Seattle Seahawks

Russell Wilson gets toughest test yet this year. And, yes, he’ll throw at Richard Sherman

Russell Wilson grew up in Virginia watching the Harlem Globetrotters whenever they came through town.

“I remember going to see the Globetrotters in the Richmond Coliseum,” Wilson said.

So when the Globies came to Seahawks practice this week in advance of some dates around Western Washington, Seattle’s 30-year-old franchise quarterback was like a kid again.

Especially when members of the basketball-wizardry team presented him with a Wilson, No. 3 Globsetrotters jersey.

“This is sick!” Wilson called out as he held up the basketball threads on the Seahawks’ practice field following Thursday’s practice.

“Sick” is what Wilson has been to the rest of the NFL this season.

He is off to the best start of his eight years as Seattle’s quarterback. He has 25 total touchdowns and just one interception. His 22 touchdown passes lead the league. So does his passer rating of 118.2.

Monday night, Wilson gets his biggest test yet. He and his Seahawks (7-2) face Richard Sherman and the San Francisco 49ers, the league’s only undefeated team, in an NFC West showdown in Santa Clara, California.

Sherman is healthy again following a 2018 season coming off the torn Achilles tendon that ended his playing days for Seattle. After a 2018 season he has said he played “on one leg” while still recovering from the injury, Sherman is back atop the NFL. He is shutting down receivers and passing games again. He is No. 1 in the league in passer rating against, according to Pro Football Focus.

He’s shutting down one-third of the field for the league’s top-ranked pass defense and overall defense, like he did from 2011 into ‘17 on two Super Bowl teams with the Seahawks.

“Sherm looks like classic Sherm. Just ball hawk,” Wilson said Friday. “A guy that can make a lot of plays. He’s smart as can be. Always, going up against him is a tough challenge.”

One that Wilson won’t exactly shy away from, though.

Last season in two games against San Francisco Wilson threw at Sherman three times by unofficial count. Two of those were completions, one on short pass to Doug Baldwin on which he broke his former Stanford teammate’s tackle to convert a second and 21.

So Wilson won’t do what many NFL quarterback have before with Sherman: totally avoid his left defensive side of the field.

“I know not to go over there too much,” Wilson said, with a grin. “He’s as good as it gets over there. Got a lot of respect for Sherman and how he plays the game. He really understands things and sees things well.

“You’ve got to be really smart when you go over there.”

Sherman has made it known since he got to the Bay Area last year, after the Seahawks waived him injured in the spring of 2018 during his recovery from Achilles surgeries, that he and Wilson were far from best pals in Seattle.

“I don’t really have a relationship with Russell,” Sherman told Bay Area reporters 12 months ago. “We were teammates and played during a very special time for the franchise.”

Baldwin is retired now. Wilson’s top receiver for much of this decade remains active in social causes around Puget Sound. He is building a community center in Renton. This week he was at Seattle University participating in its annual Safe Schools Conference.

But the Seahawks have other, potentially more-lethal weapons to throw at Sherman and the 49ers.

Tyler Lockett has set his career high for catches in a game three times this season. His latest was in his last game: 13 catches with 152 yards in last weekend’s win over Tampa Bay. He became the first Seahawk with two touchdowns and 150 yards receiving in a game in 24. Brian Blades did it on Nov. 5, 1995.

Lockett, removed from years of injuries including a broken leg, already has set his career highs for most catches (59) and most targets (72) over a season, with seven games still left in it. He is on pace for 105 receptions and 1,364 yards this season. Those would be new Seahawks records, passing Baldwin, Bobby Engram and, yes, Hall of Famer Steve Largent.

Baldwin (in 2016) and Bobby Engram (2007) had 94 receptions in a season. Largent had 1,287 yards receiving in 1985.

“I think Tyler has been special the past two years. Ever since he’s gotten here, but he had those injuries that kind of slowed him down just a little bit,” Wilson said.

“He’s been lights-out just the past couple years. I don’t know anybody better, to be honest with you, in the NFL in the receiving position.”

Lockett is making over-the-shoulder catches while covered. When Wilson scrambles to extend plays, Lockett had the Baldwin-esque understanding of where Wilson is going to throw improvisational passes. He breaks off his routes accordingly. That makes him almost impossible to cover.

We’ll see if that means by Sherman, too.

“I think some guys in the receiver position get it, and some guys REALLY get it,” Wilson said.

“I think that Tyler, since he’s gotten here, he’s always really, really understood what to do. He’s just instinctive. I think if you’re at the park and you’re trying to pick some guys to play basketball, to play hoops with, he may not be the biggest guy in the room, but you want him on your team. He’s going to make plays. ...

“He sees things. He recognizes the defense. In a way, he’s playing quarterback out in the field catching the football. I think that’s what makes him special. He’s got the quarterback mind in a guy who can really run and really catch. ...

“We feel like we’re just getting started.”

Rookie DK Metcalf wasn’t in the NFL the last time the Seahawks played Sherman and the 49ers. The rookie second-round pick from Mississippi is coming off a career high 123 yards receiving against the Buccaneers. His 50-yard catch and race past the Bucs put Seattle ahead in the fourth quarter. He has three scores in the last two games.

And Monday, the Seahawks and play caller Brian Schottenheimer will have a new weapon to occupy Sherman and the predominantly zone coverages San Francisco typically employs.

Signs are Josh Gordon will make his Seattle debut against the 49ers, 10 days after the Seahawks claimed the 2013 All-Pro wide receiver off waivers from New England.

Gordon came off the Patriots’ injured-reserve list last week, after what the team termed a minor knee injury. He was on Seattle’s injury list Thursday and Friday as limited by an ankle issue.

But in the opening portion of practice open to the media Friday, Gordon ran smoothly while catching passes from Wilson. Schottenheimer said the ankle doesn’t look like an issue to him.

“He’s moving around really good out there. ... I don’t notice anything about it,” Schottenheimer said.

The offensive coordinator says, to him, it appears the 28-year-old Gordon still has the burst that built his career average of more than 17 yards per catch.

“Another guy gives you a match-up issue on the outside,” Schottenheimer said. “We’ve been seeing a lot of man-to-man lately, so another guy that they have to be worried about when you put him out there with Tyler and DK and those guys. Big, physical receiver. Helps us in the run game. Of course, there’s big play capability that you look at that he’s always produced certain places.

“Excited he’s here.”

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.
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