SEATTLE – Of all the rookies who began the season as their team’s starting quarterback over the past 20 years, only one attempted fewer passes than Russell Wilson through five games.
But none had more victories. Understanding that is the key to making sense of Seattle’s situation both under center and in the NFL rankings for passing yardage. Seattle is no longer last in the league in that category, thanks more to Jacksonville’s ineptitude, but the Seahawks’ lack of passing production is more a result of the path Seattle chose when it named its starting quarterback as opposed to the production of the player it picked.
Coach Pete Carroll has tailored his team’s approach to the fact that he went with a rookie. In evaluating the results of that decision after five games, the best comparison isn’t to the rest of the quarterbacks who are starting in this league or the guy who could be starting here in Matt Flynn, but the 20 rookies who started at quarterback in Week 1 over the past 20 years.
Only six of those other rookies had a better quarterback rating than Wilson’s 75.3 at this point, a total that includes fellow rookies Robert Griffin III in Washington and Andrew Luck in Indianapolis.
Wilson is playing significantly better than Joe Flacco did in his first five games for Baltimore in 2008, a year in which the Ravens not only reached the playoffs but won two games to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
The most comparable performance to Wilson on that list of rookie starters is probably Matt Ryan of Atlanta, who had an identical quarterback rating and record after five games his rookie season, a year in which the Falcons made the playoffs.
One player not on that list is Pittsburgh’s Ben Roesthlisberger, who won 13 games as a rookie starter in 2004, beginning in Week 3 when he stepped in after Tommy Maddox suffered an injury.
But Roethlisberger being forced into action brings up a point that has increased the scrutiny upon Wilson’s performance: The Seahawks didn’t have to play him. They signed Flynn in free agency, and could have gone with him, and when Carroll still opted for the rookie it meant that Wilson wasn’t going to measured against other rookies, he was going to be compared to what everyone imagined Flynn might be doing with this same opportunity.
The result is an argument that is endlessly circular and not all that informative about how Wilson is either performing or progressing.
Seattle has formatted its game plan to compensate for the fact Wilson is a rookie. It has scaled back the passing attempts it would normally ask of its quarterback, it has dialed down the risk in hopes of reducing the number of mistakes.
The fact that Seattle is second to last in the league in passing yards is not evidence of Wilson’s viability as a starting quarterback, but a reflection of Seattle’s approach. Carroll and Seattle’s coaching staff believes it can win games by relying on its defense, running game and special teams, and waiting for Wilson to develop and mature.
And you know what? The Seahawks have done that. Through five games, Seattle not only has a winning record but has had a chance to win every game.
While the evaluation of Wilson has focused on what another quarterback might do in the same position, it’s important to keep in mind how other rookies have handled similar situations, and it’s impossible to find one who’s won more games faster than Seattle’s starting quarterback.