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Russell Wilson is different, and the rest of the league should be wary

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Seattle Seahawks
that’s russell wilson’s touchdown
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

It didn’t take long for the first robot joke to surface.

Before long, the joke grew bionic legs, and it’s been running ever since, as if powered by the voice of a Jenny Curran android in its earpiece. Cue the high-pitched piano theme and the box of chocolates.

Former Field Gulls writer Mike Chan wrote a manual, even. Right before the Super Bowl. A sample:

In addition to the standard 275 degree neck rotation, the head of Russell Wilson is equipped with two unique Harrison-Tammy features. The eyes are specifically designed for robotic precision in reading and assessing even the most complicated defenses. To provide additional support, we have reduced blinking to only once in every fifteen seconds. Likewise, the mouth has been crafted into becoming the most well-spoken NFL player in history. We have divided up speech patterns into three categories: consistent encouragement, media relations, and chalk talk. The volume control will also adjust in accordance with situations.

It was satire of the best kind, because of its deep roots in fact. The 2012-2013 version of Russell Wilson was shiny, unusually polished, armed with multiple rounds of cliches (“the separation is in the preparation,” “1-0 every week,” “championship opportunity,” #notimetosleep) for every interview. He was guarded in his outward displays of emotion and the details of his personal life. His quiet-at-first weekly appearances at Children’s Hospital completed the picture of a franchise quarterback engineered in the subterranean lab we know exists beneath the V-Mac in Renton.

2017 Russell Wilson — now there is a new model before our eyes. For sure, a formulaic turn of phrase or two will still dot his quotes, but it isn’t all we get. Personal life glimpses are there for the viewing if you frequent social media or conduct a quick youtube search. He cuts loose, in between moments that appear scripted for public consumption. The experience can range from endearing to forehead-slap-worthy — sometimes both at the same time.

2012-2013 RW didn’t win games on his own all the time. He wasn’t the locker room presence — he was a goddamn rookie sharing Sundays with the Legion of Boom and the Beastliest running back you ever did see.

2017 RW dominates football games in a way few others do; Seven touchdowns the last two weeks, rating above 120 both times, spread across a convincing road win and an unforgettable shootout complete with five second-half lead changes. Wilson’s a different man, if you trust Doug Baldwin. Which, why would you not?

You have this quarterback who comes in, he’s an enigma on the football field for us as a thrower and as an athlete, and he just worked. He didn’t really have a conversation with anybody, he didn’t really talk to anybody because he was just this kid that came in and wanted to be great and nothing was gonna get in his way. And so he didn’t really have time to build those relationships with those guys, and now we’re seeing that he’s to the point where he’s comfortable as the quarterback, he knows the game plan, he knows the offense, and so now he can spend a little more time in building that chemistry and those relationships with the guys on the field.”

— Baldwin, this past March

On many levels, Wilson’s the same guy as in ‘12, but he’s different too. What happened in between? You’d have to ask Russell if you crave more than an outsider’s take. Absent that, the view from afar will have to do.

“He Flutes, He Scores” t-shirt now available!


2012-2016: Some formative years, which were not bad at all, nope, not bad at all

As a newbie, Wilson was tasked at first with not screwing up the football games; after a few weeks the playbook opened ajar; by year’s end, a rookie passing touchdown record had been equaled. By the time Seattle had dropped 150 points on three unsuspecting victims, it was clear the quarterback was to be a central part of the offense moving forward. Maybe not the focal point. But a lead cog, if not all of the time, at least a good portion of it.

Between 2013 and 2016, the wins piled up, including a little ol’ Lombardi trophy for the little ol’ trophy case. Yet Wilson’s familiar weapons evaporated one by one. Trades temporarily brought in odd ducks like Percy Harvin; free agency thieved Golden Tate. Oakland reclaimed its Beast, which it had loaned to the northwesterners; Zach Miller and Sidney Rice’s bodies surrendered, as all bodies must do. Jimmy Graham showed up, only to wreck his knee just when the going was getting good. Post-Lynch running backs rotated in and out of view like the elliptically-minded orbits of comets. One week, Running Back A is present and active at Wilson’s side; the next he is gone, often with promises of return. The promises were not always fulfilled. Meet Running Back B, Russell.

And through it all, Wilson’s pass protection never materialized. What seemed like a hundred different permutations on the offensive line yielded one predictable result: pressure upon pressure.

Earlier this summer, our own Ben Baldwin wrote about the nonstop assault upon Wilson. He made us a sad little table, too.

Russell Wilson under pressure

Year Pressure freq. (%) Pressure rank DVOA under pressure (rank) DVOA not under pressure (rank)
Year Pressure freq. (%) Pressure rank DVOA under pressure (rank) DVOA not under pressure (rank)
2013 36.6 2 4 6
2014 39.1 1 5 3
2015 31.7 4 4 1
2016 34.9 3 14 13
2012-2016 (combined) 33.9 1 2 1
Source: Football Outsiders

Outwardly undeterred by swarm after swarm of sack-minded foes, Wilson kept on keepin’ on. He learned the job; he sometimes mastered it. But ... for every outstanding game in the second half of 2015, there was a playoff game where his slow start cost the team.

Consider the zero first-half points scored at Carolina in the 2015 playoffs, the zero yards of passing in the first 24 minutes of XLIX, the four interceptions in the NFCCG against Green Bay, the various slow starts in big moments. For that matter, the miscues that could’ve kept Seattle out of Super Bowl XLVIII itself, such as his critical fumbles on the Seahawks’ opening and final drives.

The final toss of XLIX, which will never unhappen.

There have been moments when Wilson was the reason the Seahawks lost. He’s also engineered 23 fourth-quarter comebacks, 11th among active quarterbacks. Remember he’s merely halfway through his sixth season. Nobody ahead of him was drafted even in this decade. Think about it! Is there anyone besides Wilson you’d want in the exact situation we last saw him -- down four, 80 yards to go, under two minutes left, no timeouts?

Suffice it to say, in a tl;dr manner, that in just five and a half seasons in the league, Wilson has seen all you could reasonably expect a QB to see, and more. The ecstasy of a title, plus the agony of throwing one away, literally. Playoff wins each year; gut-wrenching losses with single-digit points scored scattered across seasons. A hot streak unlike any other over the second half of 2015 (25 TD/2INT) and then an entire season hampered by injuries. In which he managed to miss no time.

Wilson has slogged through the business of a giant contract renegotiation; he has endured the parting of friends and teammates.

He has divorced, remarried, and has become a father, twice. I’ll leave it to others to determine exactly how much his personal life has impacted his work between the white lines of the gridiron. (“The field is 100 yards long and 53 13 yards wide.”) But I have yet to meet the human whose personal life has no influence whatsoever on his professional endeavors.

Point is, Wilson has grown up since he signed that first contract with the Seahawks, back in the post-draft days of 2012, back when he was too short to play in the league, back when Matt Flynn was going to game-manage Seattle back into the playoffs. Back when Beast Mode, the Quake-Maker incarnate, was the soul of the Seahawks, the engine of the offense, the will that outlasted other wills on the way to victory after victory throughout an unironically #blessed half-decade.

Well. Lynch is not the soul of the 2017 Seattle Seahawks. He is a historical marker in the franchise, a hero to many, and a bank of fond memories. Russell Wilson is the grown-up leader of this team. Although his inner child does climb out of hiding at the weirdest times, in the weirdest ways,

the stone cold killer eyes have been operational since the robot days.

When 2017 Wilson puts the team on his back and conjures up 36 second-half points versus the Colts, executes the Giants in New York to the tune of 27-39-334-3-0, and follows it up by willing his team to the winning uppercut in a 15-round 41-38 heayweight bout, he is the Seattle Seahawks.

He was already a big part of the Seahawks on Golden Tate’s Totally True Touchdown, from whence the gif above comes. But today it’s different. Then, he was the Seahawks’; now, he is the Seahawks. Apostrophes matter.

It makes sense: People mature

Think of your own experience, if you’re older than RW, or around the same age even. At some point you got a job, you were confronted with responsibilities, you had meaningful relationships. Maybe you got married or began a monogamous relationship that endures. Maybe that fell apart. Maybe it thrived! Maybe you had kids. Maybe tragedy befell your family in a way that still stings.

Maybe you lost someone close to you. And like our Russell, who knows loss, you grew up. A lot. With whatever life experience in the bag, you learned, you evolved, only you did it all without millions of people watching you, without millions more irrationally invested in your success.

As Wilson has matured in full view of all humanity, as he’s turned his Seattle pages from age 23 to 28, become a stepfather, then a biological one, the unscripted moments have begun to pile up. The public Wilson brand, which some will describe as carefully curated, has expanded to include:

A) An emotion division

B) Duties as the team activity organizer

Hawaii team-bonding trip!

C) An appropriately-timed profanity division

D) Even the political outspokenness division —

Wilson’s Barbershop Musings

-- all while remaining subject to one core Wilson attribute: E) Being a true nerd in a true jock’s body.

So a new reality emerges: as goes Wilson, so go the Seahawks

The stat sheet recognizes how much of the Seahawks’ gameday success rests on Wilson’s shoulderpads.

In the last five weeks, Seattle has gained 2,055 net yards. A nice amount, a healthy month of ball matriculation. The amount of a very functional offense.. on the surface. Wilson, through the air and on the ground, is responsible for 1,872 of the 2,055 yards. He has been 91 percent of the Seahawks offense, starting with the Colts game. He has been the offense; he is the offense. He probably will be the offense on Sunday and Sundays to come.

In 2012? Yards were 64 percent from the Wilson source. 2013? 72 percent. Even in 2014, when he scampered for 849 yards, Wilson again represented “only” 72 percent of the team’s yardage. But here’s the thing about 2017. It is not those seasons. And the Seahawks’ decision-makers seem to have come to the same realization. John Schneider and Pete Carroll courted guard T.J. Lang with much dough in the offseason, splurged for the league averageness of Luke Joeckel, spent some cash on the low floor of Oday Aboushi — this after investing high draft pick after high draft pick on the offensive line. Finally, they completed their commitment to Wilson’s protection, at the trade deadline, by acquiring two-time All-Pro left tackle Duane Brown. The brass is serious about setting Wilson up for success.

Off the field, the Seahawks’ larger fate now sits in the hands of its exceptional front office, with the best owner in football, the best GM in the game, and the second-best coach walking NFL sidelines today. (Sorry Pete. But objectivity matters.) On the field, the Seahawks’ week-to-week fate rests in the unusually large hands of Russell Carrington Wilson, for better or for worse.

Spoiler. It’s mostly for better, from here on out.