The last time the Seahawks faced the Carolina Panthers, Russell Wilson had what might have been the best game of his professional career.
That's significant this week not just because Seattle hosts Carolina again on Sunday, but also because elements of that January playoff game, in which Wilson went 15 for 22 for 268 yards, three touchdowns and a 149.2 passer rating, could be in play again this time around.
In that game, Wilson had so much success in part because he often got the ball out quickly in the face of pressure—all three touchdowns came from throws in the pocket against a Panthers blitz. This season, Wilson has been sacked 22 times, and finding the balance between standing in the pocket and escaping pressure has been a challenge at times given the punishment he has taken.
Wilson was also ruthlessly efficient on third down in that playoff game, going 8 for 8 for 199 yards with three touchdowns. And following a game in which the Seahawks lost in part because they couldn't convert on some key third downs in the fourth quarter, a big third-down game from Wilson and the offense would be a big step forward.
The Seahawks love Wilson's ability to escape pressure and improvise. His unique skillset is a big reason why the Seahawks have won as many games as they have, and it's a big part of why he has played well this season behind a line going through some growing pains, but there are still times when Wilson and his coaches know he would be better off standing in the pocket and going through his progressions.
"There's always going to be one or two plays where you'd like to see him either stand in there and make," offensive coordinator Bevell said. "But it's a continual process that we work on every week."
Wilson's sack total is tied for the highest in the league, and would be higher if not for his ability to elude free rushers, so it would be completely understandable if, at times, he was a bit quick to bail out of a pocket. Bevell notes that from one game to the next, Wilson is good at not letting those hits get to him, but he has seen times within a game where that becomes an issue.
"I mean hits kind of take their toll on a quarterback," Bevell said. "But one thing about Russell is I think from game to game there's really no issue. It's kind of really as the game continues to go on. Early in the (Cincinnati) game we were protecting him pretty well. It doesn't mean he wasn't taking some hits. He took a big shot on the ball that he threw to Doug (Baldwin) down the seam. But for the most part it's just continually communicating to him to go through the progressions, go through the read, and make sure that you're seeing the things that we need to see. You've got to continually trust those guys. You really can't say OK I got hit on this last time, I'm going to get hit again. You just have to say I trust them. Because the one time that you decide I'm not going to trust them or start to do something, that's the time – you know it's like a brick wall and you have throws down the field. So you have to continually remind yourself that that's not happening every play. And it's just communicating and talking about it."
Bevell said he saw a couple of plays late in last week's game when Wilson might have left the pocket before he had to, but was quick to add, "he usually sees really well, and usually moves around with merit. But there's times where something flashes in front of him and he started to move, thought he could go, and then he ended up backing up, and you saw what happened. So it does happen, but I think for the most part—there's no question that Russ has unbelievable toughness. He's willing to stand back there, he'll take hits, he'll stand in there and make the big throw, he'll run around, and he plays really smart. When he's out there on the edges and he needs to get down, he'll get down. He'll make good decisions with the ball, run out of bounds, those kinds of things. So it's not an issue, but the accumulation of the hits will make you look at it a little bit. But I think he's doing a really nice job of standing in there and taking the stuff that's there."
For his part, Wilson praises his line every chance he gets, and says plenty of this season's sacks are on him. And when the pressure and the hits do start to add up, Wilson said, "It hopefully doesn't affect (me) at all. I think that the key is standing in there and taking some hits, that's just kind of part of the game, you know? We think we've done a pretty good job of that so far and just having to make the throws and all that. That's part of the game.
"I think the goal is always to get the ball out quickly and on time, and obviously throw the ball to the right guy at the right time. There's a rhythm to each play, every play is different. Some plays are deep down the field, some plays are designed to be short and mid-range, and then sometimes a play might be designed and something else happens and you have to extend the play. I think just playing each play, don't think about the plays before or what may come next. Just play that play."
If Wilson can stand in the pocket and is able to come close to matching his success against Carolina in the last outing, the Seahawks should love what they see from their quarterback who has put up very good numbers through five games despite any trouble the pressure might be causing him.