Russell Wilson is giving the Seahawks the ultimate advantage.
Right now, in every game, Seattle has the best player at the sport’s most important position.
“I think the best way to put it is that No. 3 is in his bag right now. Top of his game,” Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin said Sunday in Ohio following the Seahawks’ 32-28 victory over Cleveland.
“That is the person we look up to and believe in.”
Wilson has been more decisive than the Seahawks’ continued lack of a pass rush, injuries across the offensive line, offensive penalties, fumbles and failures in short yardage.
He—and Chris Carson’s rebound from early season fumbling with three straight 100-yard rushing games and a career-high 124 in Cleveland—is why Seattle is 5-1 for the third time in the team’s 44-year history.
The Seahawks’ chance to go to 6-1 for the first time since their Super Bowl-winning season of 2013 comes Sunday at CenturyLink Field against AFC North-leading Baltimore (4-2) in the Earl Thomas return game.
All the other flaws are why the Seahawks still have plenty to prove, and improve, to win the changing NFC West.
“We’re made for this. We’re built for this,” Wilson told his teammates Sunday after they fell behind the Browns 20-6 in the first half at rockin’ Cleveland.
Seattle scored 19 unanswered points from there and went on to win.
“I never doubted,” Seahawks cornerback Tre Flowers said, after his first career interception in Cleveland.
“We have Russell Wilson at quarterback.”
Wilson was “exquisite again” Sunday, to use coach Pete Carroll’s words. He had his sixth passer rating of more than 102 in six starts this season; against the Browns it was 117.2. He completed 23 of 33 throws for 295 yards, two passing touchdowns, one rushing score—and still no interceptions.
His predecessor as a Super Bowl quarterback for Seattle is impressed.
Wilson perfectly placed his first touchdown pass onto the hands of Jaron Brown while he was getting “crushed,” to use the quarterback’s description. That got Seattle within 20-12 of the Browns in the second quarter.
It also got the Seahawks wide receivers, uh, NSNYC.
After two touchdown throws to Brown Sunday, Wilson has 17 touchdowns (14 passing, three running) against zero interceptions this season. He leads the NFL with a 124.7 passer rating. He’s tied with Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes for the NFL lead in TD passes. Wilson is the only quarterback in the league with more than seven touchdown throws without an interception.
“He is just making stuff happen,” coach Pete Carroll said. “And it has to be hard for the other side to try and figure out how you are going to stop the guy.
“He just keeps making plays.”
Wilson’s completion percentage of 72.5 is second in the NFL to Oakland’s Derek Carr (73.3). Carr has fewer than half the touchdowns passes with three more interceptions than Wilson, who again this season is often throwing off-script on scrambles away from pressure.
“We call him the magician,” Seahawks wide receiver Dave Moore said. “He is always somewhere where nobody thinks he is, making a big play, throwing the ball somewhere where it needs to be.
“That is just Russ. He does his job well.”
That’s like saying it sometimes rains in the Northwest.
Wilson, All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner and Pro Bowl veteran K.J. Wright have won Seattle a Super Bowl. They’ve seen many days in which the Seahawks commit penalties, miss tackles, turn the ball over, basically don’t show up early in games. They’ve seen it in five of the six games already this season.
“With Bobby, myself and K.J., we’ve been through all the highs. There were a lot of highs,” Wilson said Sunday. “We have been through some lows, too. We stay the course. We stay even keel. We keep focus on the mission.
“More than anything, for us, you have to look forward to these moments. If you want to be a championship team, you to look forward to these moments. And we were able to do that today.”
But there are questions.
Seattle’s five wins have come against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Arizona, the Los Angeles Rams and the Browns. None of those teams has a winning record. The Bengals are 0-6. Seattle rallied to beat them by one point at home in the opener.
The Steelers and Cardinals were winless when the Seahawks beat them. Pittsburgh played the last 2 1/2 quarters without star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in its 28-26 loss to Seattle Sept. 15.
The Rams, whom the Seahawks beat 30-29 at CenturyLink Field 10 days before their latest win, have lost three straight games. The defending NFC champions are suddenly 3-3 and on a three-game losing streak.
The combined records of the teams Seattle has beaten: 9-20-1. The win over the Cardinals, 27-10, is the only one decided by more than four points.
The Seahawks’ loss was an ugly, 33-14 rout by New Orleans playing in Seattle without injured Drew Brees. Yes, the final score was actually 33-27, but only after the Seahawks scored two cosmetic touchdowns late.
Comparing the Seahawks to the team they are keeping pace with at the top of the NFC West, San Francisco, involves common opponents, for now. That is until they play for the first of two times Nov. 11 in Santa Clara.
The 49ers’ defense is roaring and is why San Francisco is playing the best of any team in the NFC. The Niners have allowed the Rams and Browns 10 points within the last seven days. San Francisco smacked the Browns 31-3 on Monday before Cleveland scored 20 points on Seattle in the first 15 minutes on Sunday.
The 49ers completely throttled the Rams in Los Angeles Sunday, 20-7. The Niners limited Jared Goff to 78 yards passing on 13 completions and sacked him four times. Goff had 395 yards on 29 completions 10 days earlier in Seattle. The Seahawks did not sack him once.
That’s the biggest issue that currently separates the Seahawks and 49ers. What was Seattle’s potentially fatal flaw in the spring remains so entering mid-October: The remade pass rush is not pressuring opposing quarterbacks.
One game after not getting to Goff, the Seahawks were even less effective pressuring Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield. He dropped back 40 times Sunday. Not only did Seattle fail to sack him once. Its defense hit him as many times as you did. That’s not counting a roughing-the-passer penalty on Jadeveon Clowney in the third quarter.
“It wasn’t effective enough to get him down,” Carroll said Sunday in Cleveland.
“We have to keep working. We are trying. We just have to get it done.”
Clowney, a three-time Pro Bowl edge rusher acquired in a trade from Houston Sept. 1, and top offseason acquisition Ziggy Ansah have just one sack each through six games. The Seahawks have 10 sacks and 15 quarterbacks hits so far this season.
This time last season, with since-traded Frank Clark and so-far-suspended Jarran Reed leading the pass rush, Seattle had 16 sacks and 36 QB hits through six games.
Reed is coming back this week from his six-game suspension by the NFL for an alleged domestic-violence incident. That should help. But before Reed had 10 1/2 sacks last season, he had a total of three in his first two seasons in the league. Seattle can’t count on another 10 sacks from him over the last 10 games of the regular season.
But Reed will be motivated. This is the final season of his rookie contract. He’ll be playing for his next deal.
So it’s not easy for the 5-1 Seahawks.
Few things ever are with these guys.
“The tougher, the better for us. We need all of these challenges,” Carroll said. “We need all of the situations that happened (Sunday). A million things happened (at Cleveland), and we’ll learn from all of them.
“We’ll just keep on chopping wood.”