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One uncomfortable truth about Russell Wilson’s 2017 season

Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Let me preface this by saying that the Seattle Seahawks’ capitulation against the Los Angeles Rams was a total team failure. The offense was a disaster, the defense was torn to shreds, the special teams was especially hot garbage, and no one player should stand out in what was a total turd sandwich of a game.

What is almost certain is that the 2017 MVP race is over. Carson Wentz is injured, Antonio Brown is injured, Tom Brady led the New England Patriots to a monumental win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Russell Wilson has not played very well in his last two outings. Tom Brady is going to win MVP and is likely going to be back in the Super Bowl, seeing as Ben Roethlisberger found a far worse way to get intercepted at the goal line against the Patriots than Seattle managed in uh... that Madden simulation.

In 2017, Wilson has often been the savior of a Seahawks offense that has often been a disjointed mess. The running game is both injured and ineffective, the offensive line reverted to type against the Rams’ vaunted defensive front, and Seattle is quietly fifth among all teams in drops.

There’s no doubt that Wilson is the MVP of this team, and the likely failure to make the playoffs shouldn’t fall on his shoulders. We do, however, have to acknowledge that Wilson himself has been part of the problem, so much so that a league MVP award largely unjustifiable beyond “he makes magic happen on a mediocre offense.”

We know how great Wilson becomes in the 2nd half, particularly in the 4th quarter. His 23 2nd half passing touchdowns is tops in the league by a whopping eight. Only Drew Brees has a higher 2nd half passer rating than Wilson, and that is entirely because of Brees’ 73% completion percentage. Wilson has broken Eli Manning’s record for most 4th quarter touchdown passes, and two of Seattle’s wins were through late game-winning strikes from #3.

This is all magnificent, but there’s one fact that we have to confront, and that is...

Russell Wilson has been one of the worst 1st half quarterbacks in the NFL

Seattle has gone into halftime without any points for two weeks running. The offense has been held out of the end zone in the 1st half of games six times this season. While the Seahawks have ranked no lower than 11th in 1st half scoring from 2012-2016, only the 49ers, Browns, and Dolphins have scored fewer points on the year.

Seattle has been a terrible rushing team, and in fact Eddie Lacy somehow has the most 1st half rushing attempts of any ball carrier (Wilson included).

The lack of a running game has been an issue for going on two seasons, and pass protection woes have been prevalent since his rookie season, but the real shocker is that Wilson has been a serious liability in the first thirty minutes of football. His stat line is as follows:

152/251 (60.6%) for 1588 yards, 7 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 2 lost fumbles, 19 sacks for 139 yards, 6.3 YPA; 39 rushes for 218 yards and 2 touchdowns;

Passer rating: 78.2

Now, I know passer rating is an imperfect stat, but 78.2 is terrible. The only quarterbacks (minimum 7 starts) with a worse 1st half rating are Carson Palmer, Brett Hundley, Tom Savage, Jay Cutler, DeShone Kizer, Marcus Mariota, and Trevor Siemian.

Meanwhile, Carson Wentz’s passer rating in 1st halves is 103.3. Tom Brady’s is 109.3. Wentz’s YPA is 7.5, Brady’s is 8.1. When Matt Ryan won MVP in 2016, his YPA was 8.7 with a rating of 117.3. Wilson’s 6.3 YPA puts him on par with Joe Flacco. He leads all NFC quarterbacks in 1st half interceptions thrown. That’s not MVP caliber stuff. This is horribly inefficient, no matter how you cut it.

These stats are troubling if only because Wilson’s career 1st half passer rating heading into 2017 was 101.9. Only Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees have higher ratings in the same span, and that’s with Wilson being sacked 21 more times than any other quarterback (Rodgers is 2nd-most sacked, by the way). If you go by year-to-year breakdown, it looks like this:

Russell Wilson’s 1st half vs. 2nd half passer rating splits

Year 1st Half 2nd Half
Year 1st Half 2nd Half
2012 106.9 92.5
2013 108.6 92
2014 93.6 96.4
2015 108.2 112
2016 94.4 90.7
2017 78.2 109.9

As you can see, Wilson’s 2017 1st half numbers are unlike any other split he’s had in his career. His 1st half YPA is down two full yards from his previous five seasons, his average 1st half completion percentage is down by 4%. Wilson’s 1st half ANY/A is a paltry 4.88 this year, way down from his career average of 7.28. Even a gimpy Wilson was at 6.91 ANY/A in 2016.

But ask yourself this: Why do those problems suddenly disappear in the 2nd half? The pass protection doesn’t magically get better. Neither does the running game. Is it the sense of urgency that causes Wilson to click? Does Darrell Bevell’s gameplan gear itself towards keeping the scoreline close and then unleashing Russball after halftime? What has been so different about 2017 that has caused this offense, with Wilson at the forefront, to be so bad out of the gates? And they’ve not been playing a murderer’s row of defenses. More than half of their schedule has comprised of opponents currently ranked no higher than 16th in DVOA.

Wilson often needs to be great in the 2nd half because he (and the rest of the offense) is downright ghastly in the 1st half. This is something the Seahawks have never dealt with before. Seattle prides itself on being a 2nd half team, but the concept falls apart when your 1st half offense is this inept.

Can you win the game in the 1st quarter? No, but you can make it a hell of a lot harder to win the game in the 4th quarter. The offense obviously needs to start games faster, and that also means Wilson needs to start much much much better than what we’ve seen from him in 2017. It’s one of the reasons the Seahawks are not in a playoff spot right now, and it’s a major reason why Wilson’s MVP dreams are over.