There are two competing schools of thought regarding Russell Wilson going forward: one, that Carroll has removed the "lid" he talked about keeping on Wilson's game (or at least pulled it back somewhat) and we can expect more dynamic performances going forward, or, conversely, that the Patriots' secondary is terrible and there's no way Wilson is going to keep pulling that off against better teams.
Time will tell, of course. But it's fun to try to divine the future based on the information we have in the present, so let's do that.
I read something here at Field Gulls after the Panthers game (sorry for a lack of link ... I searched and searched to try to find it again but in vain) from a person who was watching the All-22 tape, saying that our receivers were finishing their designed routes and then just kind of giving up on the play. (No particular receiver was mentioned, so I assume it was most of them across the board.) This struck me as a little odd, because the feeling I have about these Seahawks are that they're an "always compete" battle-to-the-bitter-end kind of group, which is why it stuck in my brain.
A second thing that hasn't been talked about much, either in the media around or here, was the effect of the trade of Tarvaris Jackson. We heard a lot over the summer during the QB competition how T-Jack had won over the locker room last year, to the point where he was given pole position in the QB rotation to show him respect (even though it was probably unlikely he would retain the job) and that kicking him to the curb without giving him a shot would have upset the locker room.
Trading T-Jack seemed like a good solution because A) he wouldn't still be in the locker room having his adherers rally toward him, and B) he was given a pretty good landing spot and was still making good money in the NFL. That should salve everyone's raw feelings about the situation, right? Well, potentially. After Tarvaris was traded I didn't hear a word about the effect of his departure, and whether or not guys were OK with it. Fans were mostly thinking: well, that's taken care of at last. But were some of those feeling still raw in the locker room? We all know that on the Seahawks you aren't guaranteed your job from year to year (or even week to week) if you get beat out, but, well, these are human beings out there. Every little thing contributes to your level of effort.
Apparently Pete Carroll noticed the same thing as the observer here: that the receivers weren't working to bail about Wilson when he went scrambling. That's a huge advantage we have with a scrambling QB, that he can extend the play; in fact, that's half of his game. If PC were Rex Ryan, he might just start calling out his receiving corp in public, questioning their commitment or whatever, but, because he's Pete Carroll, he does it in a positive way. From the post-Patriots presser:
"This week, we made a big point to the whole receiving crew and the quarterbacks and everybody that is catching the ball, that we have not taken advantage of Russell’s movement. He’s been getting out, and he’s been running and making yards, and we made a big deal about it this week, that there are huge plays there for us if we just look and fight harder to get open, and right off the bat he finds Doug, which it was a great validation for the point that we had made. ... Because, we’ve been looking for explosive plays in the offense, and they’re just sitting there for us, when he gets out swinging. There was a tremendous validation of what we had pointed out, and it was a factor in the game."
This is huge. Huge. To be a complete QB Russell Wilson needs to make throws from the pocket, and he's getting better at it, but there's also the fact that he can make throws on the move, and he can do it now. To have that taken away from him is more of a disadvantage to him than any limitations on the size of the playbook that the coaches allow. If the receivers keep up this new level of commitment to getting open late, we should see a vast improvement in the passing game, maybe not to the extent that it shone in the Patriots game but to a degree that balances better with the running game, and keeps both viable as threats.
After the game, Earl Thomas said, "If guys didn't believe in him, I guarantee they believe in him now.'' Most everyone assumed ET were talking about Wilson's critics, and maybe he was (although he should know that one good game does not silence critics or turn them into believers). But what if he were talking about the locker room? His guys? I couldn't find a fuller quote so I don't know if that was said as a stand-alone comment after the game or as part of a longer interview, to get a better sense of the context. I'll put it this way: if there was a small reluctance among players to fully get behind Wilson, beyond just doing what is asked of you, and as a leader on an extraordinary defense you wanted your offense to be just as devoted to putting in full effort and trust your QB to deliver strikes to you, wouldn't you say just about what Earl said?
Well, it's a theory. Regardless of player motivation, the fact that Carroll has identified route-extention as something that needs to happen on offense should be a huge boon to the passing game. Wilson's been getting only 3.4 yards per carry when he does bail on the pocket (unlike the 15.0-yard average he was getting in preseason on runs) so if he can hit receivers while on the run on a regular basis we can be be much more explosive than we have been. Here's hoping.