How Concerned Should We Be About Russell Wilson?

The end of Super Bowl XLIX didn’t only send me in a sports fandom tailspin from which I’m only now starting to really recover, nor did it only put into question this coaching staff’s gameday tactics, but it also COMPLETELY overshadowed everything that came before it for the Seattle Seahawks.  Like, for instance, are you able to appreciate the Super Bowl victory over Denver the same way?  I don’t want to say it’s tainted for me, but for as great as the victory was, the defeat was much more impactful and Earth shattering.

I am the lizard king ...

I am the lizard king …

What gets tossed aside is the fact that the Seahawks have won back-to-back NFC Championships.  That’s not nothing.  What also gets tossed aside is that the Seahawks are STILL one of the best teams – if not THE best team – in all of football.  But, that’s neither here nor there.  Getting back to those NFC Championship games, I don’t think you’re ever going to find two more exciting games, with two more closely-matched opponents, or two more thrilling finishes than you will in these games against the 49ers in 2014 and the Packers in 2015.  Both ended in victory, but just as easily could’ve ended in defeat.  The game against the Packers was more improbable, and that kicks off the main point of this post.

What goes unspoken for the most part is how the end of Super Bowl XLIX dwarfs Russell Wilson’s overall performance in the last two games of the season.  He didn’t look great against the Patriots.  While I’m not blaming him for the call on the field, or how that play turned out – as it was sufficiently blown up by Brandon Browner and the rest of the defense – it was just a tough all around game for Wilson.  Their secondary, for the most part, shut our receivers down.  It took a miracle game from Chris Matthews, and a few other well-timed long passes to make Wilson’s numbers look respectable.  Overall, I wouldn’t call that game alone a harbinger of bad things to come.

But, when combined with his performance against the Packers, you could argue that he ended the season with two real stinkers.  And, at a time where he’s looking to be the highest paid quarterback in football, you have to wonder what lies ahead for the face of our franchise.

Against Green Bay, he threw 1 TD against 4 INTs, to go with 209 yards and a completion percentage under 50%.  Combine it with his Super Bowl, and you’re looking at the following 2-game turd sandwich to close out the 2014 season:

  • 26/50 for 456 yards, 3 TDs, 5 INTs

Obviously, we’re talking about an incredibly small sample size, and that’s fine.  I’m not really here to bombard you with numbers.  It’s more of a theory based on a feeling.  For me, that game against Green Bay was an eye-opener.  You never know how great someone can be until you see it in a game.  Russell Wilson has had some magical games in his career, and what’s exciting is that he probably hasn’t hit his ceiling yet.  There’s bound to be a game where he tops every number he’s ever put up, putting various other performances where he’s put the team on his back to shame.  But, on the flipside, you never know how bad someone can be until you see their very worst game.  And, that NFC Championship Game was Russell Wilson’s very worst game to date.  4 interceptions, 5 sacks, and a fumble that the Packers didn’t recover.  Had we lost that game, we would’ve been killing Russell Wilson the next day.  Instead, with the comeback and the game-winning touchdown, we were lauding him and this team for its Never Say Die attitude.

But, I think that game is a real red flag going forward.  I don’t expect him to completely fall apart a la Jake Delhomme or Jay Cutler or something, but there are two things at play here.  First, as Russell Wilson matures – and as he gets paid among the top five players at his position sometime in the near future – he’s going to start wallowing in his own hype.  The aforementioned Big Head Syndrome I’ve alluded to in the past.  These guys who get to the highest level, then prove they belong, then have great success, always seem to let it go to their heads.  They start thinking that they’re the ones who have to take it all on their shoulders.  They start trying to jam throws into windows that aren’t there.  They get loose and reckless with the football.  Instead of making the safe throw that continues the drive, they go for the jugular with mixed results.

Invariably, this happens in conjunction with the rest of the team around them getting appreciably worse.  It stands to reason, as the starting quarterback accounts for a higher and higher percentage of the team’s overall salary cap, you can’t afford to pay everyone you want to pay, and therefore the team around the quarterback gets worse.  It’s the way the NFL works.  You NEED that franchise quarterback and you do everything in your power to keep him.  Over time, other erstwhile star players are cut in favor of replacement-level rookies.  And, as a result, the team needs the quarterback to do more to win games; because maybe the defense is mediocre, or maybe there isn’t a quality running game to rely upon anymore.

What we have to ask ourselves is:  will Russell Wilson be as effective as he’s been in his 3-year career if he’s asked to do everything?  If he has to pick up the slack for a running game once Beastmode gets injured or leaves us.  If he has to bring the team back from a deficit because maybe most of the Legion of Boom has been let go or is otherwise on the shelf.  As the team works furiously to improve a mediocre passing attack from 2014, Wilson will have more weapons to throw to than he has at any point in his career.  Will he see this as a referendum to throw the ball at will and change the face of this offense from run-first to pass-first?  I know the coaching staff has a say in how these things shake out, but when Wilson is making $20+ million per year, the team is going to want to take advantage of the superstar making the most money.

I’m looking at guys like Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, and Joe Flacco.  Superstars who have had their share of mediocre seasons post-contract extension.  Guys who have been asked to do too much and have been all too eager to take on that challenge.  Guys with limited success being The Man and great success when they have teams around them willing to help share the load.  These are players who have been prone to have the 4-INT games.  Much more common than true, all-world quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Tom Brady.

So, where is Russell Wilson?  Is he in that elite, top category?  Or, is he in that still-very-good second tier, with guys who need quality defenses and running games to win consistently?  Manning, Rodgers, and Brady never miss the playoffs when healthy.  Those other guys?  They’ve got some spotty records when the rest of their teams aren’t quite up to snuff.  I worry about Wilson being in that realm.

I hope that NFC Championship Game was just a small blip and not a sign of things to come.  I like the way this team constructs its roster.  I like how the Seahawks scheme for their opponents.  I like how we’re based around a stout defense and a hard-nosed run game.  I DON’T like change!  And I get annoyed very easily when pretty-boy quarterbacks decide to go rogue and start costing my team wins.

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