Sunday, August 26, 2012

Wilson shines! That was not the plan. Now what?

Seattle Seahawks vs. Kansas City Chiefs - Recap - August 24, 2012 - ESPN

Russell Wilson in his stunning performance against the KC Chiefs, one of the top defenses in 2011, has become a blessing and potentially a curse.  He has exceeded expectations as a developmental QB who had the most to learn about playing in a pro-style offense.  He is your classic, athletic college QB talent.  Offenses revolved around his strengths and minimized exposing flaws for the defense to exploit.  The team probably expected him to be Seneca Wallace 2.0, a career back-up who can play WR or run the Wildcat.  Surprisingly, Wilson made the adjustment this time around and now may be the "diamond in the rough" of the 2012 draft class, especially given a Seahawks team with an All-Pro quality RB and fairly stout defense that can minimize the potential and pressure of playing from behind.  All indications is that the situation could not be any better for this rookie.

But with all pleasant surprises come tough decisions that invite the temptation to break from the best laid plans.  In other words, do the Seahawks start Wilson or the major off-season investment of $26 million in Matt Flynn?  When the franchise decided to go in a new direction after Hasselback's departure, John Schneider, Seahawks GM, and his team of experts along with Pete Carroll conducted a thorough analysis of available QBs in free agency and likely available candidates in the draft.  The result was Matt Flynn, back-up QB extraordinaire from Green Bay, who broke the single-game passing TD team record of 5 in 2011 and consistently played smart, efficient football, especially knowing when to drive the ball deep and accurately.  He was at a minimum Hasselback 2.0.  He sat the bench and held a clipboard learning from a QB superstar.  In the most optimistic of perspectives, Flynn would evolve into the second coming of Aaron Rodgers and carry this franchise to storied heights.

So far, Flynn has looked more like Kevin Kolb of the Arizona Cardinals: unimpressive, inaccurate, and uninspiring.  Flynn has not adapted to this new offense but that's little excuse considering a rookie has learned the playbook better than he has.  In a common sense world, Wilson would be the no-brainer starter because he has EARNED it, but in the pros, ROI calculations, economics have a way to distract from football decisions.  $26 million with $10 million guaranteed is an expensive price tag for someone to hold a clipboard.

This is where the curse comes in.  Ambiguity and doubt enters the decision-making process.  So, let's say Wilson starts and has a pedestrian performance in his first few games, maybe even has more INTs than TDs but the Seahawks keep winning.  Does John Schneider put pressure on Pete Carroll to put Flynn in because of "lucky" wins?  Does he also feel a need to justify his investment in Flynn, if not his reputation?  And then the quicksand starts to take hold.  The coach isn't sure who should start on Sunday.  The offensive coordinator doesn't know which QB to really game plan with.  Offensive starters can't get a rhythm because they don't know who will show up in the huddle.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, this is not the saga of the 49ers during the Montana-Young rivalry.  In that case, management made firm and clear decisions.  Four Super Bowl wins speak for themselves.  The Wilson - Flynn (and even throw in Jackson for fun) will potentially mirror the Troy Aikman - Steve Walsh rivalry in Dallas in 1989.  Aikman was the golden boy #1 draft pick.  Scouts compared him to John Elway and Dan Marino.  He was a "can't miss."  New coach, Jimmy Johnson, formerly of the University of Miami, was in his "rookie" season of the NFL, replacing the coaching icon Tom Landry.  The pressure was on to win now and fast; otherwise, the natives would get restless.  So, (un)stunningly, Johnson drafted another QB in the supplemental draft.  This QB was not unfamiliar to Johnson.  It was Steve Walsh from Johnson's Miami Hurricane team.  In that first season, the Cowboys went 1-15.  The one win was led by Walsh.  Newspapers and pundits stirred the pot every week.  Factions arose.  Obviously, history tells us that Johnson finally learned to commit.  Aikman earned the job and won three Super Bowls.  Walsh was traded away having an obscure NFL career.

Now the lesson for the Seahawks is that ambiguity equals losing.  No single player will make them 15-1 or 1-15.  The team and coaching staff will decide that with their play and calls.  The critical decision is not so much who will start but what the Seahawks will do with the other guy.  The sheer presence of the "backup" will only dampen the "starter's" ability to coalescence team support and confidence and take ownership of the team.  Need I remind you of the Tebow and Orton saga and then Tebow's immediate trade after signing Manning?  Somehow, I'm pretty confident that Manning demanded that as one of his terms.

So as far as Wilson vs. Flynn goes, let the best man win but pray that Carroll and Schneider be the better men that press forward and not constantly look backwards for pillars of salt.

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