I think we can all agree that Russell Wilson has been absent for four games now.
Well, four and a half if you count his third-quarter departure against the Rams last month. That “performance” that took place Sunday in Seattle’s 17-0 loss to Green Bay was just a ghost wearing a No. 3 jersey.
He wasn’t completely healthy (Wilson didn’t take snaps under center to protect his finger), he wasn’t accurate, he wasn’t anything that resembled a starting quarterback in the NFL. Obviously, this is a new experience for Seahawks fans. Before this season, the eight-time Pro Bowler had never missed a start or even more than a handful of meaningful snaps.
So Wilson being sidelined would be upsetting under any circumstances. But here’s why it’s maddening: Since Russell got hurt, Seattle’s defense has been great.
Not since Oct. 7 have the Seahawks allowed more than 20 points in regulation. Over the past four games they have given up an average of 14.25 points. Likely Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger put up just 20 before Seattle lost in overtime. Likely Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers — the reigning league MVP — managed just 17. This doesn’t mean the Seahawks have rediscovered the defensive magic that led them to two Super Bowls in the Wilson-Pete Carroll era. And, yes, they are second-to-last in the NFL in total defense, having given up more than 400 yards per game.
Amazingly, though, they are ninth in points allowed — demonstrating the ultimate bend-but-don’t-break defense that has defined Carroll’s approach. They’ve shown they can win with this “D” — they just haven’t had a QB that can lead them to victory.
The adjustment over the past few games is reminiscent of last year’s Seahawks, who at one point were on pace to give up the most season passing yards in NFL history. Nobody could get to the quarterback, and without Wilson’s MVP-like contributions through the first half of the season, any hopes of a playoff berth would have been lost.
Then Seattle added defensive end Carlos Dunlap to the roster, safety Jamal Adams came back from injury, and the Seahawks morphed into one of the best defensive teams in the league.
Obviously, personnel played a major role in the second-half defensive surge in 2020. But what about Carroll’s and defensive coordinator Ken Norton’s ability to adjust? Something changed this season after Seattle gave up an average of 25.2 points through their first four games. Less potent offensive opponents? That helped. But that can’t be all of it.
Any time a team struggles — regardless of injuries — the coach is going to come under fire. And given that the Seahawks are 3-6, you can rest assured Carroll is going to come under scrutiny.
But the defensive-oriented coach isn’t being overwhelmed by other team’s offenses, even when they involve a star quarterback. The Seahawks have been in it — they just haven’t had their star quarterback.
After Sunday’s game, Carroll gave a quote that could essentially sum up what the Seahawks have experienced without a healthy Wilson.
“We couldn’t get enough going on there to make the points we needed. They couldn’t either, you know, until they did, and so it’s a big opportunity that we missed out on,” Carroll said. “So it’s disappointing, you know, this was a real shot, and we could feel it, and we knew it, and unfortunately we couldn’t get the right place at the right time to get it done.”
With Carolina sitting seventh in the NFC standings at 5-5, the Seahawks aren’t completely out of the playoff race. But with two games against the 8-2 Cardinals and one game against the 7-2 Rams remaining, their odds are looking pretty grim.
If fans can taken anything with them into the second half of the season, it’s that the defense has found its footing, for now at least.
I wrote earlier in the month that Wilson’s greatest regular-season accomplishment would be leading this Seahawks team to the postseason when he returns. That’s still possible.
He will need to be healthy and spectacular to pull it off, but he has enough help to do it.