This week I had the pleasure of posing a few questions regarding Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks to Kenneth Arthur, Managing Editor over at Field Gulls, SBN's Seattle Seahawks site. Here is what Kenneth had to say.
Question 1. How do you think the somewhat suspect offensive line of the Seahawks will hold up against the strength of the Jets defense, the defensive line? If they don't hold up so well, will Russell Wilson be mobile enough despite his injuries to work his usual scrambling magic successfully?
The good news for the Seahawks is that first round pick Germain Ifedi looks like he could make his NFL debut on Sunday. Ifedi is a 6'5, 311 lb guard out of Texas A&M and he looked really, really good in the preseason before suffering a high ankle sprain in practice a week before Week 1. With him, Seattle has a good chance to bunch up the middle of the offensive line with him, center Justin Britt, and left guard Mark Glowinski. Those are their three strongest linemen and that's going to be their biggest concern, I think, against the Jets -- the middle of their defense. If that holds up, then the Seahawks will have a better chance winning (or containing) one-on-one matchups against New York's edge rushers. Wilson has been a full participant in practice, so with the knee brace, I think he'll be close enough to normal to survive. That being said, I think there should be some real concerns about Leonard Williams and what he may do on Sunday against this offensive line, among others.
Question 2. Speaking of Russell Wilson, he has had statistically one of the best starts to his career of any quarterback in the history of the NFL. This despite having a porous offensive line, and for the better part of his young career, a less than ideal set of weapons in the passing game. Despite what looks to me like the start of a Hall of Fame career, and, if he returns to the Super Bowl a few more times, maybe even an eventual argument for him as the GOAT, most fans outside of Seattle tend to lump him in with the second tier of NFL quarterbacks. As in, well, there's Brady, Rodgers, Brees, Manning (a couple of years ago), maybe Cam today, and then there's everybody else, and Wilson's at or near the top of the everybody else category. Why do you think Wilson is never mentioned in the top tier, despite a track record that suggests he belongs there?
This is something I've had to think about for almost four years. Not that Wilson has belonged in the top tier for his entire career, but he's been "downgraded" from where he belongs by most fans for the better part of his career. Either when he was a rookie that people thought could still never be as good as Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III to last season, when nobody gave him the time of day compared to Cam Newton, despite Wilson posting better stats than Newton week-to-week during both of their historic QB runs. To me, Wilson is clearly a better QB than Newton and has shown that through superior accuracy and decision making which has resulted in a career passer rating of 101.1 against Newton's 87.8. And I don't think it's fair to say it's because of Newton's supporting cast vs Wilson's given that everyone acknowledges that the Seahawks have had the worst offensive line in the NFL and few have been calling Doug Baldwin a great (or even good) receiver until very recently. Plus, Newton has had some pretty great running backs in his career, even if they aren't quite at the caliber of Marshawn Lynch ... I'm getting off track.
The reasons are that Wilson is the smallest QB in the NFL, or at least he has been for most of his career -- I'm not sure if anyone shorter has come through recently. So people doubted that he could succeed when he was drafted and a lot of them aren't willing to drop that opinion, assuming that the bottom will fall out despite the fact that he's been pretty great throughout his college and NFL careers. Also that he was a third round pick and I think people are slower to accept that a non-first rounder can be "elite." Usually that is true, but we've seen plenty of examples where it wasn't. It took Tom Brady many years to be respected by fans at large and many still won't acknowledge that he might be better than Peyton Manning. (I'm not saying he is or isn't.) He's been playing for a good team with a great defense and Lynch, so they don't think he has as much to do with the wins. I admit he wouldn't have won as many games if he played for a bad organization like the Colts, but the Seahawks wouldn't have won as many games without him and wouldn't have reached two Super Bowls. He's carried them plenty over the last four years.
Question 3. Back to Wilson again. No team in the NFL with a top tier quarterback is as reluctant to put the game on the quarterback's back as are the Seahawks. Wilson led the NFL in passer rating last year, has a career passer rating over 100, and yet the Seahawks still limit his passing to among the lowest number of attempts in the NFL. Last year the Seahawks ranked 28th in the NFL in passing attempts. Wilson had an insanely great stretch to finish the season in 2015 in which his touchdown numbers rivaled those of any quarterback in the history of the game over such a stretch, yet in 2016 we have seen more of the same limited passing attack for the Seahawks. One can argue that having won one Super Bowl and having come within a yard of winning another, you can't argue with success. On the other hand, you can argue that the Seahawks are needlessly conservative in their approach, especially with the defense they have that can make up for any offensive mistakes. Perhaps if the Seahawks had a more prolific aerial attack they would have played in three or four Super Bowls. Why do you think it is that Wilson is the only elite quarterback who regularly appears at the bottom of the NFL in passing attempts, and if you were head coach would you run a more pass happy offense?
If I was Seattle's head coach as opposed to Pete Carroll? I am just guessing here, but I think I would do worse. I'll defer to Carroll's decisions on how many pass attempts Wilson has.
I think that a lot of that has to do with the fact that the Seahawks have proven to be successful with the running game and I've seen them run two minute drills with the run game and won; I think passing it more would be an ego move moreso than a winning move. That being said, his 43 pass attempts in Week 1 of this season was a career-high. He had 35 in Week 2. And then he had 23 last week because Seattle went up 30-3 when he was pulled following a knee injury and the fact that they were up by 27 points at home. Look at the leaders in the NFL in passing attempts: Winston, Brees, Bortles, Cousins, Luck, and Stafford. None of those teams have a winning record. Wilson has more pass attempts than Aaron Rodgers this year and he has had basically the same number of attempts as Newton dating back to last season, but it's not an issue that anyone really brings up with Newton. Why is that? Because he runs the ball? Well, Wilson has 421 career carries for 2,463 yards. He runs the ball. In terms of pure volume of offense, Wilson is carrying this offense plenty. His pass attempts have gone up in every successive season of his career and he's on pace to do that again. He was 18th in the NFL in attempts last season and also carried it 103 times. QBs who throw the ball the most are not the best, there's rarely correlation unless you're Drew Brees. Wilson's difference in passing attempts to someone like Carson Palmer last season was pretty negligible. I don't see an issue in attempts or a fear to throw the ball by Carroll, because Wilson's been one of the best pocket passers and downfield passers in the NFL recently; take this comparison by ESPN's Sheil Kapadia before the season between Wilson and Luck, where Wilson is shown to have a rating of 105.9 inside the pocket compared to 86.1 for Luck. I believe according to PFF, Wilson had the most TD throws last season that traveled 20+ yards in the air, with 15.
Question 4. The Seattle offense spent most of the last half of the 2015 season on fire, yet has struggled quite a bit in the early part of 2016. Why do you think the offense has struggled, and do you think a return to the dominant Seahawks offense of the last half of 2015 is imminent?
Wilson was injured in the middle of Week 1, CJ Prosise (third round running back) has missed all but a couple of series with an injury, Germain Ifedi has missed the season with an injury so far, Nick Vannett (third round tight end) has missed the season so far with an injury, Doug Baldwin missed a bit of time in Week 2 with an injury, Jimmy Graham was coming back slowly from a serious injury, Thomas Rawls has barely played because of an injury and will be out a few more weeks, Tyler Lockett missed most of Week 2 with an injury and couldn't play on offense in Week 3 because of an injury, and there are four new starters on the offensive line.
Question 5. Tyler Lockett seemed to be emerging as a major force in the passing game in the last half of 2015, yet he has struggled to open the 2016 campaign. Should we expect him to emerge from his early struggles and develop into a major force as a receiver this year? Is the return of Jimmy Graham hampering Lockett's development in that there are only so many targets to go around?
What I said earlier. He was injured in Week 2 and hasn't been able to play on offense. He only returned punts last week. I believe he'll be limited this week. As far as we could see in the preseason and his four-catch 99-yard performance in Week 2 before getting hurt, he's been great.
Question 6. Doug Baldwin is not particularly physically imposing. He does not have top of the shelf size, strength or speed. Yet Baldwin seemed to emerge as a top tier receiver in the last half of 2015, and seems to be picking right up where he left off in 2016. Is Baldwin among the elite NFL receivers, and if so, how does he manage it with his less than imposing physical attributes? What makes Baldwin so good? And who do you think will win the Baldwin/ Revis battle if they are matched up most of the game on Sunday?
Baldwin isn't big but he's always made incredible catches, he's always had two of the most reliable hands in the NFL, and his catch percentage of 71.3% since 2013 is second-highest among wide receivers in the NFL (min. 100 targets) behind only Cole Beasley's 72.9%. The difference? Baldwin's 13.8 YPC compared to Beasley's 10.4 YPC, Baldwin's 24 touchdowns compared to Beasley's 11, Baldwin's 300 targets compared to Beasley's 203. He's reliable but he's also incredibly productive, just not in the way we've come to expect from almost any other great receiver in the NFL. He's the best slot receiver in the game because of his exceptional route running, catching ability, he drops nothing, gets open, and he's elusive in the open field. It took a while for him and Wilson to really develop that chemistry but now that they have, he could continue to be a perennial 1,100+ yard receiver with 7-10 touchdowns. He's that good and he might be even better than that.