How the Seattle Seahawks Are Setting Up Russell Wilson for Failure in 2016

Justis Mosqueda@justisfootballFeatured ColumnistSeptember 12, 2016

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson passes against the Miami Dolphins in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

The Seattle Seahawks are accustomed to slow starts. At this point, it's part of Pete Carroll's identity as an NFL coach.

What is different about this year's Week 1 result, a 12-10 win to the Miami Dolphins at home, is that quarterback Russell Wilson also started the season off incredibly weak.

September isn't when the Seahawks peak, like, say, a Rex Ryan-coached squad might. Over the last two years, Seattle has gone just 3-3 in the opening month of the season but has finished off campaigns much stronger with a 19-7 record from October through the end of the regular season.

Here is what Wilson has looked like in that six-game sample, though:

YearTeamCompAtt%YardsTDINTSackRate
2015STL324178.125111690.1
2015GB193063.320621291.8
2015CHI203066.7235104101.4
2014GB192867.9191201110.9
2014SD172568.0202202119.1
2014DEN243470.625821399.9

During those games, Wilson's worst passer rating is a 90.1 mark, better than the season-long numbers of two of the six Pro Bowl quarterbacks from last year's game, Tampa Bay's Jameis Winston and Minnesota's Teddy Bridgewater. Eli Manning's 91.1 total was just one point ahead of Wilson's "worst" game during that stretch, too.

While passer rating isn't the be-all and end-all when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks, there's a general feeling from media and fans alike that it's a pretty good measurement as to the range or tier of a passer.

In Week 1, Wilson's 77.5 passer rating sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb when compared to his recent history, even when the Seahawks as a team were in a funk out of the gate.

To put Wilson's numbers into perspective, here are the quarterbacks who passed 43 or more times, as Wilson did against the Dolphins, in 2015 and had a worse passer rating for their seasons than the former Wisconsin Badger did in Week 1: Nick Foles, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Matt Cassel, Zach Mettenberger, Kellen Moore, Ryan Mallett, Austin Davis, Jimmy Clausen, Matt Schaub and Landry Jones.

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The only Week 1 starter in that group is Luck. That's it.

Current backup quarterbacks like Colin Kaepernick and Mark Sanchez, former first-round busts like EJ Manuel and Johnny Manziel and current street free agents like Michael Vick and T.J. Yates all fared better in their disappointing 2015 seasons than Wilson looks in his current offense.

Now, this isn't to say that you should make blanket statements about a team in Week 1, but it should raise some questions. Provided with those numbers alone, you wouldn't even know if Wilson was primarily at fault for his lack of production, but if you re-watch that Miami game, it tells a clear story.

First, he's never thrown 43 passes in a regular-season game in his NFL career. He's averaged 30.2, 28.3, 25.4 and 24.6 pass attempts per game over his four-year career, a number which continues to rise, but he's never once thrown the ball as much as he did on Sunday.

That's a disservice to Wilson, considering what surrounds him. The only wideouts who recorded more than 17 receiving yards in Seattle's pass-happy, low-scoring game were Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse.

Based on that game and the amount of balls thrown, you can at least string together a logical argument that no other receivers on that offense were relevant, as even tight end Jimmy Graham, for whom the squad traded a starting offensive lineman and first-round draft pick, recorded just a single catch for 11 yards.

The team's first offensive drive tells you what you need to know about how the offense wants to approach 2016:

  1. Wilson threw a quick three-step pass while his offensive tackles cut pass-rushers instead of dropping into pass protection, a move you often see in mid-major spread offenses at the college level.
  2. A run-pass option play was called, resulting in a throw to the sideline behind the line of scrimmage to stretch the Dolphins defense horizontally.
  3. A trips bunch set was fielded, resulting in a bubble screen, another throw behind the line of scrimmage.
  4. Wilson threw a ball too high, the first time his offensive line actually dropped as a whole unit, leading to an incompletion.
  5. Wilson threw a slant, which was dropped.

This offense is deathly afraid of throwing a deep ball.

Of Wilson's 43 passes, 14 of them were thrown within a yard of the line of scrimmage, behind the line of scrimmage or out of bounds after he determined his wideouts were open deep.

By comparison, Wilson only threw 10 passes of over eight yards out of his 43 attempts, with just four completions. Two of those completions came at the end of the first half, when Seattle was on its side of the field with less than 45 seconds left on the clock and the Dolphins were in a form of prevent defense.

His first four attempts at throwing behind the first level of zone coverage were absolutely brutal:

  1. A safety closed on his target, resulting in an incompletion in the red zone.
  2. Three defensive linemen immediately broke through the backfield, forcing him to scramble around and throw into triple coverage for an interception.
  3. His left tackle, Bradley Sowell, was called for holding while he overthrew a wide-open receiver by 10 yards.
  4. Wilson threw a back-shoulder pass that his X receiver apparently had no idea was coming his way.

Wilson couldn't throw deep because his offensive line was consistently breaking down and his wideouts really didn't show the separation, catch-point ability or even knowledge of the playbook to come down with big-play receptions. Those two factors combined to make the Seahawks take a short, chippy approach to the passing game, as they tried to avoid the battle in the trenches altogether.

In the worst moments, Seattle's offensive line showed up in the worst ways on Sunday.

On a 3rd-and-long in the red zone, right guard J'Marcus Webb was bull-rushed by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh for about seven yards, something you never see in the NFL, resulting in pressure and an eventual cleanup sack by Miami's Mario Williams.

Later on in the game, left guard Mark Glowinski wanted a piece of the fun, as he was stampeded by second-year lineman Jordan Phillips, whose toppling of Glowinski sent Wilson to the ground as Philips made a tackle on running back Thomas Rawls and forced a fumble.

You can make a lowlight tape out of Seattle's offensive line from Sunday and set it straight to "Yakety Sax" as you watch their skill players try to make something out of absolutely nothing, to no success. That's the worst part: It didn't work.

The Seahawks defense really only gave up one exhausting drive, a seven-play, 86-yard march in the fourth quarter for Miami's lone touchdown. Even the Dolphins' other scoring drive was set up by a Wilson interception, forcing the Dolphins to go only 19 yards before they kicked a field goal.

Seattle allowed just one true score in the game and still came more than a touchdown short of covering Vegas' expectations for its home opener, which translated to, "We knew the Seahawks' passing game and offensive line was going to be a liability."

We did know that, but we didn't know it was going to be like this.

According to Odds Shark, Seattle opened up as 3.5-point favorites on the road against the Los Angeles Rams for Week 2. If they play a touchdown under those expectations, that line should be flipped. That's bad news for a squad whose road trips after Los Angeles include the defenses of the New York York Jets and the Arizona Cardinals.

In Week 1, no one played lower than its expectations than the Seahawks, who we've been conditioned to think of as a title-contending team. Right now, they're putting too much on Wilson's plate, forcing him to be the entire offense.

In the third quarter against Miami, Wilson's ankle became an issue, as his mobility was visibly altered. Bob Holtzman of ESPN reported that Wilson got his ankle X-rayed, even if it was just "precautionary," after the game.

If he's not 100 percent, it's hard to imagine how this Seattle team can score a touchdown against Los Angeles' amazing defensive line. No one is mistaking the Dolphins for having a top-five defense in the league, and only three teams have scored fewer points than the Seahawks this opening weekend.

Seattle has a week to catch the Rams, who will be playing on a short week after going toe-to-toe with the San Francisco 49ers in the second Monday Night Football matchup in Week 1. Between now and then, they can't draft a first-round receiver who can beat man coverage or a left tackle who can make sure that Wilson has five seconds to get a ball off.

What the Seahawks can control, though, is their very college-style approach to quarterbacking when in shotgun formations and the fact that they're passing the ball fourth-most in the league while averaging just six yards per attempt, good for 23rd out of 28 in the NFL in Week 1.

It may not be Wilson's fault. It may not all be his receivers' fault. It may not all be his linemen's fault.

If something doesn't change, though, it will be his coaching staff's fault.

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