Russell Wilson has the potential to be the best quarterback in the NFC West. There has been evidence that the greatness he displayed during his college career is translating to the NFL. Faithful readers may remember that Wilson posted a 158.0 passer rating (translated to the NFL rating system) in the red zone during his college career. Doing that for a season is unheard of. Doing it for a four-year career is just nutty. Wilson’s first red zone pass in an NFL game was intercepted. His second red zone pass went for a touchdown. It was not his game play, however, that stood out. There was a red zone practice a few weeks back where the defense just destroyed the offense. That was the first day Wilson stood out to me. He did not have great results, but his creativity shined. There were shovel passes and scrambles and bullet throws in tight windows. It illustrated how different these two quarterbacks are. Wilson’s dual-threat ability, combined with the already strong Seahawks running game, will be a headache for defenses.
Wilson has shown his propensity for scoring, even outside the red zone. His touchdown pass to Braylon Edwards in the first pre-season game was a great example. The throw he made was not worth noting, but the decision to throw it was. He made a good assessment of coverage, field position, and receiver ability. Some would call that a jump ball, almost a Hail Mary. All those considerations make it an efficient risk/reward decision where the odds were in his team’s favor.
Wilson’s running ability exceeds what many of us expected. We knew he was an athlete, but he could be a prolific runner as an NFL quarterback. The reason this matters is not because running should be encouraged or featured, but because it can help to offset some of the challenges a rookie quarterback will face. If he gets fooled on a coverage, he can run. If he faces a superior pass rush, he can run. If proves he can run, teams may choose to apply a defender just to track him, which opens up more passing opportunities. Michael Vick is a runner who can throw the football. Wilson is a quarterback that can run.
No situation is too big for Wilson. He will not lose this job because of poor preparation, lack of talent, or even the inability to lead the team this season. The reason he was behind Matt Flynn to this point is because Flynn was making plays only players with a few years of NFL experience can make. The brainiest quarterbacks in the NFL still took some time to anticipate defenses at this level and counter-attack. Peyton Manning, for instance, had a 71.2 passer rating his rookie season and threw more interceptions (28) than touchdowns (26). Wilson’s challenge is not going to be making positive plays, it is going to be avoiding negative ones and exploiting defenses at critical junctures. Flynn has years of experience Wilson cannot recreate no matter how talented he is. The Seahawks may still choose to take advantage of having that on the roster and allow Wilson to burst onto the scene a year or two later.
Carroll would need to use the fourth pre-season game in a unique way if he wants to name Flynn starter. Flynn would need a tune-up before the regular season. Most teams use that fourth game to evaluate talent at the bottom of the roster and protect their starters from injury. The plus side of ignoring that convention is your (healthy) starters may be more game-ready than any others in the NFL. Seahawks fans know the history of trouble coming off of bye weeks. Being rested is often not as valuable as being sharp. Now, just because the Seahawks would be playing their starters longer in the fourth game does not mean their opponents will. Playing against inferior competition is fine to get some work in, and should not matter in terms of evaluation.
Another aspect of Carroll’s decision is the impact on free agents, and again, it is a double-edged sword. On the plus side, he is proving that money will not drive his decisions. I have been pointing that out on this blog for months relative to the quarterback race. He has been consistent in saying it, but many people are only now starting to believe him. Signing an extension or a free agent contract with Carroll’s Seahawks guarantees a player nothing but the guaranteed money in the contract. That can reduce the potential for big money letdowns where players stop giving effort after signing a big deal. It can also reduce the potential that big-time free agents would want to come to Seattle. Yin and Yang.
By far, the biggest positive of Carroll’s decision this week is that we all get to see Wilson play again. The guy is electric, and is already one of my favorite players on the team. Disagreeing with the decision to start him has nothing to do with confidence in who Wilson is, or who he will become. A large part of the problem with the decision–or lack thereof–is that the coaching staff is messing with one of the most promising quarterback prospects this franchise has seen. He has already started to demonstrate that he can overcome his height in the NFL. His next trick could be making a bad decision look really good. Here’s to hoping he does.