When the New England Patriots’ deflated-football scandal erupted, few people were more fortunate than Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
Rather than spend two weeks analyzing Wilson’s putrid performance in the NFC Championship Game, the world obsessed over the advantage a pound or two of air pressure might give Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his receivers.
None of that will matter Sunday once the almost-certain-to-be-properly-inflated ball is kicked off for Super Bowl 49.
While the Seahawks and Patriots feature talented defenses and have Pro Bowl players up and down their rosters, the klieg lights always shine on the quarterbacks.
Brady is a three-time champion playing in his sixth Super Bowl. Wilson is the rising star, hoping to win back-to-back titles, the type of accomplishment that would throw him into select company.
Buffalo News reporters Tim Graham and Jay Skurski debate the best quarterback in Sunday’s showdown.
Tim Graham: All right, Jay, get your deflated balls jokes out of the way now.
Jay Skurski: Hey, meteorologist Bill Belichick says he’s “handled dozens of balls over the past week,” so I was all set to say everything is on the up and up.
That is until I heard Bill Nye say on Sunday that Belichick’s reasoning “didn’t make any sense.” If it doesn’t pass the Science Guy’s smell test, then I’m dubious.
But we’re not here to debate whether the Patriots are cheaters (they are), are we?
TG: Are you done?
We have an interesting case to deliberate here, the future Hall of Famer from the classic pocket-passer mode versus the mobile hotshot who can hurt a defense with his legs as much as his arm. I love both of these guys, a couple of overachievers who have defied expectations coming out of college.
But I’ve believed for years Brady is the best quarterback in NFL history. Brady offers it all. He’s surgical. He’s clutch in big moments. At 37 years old, he already has established the career longevity needed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, though he hasn’t shown signs of falling apart like Peyton Manning did this winter.
JS: Right, he just cheats instead.
TG: Oy. You’re not done.
JS: I’m just getting started.
TG: Art Wander would be proud.
JS: I can’t help but wonder just how much these scandals will hang over Brady’s career when it’s over. The specter of cheating has kept Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, for example, out of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Just how much of an advantage Brady gained from Spygate and now Deflategate is a question that will stick with some people, myself included. But I digress.
TG: I worry more about Gabriel’s Gate wings impacting my waistline’s legacy.
JS: When it comes to pocket passers, Brady has indeed set the standard. But the same can be said for Russell Wilson when talking about mobile quarterbacks.
Here’s a fun comparison to show the gap between the two quarterbacks is closer than you may think:
Quarterback A: 4,166 combined rushing and receiving yards, 33 total touchdowns (passing and rushing), 12 total turnovers (interceptions and lost fumbles).
Quarterback B: 4,324 yards, 26 touchdowns, seven turnovers.
Quarterback A is Brady. Quarterback B is Wilson.
TG: Those are impressive numbers, and I’m not going to throw out Wilson’s running production. We can explore that more in a little bit. When it comes to passing, however, Brady is superior.
Brady threw 33 touchdown passes this season to Wilson’s 20. And while Brady threw two more interceptions than Wilson did, Brady also attempted 131 more passes for the same interception percentage.
As for Wilson’s ability to run for big gains, Brady can’t compete there. Brady ran only nine times. Wilson ran 52 times. But scrambling also can lead to problems. Wilson was sacked 42 times on 546 dropbacks. Brady was sacked half as often on 613 dropbacks.
Remember how bad the Bills’ offensive line was this season? Of course, you do. You’re still experiencing night terrors from watching it. Well, Kyle Orton and EJ Manuel were sacked only 39 times on 631 dropbacks.
JS: I’ve petitioned the league to count every Orton sack in which he turtled for a full second before impact as two in the official stat book. I expect the change to be made any day now.
TG: Wilson was sacked at least once each week, at least three times in eight games and at least five times in three games. The Cardinals sacked him seven times in Week 12.
That’s a significant reason why analytics site Pro Football Focus, which takes running into account when grading quarterbacks, ranked Brady fourth-best in the NFL season. Wilson was 13th.
JS: I agree that when it comes to getting the ball out quicker, Wilson can get better.
It took him an average of 2.89 seconds from the time he took the snap to the time he attempted a throw, another of the robust analytics tracked by PFF. That’s the slowest in the league among quarterbacks who took at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps.
On plays in which Wilson attempted a pass in 2.5 seconds or less, he was quite good, with a quarterback rating of 113.2 that was second in the league to only Andrew Luck. So making quicker decisions is something he can improve.
But that’s a relatively minor complaint against a third-year pro who has accomplished as much as Wilson has to this point.
TG: So many sacks! Decisiveness in pulling the trigger is a critical trait for any quarterback and maybe Brady’s greatest strength.
JS: The truth is, Wilson is an elite passer. He just isn’t asked to do it as much because the Seahawks run the ball so well.
Wilson’s yards per attempt of 7.73 ranked seventh in the league (ahead of Brady).
His quarterback rating of 95.0 ranked 10th – and that doesn’t take into account his production as a runner. Wilson’s 849 yards on the ground tied for 16th in the NFL and led all quarterbacks by 210 yards. His 7.2 yards per attempt was the best in the NFL by more than a yard over any player with at least 100 rushes.
The big concern for running quarterbacks is the added risk of injury, but that hasn’t been a problem for Wilson. He has started every game of his career so far, 55 and counting, including the postseason.
TG: Yeah, the postseason. There’s the hammer.
Seattle advanced to the Super Bowl in spite of Wilson, not because of him. How about this all-star performance to open the NFC Championship Game? Incompletion, interception, sack, incompletion, incompletion, interception, incompletion and then, finally, his first completion of the game less than four minutes before halftime. Three plays later? Interception.
At halftime, Wilson had 8 net yards passing, two sacks and three interceptions. Then in the second half he tossed another pick and got sacked three more times. This happened at home, where the Seahawks are supposed to make opponents tremble in fear.
So with the Packers choking away all these glorious chances, Marshawn Lynch carried the Seahawks on his back, allowing Wilson to chuck a prayer two-point conversion and help force overtime.
Brady is a big-stage quarterback. And before you mention the Patriots have lost their last two Super Bowl trips, neither was Brady’s fault. David Tyree’s miracle catch was the major reason the Giants won seven years ago. Wes Welker’s critical drop and Rob Gronkowski’s injury doomed the Patriots three years ago.
Like Brady’s wife, Gisele Bundchen, noted: Tommy can’t catch the ball, too!
JS: Wilson can. He had one catch for 17 yards this season.
The thing I love about this matchup is it feels like a look at what the NFL was and what it might become.
Brady’s brilliant career is nearing its conclusion. Wilson isn’t near his prime yet.
As Wilson’s game evolves, so too will the “mobile” quarterback.
Just look at the past two Super Bowls. Led by Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers fell 5 yards short of defeating the Baltimore Ravens in 2013.
Last season, Wilson and the Seahawks waxed Peyton Manning and the Broncos. He’ll have an opportunity Sunday to lead his team to consecutive championships, making him the first quarterback to do since ... wait for it ... Brady and the Patriots in ‘04 and ‘05.
Like Roger Waters once sang, “The Tide is Turning.” It’s not going to happen overnight, but more and more, we’ll see mobile quarterbacks coming into the league.
Successful college coaches – think former Oregon and current Eagles coach Chip Kelly – will make their way to the NFL, bringing with them their spread systems. Then, those quarterbacks will follow.
TG: Chan Gailey has predicted this for years. Honestly.
JS: We’ll see an example of it this year when Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota gets picked in the first round.
Not all of those quarterbacks will succeed – cough, Johnny Manziel, cough – but in Wilson, they’ve got a model to follow.
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