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What if Russell Wilson sucks in 2013?

A plausible downside scenario for Russell Wilson and why we should respect that it might happen.

Like most sailors Brady Quinn keeps aware of wind direction lest he miss an approaching gale.
Like most sailors Brady Quinn keeps aware of wind direction lest he miss an approaching gale.
Jamie Squire

Russell Wilson was very good for most of the 2012 regular season. Then he was very good in two playoff games. Pick a stat and he finished 2012 near the top of the list. He also improved:


The moving exponential average smooths the data points by averaging them with past ones, giving the more recent points a greater weight. It's not something you can responsibly extrapolate with but it does provide an excellent way to visualize the data. Russell Wilson played better over the course of last season.

Russell Wilson was very good last season and he improved during it. So he'll be very good next season right?

Unfortunately at this point the answer to the question has become memetic. You probably read the question and scampered down to the comments to post an answer. I'll take a few guesses at what it was:

  • "Russell Wilson will make short work of proving that he's elite next year"
  • "I'm not surprised that he's managed to stay below people's radar as an MVP candidate but by the end of the season he'll tower above the competition"
  • "If he's having issues Pete can just go with 'PeteCarroll: ~/Lib -> sudo repeatablefootballskills install winning' 'password:w1n0100eva' in his terminal"
  • I heard he made a tent out of magnetic tape from old VHS cassettes in the film room. That way he never has to leave. Also he has slumber parties with MRob.
  • "ROBOT SHORT SEXY FIRST NAME!!!!!!!!tilda!"

Was I right? Was yours better than mine? If it was I'll just edit this post to include it and accuse you of theft. It's probably better for you to just delete it while you still can.

Humor is good. Groups of people sharing common themes for jokes is natural. Somehow though, even a joke, repeated enough times, eventually becomes a shortcut for skipping analysis. There was a time when a lot of people on this blog genuinely believed that Nick Reed was going to be a good NFL player. Now he's training to be a fighter pilot - which is fucking awesome. The fighter pilot part, not the getting so swept up in a joke that you begin to believe the premise. That's bad.

The premise of the Russell Wilson jokes is that he is superhumanly good. So good that anyone who had concerns about him should be mocked. And unlike Nick Reed he has a growing body of work to support the premise. I think that makes the jokes more dangerous. It makes it easier to live a life unexamined.

I'm not going to argue that Russell Wilson will be bad next year. I don't think he will be. As with the weather, my default prediction for players is that tomorrow will bring more of the same. What I'm going to do is make a plausible and inury-free scenario where everything goes wrong for Wilson next year. Then we'll see what would happen to the Hawks. This is the downside. The risk. It's real and we shouldn't forget about it.

Welcome to the floor. There is no floor.

Russell Wilson is bad.

in 2012 Russell Wilson was roughly league average in interception rate. In 2013 he was only a little worse, throwing one on just over 3% of attempts instead of 2.5%. Unfortunately that rate was enough to put him in the worst five starting QBs. Everyone knows that interceptions aren't particularly skill-based but it's difficult to keep that perspective in the moment. Over an increased number of attempts Wilson ended up throwing 14 picks.

The worst part was that something everyone thought was a skill - limiting red zone turnovers - turned out to be blind luck. In 2012 Wilson threw one interception to a player inside of Seattle's 30 and threw none from inside of an opponents 30. In 2013 he regressed hard and fully half of his interceptions were very high leverage - caught by players inside of a twenty yard line.

In 2012 he fumbled away a turnover on a rush one time in 104 attempts. In 2013 he gave up a turnover four times in 90. QBs average a fumble rate of about 4% on rushes and of those more than half are recovered. Bad bounces happen but the Seattle media was running stories about a turnover prone Wilson carrying footballs and doing hand exercises by the end of the season.

It turns out his improved yards per attempt over the course of 2012 was just a random walk. He ended up sitting at 7 yards per attempt in 2013, good enough for league average. No one expected his average to drop but they should have. Increased attempts over the full season really took a toll on Wilson's efficiency.

In 2012 Wilson was second in TD rate but seventh in completion percentage. His completion percentage took a hit with more attempts just like his Y/A and his TD rate went from lucky to unlucky. In 2013 he ended up throwing seven less touchdowns in 80 more attempts.

Russell Wilson didn't get terrible at the passing game. He got average. People argued whether he was a little worse than average or a little better. The unlucky turnovers made his performance look well worse.

The woes in the throwing game allowed teams to key in on the QB rush and by week ten ESPN ran a story declaring the read-option dead in the NFL. Colin Kaepernick had retired in week 9 to pursue a doctorate in herpetology.

The Seahawks are kinda okay.

The Seahawks were never going to be the post-Manning colts or a Brees-less Saints. It was always going to be more of a Tom Brady free Patriots situation. The Seahawks defense was enough to keep the team in almost every game. The Hawks beat bad teams comfortably, even if the scores were close, and lost big to the great ones. Everywhere else it was just a question of how the cards fell. Everyone had already seen 2013 in 2011.

The talent surrounding Wilson was better than Jackson had in 2011, and bizzarro Wilson was still the better QB, so more of the close games went Seattle's way. The only statement game was in week 11 against Minnesota. Ponder finally got benched after throwing four interceptions - in a half. Arif Hasan wrote an article titled "Christian nailed by crossing routes; Vikings Ponder permanent QB switch" for the Daily Norseman.

In the end, ten wins was enough to lose in the Wildcard Round after taking the tie breaker over Green Bay. It wasn't a bad season for the team but the pundits talking Super Bowl in the preseason got trolled on Twitter and 'Hawks fans got a bit less noisy in comment sections.

In the lead up to the draft there was only a small group of fans arguing to take a QB high. Everyone agreed that Wilson had been bit by bad luck and most were convinced he'd correct his sophomore slump in his junior season. A large number of fans blamed the players around him. Pete Carroll mentioned a QB competition in passing.

Back to reality

Nothing is certain. I don't want you to interpret that in some mystical way. It's just that people are bad at estimating the likelihood of things. When you want something to happen, and it's likely to happen, you tend to assume it will happen. I find that it is best to fight that. Your understanding of the world as it is should never be colored by the way you want it to be in the future.

Russell Wilson has a downside. His salary is small enough that the Seahawks don't have to worry about him long term like the Colts and Redskins have to worry about Andrew Luck and RGIII, but the downside still exists in terms of performance. Obviously I don't think it's tremendous but one season is a small sample and he barely had 400 attempts.

If the downside becomes reality there's going to be a terrible temptation to view the disappointment in a way that doesn't contradict your preexisting world views. If Russell Wilson is infallible, then Percy Harvin isn't trying hard enough, Lynch is getting old, and Schneider finally struck out in a draft. You can overcome that temptation in the moment but it's hard and it takes time. It's better to make sure your expectations for the future are realistic.


Here are some cute dog gifs in case you just got sad.