Russell Wilson – everyone’s three-game NFL MVP — has not thrown the ball more this year, contrary to what some might think. He has just thrown it more efficiently and effectively and, most important, more proactively.
He has thrown 103 passes through three games, which is right around his average (104) for the first three games of the 2015-19 seasons.
But Wilson has set an NFL record with 14 TD passes to start the season, and his 76.7 percent completions and 7.76 yards per attempt are all the best of his career through three games.
It hasn’t been the volume; it has been the timing: He is throwing on early downs and in the first half more than ever.
Starting in 2015, when Wilson was given more leeway to throw the ball (his first season over 4,000 yards and 30 TDs, with a career-high 483 attempts) and going through 2019, he averaged 12 first-down throws, 11 second-down throws and 15 first-half throws.
This year, he has thrown it an average of 15 times on first down, 12 on second down and 18 times in the first half. Assuming those trends continue, they would all be career highs.
Brian Schottenheimer has let Wilson be more aggressive and has mixed the plays to help him do it. Wilson has used all of his weapons – 61 targets to receivers, 19 to tight ends, 18 to running backs, seven guys scoring.
His skill players have been great, led by the stellar Tyler Lockett (24 of 29 for 259 yards and four scores). Only DK Metcalf has let him down at times, with a poor 54.5 percent catch rate (three or four drops) and that boneheaded fumble out of the end zone against Dallas that took a 15th TD pass away from Wilson. But Metcalf redeemed himself with the winning touchdown – his third TD of the season to match Chris Carson.
Wilson has led five touchdown drives in every game so far – one of the TDs against Atlanta was a run. Of the 15 drives, 12 started in Seattle territory and eight went at least 70 yards. Wilson’s TD passes have been mixed between short (six) and long (eight), a reflection of Schotty’s good mix of play calls – long drives and big plays.
It’s pretty obvious why Pete Carroll finally relented and let Wilson lead the way: Carroll knew his defense would stink again.
OK, maybe that is overstating it a bit. But the truth is not far off.
For the first five years of Wilson’s career, Carroll’s defense was the strongest part of his team. He got used to leaning on it and preferred to play a conservative offensive game, telling Wilson not to force balls while relying on a power running attack.
But that non-aggressive approach meant the Hawks started in a hole in many of their games and had to rely on Wilson to rally them in the fourth quarter. There were a ton of ugly offensive games, saved only by Wilson’s late heroics to overcome what usually were small margins because the defense had played so well. It was all part of Carroll’s misguided “You can’t win until the end” mantra.
But the defense started to fade in 2017 as longtime stars all got hurt, and Carroll has been trying to build a new defense since 2018. He should have opened up the offense then, knowing Wilson could handle it in his seventh season. But newly arrived Schottenheimer kept to Carroll’s conservative philosophy – in fact, Schotty regressed Wilson in 2018, which cost Seattle a playoff win in Dallas.
In 2019, the passing game returned to 2015-17 levels. But it still was a conservative attack, which again helped cost the Hawks in the playoffs.
At Wilson’s prompting, they finally made the move this year to let the six-time Pro Bowl passer lead a more driven, diverse offense early in games. And we think Carroll relented because he finally realized Wilson was better than his defense (which really has been true since 2017).
Maybe he also finally saw that winning stat: The Hawks were 57-0 (now 58-0) when Wilson led them to a four-point or better lead at halftime. That stat could be tested big time as this season goes along though.
An already bad defense is losing guys left and right. Bruce Irvin and Marquise Blair are out for the season, Rasheem Green is on IR, Quinton Dunbar has a troublesome knee, Lano Hill missed Week 3 and Jamal Adams (groin) and Jordyn Brooks (knee) were injured vs. Dallas and are expected to miss a game or two.
Wilson’s line is banged up, too. Duane Brown is playing through knee and foot injuries; Mike Iupati (knee), Damien Lewis (ankle) and Ethan Pocic (knee) were all dinged against Dallas; Cedric Ogbuehi (pec) has yet to be healthy; backups Jordan Simmons (knee) and Jamarco Jones (back) also played through minor issues last weekend.
Despite five more TD passes Sunday, Wilson clearly was affected by the Dallas pass rush early in the game – perhaps a cumulative effect from getting hit a lot in the first couple of weeks. From the second quarter on, a lot of his passes were too low or behind his guys – even though he sometimes had a lot of time to throw. Obviously, he still did enough to rally Seattle to the win after it had let Dallas come back from 15 down.
Finally given the opportunity, Wilson is playing his best early-game ball ever. With the defense a mess, the pressure is on him to play like that every single week. If he does, maybe he will be more than a three-game MVP and — more important — maybe he will lead the Hawks back to the Super Bowl.