Over and over — four times in 10 minutes, in fact — Russell Wilson had the same answer to the question.
How do the Seahawks jump-start their grounded passing game?
“It’s on me,” the quarterback said Thursday, three days before he and the Seattle Seahawks (6-4) try to end a string of four consecutive games below 200 yards passing — and more important, seek to stay in the NFC playoff race against the division-leading Arizona Cardinals (9-1) at CenturyLink Field.
Is Wilson pointing a finger at himself for the Seahawks having the league’s 30th-ranked pass offense with eight sub-200-yard passing games because of his poor throws? Poor decisions?
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“No, I think that I have to find a way to be clutch — and always be clutch,” Wilson said.
“It’s calling for that time right now.”
It absolutely is.
Arizona comes into this essentially must-win game for Seattle with a three-game lead in the NFC West with six games remaining. The Cardinals have the league’s third-ranked rushing defense, allowing 80.5 yards per game. The Seahawks have the league’s top rushing offense, gaining 174.2 yards per game.
Given that trend there’s the potential for a relative standoff on the ground Sunday. So the Seahawks’ opportunities for a revitalizing win appear to be raising Arizona, that is, through the air.
For all the pre-snap moving and post-snap attacking the Cardinals do on defense, they are 29th in pass defense. They allow 263.2 yards passing per game. Most of those yards are from October when Denver’ Peyton Manning threw for 473 yards, Washington’s Kirk Cousins had 354 and Philadelphia’s Nick Foles threw for 411 against Arizona.
The Seahawks haven’t had more than 292 net passing yards in a game. That was Oct. 19 at the St. Louis Rams, one of just two times Seattle has cleared 200 net yards passing this season.
“Like I said, it’s on me,” Wilson said — for the second time. “I don’t think there’s any issue. I don’t think that defenses are doing anything different. Defenses are paying a little bit more attention to me in terms of putting an extra guy down there (as a spy near the line) or whatever — (but) that’s a good opportunity for us in the passing game now.
“And if that’s the case, we have to make big-time plays.”
When he says “it’s on me” Wilson is being a leader and the traditional NFL quarterback — credited sometimes too much for an offense’s success, blamed sometimes too much for its failures.
Fact is, Seattle’s lack of passing yards comes largely from Wilson lacking much time to throw. He was so harassed early in the season that offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has been having his receivers run shorter routes, assuming Wilson has little time to wait for them to run deep.
On Nov. 2 against the Oakland Raiders, injuries forced the Seahawks to use a line that featured a college tight end (Garry Gilliam) and college defensive tackle (J.R. Sweezy) at the guards, a fourth-stringer (Patrick Lewis) at center and a rookie right tackle (Justin Britt). That, in turn, forced Bevell to call almost exclusively screen passes in the second half, as Seattle held onto a 24-3 halftime lead and won 30-24.
This week the Seahawks are talking as if Lewis may start against Arizona. He replaced starter Max Unger for the final 9 minutes last weekend at the Kansas City Chiefs, after Unger was lost for what will be about a month to a high-ankle sprain and twisted knee.
Seattle brought back Lemuel Jeanpierre, Unger’s backup the previous three seasons before a neck-stinger injury and injury settlement in September. Jeanpierre knows line coach Tom Cable’s protection schemes and would help immensely Sunday. He says he’s ready, but Cable and coach Pete Carroll for now are assuming Jeanpierre, who hasn’t played a game since the preseason in August, won’t be ready for Arizona.
“Like I’ve said every week … it all works together,” Bevell said of the passing game.
“It works together in terms of protection, number one. Number two is guys being on time, where they’re supposed to be, when they’re supposed to be there. Number three is the quarterback making good decisions, making good throws, putting the ball where it needs to be, when it needs to be there, as well. And all those things have to come together at the right time to be able to do that.”
These teams have vastly differing approaches to their passing games.
Despite completing only 27 more passes than the Seahawks — and despite playing mothballed backup Drew Stanton in four games with starter Carson Palmer injured and now out for the year — the Cardinals have 601 more yards passing. That’s a huge chunk more, on not too many more connections.
Arizona’s receivers run longer routes. Its quarterbacks throw longer passes.
The Cardinals have 58 completions of 11 or more yards this season, according to STATS. The Seahawks? They have 35.
Sure, Seattle has a higher completion rate than Arizona, 62.7 percent to 58.7. But 148 of Seattle’s 183 completions, a whopping 81 percent, have been for 10 or fewer yards.
That’s why Arizona with its two quarterbacks are 11th in league in passing and Seattle with Super Bowl winner Wilson is third-to-last.
But amid all these howls over how bad the Seahawks have been through the air, this isn’t a sudden shift. They are still a run-first team, one that only in the past four games has been running first consistently with Marshawn Lynch.
Seattle is 30th in the league with 292 passes attempted. Only Houston and Kansas City entered the weekend having thrown fewer passes — and the Texans have thrown for 17 more yards per game than Seattle despite fewer throws.
The Seahawks are averaging 191.8 yards per game passing this season, far below the NFL average of 242.1. Last season it was 202.3 yards per game, with Wilson having seven regular-season games and another on in the playoffs against New Orleans of sub-200 yards in net passing (yards passing minus yards lost to sacks).
In 2012, Wilson’s rookie year, he had 10 regular-season games and one playoff game of under 200 net yards passing. The Seahawks averaged 189.4 yards through the air per game that season.
You have to go back to before Carroll became Seattle’s coach — the Jim Mora-Matt Hasselbeck season of 2009 in which the team finished 5-11 and then cleaned house — to find the last Seahawks to average at least 210 net yards passing per game.
What is different: The Seahawks spent the first month of this season spinning their play-calling wheels on getting the ball in all ways to Percy Harvin rather than relying on Lynch’s running to set up a far more effective passing game and slow down foes’ rampaging defenders crashing in on and chasing Wilson during the majority of his drop backs.
Plus, unlike in 2013, the Seahawks aren’t getting big plays in the red zone. This season they are scoring touchdowns on just 53.5 percent of their trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. That’s the 20th-best rate in the league and down from 56.1 percent of TDs on drives into the red zone last season, which was tied for 12th in the NFL in 2013.
“It's on me, more than anything,” Wilson said; that was time No. 3. “There's a time and place to be big right now.
“We’ve just got to make those plays — and we are going to. I believe that we are going to capitalize, that I’m going to make the throws when I need to make them. Guys are going to make the catches when they need to make them; they are doing a great job, they are showing up.
“Just keep believing, and keep delivering the football. And we are going to do it.”
MLB Bobby Wagner, out the past five games with turf toe, and LG James Carpenter, out two games with a sprained ankle, practiced fully for the first time since their injuries and are on track to start Sunday. … Lynch didn’t practice again (back). He didn’t practice Wednesday and Thursday in each of the two previous weeks — yet has 264 yards rushing and four touchdowns the past two games.