For years many members of the media and throngs of opposing fans have dismissed much of the success of Russell Wilson as having been a byproduct of the strong running game and elite defense of the Seattle Seahawks under Pete Carroll. Some even argued that were it not for Wilson's rushing skills and his ability to run the read option, he wouldn't be an NFL quarterback because of his height and inability to see from the pocket, but Wilson’s performance on Sunday against the Houston Texans was proof of the absolute opposite of all of these ideas.
With the Seattle defense getting shredded drive after drive by Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans and the run game sputter to a whopping 3 yards by players not named Russell Wilson, Wilson stepped up and delivered a game that will be talked about for years to come. Most importantly, he showed that he has evolved from a quarterback who could run the read option with great success into undoubtedly the MVP for the Seahawks over the first half of the season.
Wilson entered the league in 2012, a season in which the read option exploded onto the NFL scene. Athletic quarterbacks were all the rage, with half of the NFC playoff teams - the Washington Redskins (Robert Griffin III), San Francisco 49ers (Colin Kaepernick) and Seattle Seahawks - all sporting young athletic quarterbacks whose legs made them dangerous both through the air and on the ground. However, in the less than five years since then NFL defenses have learned how to stop the read option, and two of those three athletic quarterbacks that were at the helm during the 2012 playoffs are not just no longer matching their prior successes, they are out of football completely and unemployed despite both being under thirty years of age (Kaepernick will turn 30 on November 3 while RG3 won’t even turn 28 until eight days after Super Bowl LII).
Coming back to Wilson’s performance against the Texans on Sunday, however, what is most telling from game regarding his evolution as a QB is not the 452 yards or 4 TDs. It is not his elusiveness and the use of his legs to extend plays or gain yards on the ground. It’s what his stat line looked like at the end of the third quarter, or rather, what it did not look like through the first three quarters. The key part part I’m referring to on his statline is the following:
Wilson, Russell 1 rushing attempt, -1 yards.
That may not seem like a big deal at first. It may not seem like a game changing stat, or even a noteworthy, but it most certainly is.
Russell Wilson is a pocket passer.
Through the first three quarters against the Texans Wilson was 15-24 for 260 yards with two TDs, and his lone rushing attempt came on a kneel down to end the first half. It wasn’t even a real rushing attempt. The Seahawks offense has gone away from the read option and has evolved to the point where Russell Wilson can dominate other teams through the air.
This is in stark contrast to the majority of the other quarterbacks who found significant success making use of the read option. As noted, both Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III remain unemployed. Cam Newton has surpassed 24 passing TDs only once in his career, and in his lone Super Bowl appearance Newton lost to a team quarterbacked by a player with a passer rating of 67.9 on the year (though Manning did step it up a notch in the playoffs, posting a 75.4 rating in the 2015 postseason). While teams continue to use the read option on occasion, it’s lethality as an offensive weapon has been greatly blunted in recent seasons, and the quarterbacks who failed to develop and evolve have found limited success.
In contrast, Wilson is only becoming more deadly. Yes, he added two scrambles late in the game which gave him 30 rushing yards on the day, but he only pulled that out when he needed to. For the majority of the game, the damage he inflicted came while Wilson was in the pocket. Yes, there were plays where he scrambled or bought himself time with his legs, but Wilson has evolved as a quarterback. While he can still run the read option with lethality, it’s time for defenses to sit up and take note: Russell Wilson is the most valuable member of the Seattle Seahawks. It’s not Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman or Bobby Wagner. It’s not even the team’s defense as a unit, and it’s certainly not the running game.
Russell Wilson is, without question, the MVP for the Seahawks. The only question is whether he will end the 2017 season as the NFL MVP as well.