RENTON Bobby Wagner has set a goal to be the NFL’s defensive player of the year. The All-Pro linebacker is having a brilliant season worthy of that consideration, if not that award.
Teammate Russell Wilson is having an even more indispensable season. He’s the Seahawks’ escaping, passing, running, defying quarterback/entire offense. Some are considering him for the league’s most valuable player award.
Has he set winning that as a goal?
“I want to be the best in the world,” he said.
“That’s the truth. I try to strive for that. Every day. Every morning I wake up. Every night. Every offseason. Every year.
“If you don’t want to be out to be the world, than why are you out here?”
Wilson was speaking Thursday, before practice for Sunday night’s game against the soaring Philadelphia Eagles (10-1) and their MVP candidate, quarterback Carson Wentz.
They won’t say so, but with the way this season’s gone the battered Seahawks hope Sunday’s showcase game comes down to their best player against the Eagles’ best player, with everything else canceling out.
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.
Wilson then characteristically steered away from his personal aspirations and put the team first.
“Typically, the best quarterbacks in the National Football League find a way to make the 10 other guys better. That’s my main concern,” he said. “That’s my focus at all times, is helping our team win.
“It’s not an easy position.”
No, it’s not. And the player who wants to be the best in the world has been otherworldly this season.
He already was an $87.6 million franchise player. He’d 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 ever over a quarterback’s first six seasons.
Yet this season Wilson has been even more. He’s been virtually EVERYTHING to the Seahawks’ offense. Wilson alone is the reason Seattle is 7-4 and a game behind the Rams for the NFC West lead and a sixth consecutive playoff berth despite no running game and scant pass protection behind an iffy, changing offensive line that is on its fifth combination of starters. He 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.
Is this sustainable? Can the Seahawks get to the playoffs, and win in them, with Wilson doing everything and the running backs doing nothing?
“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.
Stay healthy. That’s always been a concern, peaking 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. He didn’t miss a practice.
Wilson absolutely must stay healthy now.
His coaches and teammates know the QB is so 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--they are becoming protective of him. Maybe overprotective.
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 defensive front is coming at Seattle’s offensive line with more pass-rush power than San Francisco had, that’s for sure.
“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 near the end of 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 a 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.”
MVP awards go to stars on teams that win, and usually on the teams that win most. That’s why Wentz (28 touchdowns and just five interceptions in his second season) and seemingly perennial winner Tom Brady in New England (being Tom Brady again for the 9-2 Patriots) are the favorites this season.
But in the literal meaning of “most valuable,” 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.
“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.