Wilson isn't throwing more than he did in 2017 but he is throwing it better, which was always the goal for coach Pete Carroll.
Russell Wilson was hardly the problem with the Seattle offense in 2017.
But smoothing out some of the rough edges in Wilson’s game was a significant factor in coach Pete Carroll’s offseason makeover of the Seahawks’ offensive coaching staff — Carroll fired coordinator Darrell Bevell and line coach Tom Cable.
Consider that when Carroll hired Brian Schottenheimer to replace Bevell as OC, and as de facto quarterback coach, he said: “He’s got good quarterback background. So I really like all of that for challenging Russell, giving him new looks, new outlooks, new perspective, possibly, just to continue to grow.’’
Certainly, there’s still lots of football to be played.
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But if the first two games gave us cause to wonder where the Wilson/Schottenheimer relationship was headed, the last five have suddenly made it look like the coaching staff turnover could a masterstroke.
Wilson could literally have not been better last Sunday against Detroit, recording a perfect passer rating of 158.3 by completing 14-17 passes for 248 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Wilson had been almost as good in earlier games this month. Three of the top 19 passer ratings in his career occurred in the three games the Seahawks played in October, when he combined to complete 44 of 61 passes for 668 yards, nine touchdowns and just one interception.
And in every way, this has been exactly how Carroll envisioned Wilson could be at his best.
With a revived running game averaging 161 yards per game the last five weeks (second best in the NFL) Wilson isn’t forced to throw as much, or in as many desperate situations.
Instead, the Seahawks sought more favorable passing situations, with the running game also opening up the play-action pass, something at which Wilson has always been particularly effective.
The improved offensive line also means Wilson has been sacked just nine times the past five weeks — and never more than twice in any game — after being sacked 12 times in the first two games.
“I think he’s just taking advantage of the whole thing that’s working together,’’ Carroll said this week of Wilson’s play over the last month. “If you notice, he’s been really clean in the pocket. He’s had great pockets and it’s extended beyond just the play passes and the third downs. We’re protecting well. He would always be this efficient if we protected him like this, is what I feel about him. There’s nothing that he can’t do and we’ve just got to give him a chance. In years past, he had been ducking and dodging quite a bit more. It’s pretty obvious in the style of play where he’s been all over the place. He hasn’t had to be. He’s really taking off when he needs to, for the most part, and hopefully we’ll keep that going.”
A few numbers from Pro Football Focus clarify exactly how Wilson has been better this season.
Here are three:
The team’s slow starts were frustrating last season, particularly on offense — Seattle was outscored 178-125 in the first half last season. Seattle has reversed that trend this year, outscoring opponents 92-64.
Wilson’s first-half numbers are also far better this season than a year ago.
According to PFF, Wilson was 69 of 119 passing for 668 yards, four TDs and three picks (a 74.5 passer rating) in the first quarter last season and 92 of 151 for 991 yards, four TDs and three picks and an 80.8 passer rating in the second.
Those numbers are markedly better this season: First quarter — 24-37, 290 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT (95.6 passer rating); and second quarter — 44-61, 531 yards, 7 TDs, 0 INTs (136.7 passer rating).
And the first-half improvement came without any real dropoff in second-half numbers. Much was made of Wilson’s fourth-quarter prowess last season, as he threw 19 of his career-high-tying 34 TDs in the final 15 minutes and had a 134.1 passer rating. Wilson has a 111.9 passer rating in the fourth quarter this season with four touchdowns and two interceptions (one the final play desperation toss in the opening loss at Denver).
Wilson has also been much more effective at deep throws this season than he was a year ago. (Though, he’s not the sole reason for that. Also a huge factor is Tyler Lockett’s return to health and the emergence of David Moore).
Wilson’s numbers throwing passes up to nine yards so far this season are comparable to a year ago. But Wilson’s stats are vastly improved when throwing passes of 10 to 19 yards, or 20 yards and beyond.
According to PFF, Wilson had a 97.6 passer rating on throws of 10-19 yards last season (63-112, 1,048 yards, seven TDs, three interceptions) and 100.9 of passes of 20 yards or longer (33-91, 1,134 yards, 12 TDs, five picks).
Here are Wilson’s numbers this year: 10-19 yards (25-35, 483 yards, five TDs, two picks, 129.5 rating); 20-and beyond (15-28, 479 yards, nine TDs, one interception, 123.5 rating).
The Seahawks have also been vastly better scoring touchdowns in the red zone this year than last season, scoring TDs on 14 of 19 trips inside the 20 (73.7 percent, third in the NFL) compared to last season when Seattle was 25-45 (55.56, 12th).
Wilson has improved as well, completing 16 of 24 passes inside the 20 (66.67 percent) or 162 yards, 11 TDs and one interception. A year ago Wilson was 41 of 73 (56.67 percent), for 298 yards, 23 TDs and two interceptions in the red zone.
As a result, Wilson is putting up the kind of numbers Carroll always imagined he could, and the kind that he thinks gives Seattle its best chance to succeed.
Wilson isn’t throwing it more — he’s on pace for 416 attempts, which would be the third-lowest of his career and down drastically from the career-high 553 of last season. But he is throwing it better — he’s also on pace for 37 touchdowns, which would be three more than his career high, and is averaging 8.55 yards per pass attempt that would be a career high and almost a yard-and-a-half better than the 7.2 of last season.
One caveat is that passing numbers are up across the board in the NFL (teams are averaging 252.5 passing yards per game this season compared to 224.4 a year ago, and the average rating is up from 86.9 to 93.9).
But at least the Seahawks are joining in the fun — if not surpassing it so far.
“That’s fantastic efficiency,’’ Carroll said of Wilson’s play of late. “He’s capable of that. I’ve always said he could be a 70 percent completion guy. And in this format and this style, there’s no doubt in my mind he could be. And that’s when we’re really dangerous.’’