In the wake of Seattle’s embarrassing shutout loss in Green Bay, the topic of Russell Wilson’s future with the Seahawks came back to light – with numerous national media revisiting the prospect of a split after this season.
While plenty of fans and media still cling to the myth that Wilson has been failed by the franchise and is a victim of mismanagement and poor coaching and personnel, that’s the bass-ackwards way of looking at it. Wilson is a double-edged sword who always has been half the problem, and he needs to adjust his play if the Seahawks are going to flip things around over the final eight games.
We do agree with all of those people on one thing though: This should be the final test of whether Wilson should stay Seattle’s quarterback going forward.
If he can’t adjust – if he and Shane Waldron cannot agree on how to proceed, if he remains a one-dimensional passer, if it becomes clear he has hit his ceiling — it may indeed be time to trade him.
We have seen enough now to know that, for all of his success over the past decade, Wilson is a dynamic player with some major limitations. He cannot carry a team. And we’re not just talking about right now, as he rushes back from a bum finger.
He has had plenty of support from the defense and special teams over the years, as a new study by The Athletic depicts. That’s why the Hawks have been a perennial playoff club.
He also has always needed a strong running game to keep the pressure off and let him do his favored deep-ball thing. In 2017, when he did not have any rushing help and the legendary LOB partially crumbled amid injuries, the Seahawks missed the playoffs.
The past three years, Wilson has been given plenty of chances to carry the team, and he has not been able to sustain it. Strong starts in 2019 and 2020 fizzled as Wilson and his coordinators failed to adapt to how defenses played them. That has continued into 2021; the offense has stagnated for a full calendar year, across two OCs.
Many will point to the offensive line as the problem, but there are plenty of games where that unit plays well enough and the Hawks still struggle on offense. Games like the loss to the Saints, where Seattle’s line was dominated by the Saints’ stout defensive front, are not the norm. Seattle’s line has been pretty average, no doubt, but part of that is because the Hawks don’t scheme properly and Wilson sticks to a deep-ball philosophy that is hard to sustain.
Regardless of the coordinator, Wilson has done the same thing: Play well in flashes, make enough big plays to help the Hawks to the playoffs, but fail to adapt against good defenses (or schemes that take away his preferred passing attack). It’s always an uphill battle, with almost no consistency. And the QB has been the one constant.
At this point, it is clear Wilson has more flaws than strengths. We have mentioned them all in the past: He holds the ball too long, looks deep too often, fails to see open receivers (yes, his height is a problem), can’t execute screen passes.
The biggest weakness – likely because of his short height — is that he usually avoids the middle of the field. We pointed it out in February, the topic was pertinent again in September and Sam Gold had some great analysis this week on the “Man 2 Man Podcast” with Mike Dugar and Christopher Kidd. The trio reinforced what we have said: Wilson really limits the offense by avoiding the middle.
How often do you see the Seahawks run a slant? Or a Cover-2-busting seam route? Or any other quick-hitting midrange route in the center of the field?
Instead, we see Wilson throwing a billion short outside passes or banging his head against Cover-2, trying to buy time to look deep when there are better options for attacking the defense.
It has been especially glaring over the past year as the offense has failed to adjust to the bevy of Cover-2 looks it has seen (the win at Washington last season was a notable one-game change in approach). Wilson puts extra pressure on his line when he tries to hold the ball too long for that big play he so covets (look at how often he throws deep on third-and-short).
Even a new offensive coordinator has not been enough. Wilson is still sticking to his favored deep-ball attack. When that fails, the offense – and often the game — is lost.
Waldron has struggled in his first year as playcaller. It’s not entirely his fault, of course. Wilson got hurt, Seattle lost its ace running back, the line has underperformed and the offense still cannot run a viable screen play despite Waldron’s creative attempts.
But Waldron certainly carries some of the blame, just as Brian Schottenheimer always did. He has to start adjusting to the flow of the game. In Green Bay, the Packers were daring Seattle to run the ball. It was obvious, yet Waldron and Wilson (who can always change the play) declined. In the aftermath, they admitted they should have run the ball more.
Waldron also has gone away from the motion and misdirection he used so well in the promising season-opening win in Indianapolis. As Gold said in the podcast (and we have long said), Seattle should use some kind of pre-snap movement on every play. Keep the defense guessing and create space for receivers through motion and subterfuge.
Waldron has two great receivers and two very capable tight ends (as Gerald Everett and Will Dissly showed in Green Bay). He needs to start making Wilson run plays that get them the ball, especially in the middle of the field. Waldron can’t let Wilson just look deep on almost every snap. That is not a viable offense.
Just like last year, Pete Carroll and Ken Norton Jr. have fixed the defense after a horrid start, so Wilson has the same strong backing from that unit and the special teams that he usually gets (he ranks fourth in support over his career, per The Athletic’s study).
Now it’s on Waldron and Wilson to fix an offense that has foundered for a full calendar year. They have to do it now, starting against Arizona on Sunday, if they are going to turn into a playoff team by winning six or seven of the final eight.
If they can’t — if Wilson remains intractable in his approach, if Waldron cannot coax the QB into using the full field, if Wilson really has hit his ceiling — it may indeed be time for the Hawks to look at trading the quarterback next offseason.