I certainly wanted it to happen, and if you look deep down into your heart, I know you wanted it to happen, too. I’m talking about Russell Wilson’s MVP quest, specifically the 2020 chapter.
After all the big-time wins, comeback performances, incredible throws, double-digit win seasons, division titles, playoff surges, and Super Bowl appearances, it’s sometimes hard to believe Wilson has never won an MVP (or gotten an MVP vote!) throughout his nine-year NFL career. But then you step back and remember that only one player in the NFL can win that MVP award every year, and winning it takes something truly special.
That’s what we thought we were on pace to witness after the Seattle Seahawks’ first few games of the 2020 campaign. Through the Seahawks’ first five games of the season, Wilson threw for 19 touchdowns with just three interceptions, all while leading his team to a 5-0 record. That’s when we started to believe this could be the year for Wilson, but it was also the start of some unraveling, both with Wilson and the rest of the Seattle offense.
Wilson threw three touchdowns and three interceptions the following week against the Arizona Cardinals in the team’s first loss of the season. Though Wilson bounced back with a four-touchdown, zero-interception performance against the San Francisco 49ers the following week, we never really saw that same Seahawks offense for the remainder of the season.
After starting off the season 6-1, the Seahawks went on to lose three of their next five. A late-season winning streak allowed them to hold off the Rams for the division title, but they fell—truly flat on their faces—against the Rams in the playoff game as a one-and-done.
In the second half of the season, it really did seem like teams had figured out the Seahawks’ offense. Through their first eight games, they scored 30 or more points seven times. In the final eight games of the regular season, they scored 30 or more just once, and that includes their disappointing 10-point showing against the Rams in the playoffs.
After the season, Wilson said the second-half struggles came down to adjustments, ones the Seahawks didn’t make.
“I think on offense, we didn’t adjust great throughout those tough (games),” Wilson said on The Herd with Colin Cowherd. “We had a couple games we could have adjusted better. That was last year, and I think that ultimately this offseason is really about ‘How can I be the best version of myself?’ And across the board. Ultimately, like I said, my mindset is we should be playing today – or I should say this weekend – so I think that’s really what matters most to me. When I wake up every day, every morning, you have that itch.”
Wilson went on to say that he certainly could have played better himself, but when getting to the specifics of what the team could have done better, he referenced passive mindsets as the biggest roadblock they couldn’t overcome.
“I think we got a little bit passive,” Wilson said. “And we got to make sure that never happens again. We got to make sure we do everything we can to be playing this Sunday. That’s what it takes. We got great players, we got our best players, we got to let it go, go for it and everything else.”
While it is certainly necessary to take and hit some big shots during a game to give themselves a chance to win, one might argue that executing that passive—I would rather use the words controlled and methodical— approach better might have been the key to the Seahawks turning things around, not eliminating it.
During the first half of the season, the Seahawks’ offense was built around big plays. They’d run the ball and set up play-action or spread the defense out for the big shots deep down the field. When you have guys like D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, this can be a cornerstone of what you do. But when teams went to take away those deep shots later in the season, the Seahawks did not seem to adjust their process or their desired result.
“It seemed like during the course of the season, after the halfway point, we had hit so much early, we’d been so effective, that people found ways to stay back and bleed us and make us throw the ball underneath,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said after the playoff loss to the Rams. “We were maybe really going for it more than we needed to and we didn’t take advantage of switching gears a bit there as effectively as we would have liked, because we like chunking them and going after them. I’ve got a lot of work to do to figure it out. … I wish we would have adapted better under those circumstances.”
There are a few culprits to potentially blame for this. First and foremost, it could be on the head coach. If Carroll continued to preach an aggressive nature in the passing game, Wilson wasn’t likely to go rogue on the game plan—certainly not enough for it to make a difference. In that same light, if offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer continued to preach hitting the deep shot plays while not emphasizing what could be open on underneath concepts if the defense was prioritizing deep coverage, that could be on him, too. You could also put some blame on the offensive line. The Seahawks’ need upgrades at more than one position on their line, and as we all know, in a unit of five blockers, if even one doesn’t do their job well enough, it can compromise a play. That did happen in Seattle, and did have its consequences.
But ultimately I would tell you this all falls on Wilson. Wilson is the one with the ball in his hand. He’s the one who is scanning the field. He’s been in the league for almost a decade now. He knows that there are more than just the deep routes being run by his receivers on any given play. Sometimes there are designed plays that are called where the entire point is to look deep. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is seeing the small pass and knowing that a few yards here and there can create longer, more sustained drives. That is sometimes better than taking the chance on a deep ball, even if that deep ball is something you have faith your guys can come down with.
There were times this past season where Wilson became gun shy. After eight games of launching it deep, creating yards after the catch, and running up the scoreboard, when teams started to play with more two-high safety looks, more deep quarters coverage, and just disguised coverage with rotated safeties in the middle of the field, Wilson started to hold onto the ball, double-clutch his throws, hesitate, and scramble a little more. He became uncertain. Not because there weren’t any options, but because they were not emphasized and seen with enough trust; by him, by his offensive coordinator, by his head coach; whoever it may have been.
You can go back over the last 20 years and every past MVP will have at least one thing in common: they played with confidence for the entirety of the season. That’s not to say they didn't have off games or fewer opportunities some weeks, but throughout their eventual MVP campaigns, when there were moments to make the right decisions and the right plays—to adjust—they made them often.
Wilson didn’t earn an MVP trophy this past season, but he learned how to be one—he did that through shortcomings. When things were on, Wilson looked unstoppable. But where things began to change, Wilson didn’t adjust and elevate. That’s what a Most Valuable Player has to do for a team. It’s not always about those big shots that make the highlights when the game plan works well. It’s about making the right plays and hitting a defense where they are weakest; always, or at least often. Sometimes that comes in the form of a 50-yard bomb to Metcalf—we sure love when it does. But other times it’s a crosser to Lockett for a big gain or converted first down, or even a swing pass to Chris Carson in the flat that forces the defense to then creep up and respect the short game as the game goes on, or a quick slant from a tight end in the slot.
An MVP can see those things and act on them. Wilson saw that last season. How much he learned from it is to be determined.
- Jun 24, 2022
- Jun 22, 2022