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O’Neil: What we learned in Seahawks’ win over 49ers

Seahawks rookie RB Rashaad Penny scored a 20-yard touchdown in the third quarter. (AP)

The Seahawks are 7-5 and picking up speed. While a victory over a 49ers team that is beaten up beyond all recognition isn’t going to blow anyone away, it did teach us about the potential value of Seattle’s first-round pick, the importance of their middle linebacker and the proper way to measure Russell Wilson.

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Here are the three things we learned Sunday:

I. We now know why Seattle drafted Rashaad Penny in the first round.

Let’s start with an admission: I don’t think they should have drafted him in the first round, but that’s nothing about Penny specifically and everything about the position he plays in general. That doesn’t mean Penny won’t be a special running back, though. In fact, he could play well enough to make that selection pay off. And with everyone willing to write him off after a slow start, it’s worth looking at two plays from Sunday’s game. The first was a misdirection play in the first quarter where Seattle did everything it could to sell a run to the right, moving left guard J.R. Sweezy over to that side to create an unbalanced line, only to flip the ball to Penny who ran left against the flow of the defense for a 15-yard gain. In the third quarter at almost the same spot on the field, Penny ran to the same side of the line, exploding off tackle and going untouched into the end zone on a 20-yard run. While there’s still plenty of room to debate the value of drafting a running back in general in the first round, there’s no doubt that Penny has the size-speed combination to be one of this league’s most explosive running backs.

II. Bobby Wagner had the best game of his career.

It’s not like Wagner is underrated. He’s still the only Seahawk to have received an MVP vote during Pete Carroll’s tenure as coach (Tony Dungy voted for Wagner in 2014). The triple play Wagner pulled off on Sunday against San Francisco was truly remarkable. First, Wagner got a sack, beating the center on a first-quarter blitz that resulted in Wagner hitting 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens as hard as the NFL rules will allow. Then he was responsible for the most literal takeaway the Seahawks have had this year, ripping the ball away from Niners running back Jeff Wilson Jr. Wagner capped it all off with by returning an interception 98 yards for a touchdown, the longest interception return in franchise history.

III. Russell Wilson’s passing numbers are plenty impressive.

You just need to know which ones to look at. Hint: It’s not passing yards. The fact that Seattle is the runningest team in the NFL means that measuring Wilson on how many yards he throws for is kind of like measuring his height: You’re bound to sell him short. A better way to look at Wilson is to look at his effectiveness when he does throw. He has 29 touchdown passes this season, fourth-most in the league. He has the most touchdown passes of anyone in the NFL since the start of the 2017 season. This isn’t a recent phenomenon. Wilson has always been a slugger from the pocket. He has thrown 190 touchdown passes in his career, which ranks seventh among all quarterbacks since Wilson’s debut. All six players who have thrown more touchdown passes in that time have thrown more passes overall. In fact, Aaron Rodgers is the only one of those six with a higher percentage of touchdown throws. Going back to 2012, Rodgers has thrown 202 touchdown passes on 3,245 attempts (6.2 percent). Wilson has thrown 190 touchdown passes in his 3,160 attempts (6.0 percent). That’s a pretty impressive number.