DANNY ONEIL

O’Neil: Unwrapping the riddle of Russell Wilson’s first-half struggles for Seahawks

Jan 4, 2018, 8:36 AM | Updated: 6:07 pm
Russell Wilson...
Why did more than 75 percent of Russell Wilson's touchdown passes come in the second half? (AP)
(AP)

Halfway through the final game of this season, Pete Carroll sat next to his quarterback in the locker room and demanded change.

He didn’t coax. He didn’t encourage.

“I sat down in Russell’s locker with him at halftime,” Carroll said Tuesday on 710 ESPN Seattle, “and said, ‘We have to turn this thing,’ in a way that he hasn’t heard me talk to him.”

Huard: Russell Wilson could be listening to a new voice next season

The result was the sharpest second-half turnaround in a season full of sharp second-half turnarounds for Seattle’s quarterback, and among the questions to unpack following this season, the explanation for why Wilson was so much better in the second half this year is the most perplexing and potentially the most important.

Stuff we’re still trying to figure out

1. Why were Wilson’s half-by-half splits so drastic?

The numbers tell a very clear story from 2017 (see chart). His passer rating improved in the second half in 13 of Seattle’s 16 games as he threw 26 touchdown passes in the second half compared to just eight in the first without having a significant spike in either pass attempts or interceptions. But why? The idea that Wilson is just a slow starter is bogus. It wasn’t true in the first five seasons of his career. Is it because – without a running game – Wilson needed to feel out the defense for two quarters before becoming more decisive in the second? Was he like a writer who needs a deadline hanging over his head before he starts producing, or was it the fact that he was willing to make riskier throws in the second half knowing it was now or never? Or was it a simple statistical outlier heavily influenced by the difference in touchdown passes? Whatever the reason, improving first-half performance should be No. 1 on Wilson’s offseason to-do list.

ONLY HALF BAD
Wilson was significantly better in the second half than he was in the first half:
Cmp-Att (Pct.) Pass yards TD INT QB RATING
First half 161-270 (59.6) 124.2 8 6 78
Second half 178-285 (62.5) 151.2 26 5 111.2

2. Why was Alex Collins so much more effective in Baltimore?

He gained 973 yards on 212 carries for Baltimore after being waived by the Seahawks while the six running backs the Seahawks kept ahead of Collins totaled 994 yards on 301 carries. Anyone who has watched Seattle’s offensive line these past two seasons knows that it is eminently possible that Baltimore’s line is that much better. Well, actually, the proper phrasing would be that Seattle’s offensive line is that much worse. But there was no point when Collins was in Seattle that he appeared capable of delivering the kind of season he provided for Baltimore. Why? If it was the way he fit the Ravens’ run scheme, then why is it that the Seahawks’ run game was so unaccommodating to his skill set? Collins was capable of being a starting running back in the NFL. He just wasn’t going to be that here in Seattle. At least not in the team’s current run game.

3. Can Pete Carroll really ‘fix’ the penalty problem?

The Seahawks were penalized 1,342 yards this season, second-most of any team in NFL history. They were penalized 148 times, which was a franchise record. As adamant as Seattle’s coach was about not only taking responsibility both for the volume of penalties, but also for cleaning it up going forward, why should we expect that to happen? Carroll is responsible for four of the five most-penalized teams in Seahawks history. That’s not entirely a criticism. The Seahawks won the Super Bowl in a year where they led the league in penalties, and they drew even more flags the next season in a year they went back to the Super Bowl. I’ve always thought penalties are a cost of doing business with Carroll. He wants his team emotional, playing at a fevered pitch, and more penalties are simply the tradeoff for that approach. It will be interesting to see how he tries to change a trend that seems baked into his approach.

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O’Neil: Unwrapping the riddle of Russell Wilson’s first-half struggles for Seahawks