Have the early-season leg injuries suffered by quarterback Russell Wilson allowed the Seahawks to evolve as a more traditional passing offense after building a reputation as a running-centric offense?
Seahawks offensive-line coach Tom Cable has twice in the last few weeks made an interesting assertion about the injuries suffered this season by quarterback Russell Wilson: that they might someday be viewed as sort of a good thing.
That obviously can only be said with the hindsight knowledge Wilson was not seriously hurt enough to miss games, or as far as we can tell at the moment, to significantly alter the season in a negative way.
Cable’s point is that the injuries forced the Seahawks to play a different style than they are used to, and to grow increasingly comfortable and proficient at it along the way.
Specifically, the Seahawks have not been able to count on Wilson’s running to bail them out.
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A team that the past four years has ranked in the top four in the NFL in percentage of plays that were runs now is 10th, passing it 57 percent of the time, the most since Pete Carroll’s first year in 2010. That is due in large part to Wilson having a mere 15 rushing attempts for 28 yards — only twice last season did he have fewer than four carries in a game.
“I think it’s actually a lesson of making everybody else have to perform at a different level around him, meaning we’re more of a pocket-passing team now,” Cable said. “Our run game is different now, so we all have to adjust in that way. I think it’s going to help us in the long run so that when we are all healthy and kind of back to normal, if you will, it should make us better.”
As Cable notes, the hope is that Wilson soon returns to normal, and the Seahawks can then meld their old style with the one of the past few weeks and become that much better offensively.
It’s worth wondering, though, if these last few weeks might also someday be viewed as the beginning of a permanent shift in the way the Seahawks operate offensively.
True, the Seahawks began throwing the ball a bit more in the second half of last season. But maybe, some could have reasoned, those games caught opponents off guard — and Wilson was still the same threat to run as ever.
That Wilson has again shown he can thrive as a pocket passer — even with a bad left knee and right ankle and with teams knowing he wasn’t the threat to run that he usually is — only reinforces how valuable he is to the long-term health of the franchise.
Barely more than a year ago, when Wilson signed a four-year, $87.6 million extension with the Seahawks, some around the league wondered if he was worth it. Wilson, 26 when he signed the deal, will be 31 when it runs out.
At the time, Wilson was coming off one of the best rushing seasons by a quarterback — 849 yards — in the history of the NFL.
Some wondered if by the point the contract runs out, Wilson’s ability to run might also have begun to run out — and hence, if by then his greatest strength would be greatly weakened, and Wilson far from worth still paying at an elite level.
Instead, the organization’s investment in Wilson seems stronger than ever.
So, too, though, is the incentive to keep Wilson as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
The way Wilson has recovered has made it easy to assume he is just a little bit different — which he undoubtedly is.
But hits can pile up, and Wilson himself made a somewhat joking acknowledgment he knows his style will have to change as he ages, saying after the Miami game “when I’m 43, 44, 45 years old and still playing, that’s probably what I’ll look like out there.”
Wilson has had no choice but to do that the last few weeks. And if the results haven’t been a surprise to him or to Carroll — who has resisted the idea Wilson ever had anything to prove as a pocket passer, noting accurately that every time Wilson has been asked to win games with his arm, he has — they have likely convinced whatever skeptics Wilson had left.
They have also come at a time when the value of quarterbacking in the NFL has again been made exceedingly evident.
Carolina, a year ago at this time on its way to dethroning the Seahawks as NFC champs, is languishing at 1-4 due in part to injuries to quarterback Cam Newton.
Newton’s running might be an even bigger part of Carolina’s offense than Wilson’s has been to Seattle’s through the years. But as with Wilson, the question has always loomed whether he’ll have the same value as a quarterback when age and the accumulation of hits inevitably force him to rein it in.
That the last few games forced Wilson to deliver a pretty definitive early answer to that question might be as important as anything that happens this season.