Bobby Wagner is quite succinct — yet revealing — in defining the mood he and the Seahawks’ vaunted defense has right now.
Seattle’s highly paid, star-packed unit almost beat Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay by itself in the opener. Then the defense won game two, over San Francisco 12-9. But last weekend in Tennessee, the Seahawks’ loud, proud defenders wilted and flailed in the Nashville steam, giving up 33 points and 420 yards. That included 195 yards rushing, Seattle’s most allowed in four years.
How does the All-Pro linebacker and his fellow Seahawks defenders feel about that entering Sunday night’s home game against Indianapolis?
“It pisses us off,” Wagner said.
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He’s not the only one upset entering this game. And the reason is likely to help make the Seahawks’ defense feel much better by Monday.
The NFL and NBC were thinking Russell Wilson against Andrew Luck for this prime-time showcase in Seattle.
They are getting a North Carolina State summer camp reunion, instead.
Wilson is a former Wolfpack quarterback who transferred to Wisconsin for a Rose Bowl season before the Seahawks drafted him in 2012. He has gone back to Raleigh to hold the annual Russell Wilson Passing Academy camps on the N.C. State campus — and Jacoby Brissett helped him as a coach at the camp. Twice.
Brissett transferred during his college career, like Wilson. But Brissett went from Florida to N.C. State to be one of its successors to Wilson at QB. Brissett was drafted in the third round, like Wilson, but four years later and to New England, in 2016. He started and won the third game of the past season for the Patriots, 27-0 over Houston, then started and lost the following week 27-17 to Buffalo.
On Sept. 3 the Patriots traded Brissett to … the Colts. Indianapolis needed a quarterback with Luck out indefinitely following shoulder surgery. Luck is still out, and Brissett is making his fifth NFL start Sunday.
“Yeah I did (have him work for me),” Wilson said. “I had the fortunate situation of getting to know him really well actually when I was going back to NC State and I run my camps there a lot. And he was able to coach in them as well.
“He is such a great worker. That is the first thing I would say about him. Second of all, he really connects with the guys around him and he really does a good job of making and helping those guys really learn the game. I noticed that when he was in college, just about to come out of college and I had been around him several times, and just his sense of energy. He is really calm. He’s got great positivity. I think he is going to be a great player for sure.”
What did Wilson have Brissett do most? Work.
“We just threw a lot,” Wilson said. “Whenever I have camp, I typically go out and throw a bunch especially when I have a lot of the other college guys or NFL guys. So we just got to work.
“He asked several questions about just how the process of the NFL was and I kind of gave him my thoughts and everything when he was coming out. Just really telling him that it is all about the work. It is all about the preparation. I’m sure he got a great glimpse of that, obviously being in New England with Tom and understanding that and learning how to study and learning how to prepare for a game.
“He is going to be a really good quarterback,” Wilson said before adding with a grin: “There is a lot of good ones from NC State, so it’s been cool.”
Last year at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, I asked Brissett about Wilson. Brissett said he reveres him.
“Most definitely,” Brissett said, his voice rising, in February 2017 in Indianapolis.
Brissett entered the league last year armed with some advice given to him by Wilson, who by then was more than his camp boss.
“He just said it’s a business, and you just have to work at it,” Brissett said. “It’s a job that you never fully understand or fully know it, you won’t fully have all the answers to. So you have to work.
“I mean, you watch his game, and it’s evident that’s all he does is work. He tries to perfect his craft.”
Wilson wasn’t perfect last weekend in the loss that still has Wagner and the defense fuming. He threw for 373 yards and four touchdowns, three of them in a playground-ball second half, on a career-high 49 pass attempts. If Wilson hadn’t been noticeably off and particularly high on many of his throws during the first half, though, Seattle would have scored more than 27 points. And then it may not have mattered how malfunctioning and tired the defense was.
“Yeah, it was definitely something I was noticing early on. Really, the beginning of the second quarter,” Wilson said. “I mentioned that to (backup) Austin (Davis) and I mentioned that to (offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell), and everybody. I told them, ‘You know, the ball seems like it is really carrying.’
“So I noticed that and just readjusted my eyes a little bit down. Just made a quick adjustment and the next thing you know we got hot there….So just paying attention to those little things like that and it’s good to know. It’s good to think about too as hopefully you have another game like that where you can make those quick adjustments and all that.”
The team has problems with its offensive line and pass protection; Wilson has been hit 27 times and sacked six times in three games. But the Colts’ line may be just as bad.
Indianapolis has allowed Brissett and Ryan Tolzien, who started the opener and got drilled in a 46-9 loss at the Los Angeles Rams, to be sacked 11 times through three games. And Sunday night the Colts will be missing injured starting center Ryan Kelly.
It’s as a prime chance for Wagner, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, new defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and Frank Clark to get back to their dominant selves.
“I’m looking forward to stopping it and making sure it doesn’t happen again,” Wagner said, smiling.
The Seahawks expect Brissett to get the ball out quickly, as quarterbacks have done more this season to combat Seattle’s pass rush. They also expect Brissett and the Colts’ 29th-ranked offense to hand the ball off to Frank Gore — a lot — to slow down the Seahawks’ pass rushers.
Gore, 34, has been getting increasing work this season: 10, 14 and last week 25 carries after Indianapolis jumped to a 28-7 lead over Cleveland in its 31-28 win. But Gore’s yardage has only been 42, 46 and 57 yards this season.
His 1,421 yards in 18 games against Seattle over 10 seasons with the 49ers are his most yards against any NFL opponent.
“Yeah, he’s still got it. He still has his burst,” said Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard, who was a teammate of Gore’s on the 49ers in Richard’s final NFL playing season, 2005. “He is still very effective running in between the tackles. That is what he prefers. That has always been his style. Again, a couple of cuts, stick his foot in the ground and try and get as much as he can. He still has that explosive nature. He still runs with power and good pad level, so he is still a really good back.”
The Seahawks wouldn’t mind using its running backs more than the 15 carries they got last weekend. Thomas Rawls played one snap and Eddie Lacy never came off the sideline. Rookie Chris Carson has taken over lead-back . Carson’s likely to have third-down responsibilities Sunday night, too, because C.J. Prosise is doubtful to play because of an ankle injury.
If the running game stays like it’s been behind Seattle’s iffy offensive line so far this season, it will be on Wilson to beat his former summer-camp assistant.
Or it will be on Wagner and the ticked-off defense to reset the Seahawks back to .500.
Asked if they need to get the running game going to be playing “Seahawks football,” Wilson paused before he responded.
“I think we have to do whatever it takes to win,” Wilson said.
“I think ‘Seahawks football’ is winning.”