Take everything that follows with a grain of salt because, well, the New York Jets.
However, last Sunday’s win over New York was also just the seventh time in Russell Wilson’s career he hasn’t been sacked.
The Seattle Seahawks are 4-2 in regular season games. One of the losses came exactly halfway through Wilson’s rookie season, just before the team took off. The other was that atrocity against the New Orleans Saints last year, when Seattle invented ways to give points to the other team in ways hitherto undiscovered.
They’re 5-2 if we include the one playoff game, which was of course the 43-8 Super Bowl victory.
It was a big statistical improvement for the team in 2020. Wilson hadn’t even been sacked less than twice this year prior to Week 14.
Now this is not just a Jets anomaly; this is a conversation in part because it’s Russell Wilson. “Sacks are a QB stat” is layman’s term for explaining that quarterbacks are, indeed, the most important variable.
The longer, nuanced statement: "Variation in sack rates across teams is primarily driven by quarterbacks and not offensive lines."— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) December 11, 2019
The short, digestible statement: "Sacks are a quarterback stat."
The latter gets us 99% of the way to the truth. Good enough for me! https://t.co/Pflbg6laIt
And truly, Wilson has been the cream of the crop since he entered the league. He’s climbing the NFL all-time leaderboard, and he’s played at minimum four seasons less than anyone ahead of him. In fact he’s so prolific at finding sacks that one is tempted to absolve every offensive lineman save Germain Ifedi for the last nine years.
That was a joke before you hop in the comments to kick up dust, although another good joke is Germain Ifedi.
Anyway, when the team protects Wilson, as one with 10 minutes of NFL viewing experience would expect, they do well.
The lowest Yards per Attempt Wilson has ever had with 0 sacks is 6.7. Wilson has been free-falling for the second half of this season, and his 7.6 Y/A against New York was his best mark since Week 9 against the Buffalo Bills.
Yes, when Wilson is never sacked it’s better than average. 5-2 gives a .714 win percentage, which is better than his career average of .660 over nine years. But that’s not a sustainable goal, so what about when he’s just sacked a little bit less?
This is objectively the best pass protection he’s had in years, and the majority of Wilson’s stats are near his career-best. His time in the pocket is greater, his pressure percentage is down, his total hurries will be down. Wilson’s completion percentage is up some 4.5% over last year, and his TD% and total rating are second-best in his career. In fact 2020 is the best completion percentage he’s ever had. His on target percentage and bad ball percentage are both big improvements over last season, and 2018 from what was measured.
The only real step back is the interceptions. As Samuel Gold covered masterfully in his film room series, Wilson’s decision making changed, far more than the threat of guys in his face.
In three of the four losses this year, Wilson was sacked five, six, and five times respectively. In all games with fewer than five sacks (the rest of them) the Seahawks are 9-1.
So the offensive line does not need to be perfect to win. Neither does Wilson. The magic bullet seems to be good enough protection from the line plus wise enough decision-making from Wilson. When he gets spooked, that’s when he starts inventing the 13-yard sacks while being gifted solid four seconds of protection.
Everyone knows the cost of doing business with Wilson, who’s perhaps the best play-extender in the game. It’s when he started doing that while still in the pocket that things got strange. But with three clunkers and three of his best games in the last six, this week will go a long way in showing whether he’s still treading water or has turned it around.