Forget the rushing yards, or even the 15-yard touchdown reception in Sunday's win over the Philadelphia Eagles. If you really want to know how much healthier Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is now than he was earlier this season, watch the touchdown pass he threw to Jimmy Graham in the second quarter of Seattle's 26-15 victory.
Sensing pressure, Wilson stepped up in the pocket, then sprinted to his left to escape the pass rush. As Wilson neared the sideline, it appeared his only options were to throw the ball away or try to turn the corner and gain a couple of yards running. Instead, Wilson noticed Graham come open at the last minute, and while still running to his left, he made what should have been an impossible throw at an awkward angle, flipping an accurate pass 20 yards down field to Graham, who followed the catch with some impressive moves of his own to get to the end zone.
Not only was that 35-yard touchdown pass a play Wilson wouldn't have made earlier in the season, it was a play that very few, if any, other quarterbacks can make. It was a throw that seemed to defy physics given the speed with which Wilson was running to his left and the angle at which he released the throw. Wilson's momentum should have caused the ball to sail out of bounds; that or it should have hung up in the air for so long that it would have invited an easy interception. Yet somehow the throw was right on the money to Graham.
"It's an amazing play," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "It's a very unusual throw to make, with all the momentum he had going to his left and to flick it back in and to see it happen, it was a beautiful play."
Asked on Sunday how he made that throw, which was just the latest spectacular throw on the run in a career full of them, Wilson laughed and said, "I don't know. That may be the baseball."
But while Wilson made light of it, it is entirely possible, likely even, that his background of playing baseball at a high level helps him on the football field. Baseball players, and middle infielders in particular have to be able to make throws on the move and at different arm angles, so it's hardly a coincidence that one of the best in the NFL at those throws is a former second baseman.
"He's an extraordinary and natural athlete," Carroll said. "He can do everything. He can throw and catch, and I'm sure he can hit a golf ball and can shoot some hoops; he can just do everything. There was a comment I heard about some baseball stuff, in reference to the kinds of throws you have to make as a second baseman where you catch the ball and have to throw the ball over here, that kind of action and ability to separate your lower body from your upper body and do that. It was kind of what that throw was all about, the one we were talking about here. He's running this way and he throws the ball back in here with accuracy and finesse and all of that. A lot of those things, you can't coach those and teach those. Guys can either do it or they can't. He's been a marvelous performer and athlete his whole life and he uses all of those skills when it comes time."
Wilson had a few other spectacular throws on the run on Sunday, including one to Doug Baldwin on which Wilson was running forward and to his left, yet managed to hit Baldwin in stride as the receiver ran a crossing route away from Wilson's momentum, and those plays are a great sign for an offense that has benefited greatly over the years from Wilson's ability to not just make big throws in the pocket, but also when on the move.
"Those are incredible plays and plays that we look forward to seeing because he can do it," Carroll said. "I think just it's due to the general athleticism he has."
As much as those plays require unusual athletic ability and body control, there are also other elements in play beyond physical ability.
"Savvy, instincts, confidence, timing, all of those things come into play," Carroll said. "The quarterback position is such a difficult spot to play, but the way he does it, and there are a few guys who play like this, they just call on marvelous sense and timing and feel and all that."
And yes, even those plays that appear improvised can be practiced, at least to a degree.
"It pretty much happens in practice," Carroll said. "We really encourage our guys to move, whenever they can, in practice, and we just kind of count on it over time. He's always messing around with throws and that stuff when he warms up, it's really part of practicing different types of throws and things. He looks forward to trying out stuff. He's been making these throws since he's a kid. It's why I say to you, guys who grow up as scramblers, they've already thrown thousands of throws like that. It's like playing in the park. He's fabulous at it."
Check out some actions photos from Week 11 vs the Eagles at CenturyLink Field.