Quarterback Russell Wilson has helped lead the Seahawks’ offense since the team selected him back in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
He’s started every game for which he’s been eligible, leading Seattle to winning records and playoff berths in each of his first five years.
But even by his standards, Wilson’s 2017 has been remarkable. The quarterback has accounted for 32 of Seattle’s 33 offensive touchdowns this year either passing or rushing. He’s the team’s leading rusher by a wide margin, racking up 482 yards on the ground. And he’s set a record with 17 touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.
And then there are the things that you can’t really describe with statistics — plays where Wilson somehow evades pass rushers to find an open receiver downfield. Or plays where the quarterback just barely gets a throw off before his knee hits the ground for a sack.
Those are the elements that prompted defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to start his weekly press conference by saying, “Russell Wilson, Russell Wilson, Russell Wilson.”
As he should be, Wilson is clearly the defensive focus.
“The guy makes plays on-schedule, off-schedule, he can throw it from the pocket. He can certainly run around and throw it and make big plays,” Phillips said. “He’s a handful.”
Head coach Sean McVay also rattled off Wilson’s laundry list of outstanding statistics during the week.
“He’s accounted for 32-of-their-33 touchdowns, 85 percent of their offense, already an NFL record 17 touchdowns in the fourth quarter, he’s their leading rusher — so he’s the key to it all,” McVay said. “He’s a great football player, a great competitor — you talk about a guys that just continues to compete all the way to the end with a resilient, tough mindset and mentality. I’ve got a whole lot of respect for Russell Wilson and what he represents and you can see he’s put that team on his back in a lot of ways and he’s a great football player.”
The fourth-quarter numbers in particular stand out. Wilson has long been a clutch player, but what he’s doing this year is particularly special. The signal-caller is completing 70 percent of his passes in the period for 1,177 yards with 17 touchdowns and one interception. That works out to a 137.4 passer rating.
Magnifying those numbers even more, the most touchdowns Wilson has in any other period is five.
“In the fourth quarter, you better hang onto everything because he’s still coming,” Phillips said. “He’s already set the record for most touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, so even if you’re ahead in the fourth quarter, nothing’s safe. You’ve got to play the full 60 minutes against this guy and this team.”
The Rams, however, have had success against Wilson in the past — including this year. L.A. is one of only three teams to hold the quarterback to under 200 yards passing this season. In fact, Wilson hasn’t thrown for fewer than 200 yards since Week 5 when the Seahawks beat Los Angeles 16-10.
But part of the reason why the Rams have a 5-6 record against Wilson as a starter is the way the club’s pass rush has been able to get after him. The Rams have sacked Wilson 42 times in 11 games — eight more than the NFC West’s Cardinals in the same time frame.
Outside linebacker Robert Quinn — who has sacked Wilson 11.0 times, including at least one sack in nine of 10 meetings — pointed out two factors for why the Rams have excelled in getting Wilson on the ground.
“One, it’s a division opponent so we get to see him twice a year and that’s a plus. Two, Russell likes to run around so when he wants to create a play, he sometimes doesn’t. Even though he’s fast enough to run down field he wants to use his arm — which is OK by me because that’s where the sacks come in,” Quinn said with a chuckle. “So I think it’s those two things are why we get to him so much. We face him twice a year and he likes to hold onto the ball a little bit. But at the end of the day he’s just a competitor trying to make plays.”
Does knowing that excite Quinn?
“Honestly it’s frustrating because he’s not a sitting duck,” he said. “You think you’re going to get to him and then he boots out and throws a 50-yard bomb. So now you’re mad at yourself. So it’s a fun challenge, but a headache at the same time.”
The Rams have players with plenty of experience against Wilson like Quinn. And then there are rookies like John Johnson III, who made his first start against the Seahawks in Week 5. Wilson tried to test Johnson early and often in that game, but the safety ended up making his first career interception.
Still, Johnson has a lot of respect for Wilson and the way he plays.
“I don’t think I’ve seen anybody like him. I don’t think anybody will ever be like him. He’s Houdini, he’s a magician,” Johnson said. “But I think the way he keeps the play alive is almost like he’s playing around or like he’s in backyard football. So, just his ability to keep the play alive and make throws down the field that’s what makes him special.”
Johnson added Wilson is the kind of quarterback that is both exciting and frustrating as a defender in the secondary.
“It’s frustrating when you’re giving up passes, but it’s exciting when you actually do your job — keep your eyes on your luggage and make plays,” Johnson said. “So, to shut a guy like that down is exciting so we’re going to try to do that.”
L.A. has a combination of experience, youth, and strong coaching all working to slow Wilson down on Sunday. But as it is every week in the NFL, the Wilson and the Seahawks will present a significant challenge.
“I thought we played well against him last game,” Phillips said. ”It’s a division game, people know each other pretty well, so hopefully that will give us a little edge.”
Kristen Lago contributed reporting.