The Morning After: Russell Wilson and Seahawks Offense Not Good Enough, Lose 20-10
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In a season lost long ago, few will read this column about yet another loss, and even fewer will remember this game. The most remarkable aspect might have been the day it was played on. Neither team played particularly well, but as has become an all-too-frequent storyline, the Seahawks defense played good enough to win and the opposing quarterback outplayed Seattle’s $35M man. The common refrain has been that the Seahawks need a new coach to pair with their franchise quarterback. These last two seasons have left me highly skeptical that any coach will turn Russell Wilson into the centerpiece of a Super Bowl winner.
This was another game where Wilson took sacks he did not need to take, insisted on holding the ball for long-developing deep passes while ignoring underneath options, refused to run when there were yards to be had, was inaccurate overall, and showed no chemistry with DK Metcalf.
Meanwhile, Matt Stafford, a player who some consider an insulting comparison to Wilson, made enough good or great throws to win the game. He threw with anticipation, and to receivers who were not open when he released the football. He used the whole field horizontally and vertically.
The ongoing narrative has been that if Seattle could just get an offensive coordinator who ran an offense that gave Wilson easy, repeatable, throws to make, that he would be a much better player. People have been certain he is being held back by coaching.
That still may be true. The odds are much, much lower than the alternative.
Wilson is the constant. Coaches have changed. Players around him have changed. The throws he makes well have remained consistent. The throws he is reluctant or subpar at making have remained consistent. He has had small, quick, brilliant receivers like Doug Baldwin. He has had massive targets like Metcalf and Jimmy Graham. He has had tough players who would make catches over the middle like Golden Tate, and plenty of good running backs who were talented as receivers out of the backfield.
The narrative no Seahawks fan wants to truly consider is that Wilson is the one holding back these coaches and his offense. His inability to make the throws necessary to beat a two-deep safety defense, or take the shorter throws for shorter yardage, or get rid of the ball instead of taking 10-yard sacks, or his lack of comfort with timing patterns.
Football, for all its pageantry, is a game where 80% or more of the offensive plays run are the same. The plays that beat a two-deep safety look are going to be the same no matter what formation you start in, whether you motion someone pre-snap, and how the player gets to the weak spot in that defense. You can bring any coach in here you want and if calls those plays and the quarterback either does not make the throw or does not make it well, you will not have a consistent offense.
Mike Holmgren was a coach who was so stubborn about how the quarterback position had to be played that he would mold players into what he needed. He did not care what a player liked to do. Wilson would have benefitted from that iron fist approach immensely in his early years. The likelihood that he can change that significantly as a quarterback in his mid-30s seems supremely hopeful.
Wilson could still be a great quarterback on a great team, but if your goal is to win a Super Bowl, he will need a great running game and a very good defense. The idea that Seattle should bring in a coach to get more out of Wilson as a passer could very well be the lowest percentage path to building a contender.
If Wilson is going to stay in Seattle, this team needs a great offensive line and good running back that can be among the league’s best running games without the benefit of a rushing quarterback. Wilson made Lynch a more lethal back by commanding attention in the run game himself. Those days are over.
The team also needs a pass rush to compliment a defense that has shown signs of having the parts needed to win. They are now fourth in the NFL in points allowed, and have held their last eight opponents below their scoring average. We don’t know what to expect from Tre Brown after his injury, but DJ Reed and Sidney Jones have played well. Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams can be the safety tandem for the next 4-5 years. Jordyn Brooks is growing into a very good player. The team could use another playmaker at linebacker with Bobby Wagner likely nearing the end of his career.
The path is there to make this defense very tough. What really needs attention is the offensive and defensive lines.
Center must be fixed. Right tackle and left tackle need to be better. There honestly isn’t a position on the offensive line that should be safe, not even second year player Damien Lewis. My biggest concern with Pete Carroll and John Schneider remaining in Seattle is that they have consistently undervalued offensive linemen and would likely try to patch things with Jake Curhan and cheap free agents or long-shot draft picks. This team needs to make offensive line the absolute top priority.
Even if they trade Wilson, offensive line should be a higher priority than finding the next franchise quarterback. The better the offensive line, the more quarterbacks there are who could thrive behind it.
It was nice to see the pass rush finally wake up in this game. Carlos Dunlap was the player we had all hoped he would be for at least one game. It is a mystery why he has been so absent for so long.
Brooks had maybe his most complete game. He was great against the run as always, and also made a terrific play on 3rd down in coverage against Cooper Kupp and even snuffed out a screen on his own.
That this defense held the Rams to basically one legitimate scoring drive without Adams, or Reed, or Brown was impressive. They had gotten off the field on the first drive with a Rams punt before Alton Robinson ran into the kicker’s leg and turned it into a field goal. They had gotten off the field on 3rd and 12 deep in Rams territory before a truly terrible call against Bless Austin gave the Rams a phantom first down when they went on to score a touchdown that never should have happened. The Rams final field goal came after the offense stalled and got a 15-yard penalty so the Rams were already in field goal range.
Everyone dismissed the Seahawks holding the Rams to 3 points in the first half of the first game between these two teams when they gave up 23 in the second half. They did it again in this game, and held them to 17 until the very end. There is evidence that Carroll finally has figured out how to slow down this Rams offense. Even dating back to last season.
The Rams three games against Seattle last year were 23 points and 333 yards, 9 points and 292 yards, and 30 points and 278 yards. That playoff point total included a pick-6 so it was really 23 points. Those totals, in addition to this season, are a far cry from the 35+ point, 450+ yard games we were seeing far too often.
Even with that progress, it was maddening to see Cooper Kupp get open so many times given everyone knew he was the primary target. It is possible the Seahawks felt less comfortable going man-to-man on defense without Reed available to play. Juxtaposing the Rams and Stafford’s ability to target Kupp knowing the defense was going to focus on him with the Seahawks continuing inability to get Metcalf involved was very frustrating.
I realize many fans have lost respect for Metcalf during this season. While I understand the reasons behind it, I am not one of those fans. I have seen a player who has continued to cheer vociferously for his teammates when they catch a pass or score a touchdown, and a player who was at the front of the sideline cheering for his defense as they held the 49ers out of the endzone to win the game. That is not what a selfish player, who is only concerned with his stats, looks like.
Metcalf is not the first receiver to be frustrated with Wilson. Sidney Rice was. Baldwin was. Tate was. Kearse was. Even Graham was. I don’t think most folks would consider Baldwin a selfish or immature player. Playing receiver has to be one of the most frustrating positions in the league as you can do absolutely everything right and if the line doesn’t block well, the quarterback doesn’t see you, the quarterback sees you and ignores you, or the quarterback makes a bad pass, you are helpless.
Metcalf beat the best corner in football multiple times last night. He had very little to show for it. You can be sure Jalen Ramsey was in his ear the whole time, and has been since he joined the league. I find it very understandable to be frustrated. I also think someone has to get in Wilson’s ear as this coaching staff has seemingly never been hard on him. I would hope Metcalf and Wilson could motivate each other to find the chemistry they need to both be better players. If I am choosing who I expect to take lead on that situation between the 10-year veteran team leader and the third year youngster at receiver, it is the vet.
In any event, the Seahawks lost again. They are going to have a losing season. They are not going to make the playoffs. It is time to learn as much as possible about young players you have on the roster. Find reps for Stone Forsythe. Find reps for Phil Haynes. Make Dee Eskridge a bigger part of your offense and special teams. Let Poona Ford kick field goals. Find meaning in meaningless games. That is all there is left to do.