Russell Wilson’s injuries will force Seahawks to compensate vs Jets

Sep 30, 2016, 6:13 AM | Updated: 9:05 am

Seattle will need its offensive line and defense to make up for Russell Wilson's limited mobility. ...

Seattle will need its offensive line and defense to make up for Russell Wilson's limited mobility. (AP)


RENTON – The Seahawks’ most valuable player is also their most vulnerable.

That’s the reality Seattle will face Sunday against the Jets when Russell Wilson stares down another formidable defensive front with a brace protecting his sprained left knee and tape covering his sprained right ankle.

“I feel great,” Wilson said Thursday. “I feel great, feel strong.”

That’s exactly what you want to hear from your quarterback. It’s not necessarily what you should expect to see on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, though. While there’s not a question of whether Wilson will play against the Jets, how well he can play is the single biggest uncertainty given his injuries. And Wilson’s health is the variable that changes the calculus of how Seattle can expect to defeat a Jets team that features a star-studded defensive line.

Clayton’s four keys for banged-up Seahawks vs Jets

Sound familiar? It should. For the third time in four games, the Seahawks will be facing a defense that is noted for its strength up front. Only this time it will be with a compromised quarterback, and that changes things.

For so many times the past two seasons, Wilson has been Seattle’s trump card. The one you play when the blocking breaks down or the receivers are covered or the running game gets stuffed. That’s when the guy who was supposed to be too short to play quarterback in the NFL does some of that razzle-dazzle (stuff) to buy some time and turn a broken play into a backbreaker.

You expect that out of a guy with a sprained ankle on one leg and a sprained MCL on the other? Because you shouldn’t.

The Seahawks won’t have to carry Wilson on Sunday, but they can’t expect him to make up the difference in the game, either. Not with his injuries.

That means two things:

1) Pass protection is more important than ever.

Wilson simply isn’t going to be able to run his way out of trouble, which is worrisome given the reputation of Jets head coach Todd Bowles for dispatching multiple able-bodied blitzers in passing situations.

Except here’s the thing: Bowles doesn’t do that so much with the Jets.

“He’s got the personnel now where he doesn’t have to blitz quite as much,” said Bradley Sowell, Seattle’s left tackle. “Because he has such good depth inside and I don’t think he blitzes quite as much as he used to.”

Sowell should know. He was in Arizona when Bowles was the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator. And now Sowell is occupying the hot corner of Seattle’s offensive line. He’ll be protecting the left edge against a Jets defensive line that includes Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams, all of whom were first-round picks.

But protection is only part of the equation. Seattle can also be more proactive, which brings us to the second priority: turnovers.

2) Seattle’s defense has to give its offense a short porch.

Asking the Seahawks’ defense to do more seems silly. Seattle has allowed the second-fewest points in the league through three games and the Seahawks have yet to allow a first-half touchdown this season.

Except here’s the thing: Seattle has exactly one takeaway. That’s tied for fewest in the league. The Seahawks have a turnover differential of negative-4.

Some of that is the product of reputation. Ever since Seattle forced 39 turnovers in 2013, teams have taken notice. They dial down the risk factor against the Seahawks, and that has never been more evident than last week’s game against San Francisco. The 49ers trailed by double digits before they had a first down and still they didn’t start taking risks.

“There was a lot of quick, getting balls out really fast,” coach Pete Carroll said, “There wasn’t a lot of getting to the quarterback.”

That should change on Sunday. The Jets have an aggressive passing game. They had two players with 100 yards receiving in Week 2 against Buffalo and nearly had a third guy reach that plateau. And for a cornerback like Richard Sherman – who has had just eight passes thrown in the direction of opponents he’s covering this season – that should result in opportunities.

“These guys throw the ball down the field,” Carroll said of the Jets.

And in a game in which Seattle’s ability to throw the ball downfield may be compromised by Wilson’s health, a Seahawks’ victory may depend upon whether their defense can make the opponent pay for trying to do that.

For Wilson’s first two years in the league, many called him a game manager. Now in his fifth season and with injuries to each leg, the question is whether the Seahawks can manage a game their quarterback might not be able to win on his own.

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Russell Wilson’s injuries will force Seahawks to compensate vs Jets