Russell Wilson’s primetime failures aren’t all that unfamiliar for Seahawks fans who have been watching Wilson struggle in key aspects of his game.
The “system quarterback” phrase gets thrown around often without much consideration as to what it means. In short, fans denigrate quarterbacks who thrive in one system yet fail in another, but it’s an oversimplification of what a team ecosystem is meant to accomplish. In theory, every functional NFL system should be built around the strengths of what its players do well. Teams draft players tailor-made for their offensive and defensive schemes. Being someone who thrives in a given system isn’t a bad thing, because it just means the people around them gave them adequate tools to succeed.
The issue that most NFL teams usually encounter is that the turnover rate for head coaches and general managers is unseasonably high. That does make a sizable difference, evidenced by the carousel of Cleveland Browns coaches in the past decade and what the Carolina Panthers are dealing with in the 2022 season. Robert Saleh is turning around the New York Jets, and Brian Daboll is already paying off with the New York Giants. It takes time, but having the right people in charge makes all the difference.
That brings us to the seismic shift between a decade in Seattle with one of the NFL’s most stable franchises to a new environment in Denver with a new head coach. Hackett isn’t just new to Denver: it’s his first head coaching job in the NFL. It isn’t going swimmingly so far, either.
Hackett did coach Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay through two consecutive NFL MVP seasons, but that was having Rodgers throw to Davante Adams — one would be hard-pressed to fail with that combination. It earned Hackett the job in Denver, but the way Russell Wilson has been deployed through the 2022 season has some questioning Hackett’s decision-making.
It also begs the question: was a great deal of Wilson’s success a result of the Seahawks system? Former players have spoken about how head coach Pete Carroll catered to Wilson, but Wilson’s move to Denver only crystallizes how much he benefitted in Seattle’s environment.
Russell Wilson’s Broncos move proves that the Seahawks built him a system for success
When Wilson was drafted in 2012, Carroll and John Schneider were busy building a recipe for Super Bowl success. Much of the credit goes to the vaunted Legion of Boom defense, but there was also the savvy trade for Marshawn Lynch and the third-round pick that resulted in Wilson. Wilson was a fantastic passer with mobility, which caused him to sail as one of the NFL’s top passing quarterbacks throughout the past decade with nearly annual playoff runs.
Of course, the Seahawks weren’t able to make a substantial push through the playoffs after their Super Bowl loss in 2015, and critics noticed a depleting defense and an insubstantial run game. The Rashaad Penny pick and the Jamal Adams trade are just two costly decisions that didn’t pan out for Seattle as planned. Without a complete supporting cast and with Wilson taking up so much cap space, eventually, the Seahawks were left no choice but to trade Wilson.
Yet despite the inability to find the next Lynch or rebuild the Legion of Boom, Seattle did land fantastic receivers. Tyler Lockett has been one of the NFL’s most successful receivers — just look at his catch rate ‚— and DK Metcalf is a bonafide star. Before then, Wilson connected with Doug Baldwin, another oft-underrated receiver. Wilson is certainly talented, but his receivers have been, too. Truthfully, there is no one in Denver’s offense quite like Lockett or Metcalf, at least not now.
There were also signs that Wilson was to blame too, evidenced in large part by the 2020 “Let Russ Cook” campaign. Seahawks fans wanted to see more of Wilson’s passing ability, but a mid-season crash after a hot start revealed that Wilson had problems of his own. Wilson has been critiqued for holding onto the ball for too long and making risky runs, a pesky habit that has followed him to Denver.
According to ESPN’s Brady Henderson, a costly Week 16 sack versus the Chicago Bears last season — one that cost the Seahawks a playoff berth — caused those within the Seahawks organization to question Wilson’s play.
“I just felt like he’s a descending player,” a front-office source said, citing the same mobility concern. “Is he going to be able to be a true pocket passer at the end of his career and just stand there and drop the ball off to his checkdowns? He’s never done that. I can’t tell you he’s going to be able to do that.”
It’s not easy to take over a new team, for Hackett or for Wilson. Yet the past success of these two figures does mean that they should have at least pooled together and found a solution in at least one of their primetime losses. A 2-4 start with Wilson is inexcusable, and seeing the same flaws that haunted Wilson in Seattle is troubling for a Denver team that just went all in on him.
Seattle fans know all too well what Wilson’s shortcomings were — and that the Seahawks organization worked endlessly to compliment his game. Perhaps there was a reason Seattle emphasized the run all these years, which is something the Broncos have yet to realize.
Wilson needs support from the Broncos to be able to do what he does best, as he still is an incredible passer in the right circumstances. Time will tell if Denver can make it happen.