Thinking About Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch & Pete Carroll

Maybe it’s the time of year, time to reflect.  Maybe it’s because I’m off work and listening to a lot of sports radio.  While the Pro Bowl in and of itself isn’t interesting, the idea of rewarding players and the idea of seasonal awards sort of catches me from time to time.

It’s the end of the football season, pretty much, and you’re going to hear people talking about Who Should Be The MVP?  Who Should Be The Coach Of The Year?  And so on and so forth.  Within those discussions, you’re going to hear a lot of names.  But, outside of Seattle, you’re not going to hear the names Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, or Pete Carroll.  I’m not saying they should or should not necessarily be the front-runners of those particular awards, but shouldn’t they be in the discussion?  You’re talking about a team coming off of a Super Bowl victory, that’s also a team favored right now to repeat as champs.  And yet, its two best players, and its head coach will be nowhere to be seen when it comes to the most important regular season awards in the NFL this year.

Isn’t that kind of sick and wrong and gross?  Homer or not, I mean come on!

And the arguments are pretty simple.  For Russell and Marshawn, they get discounted because the defense is so good.  Yeah, these are good players, but where would this team be if the defense was only half as good?  The same knock goes against Pete Carroll.  Except this time, it’s the TEAM that’s too good.  While other coaches are doing more with less, Pete Carroll is doing more with more.  It’s not Pete Carroll’s fault that the team is so good (except, it sort of is, since he works hand in hand with John Schneider, but that’s neither here nor there), but what exactly is he having to overcome?

And before you come at me with the laundry list of injured Seahawks we’ve had throughout the year, yeah, I know.  I’m just telling you what they’re likely thinking on a national perspective.  They see Arizona making the playoffs, currently with 11 wins, with an outside shot at the #1 seed; and they see this team having lost their top two quarterbacks and a bunch of amazing defenders, having to leap hurdle after hurdle to get where they’ve gotten.  Or, they see the Dallas Cowboys getting the monkey off their backs, finally winning a division and getting ready to host a playoff game; they see a team they ranked near the bottom of the NFC East rankings before the season started, writing them off before a single game had been played.  Defying expectations.

Except, the problem with that is, it’s the media’s fault those expectations were so low to begin with.  Not only that, but it’s kinda Jason Garrett’s fault as well.  If he didn’t suck so much dick as a head coach for all these years, underachieving with supposedly-good teams, the Cowboys wouldn’t be in the position they’re in now:  being pretty great when everyone thought they were junk.

Pete Carroll just wins games.  He wins games with a roster he helped build.  And, he had to do it under the biggest microscope the city of Seattle had ever seen.

Think about it:  think about all the stories written about this team in the first couple months of the season.  All the negative stories.  Think about the tumult with Percy Harvin.  Think about how the media worked to drive a wedge between Lynch and the organization.  Every other article about him was about how he was unhappy.  About how he wanted to leave after the season.  About how the team was sick of his antics.  And, if they weren’t writing all of these negative articles, then they were tattling to the league about how Lynch wouldn’t do interviews.  Again, I’m talking about national media guys, but that’s the type of stuff you get when you win a Super Bowl and you’ve got a lot of interesting personalities on one team.

And Pete Carroll had to wade through ALL of that shit; not to mention all the noise about how it’s hard to come back and play well after winning the Super Bowl!  The talk, the rumors, the negative stories (whether true or manufactured), combined with the fact that the Seahawks lost 4 of their first 10 games.  Yeah, team chemistry is pretty fucking easy to manage when you’re winning games hand over fist.  But, when you’ve lost nearly as many games as you’ve won just past the halfway point of the season, you’ve REALLY got to work to keep the team on the same page and to keep them believing that this season isn’t totally lost.

What has Pete Carroll done?  All of that and then some.  He’s kept this team on track through a litany of injuries and alleged in-fighting, then righted the ship and shot this season into overdrive as the Seahawks look to make it six straight wins to steal the top seed in the NFC.

In a year where the target has been on our backs, and as big as a planet, Pete Carroll molded a champion into an even more formidable champion.  Yet, where’s the recognition?

***

Marshawn Lynch is a different animal.  I’m not so sure he really deserves to be in that discussion of the NFL’s MVP award.  But, you could certainly argue he’s the most important player on the Seattle Seahawks.  Making him the most important player on the best team in the National Football League.

Lynch has 1,577 total yards from scrimmage, with 16 total touchdowns.  He accounts for nearly 27% of our total yards this year, which is pretty fucking impressive.  The offense runs through him, and many would argue the offense doesn’t run WITHOUT him.  I wonder, but thankfully, I’ll never have to know (at least, for this season).

There was an interesting discussion on the radio today, about whether or not Russell Wilson is the same quarterback without Marshawn Lynch.  Is he still as effective?  There were a couple of good points, the first being that Lynch is an elite running back.  He’s in the top two or three in the NFL right now, which is saying something, even in this day and age of the devalued running back position.  Teams have to gameplan around Lynch.  They don’t necessarily have to gameplan as much if we’re talking about Turbin or Michael.  For as good as we think they might be, they’ve never had to carry the load full time.  It’s quite possible that two players who are awesome in short spurts become less effective the more times they touch the football.

The second point they made is even better:  Marshawn Lynch never goes down on first contact.  Think about THAT.  You can’t just assign one defender to roam around worrying about Lynch.  You have to run multiple guys at him to get him down.  It’s truly a team effort when you face the Seahawks, and if you’re not disciplined as a team (or, if you go about making too many Business Decisions), then Lynch is going to make you pay (mostly by running THROUGH you).

Knowing that you really have to key in on Lynch when he’s on the field, it opens up so much more for Russell Wilson.  Yes, part of the problem is the fact that other teams don’t really respect our passing attack, so they’re more likely to load the box or otherwise leave their corners on islands.  But, with Lynch still drawing the lion’s share of the attention, Wilson is able to run off of zone reads as well as simply scramble around until he’s able to find an open receiver.  And that’s saying nothing of all the pressure Lynch takes off of his shoulders simply by running the ball or being a quality outlet when Wilson needs to check down in the passing game.

Coming into this year, I was all set in my thinking:  we’d have Marshawn Lynch one more year, but we’d consistently work in Christine Michael, and after this year we’d let Lynch go and move on to our next franchise running back.  Now, through no fault of Michael’s, my thinking is seriously twisted up.  Like many other Seahawks fans, I can’t imagine this team doing anything without Beastmode.  More importantly, I don’t WANT to imagine it!

We’ve got Lynch signed through next year and I couldn’t be happier.  At the same time, I wouldn’t even be mad if they brought him back for an extra two years AFTER that!  Get the extension done in the offseason.  Give Lynch a nice little bonus for his so-far-under-the-radar-it’s-off-the-radar MVP performance, and ride this thing out until the bitter end.  If we get through Turbin’s and Michael’s rookie contracts without either of them being named the team’s starting running back, it’ll be a huge success.  I never would’ve thought that coming into the 2014 season.  I would’ve considered it an abject failure.  I mean, after all, why draft a running back in the second round (who may still have first round talent) if you’re not going to take advantage of him while his cost is still reasonable?

But, if you’re going to get this type of play out of Marshawn Lynch, you’ve got to keep him around for as long as it lasts.  It would probably be irresponsible to give him a 4-year deal like Wright or Avril, but a 2-year deal with modest base salaries and a nice chunk bonus (and not back-loaded, so both of those years are achievable) would certainly be in order.

Let’s prove the world wrong.  Let’s show everyone that Lynch CAN be happy here for the duration of his NFL career.

***

Getting back to Russell Wilson, do you ever wonder what he’s going to be like when Lynch leaves?  Or, shit, when Pete Carroll leaves for that matter!  The next running back isn’t likely to be an MVP type of back, just because those guys are so rare as it is.  What happens to Wilson when the offense is TRULY on his shoulders?  Like all of these other great quarterbacks he’s trying to be compared to?

For starters, CAN Russell Wilson carry a team by himself?  I’m inclined to think he can.  Now, we all know the arguments against Wilson being elite, and they all boil down to some variation on the Game Manager theme.  He doesn’t make mistakes, he scrambles around for extra yards, and he comes up with just enough big plays down field to keep defenses honest.  If you had a Game Manager Spectrum, he’d be at the absolute top-end of all quarterbacks.

There are LOTS of guys out there who are or were game managers.  But, how many of them take care of the ball the way he does?  Wilson has been in the league three years.  In all three years, he will have thrown for over 3,000 yards, over 20 TDs, and 10 or fewer INTs.  He’s also averaging over 600 yards rushing with nearly 4 TDs rushing, with only 3 fumbles per year.  No matter how much you like Kyle Orton, or Ryan Fitzpatrick, or Carson Palmer, or Jay Cutler, or Alex Smith, or Eli Manning, they’re not doing for you what Russell Wilson does.

What does Russell Wilson need to do to get into that MVP discussion?  Well, he probably has to throw for 4,000 and 30 TDs or more.  That seems to be a baseline for a quarterback to start getting recognized.  If he simply does what he’s been doing these first three seasons, the Seahawks would have to probably run the table in the regular season and even THEN, there better not be an overwhelming statistical season out of the likes of Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.

Can Wilson be that guy?  Can he throw for 4,000 and 30?  I suppose anything’s possible, but even then, you’re talking about a severely weakened Seahawks team.  See, he doesn’t have those numbers right now because the Seahawks don’t NEED him to throw that much.  But, if he’s doing that, then that means our defense is probably lacking, and we’re having to throw our way back into football games.  A 4,000/30 season out of Wilson probably equates to a 9-7 or 10-6 regular season record.  And, it probably means more turnovers in the process.

There’s always that give and take.  As a fan, of course I want to see the Seahawks be dominating, so I don’t care if Russell Wilson EVER reaches those MVP type numbers.  But, then again, maybe the national consensus should rethink what it means to be an MVP.

The Baltimore Ravens had one of the greatest defenses of all time in the year 2000.  But, that wasn’t just a 1-year blip.  They had LOTS of good defenses in the 2000s.  But, you didn’t see them win lots of Super Bowls; why is that?  Because, it’s pretty fucking hard to be as dominating as they were in 2000 for multiple seasons.  But, beyond that, it’s because they never really had an elite quarterback.

The 2013 Seahawks also had one of the greatest defenses of all time.  Consistently, throughout the year (as opposed to 2012 & 2014, when there have been significant breakdowns that have seen our record suffer as a result).  If we’d only had Tarvaris Jackson last year, I can envision a scenario where the 2013 Seahawks still win a Super Bowl a la the 2000 Ravens with Trent Dilfer.  BUT, I don’t see any subsequent championships in our future if we (in this hypothetical scenario) have to stick with Tarvaris Jackson (or some reasonable facsimile) for the duration of our defense being at this still very high level.  You get what I’m saying?

I’m saying if the Ravens of the 2000s had Russell Wilson at the helm, THEY might have been the dynasty instead of the Patriots.  Did I just blow your mind?

It goes hand in hand.  Yes, the Seahawks have an elite defense.  Yes, we’re on a run of defensive football (starting in 2012, going forward as long as I can see) where the Seahawks are going to be great for a while.  But, they wouldn’t be anything without Russell Wilson.  Just like the Ravens, for the most part, weren’t much until they got Joe Flacco (who isn’t any great shakes, but he’s more than just a game manager; just like Wilson is more than just a game manager).

The main problem with most quarterbacks is something I’ve said time and time again:  they THINK they can do everything, so they try to DO everything.  They think they can thread the needle on every throw when they don’t necessarily have to.  They think they’ve got the arm strength to slam a football into a tiny opening that isn’t really there once they’ve let the ball go.  As a result, a lot of these so-called great quarterbacks find themselves hurting their teams as much – if not more – than they’re helping.  Yeah, Jay Cutler has one of the strongest arms in football.  But, he’s got the brain of a child who’s always gotten his way since he emerged from his mother with that silver spoon en tow.

Drew Brees, there’s another one.  He’s a great quarterback, don’t get me wrong.  Hall of Famer and all of that.  But, like Brett Favre and a lot of other guys, Brees makes some baffling decisions when you wonder just what in the Hell he was thinking.  Maybe it’s because of the defense.  Maybe these quarterbacks think they have to be super-perfect because they know they’ve got to compensate for a struggling defense (and Wilson doesn’t have that problem, so he can be a little more cautious).  Maybe for those teams, a punt is a defeat and not a chance to live another day like it is with the Seahawks.  I dunno.

What I do know is you’re not that awesome just because you throw for 4 TDs a game if you’re also throwing 3 interceptions while doing it.

I’m just thankful that for at least these last few years, as a Seahawks fan, I’ve had it all.  Superstars come and go, but rarely do so many converge in the same place at the same time.  Unlike prior Seattle sports teams, this one is taking full advantage.  Here’s to another Super Bowl run; let’s get the job done on Sunday.

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