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Focus on: Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner
The Seahawks’ season has been all about W’s. So it seems only fitting that the best offensive and defensive players of the third quarter are a pair of W’s: Quarterback Russell Wilson and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner.
And it shouldn’t be surprising, either.
Each was added in last year’s NFL Draft – Wagner in the second round, Wilson in the third. Each was among the best rookies in the league – with Wagner finishing second in the voting for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and Wilson third in the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year category.
But each also is better this season, providing two big reasons why the 11-1 Seahawks are better.
Rather than select the best players in various categories to this point in the season, we’re opting for the best players in the past four games – when the Seahawks went 4-0 with victories over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints.
Wilson, of course, has been a hot topic all season, and for the past 1¾ seasons for that matter. And coach Pete Carroll hoisted another log of praise on the Willl-sonnn bonfire after Monday night’s game when asked what it is about the QB that endears him to the fans.
“It’s everything about him,” Carroll said. “I get asked all the time and I really feel inadequate in trying to describe to you who he is and what he’s all about, other than to just keep watching him. He’s an extraordinary individual. It goes beyond his football ability. He’s an amazing person.
“We’re just blessed that he’s spending his time with us right now. The leadership, the discipline, the hard work, the competitiveness, the toughness that he has and demonstrates, and his uncanny ability to rise to the moment.”
Carroll made a similar read on Wagner a few weeks ago, as the middle linebacker was coming back from missing two games with a sprained ankle.
“He’s at his best right now,” Carroll said. “I think it took him a couple of weeks. He missed a couple and it took him really a couple to get that going and he played really well (against the Vikings).”
And even better against the Saints.
With all that said, here are our selections for third-quarter honors:
Best defensive player: Wagner. He was the team’s leading tackler before missing the Week 6 and 7 games against the Titans and Cardinals. He now trails All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas by one, 81-80, because Wagner was the leading tackler of the quarter with 40. Included in that total are 2.5 sacks and he also added an interception. And it wasn’t just the number of tackles that Wagner produced; it was the consistency – 11 each against the Bucs and Saints, nine each against the Falcons and Vikings.
Best offensive player not named Russell Wilson: Doug Baldwin. He has been longing to be more than just a slot receiver. A season-ending injury to Sidney Rice gave Baldwin his chance, as he’s now starting at flanker and continuing to work in the slot in the three- and four-receiver sets. And the proof of just how well Baldwin has stepped in and stepped up is in the production: 17 receptions for a 17.1-yard average and three touchdowns in the past four games.
Best free-agent addition: It’s a tie between rush-end Cliff Avril and the versatile D-lineman Michael Bennett, and not just because they combined their talents to produce a defensive score against the Saints as Bennett returned Avril’s sack-forced fumble for a touchdown. These two also are 1-2 on the team in sacks – Avril with 7.5 and Bennett with 6.5. During the third quarter, Avril had 3.5 sacks and Bennett two.
Best stat: Besides the 4-0 record, there’s the plus-12 turnover differential for the season, half of which has come in the past three games. After a minus-3 against the Bucs, the Seahawks forced six turnovers in the past three games and, more importantly, did not turn the ball over.
Best trend: Next-man-up. The Seahawks have the NFL’s best record despite playing without some of their best players. Tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini missed eight and seven games because of injuries, and All-Pro center Max Unger was out for three. We mentioned the two games Wagner missed. And the defense also began the season without Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin, last year’s sack leaders. But they got starter-like efforts from O-linemen James Carpenter, Lemuel Jeanpierre and Michael Bowie, linebacker Malcolm Smith and D-linemen O’Brien Schofield and Bennett. Now, it’s Byron Maxwell taking over at right cornerback for Walter Thurmond, who was subbing for injured starter Brandon Browner until he was suspended for four games last week; and Jeremy Lane at nickel back for Thurmond. How’s that working out? See Drew Brees’ 147 passing yards from Monday night, his fewest since the next-to-last game in 2006… when the Saints rested their starters before the playoffs began.