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An alternative means of protecting Russell Wilson

NFL: Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s watch a typical sack taken by Russell Wilson.

This isn’t the only type of sack Wilson suffers. Most fans of Wilson probably think this next gif better represents the hell Wilson regularly endures.

It did seem that Damien Lewis was Joey Hunt’d an awful lot last season. And the season before. I hate when people reflexively say the truth probably lies somewhere in between, because it often gives way too much credence to faulty or outright false positions, but I do think like we see in this next gif, many of Wilson’s sacks taken are a combination of bad blocking and another variable. The variable we’re going to chiefly consider in this post.

Speaking of lazy assumptions which do not stand up to scrutiny, please for the love of God do not re-sign Duane Brown because he was once good. The front office of the Seahawks should do their homework, because as I remember it, he was awful last season, routinely awful, and a 36-year old coming off probably his worst season as a pro shouldn’t stumble backward into a big one-year deal based on reputation. Have some stones, take a chance on someone younger and less prestigious, and turn the sad fact that contention in 2022 is unlikely into an asset. Seattle has time. Now is a time for vision, planning, tough decisions and short-term sacrifice.

Anyway—that’s bad blocking. Brown sets wide. The palms and eyes to the sky body language he has at the end of the clip suggests maybe he was directed to set wide, but whatever the case, Eric Kendricks storms past him pretty much from the snap. From 2016 to 2020, Stats Inc charged Brown with 8 sacks allowed. In 2021, 7. It’s food for thought, mobsters.

What we don’t see is that Freddie Swain was open or that Freddie Swain runs himself out of being open. He’s running the topmost route.

Only three routes are run. That seven are blocking makes the blocking that much worse. Neither DK Metcalf nor Tyler Lockett’s routes have time to develop. But Swain’s route is designed for just such a complication. It’s short. It’s open. And it’s run very poorly. Swain kinda anti-Kupps it—running from a fleeing defender toward someone sitting in a zone, eyes to the quarterback, ready to pick-six it. Could Wilson still target Swain? Of course. Safely? Probably, but that’s not Russell Wilson and that’s never been Russell Wilson.

Which, as my cat Oliver steals my office chair and I’m forced to slide over to the chair we got free from Belmont Station, propels me to my point. To love Wilson, to develop Wilson, to protect Wilson, is to give him what he needs. He needs another extremely good and extremely trustworthy receiver.

I like beer but I hate bad beer. I cannot fathom how people poison themselves with the carcinogenic swill of a macrobrew. More than a year ago, we moved way up north so my wife could pursue her education. It’s an okay place, a quiet place, and for me anyway Sartre couldn’t envision a more hellishly boring place. But not too prohibitively far from where we live is a world-class bottle shop known as Hop-n-Grape. Great selection, a little too local focused for my tastes, but Matchless so much awesome Matchless, and even a fair selection of shall we say inexpertly cellared beer.

I go here regularly; pretty much refuse to buy beer from anywhere else including the super market, tip well, and even pick through some of the expired beer to find those with the fortitude to still be good. My reason is simple. The relative value of this place to me in my current situation is immeasurable. I am forever an Anderson Valley Salted Caramel Porter from complete nervous breakdown.

Now, apart making manifest my cognitive decline, why do I share this with you all? Because, unless Pete wants to channel grandpa Simpson channeling Rudyard Kipling,

the future of the Seahawks is the future of Russell Wilson. And as Wilson has made painfully clear, he needs help. I propose too much emphasis has been put on protecting Wilson through blocking, and not enough emphasis has been put on protecting Wilson by ensuring that receivers he trusts are regularly getting open.

Wilson has time. Not always, and certainly not as much as some, but last season, and certainly the season before, he’s had a reasonable amount of time to throw, but it doesn’t stop him from getting hit and it doesn’t stop him from getting sacked. This can be explained. He favors pre-snap reads. He’s ultra conservative. His best ability is his deep ball accuracy. And he seems to abhor throwing to receivers he can’t trust. Put those factors together and you have a quarterback who wants to take deep shots, will attempt to survive in and out of the pocket waiting for deep routes to develop, who sometimes misses outlet routes, and who, perhaps most importantly, does not like to target the receivers likely to be running those outlet routes—the crappy ones.

Here is where Seattle can stop fighting their best player and begin sacrificing a little to keep him healthy, poised and capable of being his best. Add some damn receiving talent already! Be realistic about what you have, and think not in terms of best cases scenarios, but probabilistically.

It is probable that D’Wayne Eskridge will never be a great wide receiver. Or a good one. He seems to be on the John Ursua career path. Only this FO could draft John Ursua twice. Eskridge had a lost first season. His performance for his age suggests he was never that promising a prospect. That might seem ageist but it’s really just common sense. We wouldn’t take the stats of an 18-year old playing Pop Warner at face value, and we shouldn’t take an NFL-aged receiver playing at Western Michigan’s stats at face value either. Worse, those stats weren’t that good. And, worst of all, we have no solid read on his defining talent.

Eskridge ran a 4.4 forty at his pro day. Pro day results are notoriously inflated, often a tenth of a second or more are shaved off of forty times. Which means it’s entirely possible Eskridge just isn’t that fast. If you’ve watched his highlights, you know, that’s pretty much what he does. He’s not big or particularly elusive. He doesn’t make contested catches. He takes a little bit of separation and turns it into a house call.

Which is dope against Central Michigan, right? Akron, the porous secondary of Ball St, fantastic. But, probably, given his advanced age, inexperience against top level opponents, and reliance on one tool, Eskridge could top out as a low volume seam stretcher. And the chance of that is probably lower than the chance the he’s never a regular contributor. That in a year or two, he’ll be fishing for snaps like LJ Collier because like LJ Collier Seattle saw something no other competent talent evaluator saw.

Which is part of why I suggest thinking in terms of probability. To get Lockett and Metcalf, Seattle had to sift through Greg Jennings Jr, Ursua, Amara Darboh, David Moore (sorry, guy), Kenny Lawler, Kevin Norwood and Paul Richardson. The mean bastards of the internet, who always see any failing as proof of turpitude, do not seem to understand how f-ckin hard it is to do anything well. It is the privilege of toxic fan culture to toss around words and phrases like “washed,” “sell out,” “demented,” “brain-damaged” and “believing their own hype.” It is rare to be talented enough to be great. It uncommon to have the opportunity to fulfill that talent. And, as Sean McVay will tell you (and Jon Gruden before him), it can be a joyless drag doing what it takes to be great.

If Seattle wants one great wide receiver to complement Lockett and Metcalf, they should find three potentially great wide receivers. Minimum. Because the erasing power of entropy is always nipping at greatness’s heels. The offensive line isn’t great. Maybe the Seahawks have to sign Brown because after Brown, the flood. And once Gerald Everett’s sent packing, Seattle’s possibly starting over at tight end. But Wilson doesn’t make great use of great pass blocking. It’s probably harder than ever to totally rebuild a line too given the extreme value so many put on the offensive line. And while Seattle squeezed one good season of receiving from Jimmy Graham, I contest the overall value of Graham. He was misfit. Finding a tight end who can block, and hoping he can develop into a low-volume receiver, is prudent.

But holy hell does Wilson bring out the best in his wide receivers. Shane Waldron was, seemingly, a savvy hire for that very reason. The Rams used formations with three wide receivers more than any other team in the NFL in 2021. That’s a well known hallmark of McVay’s system. Waldron did it a few times. Swain topped 90% of snaps played once and topped 70% four other times. He ended the season having played in 60% of Seattle’s offensive snaps. But in 592 snaps, he was only targeted 40 times. He converted those 40 targets into 25 receptions for 343 yards, 12 first downs, and 4 touchdowns.

I like Swain and I think he has done well with the talent he has and the opportunities he’s earned. Super Bowl teams are made up of very good and great players, and a whole lot of good ones too. Maybe Swain’s a good player. Maybe Eskridge can play himself into being a good player. But Seattle needs a heavy hitter, a star, a guy who Wilson can rely on, and a guy who by regularly getting open, can protect Wilson from his own dangerous inclination to scramble. Finding that guy will probably be expensive. It may take three potentially great players to find one. It often does.

If Pete’s serious about making this work, building around Wilson, and competing as soon as possible, he needs to stop throwing resources at his bunko defense, the run game, and start lavishing Wilson with riches the way McVay or Andy Reid would. Splurge on Chris Godwin or Mike Williams, or draft three wide receivers attempting to find one; see the trends: it’s a wide receiver league. It’s a wide receiver heavy draft. The best wide receiver in the NFL just won a Super Bowl. The opposing team had three nominal number ones. Tom Brady threw to three too, in his Super Bowl winning season in Tampa, and a surefire Hall of Fame tight end too. Patrick Mahomes got to start his career in the kind of offense that made Alex Smith look good. He’s rarely known a snap without two Hall of Famers on the field.

Backs are out. The best talent’s being channeled wide where the money is and where a career can last ten or more years. You’ve done some great things, Pete. Don’t let your story end because you went whole hog after a strong safety in the era of wide receivers.