What About Russell?

February 4, 2014 by Peter King

“Russell Wilson! Eighteen for 25, two touchdowns, a 123 QB rating!”

—Seattle coach Pete Carroll, in his post-game speech to his team after the 43-8 Super Bowl victory over Denver.

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What about Russell Wilson?

I’m as guilty of this as the next defensive devotee, but we lost Wilson in the aftermath of Seattle’s first Super Bowl victory in its history Sunday night. Consider that he was opposite Peyton Manning, playing on the biggest stage of his life, with lesser receivers than Denver had, and consider that from his very first big play—a rollout to his left, throwing awkwardly across his body, throwing a line-drive strike to Golden Tate for a first down—he never, ever betrayed any jitters. Like what Pete Carroll told me at Seattle practice Friday: “Russell is exactly where he’s always pictured he’d be in life. I think he is ready to play a very good game.”

Seeing the game Sunday night got me thinking back to the weekend of the rookie third-round pick’s first training camp practice as a Seahawk. July 2012, Renton, Wash., where Wilson, Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson were in a three-way battle for the starting job.

Some of what I wrote coming out of camp that day:

The vibe I got here is that Wilson has a legitimate shot to win the starting job. Carroll loves him. GM John Schneider loves him. Plus, Flynn’s not the kind of player whose arm is going to wow you in a training camp. That gives the charismatic Wilson a chance, which is all he’s ever wanted. I spent 20 minutes with him Sunday, and I was ready to run extra routes for him after listening to him.

“I refuse to be average,’’ Wilson said on the field after practice. “I refuse to be good. All I want to do is work to excel every day.’’

It’s very difficult to make any judgments on a player, or a team, watching a pad-less practice, with players in helmets and shorts. But Wilson’s arm looked every bit as strong, and maybe slightly stronger, than Flynn’s in this practice. On one snap, Wilson was flushed from the pocket, scrambled right (“He scrambles to throw; he doesn’t scramble to run,’’ Carroll said) and launched a slightly wavering 32-yard strike down the right side to a covered Ben Obomanu, who came down with the ball.

That’s what he told me he was happiest about at Wisconsin—the ability to show scouts and NFL teams he could play in the land of the giants (the Badger offensive line is annually one of the nation’s largest) and get clear passing lanes to complete passes. At Wisconsin last year, Wilson had two of 309 batted down—0.6 percent.

“I’ve been told a ton of times if I was just two inches taller, I’d be a great prospect,’’ Wilson said. “But I played behind a huge offensive line last season, and I think what I proved is I’m not going to have any trouble getting the ball out.’’

The 25-year-old Russell Wilson became the third-youngest starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl. (David Bergman/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
The 25-year-old Russell Wilson became the third-youngest starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl, following Ben Roethlisberger (23) and Tom Brady (24). (David Bergman/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)

Sunday night, I said to Wilson: “You just beat Peyton Manning in a playoff game.”

Wilson said, shaking his head: “I know, right?”

I made a couple of passes at Wilson, just to talk, and both times he brought up what he thought was the point everyone needed to remember: “Nobody here thinks we’re done.” That day in Renton, he talked about wanting to be good for a long time. If you’re good for a long time, you have to remember you’ve got to do something every offseason to be better. This is what Seahawks general manager John Schneider saw in Wilson.

In the end, credit goes to Schneider for coming back from scouting Wilson twice in 2011 at Wisconsin and careening into Carroll’s office and saying, “You’ve got to take a look at this guy. You’ll fall in love with him.” Credit goes to Carroll for being true to his competition gene and playing Wilson when the safe thing was to let Flynn play his way out of the starting job during the regular season—and credit to Carroll for sticking with Wilson when he playing just okay football early. And credit to Wilson for doing it, with the help of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and quarterback coach Carl Smith, the well-traveled one.

And credit to them all for knowing winning multiple titles is what separates a franchise. They haven’t been afraid to talk about greatness, short- or long-term, since Carroll arrived four years ago, and I think that helps the team focus on what’s ahead without being distracted or intimidated by it.

Having Wilson as a new-wave quarterback—with a good-enough arm and legs that can get him out of trouble—at a dirt-cheap salary of $662,434 (he cannot renegotiate his rookie contract until next offseason) that should help the Seahawks sign some needed players; Michael Bennett would be the first on my wish list. So many GMs and coaches go to bed at night worrying about their quarterback. Schneider and Carroll don’t have to. They can focus this year on keeping a great defense intact. It’s a good time to be a Seahawks fan.

Now for your email:

Peyton Manning and the Broncos never recovered from the safety on their first play from scrimmage, which was a result of miscommunication on the snap.  (John Iacono/Sports Illustrated/TheMMQB)
Peyton Manning and the Broncos never recovered from the safety on their first play from scrimmage, which was a result of miscommunication on the snap. (John Iacono/Sports Illustrated/TheMMQB)

DENVER SHOULD HAVE HAD A BETTER PLAN. Having watched the NFL for about 40 years now, one thing I distinctly remember from Super Bowls past was the use of scripted plays. If my memory serves me correctly the 49ers and Packers used to script the first 15 plays and run those with little variance. I cannot understand why the Broncos, with two weeks to prepare, could not have come up with a game plan prior to the contest. It seems very unlikely that Seattle did anything remotely out of character to start the game. Denver should have been prepared for how to attack the “soft” areas. Then Manning simple has to get to the line and determine who would be the best target based on the look he gets. There should have been no reason for that “chicken dancing” that led to the botched snap. What do you think?

—Garth Cooper

Many teams do the scripting you talk about, which allows players to visualize what they’re going to run early in a game. On the play in question, Manning obviously wanted to communicate something to his team prior to the snap. It’s impossible for Manning to know the precise look he’ll get from a defense he hasn’t played in four seasons. Sometimes he’ll change the play based on where the linebackers are lined up, and based on how many defensive backs are in the game. But I agree with you: There is no excuse for the Broncos not to be able to play with noise.

THANK YOU. In the first quarter of the Super Bowl, Pete Carroll challenged the spot of a ball hoping to pick up a first down. The refs ultimately ruled that Russell Wilson was short of the first down, but that the ball was closer to a first down than initially ruled. I know the rules say that the Seahawks should have been charged a timeout (and they were) because they didn’t get the first down, but why? Pete Carroll challenged the ball was incorrectly spotted; it was. Who cares of the significance of the new ball spot as long as Carroll was correct in saying the refs erred?

—Steven, New York City

Couldn’t agree more. The NFL has to change this rule.

TALK BACK

Got a question for Peter? Send it with your name and hometown to talkback@themmqb.com and it might be included in next Tuesday's mailbag.

GOOD WORK, ZEBRAS. Please mention the outstanding job that the referees did in the game. They kept total control, not letting after-the-play issues get out of hand, letting the teams play, and not having controversy linger in the game. They get enough criticism, but they deserve a shout-out for the job they did.

—A.D. Adams, Jr., Portland

Glad you made that point. Thanks for pointing out that the best an official crew can do is not be noticed. That’s unfortunate, but it’s the truth. And there wasn’t much reason to notice them on Sunday

THE NEW COWBOYS? Is it just me, or is it fair to compare this Seahawks team to the great Cowboys team of the early nineties? Both teams hot off 12-plus wins in regular season, both with two very young rosters, both win the Super Bowl in blowout fashion, both coached by championship college coaches in their fourth years. Fair comparison?

—Dave Gonyea, San Antonio

Well, I think the style of the quarterback is different. The receiving crews are different. And the Seattle secondary is absolutely premiere, while the Dallas secondary was pedestrian. Where they’re the same is in the power running game and defensive speed, as well as the coaches’ college pedigree. I think it’s difficult to compare Seattle because there aren’t many great teams that I remember that have a mobile quarterback, a power runner, a speed defense, significant youth, and a lack of marquee stars, at least now. I’ll be very interested to see how this team grows.

A MATTER OF STYLE. Doesn’t it seem that the philosophical approach to football ultimately made the difference? Denver is led by Manning. He is THE unquestioned leader of the team. He is the boss and the players are the employees. It was that way in Indy as well. How he goes, so goes his team. It was obvious the psychological effect the game had on Peyton. He was shell-shocked in his post-game interview, stammering for words, his confidence shattered. In contrast, Seattle is an 11-man team effort with interchangeable parts. Anyone can step up on any given game day. It showed once again on Sunday that football is a team sport.

—Michael, Los Angeles

I love your email. In today’s game, the best teams are the ones less reliant on a single player. In a late-season five-game stretch, Seattle’s offense averaged just 20 points a game and was totally reliant on the defense. But we see how much they were helped by Russell Wilson coming up as big as he did in this game. Conversely, if Peyton Manning and his protection have a bad day, there’s a good chance it’s lights-out for Denver. Good points by you.