Wilson, which makes the blocker’s hands visible to officials.
“No one’s trying to hold, but there’s truth in seven out of 10,” Cable said. But he also was eager to prop up Ifedi’s fragile confidence.
“He’s playing really good if you let the penalties out of him,” he said. “He’s been exceptional for a second-year, first-time starter at tackle. That’s my goal: Clean him up.”
But a foul-free game doesn’t solve everything with the offense. Wilson was so eager to run Sunday that he apparently passed up passing opportunities. Whether it was for self-protection or tactics, coach Pete Carroll noticed.
“Sometimes,” Carroll said, answering a question about whether he wishes occasionally Wilson would stay in the pocket. “Yeah. Sometimes. There is a little give and take there, but sometimes it’s been like that. This was one of those games where he was moving quick, more than some other games.
“He did a lot with his legs and it was effective.”
Wilson was certain that he didn’t break from the pocket too often.
“I don’t think so at all,” he said. “A lot of times I have been in the pocket. Last game I was able to get out a little bit more, but I don’t think that is a concern or anything like that.
“I think that things kind of happen. You just play ball. I don’t play scared. I don’t try to think too much. Usually, it turns out pretty good for us.”
Usually, it has. Also usually at midseason, the Seahawks aren’t breaking in a left tackle new to the team, nor playing a rookie in his second start at left guard. It is asking a lot of those players and the rest of the team to adjust. But according to Carroll, it was the right side of the line, with Ifedi and Oday Aboushi, that faltered some Sunday.
Discussing Wilson’s erratic accuracy Sunday, Carroll said, “Coaches have gone through it with him, and there is something here, something there. He felt the right side (pressure) a little bit in pass protection and it caused him to move a little bit earlier than he needed to a couple times. But then he took over and made some marvelous plays by his movement.”
Complicating matters is that Duane Brown, the 10-year veteran left tackle acquired from Houston, has never protected a scrambler.
“I’ve been with pocket passers,” he said. “This is something different.”
Cable smiled when told about Brown’s remark.
“That’s one of the first things we talked about,” he said. “Your whole career, you’ve spent protecting the spot. Now the spot is everywhere.”
Remember last season, when the line couldn’t keep Wilson from being sacked? He has been dropped just 18 times in eight games, 17th in the NFL. Now the line has a hard time spotting the spot. Unfortunately for Wilson’s blockers, the trail to it has marked in yellow.