By Brady Henderson
So much for the questions about whether it would be a waste of the Seahawks’ potentially dominant defense to start a rookie third-round pick at quarterback.
Those are long gone – but the reason has less to do with Seattle’s recent defensive struggles and more to do with the emergence of Russell Wilson and the Seahawks’ suddenly formidable offense.
The Seahawks scored a season-high 30 points in Sunday’s win over Minnesota, marking the third time in the last four games in which they’ve scored at least 24. Wilson threw three touchdown passes and no interceptions, giving him an 8-to-2 TD/INT ratio over the last four games. Seattle’s offense didn’t turn the ball over, allowed just one sack and saw Marshawn Lynch top 100 yards on the ground for the third consecutive week.
Russell Wilson threw three touchdowns on Sunday, including two to Golden Tate. (AP)
It was the Seahawks’ best offensive performance of the season, one they needed after a brutal first half from their defense.
And it further validated coach Pete Carroll’s decision to go with Wilson – not high-priced free-agent addition Matt Flynn – as the starter. The Seahawks are 5-4, and their latest win showed how far their rookie quarterback has come after some predictable struggles earlier in the season.
“He looks poised and comfortable,” Carroll told “Brock and Salk” on Monday, “and I think we’re just gonna see this guy keep getting better.”
Wilson’s three touchdown passes Sunday gave him 13 on the season, 10th-most in the NFL and the most among rookie quarterbacks. It also established a new franchise rookie record. His 87.2 QB rating ranks 11th in the NFL, second only to Washington’s Robert Griffin III among rookies.
The second of Wilson’s three touchdowns showcased his ability to make plays on the move. Wilson was flushed from the pocket and had some room to run, but instead kept his eyes downfield and found Sidney Rice open in the end zone for an 11-yard score. Rice adjusted his route when he noticed that Wilson was scrambling.
“I like that he’s really focusing on finding people downfield,” Carroll said of Wilson. “And the receivers, if you watch Sidney’s adjustment on his touchdown, it was a perfectly timed adjustment.”
Golden Tate was on the receiving end of the other two touchdown passes. The second featured an impressive individual effort as he caught a bubble screen and made three defenders miss before leaping into the end zone from 2 yards out. It was a play the Seahawks ran multiple times Sunday.
In the last two games, Tate and Rice have combined for 21 receptions, 201 yards and four touchdowns. That’s not counting the 21 yards Tate gained on two more bubble screens that were officially listed as rushes.
It’s the result of an effort to get the team’s two most talented receivers more involved in the passing game.
“I think that’s a big step forward for us,” Carroll said.
Seattle’s improved passing offense has complimented a rushing attack that has been strong all season. It was more of the same Sunday, as the Seahawks rushed for 195 yards despite some injuries along their offensive line.
That helped Seattle possess the ball for more than 12 minutes in the fourth quarter, including the final 5 minutes and 27 seconds. On the final drive, Seattle ran 10 plays – nine of them runs – and converted twice on fourth down before Wilson took a knee to end the game.
“It was really physical, hard-nosed, tough football, just the way we want to do it,” Carroll said. “It’s exactly how we want to finish games.”
Third down remains an area in which the Seahawks can improve. They converted four of 12 third-down opportunities Sunday and rank 26th with a 32.7 percent conversion rate this season. Carroll wants that number closer to 50 percent.
“We’re capable of doing that. We’re very close to doing that,” he said. “When those numbers start to solidify where we’re a force on third down, that’s going to really be a complement to the rest of what we have going.”