Tomorrow night, the Seahawks will face the 2nd toughest defense they’ll face all year. (The toughest being the one the face in practice every day). The 49ers defense has talent at every level. They disguise their coverages well, and they can get after the QB as good as almost anyone. This game will be a huge test to see how far Russell Wilson has come in is development.
That development has been a topic of great debate so far this season. I think everyone expected him to look like a pro-bowler after the preseason he had, but that is simply unrealistic. This early season has been a lesson for many Seahawk fans as to just how meaningless the preseason results really are.
Instead, Wilson showed that he had a long way to do. Through 4 weeks, Wilson was the 2nd worst starting QB in the NFL by all of the advanced metrics. And while Arizona’s defense makes many QBs look bad, neither Green Bay nor St. Louis field a defense that would be considered good, and Wilson looked just as bad in those games as he did against the Cardinals.
What I see and what most fans see aren’t always the same thing. I have access to to coaches tape that most fans dont have. I also have experience in scouting QBs for the NFL draft, meaning I tend to watch for different things than other people do. I watch footwork, anticipation, eye level. I look at subtle pocket movement, the ability to manipulate coverage, and proper progression through the route tree. Trust me when I tell you that Russell Wilson was not playing good football. He wasn’t, and there’s no legitimate argument that can be made that says he was.
After the game against St. Louis, Wilson had lots most of his supporters amongst the fan base. He looked lost, and mostly clueless. He had plenty of open receivers,and simply never threw the ball to them, choosing instead to foce the ball to covered players. He also showed very little pocket presence; running into sacks, running when there was no reason to, etc. It was a low point for Wilson, his worst game, and one that left many people wondering if he’d be able to make the leap to NFL competence this season.
Like mand other fans after that game, I did a bit of venting of my frustration on twitter. I was asked by Dayna O’Gorman, the Seahawks reporter for NFLFemale.com, if I was ready for the Seahawks to bench Wilson in favor of Matt Flynn. I think I surprised a few people by saying that no, I wasn’t. Wilson was driving me nuts, partly because he had played so poorly, but mostly because there were a few plays each game in which I could see that the light was about to turn on. He was close. The evidence was there. The Seahawks just desperately needed the light to turn on sooner rather than later.
Wilson finally showed progress against Carolina. He made better reads, got the ball to the open player more often, and looked much more comfortable in the pocket. It was the type of game he needed to have. He made some key mistakes (like the pick-6) but rebounded and made some excellent plays that helped the team win. It was the type of performance that you expect from a franchise QB.
This is more important than the previous paragraph made it sound. The light did, in fact, come on during the game. Every team the Seahawks have faced this year have used the same gameplan: load the box to stop Lynch, cover 1 on 1 on the outside, and don’t worry about the Seahawk passing game. Wilson’s play forced the Panthers to back off from that gameplan. Late in the game, the Panthers were confused as to what to do, and how to stop the Seahawks. They couldn’t, and the Seahawks won.
Doing that against a bad defense like Carolina’s is one thing. Doing it against a good defense like New England’s is another. Many fans have yet to come to the realization that the Patriots defense is much improved this year,and was the 5th ranked defense in the league before the game last Sunday. (They dropped to 7th this week.) The Patriots defense is the best defense the Seahawks have faced on game day so far this year, and yet last Sunday’s game was Russell Wilson’s best. By far. And it isn’t even close.
In the first quarter, the Patriots employed the same game plan every other team has used. They crowded the line to stop Lynch, and dared Wilson to beat them. He did. 131 passing yards and a perfect 158.3 rating later, and the Patriots were forced to back off from their original plan.
Their adjustment worked, and for the the next 2 quarters the Seahawks offense stalled. But it didn’t stall because of Wilson’s play. It stalled mostly because the Seahawks couldn’t get the running game going, and the Patriots were no longer biting every time the Seahawks used play action. The Seahawks had to make an adjustment of their own, and in the 4th quarter, they did.
The adjustment was to keep an extra blocker in to give Wilson additional time, and to attack deep down the field. It worked. Wilson made the right reads, he looked off the safeties, and he delivered perfect passes that brought the Seahawks back from down 13. He threw the Seahawks to a victory.
While it’s important to note that Wilson still has a ways to go, (It’s true, he does.) it’s also important for everyone not to forget how far he’s come. Wilson now gives the offense some much needed balance. He’s now capable of hurting teams when they load the box to stop Lynch. As long as he doesn’t turn the ball over, he’s now doing enough for the Seahawks to play in, and win, meaningful games in January.
Please keep that in mind tomorrow night, no matter what happens. If Wilson plays well, the Seahawks will win. If he doesn’t, I’m sure there are a lot of fans who will go back to being frustrated. That’s to be expected, but I hope that most will acknowledge that it will be against one of the league’s premier defenses.
Even if Wilson struggles tomorrow night, he’s still have come a long way on his development. With every week, he continues to get better. Come January, that will be very important for the Seahawks.