Wilson thinks the Seahawks offense has room to improve. Huh? But credit for the start also must be given to a change in league emphasis that calls fewer holding penalties.
As Seahawks fans know, Russell Wilson has operated in the first three games at a level suitable for a Marvel Comics superhero film. No one in NFL history has thrown 14 touchdown passes in such a short time. His passer rating of 139 is 15 points better than the runnerup. He’s the NFC offensive player for the month of September.
Which is, of course, not enough, at least in the mind of Mr. Unlimited (his own nickname, not Marvel’s).
“For me, there’s always room for improvement,” he said this week. “There’s always room for growth. The biggest part of consistency is consistently growing. It’s not just staying consistent, and keep doing the same thing. It’s consistently elevating your game.
“I think can I elevate everybody else.”
Where that is, is unclear. Perhaps he’s aware of some astral football plane as yet unvisited by sub-immortals. Then again, maybe he has no choice to aspire higher, given the week’s injury news ahead of Sunday’s game in Miami with the Dolphins (10 a.m., FOX).
Friday, three defensive starters from the win over Dallas were declared out — SS Jamal Adams (groin), CB Quinton Dunbar (knee) and LB Jordyn Brooks (knee). And rookie Brooks was starting only because Bruce Irvin (knee) has been lost for the season.
For one of the worst defenses in the NFL, the problem compounds. The 1,292 passing yards surrendered through three games is the most in history.
“Sometimes we look like we haven’t been practicing a whole lot on the back end,” coach Pete Carroll said.
The failure means more of the load shifts to the offense. To which Wilson says, figuratively, bring it on.
“I believe there’s a whole other space that we can go to with this offense, and that’s what I’m searching for,” he said before the injury news Friday. “That’s when I’m passionate about right now.
“How much further can we go, when we’ve been darn near great, almost perfect? There’s still a lot more room to grow . . . there’s a difference between streaks and being in the zone. I think that we’re definitely in the zone, and I think that we want to stay in that zone, stay locked in.”
Wilson went on to talk about his commitment to greatness, calling it a lifestyle.
“You can’t take a day off,” he said. “It’s an every-day thing. It’s commitments. That’s the mentality. It’s the focus level. It’s a lifestyle. Can’t be random.
“There’s no other space for anything else, other than greatness. I think that’s just kind of where my mindset’s been, this whole off-season, and really, my whole career.”
Hard to argue with any of that. Yet there’s also a more pragmatic, less esoteric development that’s helping Wilson and all offenses this year — and conversely, hurting defenses.
Officials are purposely calling far fewer offensive holding penalties. In fact, 59 percent fewer.
According to an intriguing story on ESPN.com this week, the NFL has altered the emphasis on holding in order in increase scoring and pick up the game’s pace, while avoiding the rancorous process of rules changes. The story analogized to MLB’s juicing the baseball to create more fan appeal.
As a partial result, the average of 24.7 points per game is up 16 percent from the same point a year ago and would be an all-time record over 16 games. There are other reasons for the uptick, but there’s no doubt that 45 percent fewer holding calls over the previous five-year average is a factor.
Several NFL executives declined to comment to ESPN about the change, although retired ref Walt Anderson, now senior vice president of training and development, told NFL.com that he wants officials focused on “clear and obvious” fouls and not “all of a sudden to start calling the ticky-tack stuff.” Anderson said it’s what “the NFL likes and what the audience likes.”
Carroll acknowledged Friday he was aware, but seemed vague when asked about when and how coaches were told about the change in emphasis.
“Yeah, I don’t remember a real strong emphasis from from the league on that,” he said. “I think it’s just kind of, it’s been since our return to football, that’s kind of what’s happened.”
“There are fewer penalties being called,” he said, finally. “We got to adapt to it, and make sure that we can take advantage of that.”
That must certainly be handy when a team like the Seahawks is breaking in three O-linemen to new positions in Seattle. But to make a noteworthy change without letting the public know seems a little dubious.
“I can’t tell you,” he said, “because I haven’t been informed about this, but I would think they’re looking to see if the (potential penalty) is not hindering the flow of the play.
“Then they’re not calling it, as opposed to, ‘I saw a guy grab a guy and called it.’ That’s different.”
Carroll said it’s a bit of a throwback to a time in the league when officials were granted leeway to exercise their judgments about impediments to play.
“It seemed like they had more chances to make calls based on whether they thought it affected the play,” he said. “I always liked that part of the game. It made them a big part of it. I would think that’s what’s happening.”
Neither he nor Wilson are complaining because it’s a subtle part of a 3-0 start that’s the best since the 2013 team wound up winning the Super Bowl. Even if it means cringing every time a Seahawks defender is held.
WR Tyler Lockett explained this season’s prime directive: “We’re literally trying to put the fear into people that we play against.”
After scoring 38, 35 and 38 points, dry mouths are beginning to develop around the league.