Sports

Dave Boling: Russell Wilson thrives in new NFL

Remember when Seahawks fans fretted that the NFL’s new points of emphasis on pass interference and illegal contact would cripple Seattle’s physical secondary?

Why did none of us consider how the interpretations might, on the other side of the ball, benefit Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson?

As Wilson leads the NFL in passer rating (108.9) after three games, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Wilson is marvelously suited for the new passer-friendly rules.

Compared to last season, his completion percentage is up six points and his rating is up almost eight points — all while he faces as much pass-rush pressure as anybody in the NFL.

Apparently, Wilson’s continued growth is news around the country, as USA Today this week labeled him “the best quarterback in the NFL today.”

That’s not “best young quarterback,” or “best quarterback under 6 feet.” It’s simply “best quarterback.”

Here’s why: He’s accurate and reads coverages with such consistency that he rarely forces the ball into risky places unless game circumstances demand.

He runs when he has to move the chains, but has the sense to duck out of bounds or hit the deck when he’s about to get plastered. And he realizes that sometimes firing it into the first row of the stands is the best outcome.

Wilson’s status has been boosted by the roster-building of John Schneider and Pete Carroll, who insightfully went out and traded for Percy Harvin and Marshawn Lynch, and the increasingly appealing play calling of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.

Bevell must be having a blast employing the versatile Harvin on sweeps and pitches, and screens and hitches.

When Wilson gets the ball to Harvin, for instance, the habit is to turn a short pass into chain-moving gains. At this point, he’s averaging a modest 7.1 yards per catch. But 5.1 of those yards are coming after he gets the ball. Those passes are as low-risk as handoffs, with the benefit of roughly three yards per play over the typical run.

Twelve Seahawks have registered catches thus far, including Wilson, which is a broad distribution of the ball. But it’s skewed differently this season.

Last year, Lynch (2) and Derrick Coleman (1) had the only touchdown catches by running backs all season. In the first three games, Lynch has two, Coleman has one and Robert Turbin has one — giving backs four of the six touchdown catches the Seahawks have made. Those tend to be short passes with big paydays.

The USA Today article points out that Wilson has never lost a game against Hall-of-Fame types Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady, having thrown 14 touchdowns and just one interception in those games.

It’s a point worth making, but further worth reminding that Wilson was not playing against the Seahawks defense at the time.

But that leads to the broader point on how the game has changed, as the average NFL passer rating after three games is the highest it’s ever been at this point of the season (90.6).

And that rate inflation has struck the Seahawks defense, too. Facing Rodgers, Philip Rivers and Manning in the first three games would skew any pass-defense stats.

But the Seahawks’ opposing passer rating of 94.3 is a whopping 31 points higher than what flustered quarterbacks registered against them in the 2013 regular season.

And after this week’s bye, the Hawks face Washington’s Kirk Cousins (105.8), and later St. Louis’ Austin Davis — who completes 72.3 percent of his passes as a fill-in for injured Sam Bradford — and Philadelphia’s Nick Foles, who averages 326 passing yards per game.

It used to be that if a quarterback on a good team compiled a rating in the 90s, he’d have a shot at Pro Bowl recognition. Former Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck made it in 2003 with an 88.8, 2005 with a 98.2, and in 2007 with a 91.4, for instance.

At this point, 18 quarterbacks with enough attempts to qualify have ratings in excess of 90, and six in triple digits.

A lot of it has to do with the way the game is played, and how it’s now being officiated.

But that’s the game as it stands, and nobody has adapted or developed into that role better than Russell Wilson.

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