It's one of the oldest cliches in sports. Whenever pundits emphasize that a team has yet to "take the next step" to become great, they essentially say that a team is talented, but lacks the cohesion, chemistry, and coaching ability to become elite.
That phrase is being tossed around like a hot potato after the Seahawks' sickening loss to the Rams. Analysts from most major news outlets are slandering the same rookie quarterback that they praised two weeks ago, dubbing him the team's "weak link" that will curse them with another .500 season. But, in fairness, it's difficult to make a case against the critics. The Seahawks own the worst passing offense in the NFL. It's easy to lay the blame on Russell Wilson, especially when coming from the under-informed perspective of the national media.
To me, and most other well-informed Seahawks fans, the blame doesn't fall on Wilson's shoulders at all. Rather, the playcalling and conservative approach to handling Wilson is what is holding this offense to its atrocious passing numbers.
I won't get in to specific playcalls; instead, I'll examine a few reasons why Bevel and Cable ought to maximize what Wilson can do now, as opposed to slowly usher him into the league.
1. The Offensive Line
Hey, remember last year when Tarvaris Jackson would get pressured in the first half second after the ball was snapped? Well, we don't have that problem anymore. Despite facing premier pass rushers in every game thus far, the offensive line has given Wilson ample time to throw in the past three games (the Cardinals game was a mess, but I chalk that more up to unpreparedness for Ray Horton's fire blitz/ delay blitz scheme). That means that Clay Matthews, Demarcus Ware, and Chris Long were rendered far less effective than one would expect them to be.
The Seahawks already have taken advantage of that line play in the run game, and Marshawn Lynch leads the NFL in rushing yards as a result. Why not employ more 3-wide sets, sending Golden Tate and Sidney Rice down the field on streak routes while Doug Baldwin runs a post and Anthony McCoy goes up the seam? We've seen Wilson throw the deep ball. His pass to Golden Tate on a post route against the Packers was the best throw he's made as a Seahawk, in my opinion. Pete Carroll emphasized the need for "chunk plays" in the offseason. We have the line to execute these plays, and our quarterback has the armstrength. Give it a shot, maybe?
2. Team Morale
For any of you who follow the Seahawks players on twitter, you may have noticed a certain trend developing. Defensive players (and even some offensive players) are calling out the offense for holding the team back. The anger is justified, of course. When the defense forces three and outs and/or turnovers, it is essentially gifting field position to the offense. The offense simply cannot produce, and the third-down playcalling (on both sides of the ball, actually) is very poor. This was more evident against the Packers than any other team. Believe me, I was there. The Packers were absolutely stymied by the defense, shut out in the first half. That score should've at least been 21-0 at halftime. Yet 30+ yards worth of unnecessary roughness penalties in one drive, poor route running in others, and general miscues in all of them led to only a solitary touchdown being posted on the scoreboard at halftime.
Long story short, the offensive is extremely undisciplined. The defense is disciplined. Ironic, because the defense is significantly younger on average than the defense is. If this team is to win, the offense must produce. We aren't the 2000 Ravens. Team morale will significantly decline if the offense can't step it up. And that is pretty much Pete Carroll's worst nightmare.
3. There Are Playmakers on the Team
Yes, I realize that I called out the receivers in the previous section for not getting open enough against the Rams. And while that was an issue on particular drives of that game, it doesn't reflect on the season as a whole. After reviewing the game tape, it's clear that these receivers get separation on their routes. Wilson, for some reason, just doesn't seem to trust his receivers to make plays like he did in the preseason. Which seems odd, considering that both Sidney Rice and Golden Tate are some of the most sure-handed receivers in the NFL (statistically speaking).
Knowing Wilson's tendency to trust receivers in the preseason, we must conclude, then, that the coaches are holding Wilson back. Carroll has attested to this. Using these playmakers would undoubtedly increase offensive output.
So, to conclude, the "next step" for the Seahawks would be to unleash Russell Wilson. We saw them do it during that scripted first drive during the Rams. he has the protection, he has the footwork, he has the armstrength. Employ the league's leading rusher on play-action plays. Send the receivers on streak routes. Let Golden Tate live up to his draft potential, and let Sidney Rice return to 2009 form. That way those cool things called "points" will go up on the board.