BY Art Thiel 06:12PM 10/02/2020

Thiel: Wilson gets a helping hand in hot start

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.

Russell Wilson and his offensive line are getting a little help from a rules shift. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

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 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 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.”

Kind of?

“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.



  • Chris Alexander

    You know the league is over-deemphasizing something when THIS PLAY is not flagged for holding:

    • art thiel

      Thanks for that. It makes a bad Seahawks pass rush worse.

  • Talkjoc

    Art, been trying to find out if the Cowboys T Hill was fined for the alligator roll tackle on C Carson. Couldn’t find anything. So, much for player safety. Cheep shot. Didn’t see fine for clubbing Wilson in head either,. ??????

    • Chris Alexander

      Announced earlier today:

      $6,522 for trying to end Carson’s season
      $6 522 for the helmet to helmet hit on Wilson

      Soooo much less than he should have gotten fined (IMO).

    • art thiel

      See Chris’s response below.

  • Kevin Lynch

    What Russell says is true. Mindset. As Dylan said, “you are either busy being born or busy dyin’.” Or, as Zen master Shenyru Suzuki put it…”everything is perfect just as it is. Of course, there is always room for improvement”.

    • Husky73

      He not busy being born is busy dyin’

      • ClaudiaAGreen

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    • art thiel

      Or as another mystic, Ken Stabler, said, “Throw deep.”

  • kiltlifter

    Better to be handy than handsome. Red Green Show

    OL has been coached up on clever holding. DL been coached up on how to break holds. Anything short of reach and grab and tackling by OL should be passed up by officials.

    • art thiel

      I think most fans would agree. I think most fans would like to know.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art – Glad to see a change to less calls as long as it’s a move to more consistency in calls (making the ref’s job easier?! There’s probably a fine line).

    Some may discount Russ’ numbers relative to NFL history. What makes Russ’ performance valuable in light of this change is it’s comparison to the rest of the league this season. Russ’ career stats already speak to the company he is and will be keeping all time.

    I’d actually like to see the Hawks build a lead and then kick in an effective running dominant attack to eat the clock and play keep away, spelling the weak D. It would be great if they can turn the passing game on and off as needed, not needing to be in a continuous rhythm to do so.

    • art thiel

      What bothers me about the change in holding is the lack of transparency. This is a noteworthy development. I’m sure gamblers care.