Seahawks Revamped Offensive Line Earns Praise for Protecting Russell Wilson
RENTON, WA - Through the first two weeks of the season, Russell Wilson has positioned himself as the clear front-runner for NFL MVP. He lit up the Patriots talented secondary on Sunday night with five touchdown passes in the Seahawks exciting 35-30 victory and after a scintillating start in which he's posted north of an 82 percent completion rate, he's on pace for 72 touchdown passes.
Wilson's brilliance obviously hasn't gone unnoticed by coach Pete Carroll, calling his star quarterback "as big of a threat as he's ever been." When it comes to identifying why the six-time Pro Bowler is playing the best football of his career, he believes it starts up front with an offensive line that has performed way better than anticipated.
"I thought what was so positive about that game last night was the pass protection was so solid that you saw Russell in command of the rhythm," Carroll said on Monday. "And he was able to at times when things didn't look open enough for him, he bought more time and he used that to throw it and he also used it to run really effectively."
For a second straight week, Wilson had quality protection in front of him for most of the game, allowing him to transition through his progressions and dice up a secondary that allowed 13 touchdown passes all of 2019 combined. When the pocket did break down, he exhibited his master talents as an improviser, including stepping up in the pocket to evade pressure and find Tyler Lockett for his first touchdown of the night.
As Carroll noted, Wilson's ability to scramble and extend such broken plays has always been demoralizing for opposing defenses. This year, with his command of the offense better than it ever has been and protection holding up well in front of him, slowing him down has been near-impossible.
"I'm really excited about that connection with our guys up front and Russ feeling the timing and security in the pocket," Carroll continued. "I think it's the best we've looked in some time and I think that's why you see Russ off to such a good start."
Throughout his nine-year NFL career, Wilson has always been a standout passer from the pocket, even if the narrative nationally indicated otherwise due to his unique scrambling skills. With three new starters up front, including rookie right guard Damien Lewis and veteran right tackle Brandon Shell, and no preseason games to develop continuity, concerns about the unit's ability to protect him early in the season seemed warranted.
But while there have been occasional lapses in protection and a few issues with penalties in the early stages of the season, coach Mike Solari's group has done an outstanding job overall to kick off the season.
Wilson has been sacked five times in Seattle's two games, but only two of them happened as a result of mistakes in the trenches. And while the All-Pro signal caller has been hit 17 times in two games, as Carroll referenced, many of those happened on plays where he bought himself extra time for receivers to get open because he had stellar protection in front of him.
"Russell's always been able to kill you when he sits in the pocket and he time and he has space," Carroll remarked. "We've not been as good protection-wise over the years as we would've liked. He's had to move more purposefully, now he can really do it kind of as he needs to and hopefully we can keep growing, stay consistent, keep that working."
When asked specifically about the performance of the line, Carroll gushed about Shell and Lewis, who have each proven themselves to be upgrades over their predecessors.
Through two weeks, Lewis has made an especially strong impression, earning a 77.9 grade from Pro Football Focus, making him one of the NFL's 10 highest-graded rookies. While Shell's evaluation wasn't quite as glowing, he's still been reliable protecting Wilson and held his own as run blocker.
"The guys are doing really well," Carroll said. "Brandon Shell is a good player and he's holding up, he's been really consistent so far. Damien is doing a fine job too. He's a really good athlete for the position - even though there's newness there - he's got great feel for it and he's really tough and really strong and all that."
Coming off two injury-marred seasons, Carroll also commended Ethan Pocic, who has stepped up as the successor to Justin Britt at the center position. After primarily playing both guard spots his first three years in Seattle, he's brought much-needed stability to a group featuring so many new faces.
"Ethan has given us a transition that is better than what you might have thought with a new guy coming because he's been a student of the game since he's been here and he really helps in that regard. Maybe there's an LSU thing going on here with the center and the guard, but they're communicating really well and I just think that plus the rhythm of the throwing game is really in a good spot right now and so we'll just try to keep it rolling."
Just two games into the season, it's far too quick to rush to judgment evaluating the Seahawks offensive line. Once teams have more game film to work with, the unit will be further challenged and it will quickly become clear just how talented they really are.
But early returns are certainly encouraging and there are plenty of reasons to believe Solari's line will only improve in coming weeks. Lewis is still getting his feet under him as a first-year starter and the group as a whole is still developing chemistry with one another on the job following a most-unusual offseason.
As long as they continue to keep Wilson upright, provide him with opportunities to scan the field and improvise with his legs when needed, and generate push in the run game, the Seahawks offensive attack should be one of the most feared in the NFL, making them a legitimate threat to land the top seed in the NFC and make a run back to the Super Bowl.