Dealing Cards: Even if running less, Russell Wilson presents a tough challenge

Oct 19, 2016, 4:57 PM | Updated: Oct 20, 2016, 11:24 am

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) prepares to make a 24-yard pass to running back C.J...

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) prepares to make a 24-yard pass to running back C.J. Spiller (28), left, in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016, in Seattle. The pass set up a Seahawks touchdown run by Alex Collins. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

TEMPE, Ariz. — By now, everyone knows how good of a player Seattle QB Russell Wilson is.

A three-time Pro Bowl selection as well as a Super Bowl champion, he has long been regarded as one of the best at his position since taking the league by storm as a rookie in 2012.

This season, however, Wilson has been different.

Likely due in large part to a knee injury he suffered in a Week 3 win over the 49ers, Wilson has been less of a runner than he was in his first four seasons. Two years ago, he averaged 53.1 rushing yards per game, and though that number dropped to 34.6 last season, he was still very much a threat with his legs.

This year, however, he has gained just 35 yards on 21 carries, giving him an average of 1.7 yards per rush and 7 rushing yards per game.

The 2016 version of Wilson is more of a pocket passer than ever before.

“He still gets out, but he stays in (the pocket) and their vertical passing game and everything that they’re doing in the passing game, they’re throwing the ball a lot more than they used to,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “And he’s doing an extremely — really, really accurate — not throwing to the other team, not taking sacks. When he has to get out of there he gets out, but he’s looking down field.”

Wilson has averaged 34 passing attempts per game this season, which is four more than he averaged last year and six more than he posted in 2014. Wilson’s accuracy is a little down this year from 2015 — 65.9 percent from 68.1 — but his interception percentage is a measly 0.6.

In other words, while Wilson is not the same player he was the last couple of seasons, he is no less effective.

“Russell’s still an efficient player, a great player, besides his scrambling ability and his ability to extend plays with his legs,” Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones said. “I mean, he’s a great quarterback. He can throw the ball from the pocket. That shouldn’t nullify him at all.”

Wilson staying in the pocket more, or at least the idea of him doing that, is not something Jones feels will be advantageous. The first-year Cardinal said he’s not counting on Wilson being immobile, so the challenge of not only tracking him down, but also finishing the play remains.

“It’s two challenges,” Jones said. “There’s a challenge to actually beat the defender that’s blocking you, then you have another challenge to actually take Russell Wilson down. He’s very slippery — he ducks, he pump fakes, he has a lot of moves despite his injury he’s a guy that we just have to get down. He’s a tremendous player.”

In eight career games against the Cardinals, Wilson has completed 57 percent of his passes for 1,631 yards with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. He has also gained 319 yards and scored once on 48 rushes in leading the Seahawks to five victories.

So whatever version of Wilson the Cardinals see on the field Sunday, be it the runner, the passer or something in between, they understand they will have their work cut out for them.

“You know he can throw the ball down the football field; he’s constantly getting better each and every week, each and every year, as a passer,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “I think what he can do with his legs goes without saying. It’s a great challenge for us, but something we’re going to get done.”

Injury update

The official injury report can be seen here, and the good news for the Cardinals was that guard Mike Iupati was back on the field. Arians said he looked good, by the way. As for Carson Palmer, the QB was given a veteran’s day off, the coach said, while Jaron Brown (knee), John Brown (hamstring) and Ed Stinson (toe) were all nursing mild ailments. Arians expects Stinson back on the field Thursday, though.

Guards were grinders

One of the big storylines heading into last week’s game against the Jets was of Arizona’s offensive line, and how it featured a pair of new starting guards in Earl Watford on the right and John Wetzel on the left.

It’s safe to say each did well, and after the game they were honored by ESPN analyst John Gruden in his “Gruden’s Grinders” feature.

“I didn’t see it myself,” Wetzel said Wednesday. “I had friends, family, like send me it after. That’s how I found out.”

Like Wetzel, Watford said he did not see the TV broadcast (they were both busy during the game and have not yet seen the video).

“I heard it — I guess I should look at it, but it’s awesome, that’s awesome,” Watford said. “It’s big, but that’s for the entire O-line, not just us two.”

A rested QB is a better QB

Over the last couple of days, Arians has mentioned how Carson Palmer missing the week of the San Francisco game with a concussion benefitted the QB in that it gave him some extra rest during the season.

Against the Jets Monday night, in his first game in about two weeks, Palmer completed 23-of-34 passes for 213 yards and one touchdown, and appeared to be playing his best in the fourth quarter.

“It just depends,” Palmer said on if the rest made a difference for him. “They (the team’s coaching and training staff) do such a good job controlling reps, whether it is in the weight room, conditioning with your running, or number of throws during the week. But there’s no doubt. With that short week we had going into San Francisco and having all that time off, whether you’re 36 or 26, you’re going to feel great coming off that week.”

Palmer got another day off Wednesday, and while he suffered a minor hamstring injury late in Monday’s win, it had more to do with just giving the veteran a break.

“Yeah, just mainly a Monday Night game and practice within 48 hours, and a full tilt practice, so he gave me the day off,” Palmer explained.

While Palmer was not practicing, he said he was focused on what was going on, trying to take as many mental reps as possible while watching.

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