BY Art Thiel 06:12PM 09/05/2012

Thiel: On 3rd down, rook Wilson can’t go T-Jack

Tarvaris Jackson’s struggles on third down were what cashiered him here. Now a rookie, Russell Wilson, must solve the puzzle starting Sunday. Pete Carroll is asking a lot.

Offensive improvement in 2012 will depend largely on how well QB Russell Wilson does on third down. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

No single reason explains why Russell Wilson is the starting quarterback of the Seahawks. But there is a single stat from a single game that explains a lot about why Tarvaris Jackson is no longer the Seattle QB:

In the final game of the 2011 season against Arizona, the team the Seahawks play in their opener Sunday, the Seahawks were 3-for-19 in third-down conversions. Arizona won, 23-20, in overtime.

Buh-bye, T-Jack.

The single biggest metric that will determine whether Wilson will stay as starting QB is improvement on third downs. Obviously, the task isn’t solely his responsibility, but he’s the cowboy in the saddle in charge of getting the herd to market and staying off the barbed wire.

And he’s a rookie. The Cardinals defenders are not.

Third-down conversion isn’t necessarily the best predictor of wins. But the Seahawks finished 25th in the NFL (38 percent) in that category primarily because Jackson wasn’t a good decision-maker when the field and clock shrank. The shortcoming may not have seemed so bad because they played four games against the NFL’s two worst teams in that department — No. 31 Arizona (30 percent) and No. 32 St. Louis (15 percent — yeesh).

But the Seahawks had one of the NFL’s best running backs, Marshawn Lynch, who on that Jan. 1 game against the Cardinals had 86 yards in 19 carries, and they still couldn’t move the ball in the crucible.

Part of the low overall ranking was due to the post-lockout hash of an offense under newbie Jackson that was the biggest reason for a 2-6 seasonal start.

“It was most unfortunate to start (2011) with so many brand new young guys,” coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday. “Relatively, we’re in much better shape. There’s so much difference — communication, ability to adjust, the handling of different situations and issues. And depth-wise we have guys who can step in.”

The only problem is that the guy on the field in charge has never faced a pro defense that is loaded with talent and enlightened by a pro scouting report on him.

Impressive as Wilson has been, starting a rookie at QB is a risk that is on the edge of the NFL solar system, even if it is trendy. Amazingly, four other teams are doing the same — Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, Robert Griffin III in Washington, Brandon Weeden in Cleveland and Ryan Tannehill in Miami. All were first-rounders; Wilson was a third-rounder, the 75th player taken.

That’s the most rookies at the helm at least since 1950. The previous high was three.

And since 1970, Wilson is one of only six rookies drafted in the third round or later to start right away, none since Kyle Orton in 2005.

What this means is there’s ridiculously few precedents for what the Seahawks are about to attempt. Especially against a defense featuring Darnell Dockett, Adrian Wilson and a bunch of other gnarlies who eat railroad ties for appetizers.

“These guys are a very aggressive attacking group –  they would rather blitz you than anything,” Carroll said. “It’s going to be a constant. (Protecting Wilson) would really come on the shoulders of the guys up front to pick it up. We’re so much further along than we were at any time last year. I hope we do a much better job at targeting and identifying their schemes. It’s going to be hard for every quarterback.

“Hopefully he’ll be able to handle it.”

Impressive as Wilson has been in the preseason — 13 scores in 21 drives, and only one turnover –  and as intriguing as his future, the present means converting third downs Sunday against a force he’s never experienced.

“Doesn’t matter to us who’s playing (QB),” said Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt, speaking as if he were a Steelers assistant coach, which he was. “We’re preparing based on what we think we need to do to try to be effective.”

Wilson’s career arc is becoming a wonderful novel. But every good story has setbacks for the protagonist, and Wilson is about to experience his first one as a pro.


YourThoughts

  • Trakar

    Not sure how much faith I put in your crystal ball, Art.

    • Artthiel

      That’s OK, Trakar. I have faith in you as a reader.

  • Trakar

    Not sure how much faith I put in your crystal ball, Art.

    • Artthiel

      That’s OK, Trakar. I have faith in you as a reader.

  • Jamo57

    “The only problem is that the guy on the field in charge has never faced a pro defense that is loaded with talent and enlightened by a pro scouting report on him.”

    And his backup has only done so twice.  

    Interesting times.

    • Artthiel

       That’s what life is like in the land of the outlier, Jamo. Carroll is a risk-taker, but if you listen carefully, his primary mantra on offensive is control of the ball — no turnovers, and run the ball as often as possible. That’s how he sees Wilson surviving, and succeeding, as a rookie QB.

  • Jamo57

    “The only problem is that the guy on the field in charge has never faced a pro defense that is loaded with talent and enlightened by a pro scouting report on him.”

    And his backup has only done so twice.  

    Interesting times.

    • Artthiel

       That’s what life is like in the land of the outlier, Jamo. Carroll is a risk-taker, but if you listen carefully, his primary mantra on offensive is control of the ball — no turnovers, and run the ball as often as possible. That’s how he sees Wilson surviving, and succeeding, as a rookie QB.

  • Jtkxyz

    It’ll be a blowout win for the Hawks.  Wilson will not single-handedly beat the Cardinals, but his supporting cast is so strong–i.e. the defense and running game–that he won’t be asked to play beyond his means. 

    • Artthiel

       That’s the game plan, Jtkxyz, but the results will be hard to come by in the first game. But your optimism is commendable.

  • Jtkxyz

    It’ll be a blowout win for the Hawks.  Wilson will not single-handedly beat the Cardinals, but his supporting cast is so strong–i.e. the defense and running game–that he won’t be asked to play beyond his means. 

    • Artthiel

       That’s the game plan, Jtkxyz, but the results will be hard to come by in the first game. But your optimism is commendable.

  • Paul in Yakima

    Wilson is smarter than TJack on every down, not just third.

    • Artthiel

      But one’s bones are made on third. And if you’re right about first and second down, then there’s a lot of third-and-one. Everyone looks smarter on third-and-one.

  • Paul in Yakima

    Wilson is smarter than TJack on every down, not just third.

    • Artthiel

      But one’s bones are made on third. And if you’re right about first and second down, then there’s a lot of third-and-one. Everyone looks smarter on third-and-one.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/andy.lundman Andy Lundman

    Congratulations.  You wrote off a player before the season even started.  Bold move.  I look forward to you being proven wrong.

    • Artthiel

       Andy, I believe I confined my write-off to the first game, not the season. My point was he’s going to see things he’s never seen Sunday,  and fans need to temper expectations for the first game. Growing pains, y’know?

  • http://www.facebook.com/andy.lundman Andy Lundman

    Congratulations.  You wrote off a player before the season even started.  Bold move.  I look forward to you being proven wrong.

    • Artthiel

       Andy, I believe I confined my write-off to the first game, not the season. My point was he’s going to see things he’s never seen Sunday,  and fans need to temper expectations for the first game. Growing pains, y’know?

  • Erastus

    I believe Ken Whisenhunt was OC (offensive coordinator) not DC for Pittsburgh. Dick LeBeau is the longtime defensive coach. And before being the OC, Whisenhunt was the TE coach. I don’t see any coaching prior to being a head coach (in the NFL) that was on the defensive side.

    • Artthiel

       Good catch, E-man. Fixed. Thanks.

  • Erastus

    I believe Ken Whisenhunt was OC (offensive coordinator) not DC for Pittsburgh. Dick LeBeau is the longtime defensive coach. And before being the OC, Whisenhunt was the TE coach. I don’t see any coaching prior to being a head coach (in the NFL) that was on the defensive side.

    • Artthiel

       Good catch, E-man. Fixed. Thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/justa.guy.3511 Justa Guy

    Telling everyone that Russell Wilson will see things he’s never seen before makes zero sense to me.  Sure, the kid hasn’t played an NFL game yet, but I would think that he has seen a lot of different looks in practice from a very good defense.  It wouldn’t make sense for Seattle coaching to only throw a vanilla defense at him in practice.  That wouldn’t do the team or Russell any good.   Russell Wilson will be prepared to handle everything that the cardinals can throw at him.   It seems as though people forget that there is more preparation than just preseason games.   

  • http://www.facebook.com/justa.guy.3511 Justa Guy

    Telling everyone that Russell Wilson will see things he’s never seen before makes zero sense to me.  Sure, the kid hasn’t played an NFL game yet, but I would think that he has seen a lot of different looks in practice from a very good defense.  It wouldn’t make sense for Seattle coaching to only throw a vanilla defense at him in practice.  That wouldn’t do the team or Russell any good.   Russell Wilson will be prepared to handle everything that the cardinals can throw at him.   It seems as though people forget that there is more to preparation than just preseason games.

  • Bayviewherb

    The last time The Seahawks faced the Cards with a rookie QB wa the first exibition game of their first season.His name was Zorn, and his primary reciever was Largent. They came very close to beating that St. Louis team. One of their tackles who later became a color guy on Monday night footballstill talks about the game thy should have won handily and almost lost.

  • Bayviewherb

    The last time The Seahawks faced the Cards with a rookie QB wa the first exibition game of their first season.His name was Zorn, and his primary reciever was Largent. They came very close to beating that St. Louis team. One of their tackles who later became a color guy on Monday night footballstill talks about the game thy should have won handily and almost lost.

  • Soggyblogger

    Well, you have staked out a position. “Wilson is about to experience his first [setback] as a pro.” No one forced you to write it. Since you have vastly more experience than I in the field of sports, I accept your prediction with some respect, but nothing I have seen so far from Wilson leads me to believe he will fail. Or have a setback. Sure, he will make mistakes like every player in the league. He will probably make more mistakes this year then he will in future years. That’s natural. It’s NORMAL. Yet predicting the “normal” for RW has not been accurate so far in his career as a QB. 

    Some players are awesome in college and either cannot make it in the pros or they are much more mediocre. Others are special. They get better as the competition increases. Wilson will fall into the latter category. That is the position I have staked. So far, so good.

  • Soggyblogger

    Well, you have staked out a position. “Wilson is about to experience his first [setback] as a pro.” No one forced you to write it. Since you have vastly more experience than I in the field of sports, I accept your prediction with some respect, but nothing I have seen so far from Wilson leads me to believe he will fail. Or have a setback. Sure, he will make mistakes like every player in the league. He will probably make more mistakes this year then he will in future years. That’s natural. It’s NORMAL. Yet predicting the “normal” for RW has not been accurate so far in his career as a QB. 

    Some players are awesome in college and either cannot make it in the pros or they are much more mediocre. Others are special. They get better as the competition increases. Wilson will fall into the latter category. That is the position I have staked. So far, so good.

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