A month ago, many were touting Russell Wilson as an MVP candidate. Then he had the worst December of his career.
The MVP chants were all based on the fact that Wilson has been Seattle’s entire offense this season. With a game left, he has represented 81.6 percent of the offense (4,312 of 5,286 yards). That number is just 0.2 percent off the league record (held, oddly, by one-time Seahawk Jon Kitna). Wilson also has accounted for 35 of the team’s 36 touchdowns.
But here’s the real lesson from those stats: Seattle’s coaches have put way too much on Wilson’s shoulders, and he finally collapsed under that pressure. In some ways, this has been his worst NFL season.
He has always had to bear the weight of a sagging offensive line — even in the two Super Bowl years. But the last two years have weighed even heavier on him because the Hawks have not been able to run the ball. Seattle averaged 2,449 rushing yards in Wilson’s first four seasons, but the team has been almost 1,000 off that average over the past two years — 1,591 yards (25th in NFL) last season and 1,528 (21st) entering this season finale.
As a result, many of Wilson’s passing numbers this season have been the worst of his career. He has hit a career-low 61.3 percent, with a career-worst 7.18 yards per attempt, and he has tied a career-high with 11 interceptions. His 94.7 rating is the second-worst of his pro life.
It has been an unexpected backslide, two years removed from his best season — in 2015, he completed 68.1 percent, with 8.33 YPA, 34 TDs and a league-best 110.1 rating.
With no running game to support him, Wilson has struggled to be consistent. His numbers this month have been especially bad, with career lows in completion percentage (57.5) and YPA (6.49) and a 92.5 rating that is worse than every December but 2016 (88.7), when Wilson was still hampered by several serious injuries.
With no running game this year, the Seahawks have focused on trying to hit big plays in the passing game. They have failed miserably. It was a horrible choice against Jacksonville’s star corners, who picked off Wilson three times. After hitting just 54.8 percent vs. the Jags, Wilson completed a season-worst 46.7 percent (and gave up a TD on a fumble) in a pathetic 42-7 home loss to the Rams. Then he threw for a career-low 93 yards at Dallas.
It has just been a complete regress this month. As with most quarterbacks who are hit and pressured a lot, Wilson has developed the proverbial “happy feet” — running himself into sacks and other bad plays, even when protection is good enough and receivers are open. Against Dallas, Wilson scrambled his way into a 22-yard loss on a third-down play he could have hit a wide-open J.D. McKissic for a first down.
“It was really unfortunate last week,” Pete Carroll said. “There’s an opportunity to make a first down and I know he was thinking he might be able to escape to run for it and, before you know it, he’s going in the wrong direction and he got in trouble. Those are huge plays. He’s more likely to make the positive ones than he is to have those (bad) plays happen, but it has happened a couple times and they’ve been big, big problems for the field position.”
Carroll, Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable clearly have failed Wilson, putting way too much on the diminutive passer. They forget that along with his many strengths (mobility, intelligence, accuracy, arm strength) come certain weaknesses (lack of vision, lack of urgency, too much patience). Those flaws have been fatal at times this season, exacerbated by the almost total lack of help from teammates and coaches.
Wilson’s short stature (under 5 feet 11) has always affected his ability to see receivers (Super Bowl XLIX was a glaring example of this). It explains why the Hawks do not throw many intermediate passes over the middle from the pocket, why they have not been very good at RB screens (although they finally have hit some this year) and why Bevell has Wilson throwing short sideline passes so much.
Bevell has failed Wilson by not using more at-the-snap motion and misdirection plays (see Houston’s offense with Deshaun Watson) or sending the 6-foot-7 Jimmy Graham upfield for high, quick-hitting passes that gain five yards at a pop (especially on first down). Instead, Bevell has Wilson throw to the sideline or go deep — unless the QB rolls out or scrambles to find an intermediate target.
Wilson often holds the ball way too long, waiting to find a receiver. But, because he is short, he can’t see every open guy. It is even tougher when he feels harried. Then he has to try to bail himself out. He has done it enough that he feels confident holding the ball, which has led to some great plays but also has backfired a lot this season (a la the Dallas play).
At his worst, Wilson holds the ball too long or tries to leave the pocket too early. And we have seen a lot of that this month.
“I don’t think he has played as consistent (in December) as he (did) maybe in weeks earlier,” Bevell said. “There (are) different reasons for that. It really takes everybody. You can’t do it by yourself. I know that there was a lot made that Russell was doing everything by himself, and that’s really not the case.
“There (are) all kinds of things going on, but Russ has a part in it and he knows that. He is looking at the same stuff we’re looking at. We are coaching him on those same things, and everybody is trying to get better every week.”
Well, they certainly have failed in that endeavor, as Wilson has finally bowed to the immense pressure the coaches have placed on him.
There is little chance this offense will get any better Sunday or in the playoffs, if Seattle gets that far. But, Carroll, Bevell, Cable and John Schneider need to help their quarterback in the offseason. Get him some better blockers (linemen and tight ends) and running backs (including a slobber-knocker fullback).
It would be a stunner if Carroll replaced either of his top offensive coaches, so he needs to get them to do their jobs better. Adjust the playbook to incorporate motion and misdirection at the snap. Coach Wilson to get rid of the ball faster and not take drive-dooming sacks. Get the offensive line playing together.
It’s probably too much to hope for Carroll & Co. to change drastically now. But they have to do something to help Wilson play better, or the Seahawks will never get back to the Super Bowl.