Their Dominance Waning, Seahawks Will Go as Far as Russell Wilson Can Lead Them

Mike FreemanNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 13, 2017

SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 07:  Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks looks to pass the ball during the first half against the Detroit Lions in the NFC Wild Card game at CenturyLink Field on January 7, 2017 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Not long after the regular season ended, a Seattle Seahawks player was exchanging pleasantries with teammate Russell Wilson, when Wilson smiled and said: "It's playoff time. It's our time."

Over the past five years or so, no team outside of the New England Patriots has been more of a postseason presence, irritant, beauty and consistently steady package of playoff goodness than Wilson and the Seahawks. They are the Starship Enterprise of the postseason. They may be surrounded, warp drive failing, shields at 10 percent, but somehow, some way, you always get their best fight, especially in January.

Wilson is that Starfleet engineer who throws the switch and saves the day.

It's playoff time. It's their time. Maybe more than ever, it will have to be Wilson's time in the divisional playoff game in Atlanta on Saturday.

The characteristically stout and nasty Seahawks defense is still formidable, but it isn't the brick wall it once was. Against the Atlanta Falcons, a high-scoring offense with a quarterback performing as well any player in football now, Wilson won't be able to rely on a running game or defensive turnovers. One way or another, he's going to have to score a lot of points.

It seems like an impossible mission for Wilson—keep up with Matt Ryan and a Falcons offense that scored 71 more points than any team in the league this season. Yet we've seen Wilson beat impossible odds in the past. Would it be a shock for him to do it again?

A handful of team front-office personnel, coaches and assistants emphasized to me recently that they believe Wilson has had one of the bravest seasons they've ever seen from a quarterback. They're not nominating him for a Purple Heart, but they noted how Wilson has played through injuries that would have sidelined a lot of quarterbacks for the season.

Russell Wilson was sacked 41 times this season for a career-high 293 lost yards.
Russell Wilson was sacked 41 times this season for a career-high 293 lost yards.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

When I spoke with Wilson last fall, he described the processes it took for him to play. His knee injury was supposed to keep him out four weeks, but he didn't miss a game. He also had pectoral and ankle injuries, and still, he didn't miss a game.

Now, here the Seahawks are, back in the thick of the NFC playoff bracket, even if they're not their typically dominant selves. But just as we expect them to be dead and buried, they get all Walking Dead on us, and Wilson is the hardest to put down.

"The thing that is different from the first time we played them is the quarterback is healthy," Falcons defensive coordinator Richard Smith told reporter Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week. "The first time, he was playing with injuries, [and] we really respect that. He's a competitor, a really tough kid. A lot of guys wouldn't have played with his injuries. Right now, he looks much healthier. … He's not only a threat as a quarterback throwing the ball; he can beat you with scrambles, and he can beat you with the zone-read business."

This is Seattle's fifth consecutive playoff appearance. During that span, the Seahawks have won three division titles and advanced to the Super Bowl twice, winning Super Bowl XLVIII and coming a horrid play call away from winning the following year.

Three front-office executives, two from the AFC and one from the NFC, said their pseudo-surprise team in the playoffs is Seattle, and a big reason why is Wilson.

Despite having the worst pass-blocking line in football—rated last in pass protection by Pro Football Focus—Wilson has played well. In many ways, he has scrambled more than ever but still makes plays. Take his game against the Lions, for example. According to PFF, via Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Wilson was pressured on 11 of his 34 dropbacks, but was still able to complete five of eight pass attempts during those pressures for 89 yards. The three incompletions were Wilson throwing the football away. Notice: He didn't throw an interception.

Though he only rushed three times against the Lions in last week's 26-6 playoff win, Wilson found enough space to complete 76.7 percent of his passes.
Though he only rushed three times against the Lions in last week's 26-6 playoff win, Wilson found enough space to complete 76.7 percent of his passes.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Even under duress, Wilson presents a challenge for opponents.

"You don't just say, 'OK, [here's] a spy on him,' or the defensive line doesn't rush," Falcons coach Dan Quinn told the Journal-Constitution's Cunningham about facing Wilson. "You've got to play aggressive. He's not going to run every play of the game, but he is a fantastic competitor of knowing when to escape, when to get out, when to let it rip. We'll play really aggressively toward him. We've played other scramble quarterbacks before, but he has a real knack of [knowing] where the scramble [pass] pattern may go to, and then, how do you adjust from there?"

That's a question teams have been struggling to answer for the past five years or so against Wilson and the Seahawks. Maybe it's time to appreciate just how hard Wilson makes it to answer.

    

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.