Salk: Is narrative of Seahawks and Russell Wilson being recrafted?
Nov 27, 2023, 8:11 PM
(Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
The Denver Broncos are hot. The Seattle Seahawks are not.
One team has won five straight while the other has dropped three of four, including two in embarrassing fashion.
In a world in which we are constantly judging the two most visible leaders of every team, should last year’s lessons be unlearned? We have spent the last 21 months comparing and contrasting these two teams. Do we now need to recraft the narratives about Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson?
No. But… maybe a little. Let me explain.
If the conversation surrounding the divorce of Pete and Russ had been all about who was “better,” we would need to drastically change our story as new information became available. But it wasn’t. It was about who was “right,” and that is very different.
The (oversimplified) way I saw the split, Russ wanted an offense built around him throwing the ball more. Pete wanted to run the ball, limit mistakes and have Russ hit the occasional deep ball off play-action. Yes, like a real divorce, it was also about control and accountability and money and plenty of other stuff. But what I found myself focusing on last season was the offensive style that was the crux of the problem.
Russ wanted to cook; Pete wanted him to keep focusing on his strengths. And last season showed that Pete was right and Russ was wrong. This has been covered in great detail and I stand by every single element of it.
Last October – after Kyle Brandt called Russell a “poser” – I wrote:
I do think he is a football poser.
That is to say he doesn’t seem to understand who he is as a quarterback because he is too caught up in trying to be the quarterback he wants to be.
I’ve heard some interesting takes the last few days on Russ. Some people think he is past his prime. Others think he was never good but the Seahawks found a way to make him appear so. Still others think this is just taking some extra time because they haven’t practiced enough in Denver and this will turn like Tom Brady’s offense did after a rough patch at first in Tampa.
Maybe some of those opinions are true, but none represent my view on this.
I believe Russell was a very good quarterback here in Seattle, and he could continue to be a good quarterback in Denver if he wasn’t so caught up in trying to cement a specific legacy.
A few months later, Sean Payton entered the scene as Denver’s coach, and he seems to have gotten Russ to do exactly that. He is in better shape, running more, handing it off more, throwing less, talking less, and winning again.
Coincidence? I think not. We are seeing a return to the style that made him so successful in Seattle.
Need proof? Last season, Russ was 12th in the league in passes attempted (despite missing two plus games) but 27th in quarterback rating. This year, those numbers have practically flipped. Now he is 22nd in the league in passing attempts but fifth in efficiency. That is Russell Wilson football.
I don’t think that was possible without the failure of last season. The public humiliation was bad, but it may have been the thing to shake off the delusions of grandeur and allow him to play his unique style again.
I understand some of the questions I’ve heard, wondering whether the Seahawks would be better off with Russ. They have been kicked up a notch with the struggles of Geno Smith, who seems to have regressed nearly as much as Russ has returned to form.
That ship has clearly sailed – the animosity between the organization and its former quarterback seem too intense to imagine that kind of resolution. But would I enjoy watching this version of Russ again? Absolutely! This is the player I loved and enjoyed and praised for a decade before he tried to become someone he wasn’t cut out to be.
And that’s why I said at the beginning that maybe we need to recraft the narrative just a little bit. Because Russ didn’t do this on his own. He has had help. In fact, it may be the completely contrary style of Sean Payton that has allowed him to get back on track.
Russ isn’t running the show like he was last year, but he also isn’t being protected in any way. His new coach has held him accountable both publicly and privately in a way he hadn’t experienced in years. And while I think Pete got the most out of Russ for years by putting him in the best positions to take advantage of his talents, this is not where Pete shines. He protects his players at all times and is often rewarded with loyalty (until he’s not – see Sherman, Richard for example).
In all likelihood, Russ needed to go through the depths of last season to be open to change. In other words, he needed to see proof that the way he wanted to play wasn’t actually good for him before he would return to the style that had made him so successful. But it’s worth noting that Pete couldn’t accomplish that before Russ left.
Now let’s get weird. What if the Seahawks had kept Russ and hired Sean Payton to coach him? It’s hard to imagine, and they wouldn’t have gotten the influx of talent the trade brought Seattle through the draft. In fact, the Seahawks would have given up another first-round pick just to acquire the new coach. Would it have worked? I don’t think so. I still think the process led to the results more than the coaching style. I also think the Carroll style has lasting power while Payton is still in the honeymoon phase in Denver. But the question is a fair one.
Pete has said a few times in the last two weeks that he needs to be questioning and reconsidering everything. We have generally pointed at quarterback and offensive coordinator as the spots where that is most necessary. But maybe there is a lesson to be learned here, as well. Pete cannot and should not change who he is at his core. But he needs to find a way to instill more accountability in his program because what’s happening right now isn’t good enough.
Nothing has changed with my feelings on Russ. He is not the quarterback that he and the “cooking people” wanted him to be. He is still very capable of succeeding in the style that made him famous in Seattle. And while Pete deserves a lot of credit for understanding that, he maybe needs to consider why he couldn’t get Russ to understand it as well. Especially now that someone else has done exactly that.
This story is far from over.
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