While talking to the media in New England on Thursday morning, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about Russell Wilson, whose Seahawks host the New England on Sunday night.
"This guy is a tremendous player," Belichick said. "Honestly, I think he's in a way maybe underrated by the media or the fans. I don't really see anybody better than this player. He can do everything."
That's high praise, particularly coming from the man who very well will go down as the greatest coach in NFL history when all is said and done. But while Wilson might still be underrated by some, he is shooting for a career path that aligns with Belichick's opinion of him.
"To me, I come to play this game to be the best in the world, that's just the bottom line," Wilson said Thursday. "I don't wake up to be trying to be anything different… Going into Year 9, I'm trying to break away. I want to be the best in the world to ever do this. I've got a lot of great players ahead of me. I think about guys like Peyton Manning, I think about guys like Tom Brady and Drew Brees, all guys I've gotten pretty close to, and then you got guys like Joe Montana. I want to be remembered. I want to be remembered, and I want to be able to leave a legacy that people can't ever forget. Hopefully I can do that. That doesn't happen without a steady process of one moment of time, one game at a time, and not looking too far ahead, but just knowing that's all part of the journey."
And of course, when it comes to Wilson's legacy, the conversation of his role in Seattle's offense is sure to come up. Pete Carroll values offensive balance, which doesn't necessarily mean he wants his offense to run the ball as often as it passes, but rather that it's an offense that is capable of moving the ball in a variety of ways if a defense is able to limit one part of the offense. And it's hard to argue with the results of Carroll's philosophy—the Seahawks have been one of the best teams in the NFL over the last decade, they've been to the playoffs eight times in 10 years, including two Super Bowl appearances and one Super Bowl win, and they've regularly been both one of the league's most explosive offenses, and one of the best at taking care of the football. But that commitment to balance, as successful as it has been for the Seahawks, has led to some of that underrating of Wilson that Belichick mentioned.
And as great as Wilson has been, there has been more and more discussion that the Seahawks should lean on Wilson and the passing game more, and in the opener at least, the Seahawks did just that, with Wilson completing 31 of 35 pass attempts for 322 yards and four touchdowns, while there were only 20 rushing attempts, including three by Wilson. Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer know what they have in Wilson, and they've both talked in the offseason about putting more of the offense in his hands, but they also still want to be able to win in a variety of ways if the matchup calls for it, and last week they saw in Atlanta's defense some opportunities in the passing game.
"It was something that we knew going into the game that we liked," Schottenheimer said. "It was something that, as we were game-planning, we saw some things that we liked. We felt good about some of the matchups and things like that. Honestly, I say this all the time and it's the reality of it right, each week is going to be different. Atlanta is going to be different than New England; that doesn't mean we're going to run it or throw it any more, they're just going to be different, and then Dallas will be different (in Week 3) in terms of our approach of how we go into the game. We got Russ off to a really good start, certainly that helps when you're hitting on all cylinders and you're doing things like that… It truly is a week-to-week thing. I was very pleased with how he played, he played terrific. But all in all, I thought it was just an overall great performance by the group, and who knows what this week looks like going up against New England."
Schottenheimer explained that some of discussions this offseason were about taking advantage of what Wilson can do even more, and said the strong relationship between coordinator and quarterback is an important factor in those decisions.
"Russ and I talk all the time, and Pete and I talk all the time, so there was definitely something that we discussed throughout the offseason about, 'Hey look, this guy's a great player. If the opponent fits what we're trying to do, he's going to take care of the football, he's going to get us positive plays,'" Schottenheimer said. "I think what's really cool is Russ and I have the type relationship now where he can come to me and really say whatever he wants to me in terms of 'Hey, I think that was a (bad) call,' or 'Hey, I think that was a great call. Hey, I want to do more of this,' and I don't feel like he's being pushy. He's just giving me his thoughts and ideas, and sometimes I push back and I'm like, 'I don't see it that way.' And he's like, 'OK, I respect that'. But, again, we realize he's a tremendous player, and we've got great players around him we want to give him those opportunities, but it's going to be game-planned each and every week. And what we just did in step one, which is this past week, is we showed that we can play that way and that when we do that, against certain opponents—not that it will always turn out like that—but we know he's capable of doing that, and Tyler (Lockett) and DK (Metcalf) and Greg (Olsen) are capable of doing those things, so that's the thing that gives us confidence."
For Wilson, the lofty goals of greatness obviously require him putting up some impressive numbers, which he has been doing for the past eight seasons, but at his position in particular, greatness is also measured by team success, which is why he's much more interested in doing what it takes to win that he is in making sure he matches last weekend's numbers in every game.
"Listen, at the end of the day, I just want to win," Wilson said. "Whatever it takes to win. I think I can definitely help us win, that's for sure, but it's not just me, it's so many great players. We can do it in so many different ways, and to be explosive offensively running the ball, throwing the ball, throwing it deep, throwing it mid-range, throwing it short, doing all the different things. We want to be versatile, and we can definitely do all those things. So for us, I think that's really part of the recipe, I guess you could say of doing it all."
Another interesting wrinkle with Seattle's offense this season that relates to Wilson, Schottenheimer and the passing game is the move Schottenheimer made from the sideline to the coaches' box during games, something he said he feels more comfortable doing now than he might have a year or two ago due to the strong relationship he and Wilson have.
"It's something I've thought about for the last couple years because you certainly see things so much better from up there, you're able to see the defensive adjustments and see the play unfold and kind of almost anticipate more what they're doing," Schottenheimer said. "So that's something that we talked about, and just with where we are with Russ and my confidence level with him and him, his understanding with the system, it kind of became a no-brainer… I loved it. There's no distractions up there, you can see things so much better, like you can literally see things unfold. You see adjustments, some of the things that you can pick up on, like we ran a slant early in the game and you saw the corner, the rookie corner jump inside and off, and so we kind of knew at some point we wanted to maybe try to test him with the double move, so I really thought it went great."
That potential for testing a corner with a double move translated into a huge completion to DK Metcalf late in the game after Metcalf beat his man with a slant-and-go route designed to take advantage of the corner's aggressiveness.
Wilson said the relationship between himself, Schottenheimer, quarterbacks coach Austin Davis and passing game coordinator Dave Canales, the latter two both being on the sideline, means Schottenheimer being away from the field doesn't hurt their communication.
"It's like he's on the field for me, honestly, it's like he's sitting right next to me," Wilson said. "I hop on the headset, he's got a few words for me, or Austin lets me know, and we go back and play ball."
Practice photos from the Seahawks' Thursday workout at Virginia Mason Athletic Center in preparation for Sunday Night Football vs. the New England Patriots at CenturyLink Field.