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Pete Carroll's quarterback decision this week could define early part of Seahawks' season
It's time for Seahawks coach Pete Carroll to give a straight answer. The Duke of Double Talk, a master media manipulator, Carroll has kept his starting quarterback job wide open, at least in theory, and as I've written before, he has earned some degree of patience.
But now that the Seahawks are down to five practices and two exhibition games before preparations for the regular season begin, the coach faces a crucial week. On Tuesday, when the Seahawks resume practice, Carroll figures to reveal his quarterback plan for Friday's third preseason game against Kansas City. And that will be a big decision because Week 3 of the preseason is typically a dress rehearsal, the only exhibition in which the starters play the majority of the game.
It doesn't take an offensive coordinator to know that's a good time to have your starting quarterback in place. But with Carroll so adamant that this is a wide-open battle, isn't he in a predicament with Russell Wilson emerging as an intriguing option?
I've said this before, and I'll say it again: My sense has always been that this quarterback competition was merely designed to push free-agent acquisition Matt Flynn, the former Green Bay backup who has just two career starts. During practice, the reps have been divided among Flynn, Wilson and incumbent starter Tarvaris Jackson, who is expected to be traded or released soon. But Flynn has started both preseason games and gone through the inevitable preseason ups and downs that offenses endure, especially a unit still in development like the Seahawks. Meanwhile, Wilson has played the second half, and he has been spectacular against reserves and roster hopefuls.
What does that mean? Well, for one, it means that Wilson is becoming popular, and some fans are clamoring for him to start, or at least get some action with the first team, against Kansas City this week. But there's still a strong faction (myself included) that believes the Seahawks, who have a potentially elite defense and legit playoff aspirations, are better off going with Flynn, who has been steady all preseason, and giving Wilson more time to develop.
But here's how Carroll is tangled in a web currently: If he is to stay true to his word about competition, then Wilson deserves a chance with the first team. And if he already has predetermined the winner, which the coach could blow off as his prerogative, then he needs to end the charade and make his declaration now.
Here's how our Seahawks beat writer Danny O'Neil broke it down in his blog:
2) Can we really call this a quarterback competition if Russell Wilson doesn't start this week?
This is not to say Wilson should start, only that if this was an honest to goodness, heads-up competition, he probably would start given his second-half performance the past two weeks. Carroll stated as clearly as he has last week that Matt Flynn is ahead of Wilson in terms of his ability to understand defenses. Fine. Then why the talk about a quarterback competition, still? Tarvaris Jackson has yet to appear in an exhibition game, and while Wilson has played well in the second half of both exhibition games, if he doesn't get a chance to play against an opponent's first-string defense before Seattle names a starter for the regular-season opener, was this really even a competition or more a confirmation that Flynn was going to start.
If it's an open competition, then Carroll should be intrigued enough with Wilson to want more information about him, and seeing him against Kansas City's starting defense is a must. But if he's leaning heavily toward Flynn based on practices and two preseason games, then now is the time to stop trying to push Flynn and start getting him ready for Week 1 against Arizona.
I'm fine with whatever Carroll chooses. I've already written that he deserves some trust. But if you can't see that this quarterback battle is odd, then you're not being honest. Fortunately, the urgency of this week dictates that we'll receive some clarity, probably on Tuesday.
I predicted a while back that Carroll would name Flynn his starter this week. Flynn is 17 of 26 for only 102 yards and has a 56.9 quarterback rating so far this preseason, and he has yet to lead the first-team offense on a touchdown drive. Wilson has been an extraordinary backup, completing 22 of 33 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns, registering a 110.5 QB rating and rushing for 92 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.
If you take nothing else from Wilson's numbers, you at least have to acknowledge that the rookie has been a pretty advanced backup at this stage. He deserves an opportunity against stiffer competition, but the Seahawks can't give him a look just to give him a look. If he starts against the Chiefs or gets any significant playing time against their first unit, it must be because he's a true candidate to be the starting quarterback. The Seahawks can't play him against the 1's just because they're hoping to see what he can do. They have to believe he's a real option. And after two preseason games and three weeks of practice, they should have a strong opinion about him.
Actually, Carroll should've given Wilson that look against Denver on Saturday. But he didn't, and now the clock is ticking, and the coach has to make a decision that could define the early part of the Seahawks' season. Drag out the QB battle any longer, and the eventual starter will that much more ill-prepared to shine in Week 1. End the competition now and declare Flynn the starter, and the Seahawks could salvage some of the inevitable issues that come when the quarterback and wide receivers don't have enough reps to develop chemistry.
But would they be moving on at the expense of finding out who's truly better? It's an interesting question. Carroll made his clearest statement on the QB situation last week when he admitted that Flynn is ahead of Wilson, mostly because Flynn reads defense better right now. Still, Wilson has done plenty to solidify the belief that he's the quarterback of the future. He has it. He's electric. It's just a matter of time -- 2013? 2014? Heck, somewhere in the middle of 2012? -- before he's the Seahawks' starting quarterback, in my opinion. But do the Seahawks need to rush him now when Flynn is capable?
If Terrell Owens hadn't dropped that easy touchdown pass from Flynn on Saturday night, many would have a different perspective on the quarterback. If Sidney Rice, Zach Miller and Doug Baldwin Jr. were all healthy, Flynn would have a stronger stable of receivers, and he would probably be showing his ability more. But from what I've seen so far, Flynn will be just fine. His potential efficiency on third down, which would complement Marshawn Lynch and the run game nicely, will show up even more when the real action begins.
What gets lost in the who-should-start argument: With Flynn and Wilson now on the roster, the Seahawks' quarterback situation is a lot healther than it has been in years. A year ago, the options were Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst. It wasn't a question of who you wanted to start. It was more about who you didn't want to see. This time, there are reasons to appreciate both quarterbacks.
Carroll has a tough choice to make this week. He's Mr. Always Compete, and Wilson has earned the opportunity. But Carroll is most beholden to trying to win as many games as possible, and settling the quarterback debate now gives the Seahawks a better chance to be prepared for the regular season.
So what will it be, Uncle Pete? We're all eager for some clarity.