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Enter the Jets: Russell Wilson’s injuries could define his legacy

The Seattle Seahawks quarterback will try to avoid being pounded into dough by New York’s dominating interior rush

Cincinnati Bengals v New York Jets Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

“So we are both grounded for the duration of the war.” “You speak for yourself, Colonel.”

“Can Russell Wilson succeed from the pocket?” After the Seattle Seahawks got to work last week against the San Francisco 49ers dismantling each bummer narrative that had formed like a frost around the window to the team’s 1-1 start, Wilson’s leg injuries return the spotlight to an older and even dumber debate that once seemed settled.

Of course, by now we around here know Wilson has been tremendous throwing from the pocket, and already was so before his 2015 supersonic period: Wilson’s whole career adds up to the career of an excellent pocket passer.

But with a sprained left medial collateral ligament, and unable to lean much either on his already sprained right ankle, Wilson’s situation enters almost into hypothetical territory. Wilson will be tested inside the pocket Sunday, by Leonard Williams, Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and the New York Jets—because he likely won’t be a frequent traveler outside of it.

If Wilson gets squeezed by the pass rush, if the Seahawks offense doesn’t produce more than it did against Miami and L.A., that pattern will open up a new way to frame the critique against the fifth-year quarterback. If Wilson can’t pass effectively without the threat his running adds, you will hear somebody on television say, then he mustn’t be a true pocket passer. Russell Wilson’s excellence with his arm, his butter, was all along enabled by his legs, his bread, you see, and butter don’t stand up to a hot take.

I usually think it’s boring to focus so exclusively on the quarterback, but the struggle is real. The Jets sacked Andy Dalton seven times in week 1, and it was scarier than that. As Robert Mays wrote at the Ringer afterward, “New York’s interior tried to break Dalton.”

Since Wilson is already broken—I’m not privy to Seattle’s private medical info and there are different degrees of MCL sprain, but a sprained MCL kept Tyler Lockett from catching any balls last week; a sprained MCL caused Bruce Irvin to miss the San Francisco game in week 10 last year; a sprained MCL cost Kam Chancellor his usual explosiveness in Super Bowl XLIX and some say he wasn’t all the way healthy in 2015 almost 8 months later, and maybe still isn’t the same player—since Wilson is already broken we can trust he likely won’t be performing his typical Steve McQueen escapes to break contain and will have to beat the Jets’ monster trio with his standing throws.

Wilson’s injuries won’t even be considered mitigating factors in the judgment of his pocket proficiency, because that thinking goes with an adjacent belief that the usual frequency of Wilson’s rushes—or even the number of extended plays when he’s holding the ball—raises his chance of injury by exposing him to more hits. Wilson’s iron record of health (never missed a game as a starter, never even been limited at practice, et c.) and conservative sliding habits always argued against that fear, but maybe the trick of the theory is it was only a matter of time. You can get away with dismissing Wilson’s special abilities if you view them as his downfall.

So this game is a deep challenge for Wilson and Seattle but also a big opportunity. If he accumulates more damage, or his current limitations linger this season, or even if this immobile version of Wilson is a vision of the type of player he becomes as he approaches 30 regardless of how he rebounds right now (as Wilson joked after he played flat-footed the second half of the Dolphins game), then the scrutiny of his ability to steer the offense while remaining sedentary behind his offensive line will become more pertinent. On the other hand if he does succeed he could help define his legacy by slaying the last dragon of doubt.

(Okay that will never happen with Wilson. He has his doubters and always will, son, just as you will always remain my child.)

The Kansas City Chiefs were able to neutralize the Jets defensive front by mixing in off-tackle runs by running backs with quick, short, outside passes in its 24-3 win last Sunday. I do mean neutralize, however, because the Chiefs win was hardly as dominating as the score line suggests. Ryan Fitzpatrick’s six passes picked drew all the attention afterward, but New York’s defense was in fact even more suffocating than Kansas City’s, if not as opportunistic.

The Chiefs didn’t score on offense the whole second half, and its only points on the day came directly after Jets turnovers—including a bogus fumble ruling against Bilal Powell in the second quarter and another fumble run back for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff. Indeed Kansas City’s most consistent drive was its first one, which moved almost to the red zone but ended with a holding penalty and then a sack and then a punt.

Don’t expect either the Jets offense to be as bad as it looked last week. Fitzpatrick doesn’t throw six interceptions every game: indeed he posted higher than 70 percent completions and 374 yards with no INT a week earlier at Buffalo. Matt Forté has been almost a sensation, rushing for 261 yards in three games. In some respects, even though New York coach Todd Bowles came from the defensive side when he was lured from the Arizona Cardinals before 2015, the Jets’ combination of big receivers, boom/bust older quarterback and multi-functioning tailback make them a fair test flight before the Seahawks play the Cardinals in three weeks.

It should be a close road game if New York’s terrifying interior rushers don’t immediately turn Russell Wilson into pizza sauce. Then again, what’s more New York than pizza?