The struggles Wilson had in 2016 were because he was not quite himself, spending the year battling three injuries beginning in the first game of the season. Now he’s recovered, he can run — and he’s even shed a few pounds.
Did a 2016 season when Russell Wilson threw a career-high interceptions (11) while compiling a career-low passer rating (92.6) show that opponents had in any way figured him out?
“What they figured out is that he couldn’t move,’’ said Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. “Particularly early (in the season). And then obviously he started to get back to himself a little bit. But again, he was not back to the full Russell.’’
And the way many around the team see it, any struggles Wilson had in 2016 can be explained as simply as that: He was not quite himself, spending the year battling three injuries beginning in the second half of the first game of the season.
“Obviously what he went through and the pains that he was having, all of those things, you could tell he was a different player,’’ Bevell said.
That’s not really the most click-attracting answer ever, of course.
What some can’t help but wonder is if there was some regression to the mean in 2016 after a second-half pace in 2015 that no quarterback could sustain: Wilson threw for 24 touchdowns and just one interception in the last seven games of 2015 to finish with a passer rating of 110.1 that led the NFL.
Or if maybe Wilson simply got exposed in some way as he went through a three-game stretch without throwing a touchdown. He’d never gone more than two games without throwing a touchdown pass before last season, and in 2015 he threw at least one in every game.
Or if was he becoming more mortal when he turned in his two worst passer-rating games since the midpoint of his rookie year in the span of three weeks late in the season.
Bevell, though, counters with everything that was working against Wilson on top of his injuries — notably, injuries to the running-back corps that resulted in Seattle using 18 ball carriers, the most for any NFL team since the strike year of 1987; and an inconsistent offensive line that also dealt with injuries.
“I look at it as quite an amazing feat what our offensive players were able to do with the injuries that we had,’’ Bevell said. “I think they overcame quite a bit to be where they were.’’
So will it really be just that simple? Wilson gets healthy and returns to the second-half 2015 version of himself — with a mix of the 2014 version that ran for a career-high 849 yards thrown in for good measure?
The Seahawks are hoping so, while also having made some moves to try to give him more help.
Seattle signed free agent Luke Joeckel to a one-year contract worth up to $8 million — the most it has paid any offensive lineman since Max Unger in 2012 — to shore up the left side of the line. As the preseason ended, Joeckel was slated to be the left guard but could also be used at tackle.
And the Seahawks also signed free-agent running back Eddie Lacy to improve the tailback depth while also adding a physical presence to the backfield that the team hopes can specifically improve its red-zone efficiency.
Wilson, though, took no chances in the offseason, revamping his nutrition and workout regimen, going on a 4,800-calories-a-day diet high in fruits, vegetables and lean meats while cutting out dairy and gluten. He lost about 10 pounds.
Wilson said he had gotten up to 225 last season, in part because injuries meant he couldn’t run much during the week. On the first day of training camp this year, he said he was down to 208.
“I feel really strong, really fast, quick and all that,’’ Wilson said.
Bevell, asked late in training camp if he’d noticed a difference because of Wilson’s weight loss, brought the conversation back to his health and said that will make the biggest difference this season.
“It’s such a huge part of your game with his legs and what that enables him and our offense to do when he has all of his legs,’’ Bevell said. “It definitely changed who he was last season.’’
In some ways, last year might have been fate catching up to the Seahawks a little bit in counting so much on Wilson’s unique running ability.
It’s not just the yards Wilson gains on the ground that make him so valuable — his 2,689 rushing yards are already eighth in team history — but what the threat of his running does to opposing defenses, opening things up for everyone else.
And starting with the second game of the 2016 season, a 9-3 loss at the Rams, defenses figured out that Wilson was not the threat to take off around the corner the way he had been in past years, allowing them to both gang up more on the run up the middle as well as more often leave an additional player or two in the middle of the secondary to defend against the pass.
Wilson didn’t have a run of longer than 9 yards until the 11th game of last season — he averaged 7.2 yards per carry in 2014, when he had one run of at least 9 yards in all but one game and at least one run of 12 yards or longer in all but three games.
While there were plenty of other contributing factors, Wilson’s lack of running — and the absence of the threat that he would run — was seen as the biggest reason the running game fell off.
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It went from ranking among the top four in the NFL in every year from 2012-15, Wilson’s first four years with the Seahawks, to 25th last season at just 99.4 yards per game.
“I don’t have any question that we’re going to run the football much better than we did last year,’’ coach Pete Carroll said. “Just the fact that Russell is ready to run around is a great addition.’’
That in turn, they say, should help open up the passing game.
Not that the Seahawks couldn’t throw it last year — Wilson passed for a career-high 4,219 yards, the most by a Seattle quarterback in a season, with the Seahawks also throwing for a franchise record 4,422 yards overall.
But the hope is that the Seahawks can run it more this year so they can pass it more efficiently when they do throw it — Seattle threw it 59.37 percent of the time last season, by far the most of the Wilson era.
The Seahawks’ previous high under Wilson was 53.29 in 2015, the only other time the Seahawks had thrown it more than run it since he became quarterback in 2012.
The increase in passing, the team makes clear, was a matter of circumstance and not a change in philosophy.
“We are a run-first team,’’ Bevell said. “We would love to run and then try to get big shots. But it just was a deal that the way it went we had to continue to evolve and play to our strengths.
“But we know who we are and we know who we want to be and we definitely have a philosophy about how we want to play ball and we are going to play to our strengths as well as we can. But last year you saw how it went. We needed to go in a different direction.’’
This year, they plan to get the offense — and Wilson — back on track.