Coaches use any number of words to describe the strengths of their quarterbacks. Intelligence. Intensity. Accuracy. Competitiveness. Mobility.
Pete Carroll added one more word to the lexicon when I asked whether he’s still amazed at how well Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson continues to perform: Curiosity.
Yes, you read right.
I’ve never heard a coach use that term to describe a quarterback, but Carroll had a perfectly reasonable explanation. In fact, he offered a unique insight into what has helped turn Wilson from an obscure third-round pick in 2012 into a Hall of Fame quarterback with one Super Bowl victory and possibly more to come. Perhaps even this year.
"He’s an amazing individual," Carroll said of Wilson, who faces the Giants on Sunday at CenturyLink Field. "I think he’s a world-class competitor in every way that he approaches his work and his life and the way he plays on game day and the consistency that he’s maintained for so long."
And now the interesting part.
"His continued curiosity about getting better has been what’s driven him," said Carroll, who went with Wilson as his starter in his rookie year. "He’s having his best season ever, and he’s leading us in every way. It’s been just a joy, it’s been a blast to be battling with him, competing with him."
So what’s behind Carroll’s use of the word "curiosity" in describing what makes Wilson tick?
"Just take a look at the great competitors that we watch across the landscape in sports and how they’re always itching to figure out what somebody else is doing," Carroll said, "what they’re doing well, why they are having success, and why does that guy act and respond the way he does. There’s a curiosity that is driven by this desire to be the best in the world."
In other words, Wilson, like all the elite performers in sports, needs to figure it out. Needs to understand the why and then translate that to his own game.
"They all have this burning desire to figure it out and how I can guarantee my success and make sure that I’m taking the proper steps, and Russell is every bit about that," Carroll said. "He’s curious, he just cares, it’s just important to him."
And Wilson doesn’t limit that curiosity just to football.
"It can come from not just people in the sporting world," Carroll said. "He’ll see illustrations or examples of people in other walks and why do they care so much, why do they act the way they do? He just wants to try and understand it because he wants to own it, so that’s why I say it that way."
With 31 touchdown passes in the Seahawks’ 8-3 season, he is just four scoring throws away from matching his career high. And were it not for two uncharacteristically ordinary performances in back-to-back losses to the Bills and Rams, Wilson would be stride-for-stride with Patrick Mahomes in the MVP race. But Carroll points to how Wilson reacted after those losses as yet another sign of his quarterback’s brilliance.
"He had a couple games where he’s had to bounce back from them, and he did come back, and he’s played really good, just like he always does," Carroll said. "He continues to lead us in a really good, championship way. I hope he can just keep taking it to this week and have a good game and keep showing what he’s all about."
A series of tests for Big Blue
There’s no question the Giants’ defense has improved significantly this season. Just how good is it?
We’ll soon find out.
After fashioning a three-game winning streak against teams with a combined record of 9-22-2, the Giants now face four teams with winning records. Seattle, Arizona, Cleveland and Baltimore are a combined 28-16, and all of them feature capable offenses. The Giants complete their season against the Cowboys in what could be a division-deciding game.
Linebacker Blake Martinez, in the middle of a splendid season with a team-high 101 tackles, is anxious to discover just how impactful the Giants defense truly is. And whether it’s good enough to play against the best.
"I think as a competitor, you want to have these opportunities to play teams like this," Martinez said. "I think every week it’s hard to win no matter who you’re playing. I think for us throughout this season, it’s always been a play here, a play there at least at the beginning of the season. Now you’re starting to see everything kind of come together for us across the board."
Clock management a plus for Judge
One of the most challenging adjustments for transition from NFL assistant to head coach is having a firm grasp on clock management decisions. And even some seasoned coaches who should know better struggle with handling timeouts near the end of the half or other strategic maneuvers that require decisive thinking.
But Giants first-year coach Joe Judge has so far been more than adequate when it comes to clock management issues. Very rarely will he waste a timeout, and he always seems to be thinking one step ahead during critical moments in games.
It’s no accident.
Judge learned from Bill Belichick, possibly the most proficient coach ever in clock management decisions. It’s one of his many assets, something that Judge paid close attention to while he was a Patriots assistant from 2012-19.
"When I got to New England, part of my responsibility was tied into a lot of the situations," Judge said. "As far as being a part of special teams, it’s a large part of what your job is. Your job and responsibility grow over time with that. Over the eight years of being there, my role and responsibility in terms of in-game clock or input in how we could better manage situations grew. That’s obviously something I emphasize for myself in how I can help the team."
Judge says it’s even more incumbent on him to get it right with game management situations because he doesn’t have added responsibilities as a coordinator.
"I’m not calling offensive plays or defensive plays and T-Mac (Thomas McGaughey) is running the kicking game," Judge said. "There’s a lot of things throughout the game I look to help with. Making adjustments or having an overview of things. Talking to coordinators about the flow of the game or big-picture concepts. To me, controlling the clock, the timeouts, things of that nature, that’s really where I can make a positive impact for the team."
Rodgers gets better with age
Aaron Rodgers celebrated his 37th birthday this week, yet another indication that the Packers’ quarterback continues to get better with age. He’s still physically gifted with terrific arm strength, a quick release, and his mobility remains outstanding. His experience in seeing the field and understanding offensive concepts makes him virtually unstoppable.
In last week’s 41-25 rout of the Bears, Rodgers threw four touchdown passes and no interceptions to produce a 132.3 passer rating. It’s his fifth game with at least four touchdown passes this year, the most in the NFL. And he leads all quarterbacks with 33 scoring throws and a 117.6 passer rating.
With two touchdown passes on Sunday against the Eagles, Rodgers can become the first player in NFL history to produce five seasons with at least 35 scoring passes. He had 40 in 2016, 38 in 2014, 38 in 2014, 39 in 2012 and 45 in 2011.
The only other quarterbacks in NFL history to have four seasons with 35 or more touchdown throws: Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning.
Tomlin wants more from unbeaten Steelers
The Steelers are the NFL’s only unbeaten team , but Mike Tomlin was less than pleased with his team’s latest effort in a 19-14 win on Wednesday against a Ravens team ravaged by absences because of positive COVID-19 cases. The win improved the Steelers’ record to 11-0 heading into Monday’s game against Washington.
"We don’t have to reinvent the wheel," Tomlin said. "It’s not some transformational thing that needs to transpire. We got to coach better and play better. I expect our group to do that Monday."
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger also expressed disappointment in the performance and called this part of the year with the rescheduling of games the "mental warfare part of the season." But he correctly opined that winning ugly "speaks to the strength of the team. When we’re disappointed after winning a football game, not many teams can have that feeling."
Mahomes is en fuego
Patrick Mahomes continues to rewrite history, as Kansas City’s fourth-year quarterback leads the NFL with 3,497 passing yards and is third with 30 touchdown passes and just two – yes, two – interceptions. He’s just the third player in NFL history to throw his 30th touchdown pass of the season before throwing his third interception; Tom Brady and Drew Brees are the others.
In last week’s 27-24 win over Brady’s Buccaneers, Mahomes had 462 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, becoming the first player with at least 30 completions and 300 passing yards in four straight games.
Kansas City (10-1) is on a roll with six straight wins, keeping the team just a game behind the Steelers for the top seed in the AFC. Only the No. 1 seed in each conference earns a playoff bye this year.
San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is starting to get a lot of buzz as a future head coach, as well he should. He has done fine work with the 49ers, and his leadership skills are off the charts. A native of Dearborn, Michigan, Saleh is drawing attention as a potential replacement for Matt Patricia, who was fired last weekend … Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce is tops among NFL tight ends with 74 catches for 978 yards. He needs six catches against Denver on Sunday night to join former Kansas City and Falcons All Pro Tony Gonzalez (eight seasons) and former Dallas great Jason Witten (six) as the only tight ends with at least five seasons with 80 or more catches … Stat of the week: Saints coach Sean Payton is 7-0 over the last two seasons with backup quarterbacks. That’s just ridiculously good … Raheem Morris has put himself solidly in the mix for the Falcons’ full-time head coaching gig with a 4-2 record since taking over from Dan Quinn … Texans interim coach Romeo Crennel is 4-3 since Bill O’Brien was fired … Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield has gone four straight games without throwing an interception … Tennessee’s Derrick Henry (1,257) and Dalvin Cook of the Vikings (1,130) are the only running backs with more than 1,000 rushing yards this season, yet another indication of the reduced emphasis on feature backs.