RENTON Russell Wilson is running left. He’s running right. He’s running around in circles and arcs and diagonals. And those are just on pass plays.
He has to.
Wilson’s scrambling has usually been the only way Seattle has gained any consistent yards on the ground, too. Wilson’s 77 yards rushing in last weekend’s loss to Washington comprised more than half the team’s rushing total. All but two of his 10 rushes last weekend were scrambles. The QB is the team’s leading rusher, at 271 yards through eight games. He’s gained 244 of those yards, 90 percent of them, off scrambles that were supposed to be passes.
For all the angst about their running backs producing little more than injuries and another gain of 2, Seattle is 19th in the NFL in rushing offense. How? Without Wilson's 27 scrambles for 244 yards, the Seahawks would be 30th at 587 yards, nine yards ahead of Cincinnati and just 12 up on Detroit for the worst running game in the league.
Ultimately more important, Wilson taking off from the pocket is the only way the $87.6 million key to this and every Seahawks season has been able to avoid season-altering injuries. If he didn’t, he’d often be getting mercilessly pounded into the turf by opposing pass rushers, the bad guys Seattle’s offensive linemen often have failed to repel.
“I don’t try to think too much,” Wilson said before Tuesday’s practice for Thursday’s game at Arizona. “Just play ball. Just trust my instincts. Just trust what I see, and then go from there.
“Usually, it turns out pretty good for us.”
Yet his coach says he wants Wilson to sometimes stand more in that pocket, instead of running from it.
Part of Pete Carroll’s reasoning is to help those linemen who have committed holding penalties trying to stay engaged to their defenders by grabbing as Wilson takes off again around them.
Line coach Tom Cable pointed out the Seahawks have 10 accepted holding penalties on their offensive line this season. Seven of those are on scrambles by Wilson.
And, yes, there have been times again this season Wilson has looked spooked and taken off running from what was still a solid pocket from which he could have waited longer to find receivers coming open.
That’s the “double-edged sword” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell mentioned when talking about this following practice on Tuesday.
“We are walking on the line there,” said Bevell, himself a pocket passer at Wisconsin in the early 1990s before he got into coaching. “We want Russ to be able to make those plays. I mean, we get phenomenal plays when we get outside the pocket, so we have always talked about it here. We always talk about the play and how the play’s design going to come off and then there is times where pressure happens, quick pressure happens, or he needs to get outside the pocket things happen and we want him to do it. We encourage it. We coach it.
“But there is that fine line where there are times you can stay in there and get the job done.”
That’s what Carroll was saying on Monday, in so many words.
“There were a couple holds on scrambles and things (in the Washington game) that we know that we worked to learn in the nature of our play. Russell is running around and those offensive linemen have to know when to release and feel that,” Carroll said the day after the galling loss to Washington. “And we didn’t make that choice a couple times, properly...
“Russ was quick to move in the game, more than some other games. And we have seen him like that, at times,” Carroll said. “He was working for space and he did a lot with his legs and it was effective. He ran for a bunch of yards in the game.
“There is a little give and take there. But sometimes it’s been like that, and this was one of those games where he was moving quick.”
Asked if he would like Wilson to stay in the pocket longer, Carroll said: “Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes.”
Stand in the pocket more?
Self-preservation is a powerful motivator.
Look beyond the 18 times Wilson’s been sacked this season. Even more dangerous is the fact he’s been hit 65 another times through eight games. That is fourth-most in the NFL, and is on pace for 130 this season. And you thought last season’s protection from the line was bad when Wilson got a high-ankle sprain and sprained knee?: He got hit 111 times in 2016.
Seattle’s offensive line has allowed the most hits on its QB in the league this season among units that have surrendered 23 or fewer sacks. That sack total is lower only because of Wilson’s skill at avoiding at least a half-dozen additional ones each game with his unique quickness, poise and improvisational tricks.
Wilson said that against the Redskins last weekend “we had some really good opportunities down the field through the scramble game.” One was his dash to the right and throw for 47 yards in the second quarter to Doug Baldwin on another of the wide receiver’s improv routes reacting to Wilson’s scrambling.
But on that play right tackle Germain Ifedi did not let go of his man he was grabbed inside both shoulders. As Wilson scrambled outside of them, Ifedi kept holding. That penalty is an example of what Carroll was talking about Monday, that many of the penalties come from linemen not letting go and trusting and/or knowing Wilson is going to extend the play scrambling around them.
That play is also an example of the chicken-or-the-egg conundrum of Wilson running out of the pocket so much.
If Wilson had stayed in the pocket, Baldwin wouldn’t have gotten that open, to the Washington 22-yard line. His initial route wasn’t to there on the right sideline. When Wilson scrambles, the defenders have to cover for five, six, seven seconds. NFL rules prohibiting contact of any kind with a receiver beyond 5 yards past the line of scrimmage, plus pass-interference restrictions, make it darn near impossible to keep a guy covered that long. Just ask the Seahawks’ defense about trying to do it two weeks ago, when Houston’s Deshaun Watson did his Wilson impersonation--and shredded Seattle for 402 yards passing and four touchdowns.
But when Wilson scrambles, that’s when his linemen often get caught holding. They can’t maintain their blocks for that long, yet often believe they still have to.
I asked Wilson if he felt what Carroll mentioned Monday, that the team “sometimes” would like him to stay in the pocket more, or longer, instead of running around, to help his linemen.
“No, I don’t think so, at all,” Wilson said.
“I think a lot of times I’ve been in the pocket--last game I was able to get out a little bit more--but I don’t think that’s a concern one bit.
“Things kind of happen. You just play ball.”
Wilson has a supporter in his thinking: the guy who coaches the linemen.
“Everyone would say that, sometimes: ‘If you wait one more time, one more hitch, and then you might get the throw you want.’
“But, hey, the truth of it is, he’s the best in the game at what he does,” Cable said of Wilson and his scrambles.
“We have to adapt.”
Since the win last month at the New York Giants in which the Seahawks had 15 penalties, including three when Wilson scrambled, Cable has been coaching his blockers and specifically tackles Ifedi and now newly arrived Duane Brown to just stop blocking when Wilson runs past.
“The big emphasis the last three weeks has been...‘When you feel (Wilson running near you), you have to let go,’” Cable said.
So, Carroll may want Wilson to stand in the pocket more, at times. But when Chandler Jones and some of his Cardinal pass-rushing pals blasting through at him Thursday night at Arizona, expect Wilson to keep doing what he’s been doing so uniquely for the Seahawks. Since his rookie year of 2012.
“Yeah,” Wilson said of his running and scrambling around, “I think we have to do whatever it takes to win.
“I think that in terms of the rushing part, that is definitely part of our game. It always has been, really for five, six years, for the most part.”