Russell Wilson met with the media on Thursday afternoon at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center, three days ahead of his team's road matchup with the Vikings at University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium. Here's three things we learned from the Seahawks quarterback:
1. How The Offense Will Look Without Jimmy Graham
The Seahawks lost one of the NFL's standout athletes to injury in this past weekend's win over the Pittsburgh Steelers when tight end Jimmy Graham went down with a torn patellar tendon that landed him on injured reserve earlier this week.
Coach Pete Carroll has said he expects the Seahawks to have Graham back in the fold by the start of next season, but the team will be without the three-time Pro Bowler for the rest of this year. Wilson was asked what Seattle will miss with Graham out of the starting lineup.
"Obviously, you lose one of the best playmakers in football period," Wilson said of Graham, who finished his first campaign in the Pacific Northwest with 48 catches for 605 yards and two touchdowns. "You think about Jimmy Graham and what he brings to the table. His fire, his passion to the game, his ability to make catches. You are like 'Whoa, did he just catch that ball.' Think about the other night where he's bobbling that ball, 'boom, boom boom,' lays out, I think three times, and then boom, catches it right before it hits the ground right on the 1-yard line. Spectacular football player and a great friend. So you're losing a lot. You're losing a lot in terms of who he is as a man and who he is as a football player. Guys respect him across the league because of how he plays."
With Graham out, the Seahawks will turn to third-year pro Luke Willson, who started 10 games last year in place of an injured Zach Miller. Willson, fourth-year pro Cooper Helfet, and recently-signed veteran Chase Coffman make up the tight end group Wilson will work with moving forward.
"But, at the same time, you've got a lot of great experience in Luke Willson and Cooper Helfet," Wilson added. "I'm really excited for those guys and what they bring to the table. They've scored a lot of touchdowns, they've made a lot of great plays, they've blocked a lot of key blocks and done a lot of great things for us in the past. I believe that they'll step up to the challenge. It's no different than what they do every day in practice, and what they've shown the past few years. I've thrown a lot of footballs to both of those guys.
"I feel very, very confident in those guys and what they'll bring, and there's no reason why not to. They've shown it every week come Sundays."
2. He Trusts The Protection Up Front
The Seahawks coaching staff has been complimentary this week of Wilson's play in the pocket against the Steelers. Just like any other aspect of his game, Wilson said it was an area he worked to improve this past offseason, when he studied film of some of football's most prolific pocket passers, players like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger. It also helps that Seattle's offensive line has started to show big signs of improvement recently and Wilson said that's helped him trust the protection in passing situations.
"We didn't start off the way that we wanted to, but as a collective group we've really put together a set of games in a row where up front they're doing a phenomenal job and we believe in those guys, I know I do for sure," Wilson said. "They're doing a phenomenal job up front. So they give me the trust, I think that's where it's kind of really come together in the right manner."
Wilson said getting the ball out quicker to running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends has also helped alleviate some of the pass protection issues that were apparent earlier in the season.
"I think getting the ball out on time is always crucial," Wilson said. "I think that it makes it tough on the defense. There is also that happy medium like I always tell you guys too, is extending the play and making those plays, those have been big plays for us in the past. But just getting the ball out is a crucial part to that. I think it also decreases the sacks, it also gives us a chance for those playmakers to make the plays and get first downs."
3. What He Sees In The Minnesota Vikings
The Seahawks will face one of the NFL's better defenses this Sunday in the Minnesota Vikings, a unit that ranks fourth in the League against the pass, allowing 223.5 yards per game, and second in the League in points allowed per game, surrendering 17.6. Wilson rattled off nearly every player on Minnesota's defense when asked what he sees from a "high-energy" Vikings team that's currently sitting on top of the NFC North with an 8-3 record.
"There's a lot of playmakers," Wilson began. "You look up front at the defensive line, you've got guys making plays all over. You look at their linebackers in [Anthony] Barr, and [Eric] Kendricks, and also [Chad] Greenway. Those guys are flying around. Greenway is a leader just in terms of his experience. He's been at the Vikings the whole time. I'm not sure how many years it is, but it's a lot of years, so that's a good thing for them. And Barr and Kendricks are making a lot of plays. Then in the secondary, you have [Xavier] Rhodes and [Terence] Newman making a lot of plays too as well. I don't think they played last week or whatever, but Harrison Smith and [Andrew] Sendejo have been making plays too. As a collective group, they've really been in tune and they've really played great football.
"They mix their coverages, which is a challenge just in itself just studying. I like that challenge obviously, that's the fun part about the game, that's the fun part about studying. Hopefully I can continue to try to study as much as I can to be ready for that."
Seattle and Minnesota employ similar styles of play in that each team prefers to pound the football in the run game, the Seahawks with rookie standout Thomas Rawls and the Vikings behind NFL rushing leader Adrian Peterson; be tough, physical, and fast on defense; and play smart with a quarterback who can spread the ball around like a point guard. With that in mind, Wilson said no one thing in his preparation becomes more important than the other this week, but called attention to the same areas that have helped the Seahawks be successful in recent weeks.
"I think the biggest thing is when we have a chance in the red zone, score touchdowns, when we have a chance on third down, convert," said Wilson, whose team went 4-of-4 and 7-of-13, respectively, in such situations last week. "And when you have a chance to put the game away, hopefully, we have to do that. It's going to be a tight game potentially, obviously. So I think the biggest thing is on those game-altering plays, when the game's on the line, hopefully there's two minutes left in the game, and hopefully we capitalize.
"I believe in the clutch mentality, we have to do that across the board, and we have to step up and make those. Going on the road, to Minnesota, it's going to be one of those type of games. We respect them. We know that they practice so well and they play so well. They play so hard, their record shows it. They've shown it all year and the past couple years really. It's going to be a great game."
The Seahawks have played the Vikings 17 times in the regular season (12-5) and once in the playoffs (1-0). Check out action photos from throughout the years of their matchups.