Starting Wilson debatable, defensible

dave.boling@thenewstribune.comOctober 2, 2012 

To cut through some cloudy rhetoric to the newsworthy nugget of Pete Carroll’s press conference Monday, Russell Wilson will start for the Seahawks at quarterback again this week at Carolina.

Carroll has seen Wilson’s shortcomings, so to speak, and still sees him as the man to lead the Sea-hawks.

Aside from that, Carroll might have been luckier explaining the national health-care controversy.

The public debate arose because Wilson threw three interceptions in a loss to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, and his scant 160 passing yards were the most he’s accumulated in four games.

In two narrow losses, Wilson has missed chances to lead winning drives, and despite a powerful running game and a solid defense, the Seahawks’ passing game has been a limiting factor.

For the most part, Carroll said, Wilson has been doing what they’ve asked of him: take care of the ball, give the team chances to win at the end, and he’s “not far off from being really, really successful.”

It’s when Carroll addresses the possibility of using backup Matt Flynn that things get hazy. The quarterback competition between Wilson and Flynn is still in effect, he said, except Wilson gets almost every snap during practice.

Carroll also said that Flynn has elbow soreness that limits his number of throws, but “he’s been ready and anxious to play every game.”

The coach said it’s a competition like any other position, but later adds that decisions on quarterbacks “call for a whole different set of standards and perspective and evaluation tools.”

Here are some evaluation tools to consider, on both sides of the matter:

 • There’s been so much talk about Wilson’s lack of height that it has obscured the reality that he’s more lacking in experience. He’s a rookie. He makes rookie mistakes and it’s to be expected if you decide to start one.

Matt Hasselbeck came to Seattle after two seasons in Green Bay as an understudy to Brett Favre, and in his first five starts, he completed 51 percent of his passes and had two touchdowns and five interceptions. That’s far shakier than the pace Wilson is on.

The thing you have to consider when deciding the worth of weathering the learning curve of a young quarterback is if you’re certain you’ll come out the other side with a winner.

 • Aside from an exceptional first drive, Wilson did not play well against St. Louis. A couple of times he did not see open receivers — particularly when he missed an easy throw to tight end Zach Miller that looked like a sure touchdown to change the nature of the game.

Carroll found mitigating factors in Wilson’s three interceptions, but at least two of them might have been avoided. Wilson is reputed to be a quick learner who fixes mistakes. We won’t know if he doesn’t get the chance.

 • When Carroll talked about the delicate nature of any quarterback decision, he noted that it has a broader effect on the team and fans than making changes at any other position.

True … but it doesn’t really need to. Some call the decision to start a 5-101/2 quarterback “The Russell Wilson Experiment,” and if he is put on the bench, it means he’s forever destined to be a backup. Or his psyche would be forever damaged.

Nonsense. This kid is confident and squared away. Hasselbeck admitted that he benefitted from sitting on the bench for a while and watching how Trent Dilfer handled things.

If Flynn gives you a better chance to win right now, give him some playing time.

 • Would the team be better off with Flynn and what might be a balky elbow?

Before training camp started, I thought Flynn would be the starting quarterback and the Seahawks would be 2-2 at this point with wins over Arizona and St. Louis, and losses to Dallas and Green Bay.

Instead, it’s been Wilson taking the snaps, and they’ve won the two games they probably should have lost, and lost the two they probably should have won.

Flynn looked efficient and cool under pressure in the preseason. But Wilson also has taken some big-time hits and remained upright and healthy. He has compensated in some cases by evading potential sacks.

So, giving Wilson another chance to start, this time on the road at Carolina, is debatable, but defensible.

And to be fair, the Sea-hawks should do this — let Wilson be himself. Cut him loose. Let him play the way he did in exhibition season. He’s thinking too much and that’s taking away from the instinctive play that might be his strength.

And if it doesn’t work out, you give it another close look the following week. That’s what you do if a competition really is open.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 @DaveBoling

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