For anyone wondering how Russell Wilson’s game tape compares to the already named rookie starters, why not see for yourself…
Archive for August, 2012
You could argue he had little choice, but Pete Carroll is absolutely correct to name Russell Wilson as the starter against Kansas City. Having talked about an open competition at quarterback all summer, it would’ve been a major contradiction to keep starting Matt Flynn in pre-season. Without doubt, Wilson has earned the opportunity to start.
A few people have reacted badly to this news. There’s been a fair amount of fist clenching and moaning, simply because this is the sacred ‘game three’ of pre-season. You know, because it’s written in stone that game three is the most important game in the NFL this time of year. Please. Carroll and John Schneider have been anything but conventional since arriving in Seattle, yet people still act surprised at the latest example of this?
I understand the thought process that argues if Matt Flynn is expected to start against Arizona, it makes sense to give him as many first team reps as possible. That is a water-tight argument. But at what stage was Flynn named the starter? Did I miss that press conference? Some members of the media – local and national – have assumed Flynn will get the nod, but that doesn’t make it true. The guy who makes the decision – the head coach – has preached competition from day one. So when one quarterback (who starts) plays okay-ish and the other (who doesn’t start) lights it up, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the competition remains open.
Carroll spoke to the media after practise today and admitted he was searching for more information. He’s absolutely 100% correct to do that. Why on earth would the Seahawks choose not to look at Wilson against a first-team defense? It’d be like your future wife-to-be taking the first wedding dress she tried on, after a shrug and muttering ‘this’ll do, I guess‘. As idealistic as that sounds, why wouldn’t you consider a potentially better offer? What if Russell Wilson is a better quarterback? Don’t you want to start the better quarterback? Wouldn’t it give Seattle the best chance to win games if they start the best quarterback on their roster?
And the only way to find out if Wilson is superior to Matt Flynn is to start him in a pre-season game. Simple as that.
Today’s announcement doesn’t mean Wilson is guaranteed the job full time. Hey – he could struggle and Flynn could look the part in the second half. It could be a role-reversal this weekend. But at least then you know. You’re not left wondering if Wilson is better. The fans won’t be calling for Wilson every time Flynn throws a pick, because they too will know Wilson needs a bit more time. On every single level, starting Wilson in this game makes absolute sense and is more important than giving Flynn more first team snaps. And the only person who would disagree with that is the person that invested too much in Flynn having this in the bag before any decision was made.
I have no idea whether Wilson will rise to the challenge and keep scoring touchdowns. That’s another reason why I’m so fascinated with this next game in Kansas City, to see how he performs in a tougher environment with a better supporting cast. I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes the game to the Chiefs and carried on where he left off against Denver. He’s that type of guy. Even his catchphrase, “never afraid to excel” is ideally suited to his personality and play. It reeks of class.
If Wilson performs well against Kansas City, he should be the starter in the final game against Oakland. Who knows what will happen, but we should at least prepare for the rookie to win this job. Why not? What has Flynn honestly shown you so far that makes you feel like you have to start the guy even if Wilson continues to impress? Sure, Wilson might be a bit more inexperienced (but not a lot). Does he look like the kind of first year starter who will be fazed with leading this team? Or does he look more like Cam Newton? A quarterback who actually thrived in the starting role and benefited from real experience on a football field, not watching from the sidelines.
One misconception that has been repeated time and time again is that Seattle are paying Flynn so much money, he pretty much has to start. That’s not true. Here is the breakdown, courtesy of NFL.com’s Albert Breer:
Year one: $6m signing bonus, $2m base salary, $200,000 Pro-Bowl bonus, $200,000 NFL MVP bonus
Year two: $5.25m base salary of which $2m is guaranteed, $200,000 Pro-Bowl bonus, $200,000 NFL MVP bonus
Year three: $6.25m base salary with no guarantees, $200,000 Pro-Bowl bonus, $200,000 NFL MVP bonus
Now clearly, that’s a lot of money in year one. But the Seahawks pay $8m of the $10m guaranteed to Flynn in the first year of the contract. When you consider Seattle paid TJ Houshmandzadeh around $7m to play in Baltimore, is a lump sum to try and find the team’s future starting quarterback a handcuff deal? More from Breer:
Though Flynn was a big name on the market, Seattle’s financial commitment to its first two quarterbacks isn’t much different now from where it was last fall. In 2011, Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst pulled in about $8 million, while the club will sink between $9 million and $10 million on Jackson and Flynn this year. Flynn was initially looking for a deal in the neighborhood of what Matt Cassel got in Kansas City, but the Seahawks’ message is clear through the finances: A starting job isn’t promised.
Jackson is expected to be traded sooner rather than later, again easing the financial commitment to the position with Wilson and Josh Portis joining Flynn on the final roster. If Flynn wins the job, it’s a modest salary for a starting NFL quarterback. If Wilson wins the job, Flynn becomes an expensive back-up for one year but it’s hardly earth shattering particularly if Wilson wins football games. Nobody will be talking about Flynn’s salary or Pete Carroll’s judgement if Wilson can get the team into the playoffs and look good doing so. If you truly believe Carroll will let finances play any part in this process, you don’t know Seattle’s head coach well enough.
People should roll with the punches on this one. For the first time in years Seattle appears to have a young, talented quarterback and the fact he will start the next pre-season game should be celebrated and not criticised. Matt Flynn had two games to nail this job, and he didn’t. Russell Wilson took his chances against weaker opponents and it’s now his turn to try and win the starting gig. Let’s see if he can do it.
Pete Carroll says this is an open competition at quarterback. Time to prove it by starting Russell Wilson against Kansas City next weekend.
Wilson may well be competing against second stringers in pre-season so far, but he’s gone beyond what we could reasonably expect from his two performances against the Titans and Broncos. Against Denver he lit up the second half, leading sustained scoring drives equating to three touchdowns. He’s earned his chance to show what he can do when guys like Von Miller and Champ Bailey are on the field.
Now don’t get me wrong, Matt Flynn hasn’t necessarily done anything wrong yet. He’s been OK, pleasantly average and certainly not bad. The plan may well be to give him as many first team snaps as possible so he can settle into a rhythm. I get that. I could even accept it if we hadn’t been told time and time again that this was an open competition. If it wasn’t an open competition and the plan was to prepare Flynn to start all along, they shouldn’t have bothered with the charade of giving Tarvaris Jackson any first team snaps during training camp. They should’ve pumped maximum energy into getting Flynn prepared for the new season. But they didn’t, they shared the snaps and talked about competition all the time.
I would argue Wilson has shown enough to warrant a chance with the #1 offense facing a #1 defense. And hey – why not see if Flynn can light it up in the same way in the second half?
Most reports this weekend seem to suggest Flynn is still in the driving seat in this race, but why? Simply because he’s started both games? Because he has a bit more experience, but only a bit? This weekend he flashed a very nice deep ball that should’ve been caught by Terrell Owens – and it’ll ease concerns about his arm strength. But apart from that I’m struggling to find many more stand out positives. He just about avoided two pick-sixes, risking throws that the defensive back on each occasion almost undercut. He was inaccurate on a couple of easy throws. He still looked a little hesitant at times. He should’ve had his first touchdown scoring drive but for T.O.’s gaffe, but the stat line reads two games, zero touchdown drives. Wilson has five touchdown drives.
I’m sure Flynn can be a solid game manager and I sense a lot of fans and media are prepared to roll with that. I don’t think Flynn winning this job would be a disaster. What I do think would be a disaster is not giving Wilson the maximum opportunity to prove he’s a better quarterback. I think he probably is. In fact I think he offers a lot of the positives Flynn brings to the table, but adds an X-factor that the former Green Bay QB cannot match. While Flynn is neat and tidy, Wilson makes things happen. When a play doesn’t go perfectly, Wilson will get three yards on a scramble where Flynn maybe gets sacked and loses six or eight.
People talk about experience, but am I the only one who saw a hard count drawing the offside from Wilson? Or the way he pointed at a defender mid-scramble as a way of distraction to buy an extra yard or two? Classic veteran moves. We don’t need to wait a year or for Flynn to fail to play a quarterback with bigger upside. A lot of teams start rookies these days and prosper – just ask Cincinnati or Carolina from last year.
Wilson was in the game for 11 minutes against Denver before I saw a play I didn’t like – a hesitant play action where he took an unnecessary sack. But Flynn has those too, in fact he’s had several more than Wilson in the first two games. 3rd and 17? Wilson makes it. His ability to run is good enough to be more than an play-extending measure – he can effectively break off runs and be a threat on the ground. He did a much better job in week two selling play action and looked a lot more comfortable overall.
This isn’t me saying start the guy against Arizona when it matters. Not yet anyway. But all summer we’ve gone on about a competition and Russell Wilson is winning. So it’s time to give him the chance to win this job for keeps by starting him next weekend. What have we got to lose? Remove the shackles of conservatism Seattle. Stop worrying about experience – more and more rookies thrive on it, and Wilson appears a lot more mature than the average young quarterback. Matt Flynn’s two starts for Green Bay really shouldn’t be a difference maker here and nor should his time watching Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. How many quarterbacks watched Peyton Manning in Indianapolis and never amounted to much?
Let’s not be afraid to give the rookie a shot if he’s the best performer in pre-season. Let’s see what he can do on the road against the Chiefs starting defense next weekend.
If Russell Wilson is going to win the starting job in Seattle, more than anything he needs two things to happen. Firstly, he needs Matt Flynn to be unconvincing against Denver on Saturday. Is suspect a couple of good drives – including a touchdown scoring drive – and generally solid player will probably lead to a decision where Flynn is confirmed as the starter. That’s just the vibe I think everyone gets right now. That’s probably the scenario Pete Carroll is hoping for, but it ll be a hard sell if Flynn disappoints on Saturday.
Secondly, he needs to tidy up a few aspects of his game (eg – do a better job selling the play action, tighten up the 5-7 step drop) and above all else continue to make plays. The one thing Wilson has in his locker that Flynn doesn’t is his ability to make the unexpected happen. Flynn isn’t going to break off many big runs, escape consistent interior pressure and sparkle with a lot of big plays. Wilson can do all of those things, it’s his edge in this race. A bad interception against Tennessee prevented a week of fans calling for Wilson to get a start in Denver, but the hype might just be delayed for a week depending on what happens tomorrow.
Let’s break it down against the Titans…
0:02 – Play action with a tight end in motion for Wilson’s first snap. I’m trying to work out what forces the near-turn over here. Nerves? Inside penetration forces Wilson to take an exaggerated boot leg to the right and the Titans do a good job containing and preventing any chance of Wilson scrambling for a gain. The intended receiver (tight end who heads back across the right side of the field) looks like he was accidentally tripped and it maybe prevented him from reaching the ball in time, but it’s debatable he would’ve got there anyway. Pass interference was called, wrongly in my view. This has to go down as a fortunate play.
0:22 – Back-to-back play action calls to start. Two receivers are split to the left with a tight end on the right. Wilson looks in the direction of the receivers but rejects it. He has two check downs here – the tight end who finds a soft zone on the right sideline and the running back who sits underneath. Wilson makes the right decision to go to the tight end for a decent gain on a safe play. Athleticism was key here to buy a little more time – he was tackled immediately after releasing the ball.
0:33 – Perhaps the most impressive play on debut. Snap in the gun, there’s immediate pressure from the interior forcing him to scramble right. He then throws across his body with velocity to pick out a receiver for a nice gain. On a technical level it’s a difficult throw, it’s into a crowd and it needs to have some zip. Wilson manages all three. A pass like this gets you excited. By my count it’s his third read, you see in the replay he looks left, then right as he runs and finally he spots the open receiver through the middle. The linebacker sits in coverage and almost gets a fingertips to the ball, but the velocity beats him. Flynn has areas where he’s superior to Wilson right now, but I suspect he cannot make a play like this.
0:54 – Five step drop which could use some polish, but he spots a favorable 1v1 match-up down the left sideline and takes a chance. He airs it out – not a pretty pass but effective because he gives the receiver a chance to make a play. Quarterbacks have to take a chance like that sometimes, a calculated gamble. The play design was all about creating that situation downfield and it worked. Nobody else was open, so take a shot.
1:23 – Shotgun with four spread options. He scans and takes the easy yardage. Easy play.
1:32 – Shotgun again but seems to get distracted early and maybe feels he hasn’t got time to let what appeared to be a set of long developing routes play out. Nobody is obviously open so running the ball for a small gain was probably the right thing to do. You hope with a first team offensive line on the field they would provide better interior protection, as Wilson isn’t getting any help so far.
1:47 – Play action, easy dump off.
1:55 – Shotgun, throws underneath.
2:06 - Play action right, decent throw and needed stronger hands from the receiver (Durham). One thing I’ve noticed looking at this tape is how Wilson isn’t as polished as Flynn selling the play action. His body language is very deliberate and he needs to just tweak it a bit, sell the hand off more. Teams are going to find a way to jump this constant boot leg right and bring a safety over, so it’ll be interesting to see if Denver make life difficult tomorrow if they keep going to this play call.
2:27 – Another play action right, another easy throw on the checkdown.
2:35 – Shotgun, stands in the pocket. Nice poise and makes a nice completion over the middle in traffic for a first down.
2:44 – Play action and then a scramble. There were a lot of camp reports talking about Wilson running a lot and seeing it as a negative compared to Flynn who was solely a pocket passer. I don’t mind this. Firstly, there’s good pressure to Wilson’s left off the edge and he notices pretty quickly a nice gap up the middle. He even sets up a block with the running back, who quickly adjusts and buys him further yardage. And because Wilson’s an athlete, he makes the most of this chance. It’s opportunistic. It’s explosive. It’s a big yardage play you wouldn’t get if he wasn’t willing to try and make plays on the ground. There is such a thing as being too conservative at times and I like the fact the coaches appear to be allowing Wilson to use his ability to run with the ball when necessary.
3:09 – Seven step drop and the Titans D-line wins the battle up front. He diagnoses things quickly and sees there’s nothing to gain here. Having made that decision early, he buys the time needed to get the ball away and out of bounds. Smart play. Live to fight another day.
3:18 – He looks comfortable here initially standing in the pocket and then buying time before completing the pass. Watch the replay and you see he’s running through multiple options before throwing the ball.
3:37 – This wasn’t quite so good. He doesn’t really sense the pressure to his left and the screen was a little to deliberate. He gets away with it. Lucky play #2 on the day.
3:54 – Had to get the ball away here and does well to avoid the sack and get some yards.
4:01 – Bad interception. First of all – what is he seeing here to attempt this pass? Freeze the video at 4:13. He locks onto the middle of the field right away and you see five defenders drawn to where he’s throwing. Five defenders – one receiver – and he still tries to make the throw. What’s more, he seems to try and float the pass over the head of the main covering defender, but the ball slips a little out of his hand and it looks ugly. But even if he executes on this type of pass, it would have to be so precise in such thick coverage. That window in the back of the end zone would’ve been tiny. A bad decision on so many levels and a mistake that he needs to learn from.
4:23 – A simple dump off where the running back makes a move to get some yards.
4:30 – Another play action bootleg. It’ll be so interesting to see if they use this as much in Denver.
4:45 – After so many PA’s to the right, this break away run probably is the result of Tennessee second guessing. Wilson – for the first time – goes to the left on the bootleg and nobody is covering. He has a ton of room to break off the run, get the blocks needed and finish. The Titans got sucked in here, anticipating the run too much as Seattle ran the clock out and committed to one side.
When I started this blog in 2008, the Seahawks were well on their way to a four-win season with the Holmgren era grinding to an unsatisfactory conclusion. Seattle had the 4th overall pick – the first time since 1997 they would select in the top five. I wanted to analyse how Seattle would go about making such an important decision over who to pick. They took Aaron Curry and the rest is history.
Even though the pick was a bust, it launched an exciting period for fans who obsess about the draft (and there are many, rightly or wrongly). In 2010 Seattle had two first round picks in the top 15 and were also welcoming a new regime with Pete Carroll at the helm. The following year it was just as interesting to see how they approached picking late in the first round after an unexpected playoff run despite finishing 7-9 in the regular season.
This year the Seahawks had the #12 pick but moved down to #15 before taking Bruce Irvin. And I think that really sums up where the Seahawks are right now – in the middle of the pack. At a crossroads as we wait to see if they’ll move forward or backward. But after three years of re-building, they’ve taken a team that had precious little and a spine has been built. Key defensive components are signed up to long deals (Chris Clemons, Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant) while the secondary is young and ranked among the best in the league. There is some talent on offense with a few remaining (and sizeable) question marks, particularly at quarterback and receiver.
Nevertheless, the Seahawks will be hoping the 2013 draft provides a landmark moment. Perhaps – just maybe – they’ll be able to take the best player available… and mean it.
All teams talk about BPA, but need usually wins the day whatever the soundbyte. When Carroll/Schneider drafted Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, James Carpenter and Bruce Irvin in the first round, all were big-time needs. A lot of people would argue some of those picks definitely weren’t BPA. The best teams – and the teams who manage to remain consistently competitive – can afford to ignore need because they have the spine of the team laid out. Pittsburgh are a great example – they have the defense, the quarterback, the weapons. They win football games every year. They play in Super Bowls. And when they rock up in the 20’s come April and see David DeCastro sitting there, they can take him. Sure – the o-line is seemingly a perennial need for Pittsburgh, but they win anyway. The DeCastro pick was a true BPA situation.
And the Seahawks will want to join Pittsburgh in that position soon.
Next April could be the moment when they edge closer to that dream, depending on certain factors. Most importantly, it’ll depend on whether they feel comfortable with the quarterback situation. Can Matt Flynn or Russell Wilson earn long term enthusiasm as the starter? Despite the on-going competition in pre-season, it still feels like they’re both fighting for a shot to prove themselves. Even if they lead Seattle to a winning season, it won’t necessarily guarantee long term faith. After all – Alex Smith received no such backing in San Francisco and rest assured the Niners will continue to look at different quarterbacks, not just guys named Peyton Manning.
There is, of course, a big difference between keeping an eye on things and feeling like you need to do what Washington did in April. The Seahawks know if they feel comfortable with Flynn or Wilson, they can see how things play out. But if quarterback play is a major issue again in 2012, you sense this regime will almost feel obliged to make a big move. Eventually you just have to do something, just ask Mike Shanahan. Teams get desperate. Seattle doesn’t want to be desperate.
Let’s say Flynn or Wilson light things up and actually looks the part. Let’s go a step further and project the Seahawks to be picking between 16-32 in April. Without any major setbacks (injuries, serious loss of form) it’s hard to single out many crushing needs. A receiver would be a potential need and the offensive line may require reinforcements depending on how things play out. A truly excellent three-technique would be a nice thing to have. But there’d be no desperation in the war room as with previous years.
Then let’s look at the alternative. Seattle struggles at QB. They pick between 1-15 in the first round. Suddenly there’s pressure to move up and get Matt Barkley/Tyler Wilson/Logan Thomas/etc. The Seahawks are not in a comfort zone and know a mistake could be fatal. Of course, nobody should be surprised that the two scenarios are based around how the team performs at quarterback. That’s why it’s the most important position in football.
After years of talking about the importance of certain picks and a lot of hand wringing about what needs to happen, I think a lot of people would appreciate the chance to take a more laid back approach to the draft in 2013. BPA rather than QB ASAP. That could happen, the Seahawks may have a future based purely around simply taking the best guy available. Or maybe we’re destined to spend the entire college season studying QB tape again – just like we’ve done for the last five draft classes – wondering if after 20 years Seattle will spend a first round pick on a quarterback.
It was revealed yesterday that Matt Flynn will be starting again this weekend, with Russell Wilson playing the second half against Denver. It’s a further opportunity for both players to show they have what it takes, with Tarvaris Jackson watching from the sideline for a second consecutive week. The decision has led to some speculation about Jackson being shopped but you have to ask (with the greatest respect) who is going to be interested in that deal?
It’s not entirely unfair to think Seattle will be looking to move Jackson and his $4m salary if he’s likely to be the second or third string quarterback. Yet muddying the waters somewhat is the fact he’s still getting first team reps in practise. And while he’s receiving those reps, Flynn and Wilson, crucially, are not. So while many are trying to convince you this is a won race in favor of Flynn, I still lean towards taking Pete Carroll’s words on face value. He doesn’t need to see Jackson play. He does need to see the other two. And while he continues to get first team reps in practise, this is an open competition. For now.
Mike Florio had an interesting point this morning on Seattle’s quarterback saga (and it is becoming a saga to everyone on the outside). Is Jackson a frustrated onlooker?
“It could be that Jackson realizes that the diluted reps will make it harder for whoever wins the job to be fully prepared for the games that count. And so, like so many of these situations, the guy who wins the job will essentially be securing dibs on the first shot at losing the job.”
Perhaps Carroll understands there was no ideal situation at hand when it comes to the quarterback position? After all – signing Tarvaris Jackson to be the uncontested starter wasn’t an ideal situation 12 months ago. Carroll definitely didn’t dream of running an offense led by Jackson when he took on his last big shot at being a successful NFL Head Coach. But needs must and Jackson was familiar with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, so he got the chance.
A year later, the situation isn’t much better. Seattle found a quarterback they liked – and liked a lot – in the draft, but rightly didn’t want to put him in a situation where he was directly competing with a largely unpopular Jackson to start as a rookie. Pressure to go with Wilson would’ve been intense if he was only competing with Jackson. The addition of Flynn in free agency came at a price (although the expense is often overplayed) but crucially it gave Seattle a further option. And let’s not forget – there was no guarantee the Seahawks were going to get Russell Wilson. Had they not acted on signing Flynn in free agency and then missed out on Wilson, we’d probably know who the starter was by now. It’d be Tarvaris Jackson.
Perhaps sensing they were once again making the best of a not-ideal situation, they were right to try and find as many logical options. Flynn was an opportunistic strike, made when his market turned out to be cold in free agency. But in creating a three-way competition, as Florio points out , no one-single quarterback is getting the sole focus of the reps and full-on practise. Whoever wins this competition will not be getting the same amount of practise time as a quarterback who knows he will be starting from the start of camp. Even with the drama of flirting with Peyton Manning and messing around getting Alex Smith re-signed, the division champs know who will be their guy in week one. And that’s the team Seattle has to aim to catch.
I suspect Carroll and co believe Flynn is best positioned to deal with what will be a difficult environment. His ‘neat and tidy’ passing game may provide conservative consistency rather than the kind of X-factor play a lot of fans (rightly) crave. Yet at the same time, this team is probably more willing to put Flynn into that difficult situation than a guy they’ve drafted. If Flynn struggles or is just mediocre, they can write him off without too many questions over their judgement. They took a chance, but it didn’t work. Who’s next? If Wilson starts and struggles they face the issue of mounting pressure to turn to Flynn, a talented rookie being cast out, a pick being wasted and the judgement (draft and starter choice) being seriously questioned. That’s a lot to deal with. Even if Wilson is a more dynamic player – and the Seahawks need more dynamism at quarterback – the odds may be stacked against Wilson starting in 2012. If Flynn fails to convince as a starter, his contract is structured so they can cut him with limited financial pain in 2013 (his contract is front-loaded with a big bonus in year one taking up most of the guarantees).
So a lot of things point to Flynn having an edge, but I do feel this is a job that still needs to be won. Flynn is clearly being put in position to get the job done but it doesn’t mean he will. And if he doesn’t impress, you don’t start him for the sake of it. Wilson likewise needs to prove two things – a.) that if Flynn fails, he’s the man to turn to and b.) he’s at least the man for the backup job , allowing the team to consider cutting Jackson.
This is why I think all options are open at this stage. I don’t think Flynn pulled up any trees against Tennessee and if he struggles against Denver that will set alarm bells ringing. That’s probably why they want to keep challenging him against a first-team defense. Rather than giving him a chance to win the job, they might actually be giving him the first chance to lose it (see: Florio’s quote). Wilson doesn’t face the #1’s in the second half, but he has to be ready in case Flynn slips. Jackson is the guy in the background, ready to be called upon if required whether that’s to start or be the next guy up. My guess is the Seahawks intend for Flynn and Wilson to suitably impress allowing them to cut Jackson and not risk losing Josh Portis on the practise squad. But for that to happen, the other two quarterbacks have to prove they’re ready, which keeps this thing open for at least another week. And with this regime and with this team, we should expect any outcome.
Receiver a dilemma?
A year ago many would’ve considered receiver a position of some strength for the Seahawks. Sidney Rice had just been signed to a big contract and Mike Williams was coming off a surprisingly good year. Golden Tate was approaching his sophomore season as an expensive second round pick, while the team invested a considerable sum adding pass-catching tight end Zach Miller. Ben Obomanu signed a new deal along with Williams and there were other pieces fitting into the rotation. As it happens, an UDFA called Doug Baldwin would progress to become the teams most dynamic target.
Fast forward to 2012 and there’s a different environment. Rice – who suffered injury issues in Minnesota – now suffers injury issues in Seattle. Mike Williams has been cut. Golden Tate continues to be erratic. Zach Miller wasn’t used much at all in the passing game. The team felt obliged to sign Terrell Owens – approaching 40 and out of football. Another lost soul – Braylon Edwards – has also been signed. In fact, who would bet against Owens and Edwards starting in week one? It’s not a ridiculous thought.
Baldwin could very easily be the team’s best receiver again this year, but even he needs to prove his rookie season wasn’t a one-off.
Suddenly a case could be made for the position being a pretty substantial need and it could end up becoming a pretty big deal for the Seahawks. First and foremost, whoever wins the quarterback gig is going to need some help. It’s also very difficult to build a productive run game when the secondary threat is minimal. Receiver could be the single most underrated position in the league – not because a very talented wide-out is paramount to success, but it’s often last on the list of perceived needs. A lot of people see receiver = risk, but even the best quarterbacks need help.
If Rice is unable to prove he can stay healthy, even with the likes of Baldwin blossoming they’ll need a consistent outside threat in this offense. It’s slightly concerning, given that the 2013 class (at this extremely early stage) doesn’t appear to have much depth. Of course, players can and will emerge during the course of the college season. But the Seahawks don’t want to find themselves in a position where they finally find a quarterback for the future, only to ask him to throw to free-agent forty-year-olds.
I’ve found the analysis of Seattle’s first pre-season game pretty interesting. I listened to some of Brock and Salk on ESPN 710 today and heard a promo for a different show asking whether the Seahawks quarterback competition was now over. Certainly the tone suggested Flynn had done enough to warrant the job already. After one half of football. This is an opinion I sense is growing among the media… and the fans are starting to buy into it.
My own feeling after Saturday’s victory over Tennessee was that we weren’t really any wiser. It would’ve been ideal for one candidate to really blow the competition out of the water and allow the coaches to make a quick decision. Both Flynn and Wilson showed positives, but there were also negatives. Contrary to what a lot of people assume, I don’t think either did enough to completely eliminate Tarvaris Jackson from the race.
Flynn looked the part at the line of scrimmage. I liked his control, his confidence and as advertised he looked like a guy that had been coached well in Green Bay. Sometimes this can be deceiving because looking part doesn’t necessarily equate to success. His first drive was solid – taking what was on offer before settling for a field goal. At that point I’m sure a lot of fans felt very comfortable and were ready to invest their faith in Flynn winning this job.
However, that drive wasn’t repeated. Flynn had a turnover, blamed by Pete Carroll on a rookie error by the running back failing to sell the play action. He also had two avoidable sacks. Here’s the concern I have. If Seattle’s run game is working, this kind of possession offense based around timing and short passes can function. If the Seahawks are able to get ahead early in games, I can see Flynn growing into a functional game manager. But what if a team successfully takes away the run or develops an early lead?
The Seahawks are going to face some good quarterbacks this year. Before the bye week, Seattle meets Dallas, Green Bay, Carolina, New England and Detroit. There’s every chance they’ll have to keep up in those games (particularly away from Century Link) and won’t be able to just chip away. We could end up seeing games where Seattle dominates time of possession, but loses comfortably. It’s too much to ask a defensive unit to keep things tight against the Green Bay’s, New England’s etc to keep the offense in a game.
I’m not totally against conservative quarterback play, especially if you can provide a great running game and elite defense. I am concerned Flynn will be the type of quarterback who’s permanently second guessing a downfield throw and checking down. In his two starts for Green Bay he didn’t show any evidence of this problem, but in Seattle he won’t be seeing Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson in 1v1 coverage. At times on Saturday I sensed he was a little too keen to take an easy 2-3 yards instead of a difficult ten. When he isn’t featuring in a wide open spread offense with multiple talented receivers, can he still make the key plays to keep a defense honest? Can he snap back from play action and take a shot in the same way he can sitting in the gun lofting one down the sideline for Nelson?
That’s the big question mark for me, and it’s why I feel like we need to see more from Flynn in pre-season to make a proper judgement. One game isn’t enough.
Then there’s Russell Wilson, who appears to have some degree of command even for a rookie (if not at Flynn’s level of poise/confidence). When he was flushed out of the pocket on Saturday, he moved around to find a passing lane. He showed he was prepared to take a shot, even if one pass into the endzone flashed rookie judgement and led to a disappointing turnover. Really that one pass prevented a full-on Wilson love-fest this week and it’s perhaps tempered expectations (not a bad thing).
My experience is Seattle’s fans have always preferred safety from the quarterback position. There’s perhaps a little too much fear at times that going away from safe, solid and middling is too much of a risk. How many other franchises would tolerate multiple years of mediocrity without a single first round investment at quarterback for approaching 20 years? I think fans see a risk in starting Wilson ahead of Flynn, even though the difference between the two is a couple of NFL starts. Sure, Flynn has been around the NFL. But Wilson has been a pro through his baseball roots and seems a lot more prepared for this opportunity than most young rookies.
I suspect Wilson is capable of managing in a similar way to Flynn while also providing a bigger upside. He can extend plays in a way Flynn cannot, he can avoid pressure and he appears to have a better arm. As we saw with the 32-yard touchdown run, he will provide the kind of X-factor that will allow Seattle to score cheap points and not rely too much on a ground-and-pound style that merely chips away. In a game where the quarterback has to put quick points on the board – and this will happen – Wilson might be a better bet than Flynn.
Yet there are still things to worry about starting the rookie. Will he look quite as good against a first team NFL offense? If you start the guy and he struggles, how damaging could it be considering the intense pressure that will develop to turn to Flynn? Again you feel obliged to demand more evidence on tape – is this guy truly capable of starting now? Is it worth risking the potential controversy if he does start over a guy the mass media – and most fans – expect to win the job?
And amid all of this discussion, Jackson remains on the roster waiting to see what happens. What if Flynn doesn’t take enough chances to warrant the gig? What if Wilson cannot prove he’s ready to start? Everyone knows what Jackson brings to the table – and quite rightly most people hope the two new guys will offer more. Yet until Jackson is actually cut and taken out of the race, can you rule him out? His position is beneath a guillotine, waiting for the blade to drop. As soon as Flynn or Wilson convince they are worth the start, it probably will drop. But they have to get the job done. And if they don’t, Jackson could win this job without taking a pre-season snap.
For Flynn to win the job he has to prove he’s not captain checkdown. For Wilson to win the job he has to show he’s sufficiently ready to be worth the hassle of starting him over two veterans. For Jackson to keep the job, he maybe just has to hope the other two fail on both counts. Three quarterbacks came into this competition and I don’t think Carroll has been dishonest about this process. Therefore, it seems to me that three quarterbacks remain in this competition and we need to see much more before judging who is going to be the winner. People will pick their favorites and manipulate their arguments to suit. I think we should wait and see what the Denver game brings, because we need to see more from both Flynn and Wilson.