By Chris Cluff
It’s hard to fathom why a lot of people seem surprised that the Seahawks are only 2-2 and have the worst passing game in the NFL.
What did they expect when Pete Carroll decided to have a rookie quarterback stand behind an ever-changing offensive line and throw to a beat-up receiving corps with mere average talent?
Carroll thinks he can have his cake and eat it, too: Developing a quarterback while winning games. Why not? Plenty of other teams have done it recently.
Matt Flynn should have been the starter from the get-go, but Carroll was blown away by Wilson’s dynamic play in the preseason. Heck, everyone was. By the end of the preseason, Wilson (and an elbow issue) had made Flynn irrelevant.
But now that Wilson has played like the rookie he is and gotten little help from his receivers, inconsistent blocking from his linemen and unimaginative play calling from his coaches, everyone is calling for Flynn.
Well, forget it. Carroll made his decision and can’t go back now. He has decided to risk wasting a year of his great defense on the chance that Wilson can turn into the quarterback he thinks he is.
Even if fans are disappointed, Carroll cannot be surprised that his team has had trouble scoring points and has not been able to pull off last-minute wins against Arizona or St. Louis.
The Hawks are two touchdowns away from being 4-0, and it figures that fans are wondering whether Flynn might have been able to get those two touchdowns. There’s a good chance he could have, assuming he is healthy.
Carroll told reporters that the team is unsure whether Flynn’s elbow can stand up to a full week of practice and a game. But that is irrelevant, because Carroll wants to stay with the rookie.
“We’re going with Russell right now,” Carroll told reporters, per Seahawks.com. “He’s working his tail off to get it right. We’re all aware that the focus goes to the quarterback position, but there are a lot of guys that figure into what’s going on. He is not far from being really, really successful right now as a leader in that position.”
How far is “not far”? A couple of games? A month?
The loss in St. Louis was the first of four road games in five weeks. If the Seahawks want to have a shot at the playoffs, Wilson has to become successful enough to emerge with a .500 record heading into the easier second half of the season.
Of course, the coaches need to find ways to help him more than they have.
The Hawks are one of the league’s top running teams. Marshawn Lynch leads the NFL with 423 yards and they racked up a season-best 179 against St. Louis. They need to play off that better than they have.
They have tried to use play-action passes, but Wilson and his receivers have not always executed them well enough. Wilson is completing 60 percent of his throws, but his 5.9 yards per attempt is 31st in the NFL and his passer rating is just 73.5 (27th in the NFL).
Carroll said he has intentionally dialed down the offense, hoping to rely on the run and his defense. The coaches have stressed making Wilson a pocket passer, but he seems too confined there and makes too many mistakes: vacating the pocket too early, failing to see open receivers, forcing the ball into coverage, not throwing when he should.
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell needs to put the game in motion for Wilson more, with designed rollouts. Let him get some completions and get into a rhythm. Let him move with a plan rather than out of desperation.
Hopefully the coaches figure out how to make the rookie more productive. If they don’t, this will turn into a wasted season for an otherwise playoff-ready team.
Of course, if the Hawks keep losing close games, Carroll might eventually decide to turn to Flynn, the guy who should have started from the beginning.
But, at this point, Carroll has made his decision, and he can’t change his mind now.
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.