CLEVELAND – Always underrated, often overlooked and rarely mentioned in any conversations about who is the NFL’s best quarterback, Russell Wilson is outplaying every one of his contemporaries.
Through five games of his eighth pro season, Seattle’s steady leader is in a class by himself.
“He is the best that he has ever been right now,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Wilson.
And that’s saying something.
Patrick Mahomes has the stronger arm. Tom Brady the more impressive résumé. Aaron Rodgers may have a higher Q rating.
None of them, though, has started a season as strongly as Wilson, the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to pass for 1,400 yards with 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions in his first five games.
Wilson’s 73% completion percentage leads the league, as does his 126.3 rating. And, he’s made a couple of those did-he-really-just-do-that plays that prompted early season MVP chatter.
“The play is never over with him,” Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said. “I’ve seen him make so many plays that you think the play is over and all the sudden now he finds the way to get the ball in there.”
Wilson will look to keep it rolling Sunday as the Seahawks (4-1) visit Baker Mayfield and the Browns (2-3), reeling after a dreadful prime-time performance at San Francisco that has cast further doubt about their chances to make a playoff run.
“Our sense of urgency is at an all-time high right now,” said Mayfield, who leads the league with eight interceptions.
While Mayfield struggles in his sophomore season, the 30-year-old Wilson has come of age in 2019, displaying an all-around game he’s nurtured through tireless hours of work on the field and in the film room.
A six-time Pro Bowler in seven seasons, Wilson has been nearly flawless. That hasn’t always been the case, but Carroll knew Wilson would fully blossom because of his persistence.
“It takes years to figure out how to play quarterback in the NFL to me,” Carroll said. “Early on when Russ had a lot of success, he was immediately compared to the top quarterbacks in the league. I always used to say, ‘Give him a few years. These guys are in their double-digit years of their career. He is way behind them.’ … Russ in the last two-three years has continued to improve. It’s a result of the great consistency.
“I do not even think that he has ever missed a practice since he has been here. It just adds up eventually.”
The Browns are hoping that’s the case for Mayfield, who isn’t playing with the confidence he showed as a rookie last season.
Mayfield’s issues extend beyond his own shortcomings. Cleveland’s line hasn’t protected him, and first-year coach Freddie Kitchens hasn’t figured out how to best use star Odell Beckham Jr., the team’s best weapon.
Maybe the Browns can glean something from their up-close look at Wilson.
Beckham’s streak of catching at least three passes recently ended at 60 straight games. He’s made just four in the past two.
To this point, the sometimes volatile star has kept his cool.
“He’s frustrated when he’s not getting the ball and we’re losing,” Mayfield said. “I mean, why not be? Because he feels like he could help us win if we get the ball in his hands. And when we’re winning, that’s the thing about it; he’s a team guy. He’s helping us win any way he can and he understands how teams are going to play him.”
One of Seattle’s big questions before the year was whether Tyler Lockett could handle the attention of being the No. 1 wide receiver with Doug Baldwin gone. So far, Lockett’s doing just fine.
Lockett leads Seattle with 30 receptions through five games and his remarkable toe-tapping TD in the win over the Rams will be on his career highlights tape. He’s already more than halfway to last year’s career-best total of 57 receptions.
Cleveland’s crowds have been great, not the Browns. They’re 0-2 at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“We must find ways to win at home,” wide receiver Jarvis Landry said. “Obviously, winning on the road is extremely important, but we want to definitely establish winning at home. One of the first things that coach Freddie talked about was making sure that we win at home. We haven’t done that so far this season.”
Find the rush
Seattle’s pass rush is creating pressure. The Seahawks just aren’t getting sacks.
They have 10 through five games and only 18 quarterback hits, both ranking in the league’s lower half. It’s not what was expected from the pass rush duo of Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah. The sack stats might not be there, but the Seahawks are being disruptive. Clowney didn’t sack Rams quarterback Jared Goff, but he was regularly in his face while forcing a key fumble he recovered.
Carroll believes the rush will get better as the season goes on.
“Just the combination with (Ziggy) outside and what’s going on inside, I think we’re going to be able to work together better,” Carroll said.
Only one player remains on Seattle’s roster from the team’s last visit to Cleveland. It’s not a good memory for linebacker K.J. Wright or anyone else.
“Just a bad game,” Wright said. “We were super young, didn’t know how to win. It was just ugly.”
Cleveland’s 6-3 win in 2011 included Charlie Whitehurst starting at quarterback for Seattle, which had only 137 total yards, 69 passing.
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