BY Art Thiel 04:57PM 08/12/2014

Thiel: Seahawks and the sackings of Wilson

Seahawks had the highest QB sack percentage in the NFL in 2013, but Carroll says he doesn’t see the need to change the passing game to better protect Russell Wilson.

Russell Wilson’s runs were often scripted. It’s the number of unscripted ones that makes for nervous coughs. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

RENTON — After a question was asked about potential changes to the least-used passing game in the NFL the past season, the arch in Pete Carroll’s eyebrow launched and nearly reached earth orbit.

“Why,” he said, “would we do anything to change it?”

Hard to argue when the evidence for status quo includes the Lombardi Trophy.

But if we were to argue, evidence includes a belief that standing pat is rarely a recommended course. Especially when the quarterback health is at stake.

In the exhibition opener Thursday in Denver, Russell Wilson demonstrated again his remarkable ability to elude the pass rush, at least twice pivoting away from hostiles far behind the line of scrimmage to create positive plays.

Then again, in completing four of six passes among his 18 snaps, he was sacked twice, hard, behind a makeshift offensive line temporarily missing four-fifths of its stalwarts.

The sacks recalled a time early in the 2013 season in which injuries knocked out up to three OL starters and left Wilson vulnerable to predation. That he escaped largely uninjured was one of the unheralded miracles of a championship season.

Not only were his 2.8 sacks per game 25th in the NFL  — and up from 2.2 a year earlier — the Seahawks had the highest sack percentage in the NFL: 9.92 percent of pass plays ended up with Wilson munching dirt. That was a full percentage point up from the next-worst team, the New York Jets, and up from the Seattle mark of 7.89 percent in 2012.

Obviously, the Seahawks managed the weakness well, thanks to the high-end success of so many other facets of the operation. But a fair question is what happens to Wilson in 2014 if the pass protection doesn’t improve, should some other aspects of the Seahawks slip.

As a percentage of scrimmage plays, the Seahawks and 49ers threw the ball less than the rest of the NFL. The Seahawks threw 45.21 percent, the Niners 45.23. For perspective, the Broncos threw 59.8 percent of the time in 2013, and the Falcons a league-high 67.2. Carroll doesn’t want that to change, because of his antipathy toward turnovers.

To further tighten the lens, Pro Football Focus broke down passing plays into QB depth of throws, while also counting the number of QB rollouts. In plays that had throws of one to 10 yards, Wilson rolled out 14 percent of the time, highest in the NFL. Next most was Washington Robert Griffin III at 7.5 percent.

In fact Wilson had more than double the rollouts of the next highest QB through passes up to 30 yards. The reason is obvious: The Seahawks compensate for his 5-foot-11 height by moving him out of the pocket for clearer views downfield.

While most of those rollouts are scripted, enough are not that Wilson’s exposure for hits in the open field as well as the pocket are higher than any NFL QB. Undisputed as is the brilliance of his evasiveness, the Seahawks enter a third season under his field command a bit out there on the tightrope.

But Carroll is not owning up to any modifications, at least publicly.

“Gosh, we don’t want to do that,” he said. “We’re just going to keep growing. We’re not changing anything. We’ll always play to the strengths and uniqueness of our players and hopefully as the guys develop, you learn more.

“The new guys add something and just seem to fit that together. We have no intentions of changing. I like what’s going on.”

What has changed is the receiving group, which he labeled earlier in the year “an Olympic relay track team,” referring principally to Percy Harvin, Ricardo Lockette and draftee Paul Richardson, all of whom have speed normally witnessed every four years at some exotic five-ring locale. Adding returning reliables such as Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse suggests that despite the loss of Golden Tate in free agency, the Seahawks have weaponry of increased sophistication.

“It’s a very exciting group — experienced, with a lot of playmaking,” Carroll said Sunday. “We’re so fired up that Percy’s been with us the whole way. He’s shown us why he’s a special player. Doug and Jermaine have done a great job picking up where we left off. We weren’t sure how much we were going to play Paul, because he hadn’t practiced a whole lot. As the game went on, he looked like he could stay in there, so we got him some balls and he did a very, very good job.

“Ricardo gives us a real flashy guy competing. Phil Bates has done a very good job, on special teams as well. Bryan Walters did well. So I love the position group right now.”

Sounds like a group that merely requires the ball to detonate. The trick is getting Wilson the time to deliver. Maybe the passing game requires nothing more than a return to health in the offensive line. Then again, even when they were healthy, Wilson in 2013 often seemed to count on his legs more than his blockers.

So if you want to watch for signs Friday in the home exhibition opener against San Diego, see how often he is booked to run, versus booking to save his hide. By plan or execution, the Seahawks need to find a way to keep Wilson from leading the league again in grass snacks.

Notes

Carroll saw the returns of LG James Carpenter and C Max Unger to practice as a big help. “That’s the first time really it felt like we had everybody on the field at the same time. I think Russell (Wilson) got a little tired today. He got his first big dose of work but he did well. It was great to have James and Max and everybody going.” He didn’t say if they will play Friday . . . Carroll received a bucket of ice water dumped on his head by Russell Wilson and Zach Miller after practice. “The Ice Bucket Challenge” is a national campaign to raise awareness for ALS that has drawn celebrity sports participants from around the nation in support of former Saints player and former Washington State Cougar Steve Gleason. Carroll took the challenge from USC coach Steve Sarkisian, his former protege, and passed it on to his three NFC coaching rivals, “including Jim Harbaugh,” he said, smiling . . . On a somber note, Carroll responded to a question about the suicide death of Robin Williams, with whom he was acquainted from his days at USC. “It’s a tremendous loss. We were not real close. We were in the same graduating class (age) . . . What an extraordinary personality and character. He’s been so constantly great for so long. This is a terrible loss for everybody that loved him so much. It’s really a hard day, hard day.”


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YourThoughts

  • K.j. Hinton

    Got to wonder: what happens if Wilson gets hurt because of Carroll’s myopia?

    • art thiel

      Not sure it’s myopia because he understands better than all of us Wilson’s value. But the formula may need to adjust to the O-line’s vulnerabilities. He won’t know that until the week of the opener.

  • RadioGuy

    I’m still a little dubious about the Seattle line as a whole, mostly because of injuries and depth. When everyone’s healthy, they’re fine, but how often has that happened? One good thing about a rollout quarterback is that O-lines who aren’t that good at pass protection can be minimized. Classic dropback QBs taking snaps behind marginal (or worse) lines get creamed a lot more than guys who can run away from trouble and even create some damage with his feet as well as his arm.

    I agree with K.j. Hinton, though: What DOES happen if Wilson goes down after one hit too many? One very minor benefit of getting sacked in the pocket is that you can sometimes turtle up and brace yourself. When you’re bootlegging it to the right, you usually don’t have that option.

    • art thiel

      Wilson has learned to turtle up, but the open field is a dangerous place because tacklers come from all directions. It’s amazing to me he hasn’t missed time to injury.

  • Colonel_of_truth

    I was disappointed when Seattle didn’t do more to shore up its O-line during the draft, particularly given Okung’s history of injuries. Wilson’s mobility is great and all, but he often looks like he’s running for his life back there.

    • jafabian

      I think the only O-linemen they would have gone after were ones who have been in an offense similar to what they use. That’s why they didn’t pursue anyone heavily. Be interesting to see if anyone from last years practice squad makes the team.

  • tedsfrozenhead

    I would be happy to see the offense play more complete games. Too many times the offense only shows up for one half.

  • zippy0

    nice article- would hate to see the constant hits on franchise QB start to take serious toll and Wilson head for same fate as RGIII-

  • dharmabruce

    Tom Cable grifts on by unquestioned. What has he done? A good, not great, running game due as much to Lynch’s creative hit sloughing as his linemen carving an open zone. And basically the worst pass protection. Cable drafting “his kind of guys”. They start the season expecting to start either a rookie or Bowie except he was the one “guy” who didn’t have a championship offseason and the rookie is looking mortal. Don’t break my jaw or anything but Cable sucks.