SEATTLE – You’re not going to find a complaint about Russell Wilson’s candor in this space. That’s an all-too-common form of media hypocrisy – grumble about someone spouting too many cliches, then grumble more when they’re a little too honest.
The truth is, as Wilson recently implied, the Seattle Seahawks’ offensive line has been a subpar pass-blocking unit for most of his time in Seattle. But I want to focus on another truth he uttered last week.
“I’ve got to find ways to get better, too.”
Lackluster as the offensive line has been over the past couple of years, Wilson has fallen short of superstardom. The man who signed the (then) richest deal in the NFL two Aprils ago has been a hash mark or two shy of expectations.
The starts he had to the 2019 and 2020 seasons were Herculean, as he vaulted his way to the top of the MVP discussion in the first halves . But then came the second halves, when Wilson went from all-world to just all right.
It isn’t atypical for offenses to slow down a touch in the latter part of the season, but Wilson’s drop-offs have been rather pronounced. Take the end of the regular season in 2019, for example.
Locked in a divisional battle with the 49ers, the Seahawks lost three of their final four games – including the season finale to San Francisco. Wilson’s passer ratings in those losses were 69.8, 78.6 and 95.1
The passer-rating baseline for a star quarterback in a given week should be at least 100. But as Wilson underperformed, the Seahawks lost the division. The result was them surrendering a first-round bye and colliding with the Packers in Green Bay in the second round of the playoffs. They lost 28-23.
And then there was the latter part of 2020. After again garnering early MVP consideration, Wilson threw seven interceptions in a four-game span from Week 7 to Week 10, resulting in three losses. This led to a change in Seattle’s offensive approach, which demanded a greater pass-run balance.
Wilson played more efficiently in the first couple of games after the adjustment, but failed to post a passer rating over 100 in four of the last five regular-season games, as Seattle’s offense became notoriously sluggish. The culmination was a first-round playoff loss to the Rams, when Wilson completed just 11 of 27 passes for 174 yards.
Wilson might seem like a robot sometimes when he’s fielding questions from the media, but rest assured, he feels human emotions. And my guess is part of the reason he was so forthright about his lack of pass protection was to distract from his own shortcomings.
The Seahawks’ most successful years came when they were defined by their defense and their running game. But since they unofficially became Wilson’s team, they’ve failed to reach the conference title game, and once missed the postseason altogether.
This doesn’t mean that Wilson has fallen from the ranks as one of the best quarterbacks in the league. It doesn’t mean that his griping last week was invalid, either.
The 394 sacks he has taken in his nine seasons are more than anyone else in the NFL over that span – and 146 of those have come in the past three years. Yes, a lot of those are due to his inimitable ability to extend plays, but Wilson has never had an offensive line that ranked in the top half of Pro Football Focus’ pass-blocking grades – and it ranked either 30th or 32nd in five of his seasons.
It would be amazing for any quarterback to miss just two meaningful snaps in their nine-year career, as Wilson has done. It’s downright miraculous for him to have done so given the carnage he has endured. But that doesn’t change the fact that he was below the top quarterback tier last year, or that he has suffered noticeable drop-offs in each of the past two seasons.
All that said, Wilson isn’t going anywhere. He is too valuable to the Seahawks, and isn’t the type of player who will squawk his way into a trade.
The line needs to be better if Seattle wants to go all the way. But make no mistake – Wilson has to as well.
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