Carson Wentz and his Eagles are the new greatest things.
The second-overall pick in last year’s draft out of North Dakota State has an NFL-leading 28 touchdowns through 11 games. Since the AFL-NFL merger 1970 the only two quarterbacks to lead the league in TD passes in his first or second season are Dan Marino and Kurt Warner. Both of them, of course, are in the Hall of Fame.
Wentz and his Philadelphia Eagles are 10-1 entering Sunday night’s showdown at Seattle. The Seahawks (7-4) are a home underdog for the first time since 2012, and largest home underdog (5½ points) since 2011. No wonder. The Eagles have boat-raced their last seven foes by an average of more than 21 points per game.
That has Wentz and New England’s immortal Tom Brady as the leading candidates to win the NFL most valuable player award.
Of course the Eagles want to Wentz to win MVP. That means they have won—bigly. In the Super Bowl era all but two of the 53 league MVPs have been from teams that made the playoffs. You have to go back to 1973 and O.J. Simpson of the Buffalo Bills to find an MVP that didn’t play in that season’s playoffs. More than half those NFL MVPs, 27 of the 53, have played in that season’s Super Bowl.
Russell Wilson will oppose Wentz in this face off of truly valuable QBs on national television at CenturyLink Field.
The Seahawks’ franchise quarterback doesn’t just want to win the NFL MVP award.
Wilson wants to conquer the globe.
"I want to be the best in the world," he said this past week when asked if he set NFL MVP as a goal.
"That’s the truth. I try to strive for that. Every day. Every morning I wake up. Every night. Every offseason. Every year."
Wilson’s been absolutely otherworldly through 11 games. He is the reason—the only reason—the battered Seahawks are still a game behind the Los Angeles Rams for the NFC West lead having already beaten the Rams.
Wilson has created 26 of Seattle’s 27 offensive touchdowns this season, 23 TD passes and three scoring runs. That’s 96.3 percent of the Seahawks’ offensive touchdowns. It’s the highest percentage by any player, on any team, in the Super Bowl era. It began in 1967.
J.D. McKissic’s 30-yard run in week four against Indianapolis Oct. 1 is Seattle’s only offensive TD that hasn’t involved Wilson’s arm or legs.
Wilson said "I’d be lying" if he didn’t say he wants to be the best in the world.
"If you don’t want to be the best in the world, then why are you out there?" he said.
They won’t say so, but with the way their season’s gone the Seahawks hope Sunday night’s showdown comes down to their best player against the Eagles’ best player, with everything else canceling out.
Entering this, his best season yet, Seattle’s $87.6 million franchise player had won a Super Bowl. He’d started off his career as the fastest QB to win 50 games. He has 31 games with two or more touchdown passes with zero interceptions. No one else in NFL history has had that many such games over his first six seasons. His 61 career wins are the most by any quarterback over his first six seasons.
Yet in 2017 Wilson has been even more. He’s been virtually EVERYTHING to the Seahawks’ offense. It has no running game. It has scant pass protection behind an iffy, changing offensive line that is on its fifth combination of starters. Wilson is not just carrying but propelling the entire offense.
"Yeah," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "I don’t know how you could carry it much more."
Wilson’s 3,029 yards passing is tied with Drew Brees for third in the league. His 401 pass attempts are the NFL’s most. His 401 yards rushing, 351 of those by scrambling away from defenders on pass plays, leads Seattle. His rushing total twice as much as any Seahawks running back has. Wilson’s 3,430 yards passing and running are 86 percent of Seattle’s total yards (3,994). That’s the highest percentage of yardage any player has for any team. Two games ago, against Atlanta, Wilson had 96 percent of Seattle’s yards.
Is this sustainable? Can the Seahawks get to the playoffs, and win in them, with Wilson doing everything and the running backs doing nothing?
Carroll almost scoffed at that.
"Yeah, the thing that comes to mind is that ‘Oh, you can’t do that forever or that you can’t do that all season long.’ Well, yeah, you can--if you stay healthy," Carroll said.
Ah, yes, keeping Wilson healthy. That’s always been the chief concern. Last season when Wilson played through a high-ankle sprain then a sprained knee ligament that doctors said should have kept him out four weeks, the Seahawks offense malfunctioned. And that was when they had at least some production from their running backs, and their full defense.
Wilson absolutely must stay healthy now.
His coaches and teammates know the QB is incredibly valuable to everything the offense and team does, perhaps more than any other quarterback in the NFL that has at least a quasi-pro-worthy rushing attack to help. So they are becoming protective of him.
This week, Carroll and the Seahawks sent to the league headquarters videos of three hits Wilson took in the 49ers game. The fact the coach brought it up unsolicited on Wednesday means he likely got a response from the NFL that the hits indeed should have been penalized. It was also Carroll publicly planting a seed inside league headquarters and on its officiating crews to be more protective of Wilson in the season’s remaining games.
Such as Sunday night’s. The Eagles have sacked QBs 31 times this season. Their front seven is assuredly coming at Seattle’s offensive line with more pass-rush power than San Francisco had. Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell says what makes the Eagles’ front challenging is all seven can get after quarterbacks.
"Russell has great awareness about taking care of himself. And I hope that the calls continue to show that, protect him, that protect the quarterbacks," Carroll said. "He got hit three times last weekend that were all questionable, and he should’ve been safer than he was kept. I’m hoping that that will continue to work just fairly and then he just keeps making great choices and we have to keep protecting him.
"We’re getting better in our protection without question, and the guys are feeling him more and they know where he is and where he’s going, and it takes some time and all of that works together. We certainly don’t want him running the ball and getting hit; you’re not seeing him run a bunch of lead-plays and stuff. But really it goes back to Russell’s awareness. He knows how to do this.
"And I’m counting on it."
Carroll is so concerned about losing Wilson to an injury that would sink the season, he yelled at his quarterback for taking what the coach thought was an unnecessary risk on a scramble run for a first down late in last weekend’s comfortable win at San Francisco.
"I got mad at him one time in the game last week. I jumped him: ‘What’re you doing?!’" Carroll said. "You know, I thought he tried too hard on a play, and of course he said, ‘Well, I was going for the sticks.’
"’Yeah right. Well...’
"We have small differences on that. And usually he does it exactly right. But I got after him last weekend."
Thing is, he could be hit so much more. Each game, as sure as fans yell and beer is sold in the stadium, Wilson makes magical escapes from pass rushers. He habitually avoids at least half-dozen sacks that most quarterbacks would be flat on their backs feeling.
Last weekend in the win at San Francisco the Seahawks’ offensive line did not allow a sack, the first time that’s happened in a game since December 2015. It was because of Wilson. Carroll, on his weekly show with Seattle’s KIRO-AM radio Monday morning called Wilson "Houdini" for what he did to beat the flailing 49ers, who after the game wowed how elusive he is.
"He’s out there making dudes look crazy," Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright said.
"Let me state it from the other side of it: When you have a quarterback that can do that, it changes everything," Carroll, a defensive mind, said. "You got guys on the (network-television) broadcast talking about how you get the first play and then the second play (within a play). Well, sometimes, these guys give you third plays. Russell has been able to do that. It might look like it’s going to be a scramble or he’s going to throw it, and then he takes off and runs for 15 or 18 yards, or something like that.
"It’s just as hard as it can get, because you can structure your defense to play normal stuff, and then the play breaks down and then you’re not quite sure if it’s going to be like a QB draw or if it winds up being a spread-out or winds up being like a naked or boot--and then the defenders have to start all over again. It’s just as hard as it can possibly be. I’ve always said that about when we have our opponents that are like that."
So while Wentz (28 touchdowns and just five interceptions in his second season) and Brady in New England (being Brady again for the 9-2 Patriots) are the favorites this season, consider the literal meaning of "most valuable."
Consider where would the Seahawks be without Wilson? They wouldn’t be 7-4. Not with Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril out for the season to major injuries on defense. They’d be last in the NFL in rushing.
They’d be Austin Davis. So they wouldn’t be seventh in passing, eighth in total offense and 10th in points per game.
Without Wilson this season, they’d darn near be the Chicago Bears—whom Philadelphia smashed last weekend 31-3 with its league-best rush defense, No. 2 rushing offense and top scoring offense.
"We would be in a different mode without him, for sure," Carroll deadpanned.
"He’s having a fantastic football season, and he’s doing marvelous stuff. It’s great to see him with good, fortunate health and all of that. We can see the difference in it, and it’s so obvious between this year and last year."
And so most valuable.
"Typically, the best quarterbacks in the National Football League find a way to make the 10 other guys better. That’s my main concern," Wilson said. "That’s my focus at all times, is helping our team win.
"It’s not an easy position. And so for me, individually, I always want to be my best. I want to be lights out every time I step on the field."
"And I want to be the best in the world."
The Seahawks put reserve linebacker Josh Forrest on injured reserve. There was no corresponding move as of Saturday afternoon.
With Chancellor out for the year but not on injured reserve yet, the Seahawks essentially are not using two spots on their 53-man active roster.
Seattle has been hard up against the league’s salary-cap limit for weeks. That’s why the team released future Hall of Fame pass rusher Dwight Freeney and replaced him with practice-squad wide receiver David Moore, to save a little more than $200,000 over the last month-plus of this season. Players on IR still get paid and count against the cap, so IR moves don’t clear cap space the Seahawks already fon’t have to add sign more players.