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In the face of pressure, Russell Wilson must perform balancing act

RENTON, Wash. -- Asked how many times quarterback Russell Wilson let the pressure affect him during Sunday's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, one play stood out to Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.

"He started to dart up the middle, and then he backed up. That play," Bevell said. "And then I think we ended up hitting it down the seam. But he usually sees really well and usually moves around with merit. But there’s times where something flashes in front of him, and he started to move, thought he could go, and then he ended up backing up and you saw what happened. So it does happen."

It's the constant balancing act for a quarterback with Wilson's skill set. When to hang in the pocket? And when to take off?

With Wilson in his fourth season, that decision-making process is not new. But Wilson is getting hit more than ever before. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he's being sacked on 11.4 percent of his dropbacks, tops in the league. Last year, that number was 7.7 percent.

Against Cincinnati, the pass protection was better, but there were instances when Wilson left the pocket early. Five games in, it's fair to question how much the pressure has affected his willingness to trust the protection.

"Hits kind of take their toll definitely on a quarterback," Bevell said.

"You’ve got to continually trust those guys," Bevell added of Wilson and his offensive linemen. You really can’t say, 'OK, I got hit on this last time, I’m going to get hit again.' You just have to say, 'I trust them.' Because the one time that you decide, 'I’m not going to trust them,' or start to do something, that’s the time -- you know it’s like a brick wall and you have throws down the field. So you have to continually remind yourself that that’s not happening every play. And it’s just communicating and talking about it."

Wilson's accuracy is as good as it's ever been. He's one of five quarterbacks (minimum 100 attempts) completing at least 70 percent of his passes and averaging at least 7.9 yards per attempt. The others are Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers and Tyrod Taylor.

The problem is what's happening when Wilson doesn't get rid of the ball. That's happened on 22.8 percent of his dropbacks, up from 17.1 percent last season. In those instances -- the sacks and scrambles -- the Seahawks are averaging just 1.57 yards per play.

"It is a challenge at times," coach Pete Carroll said. "And there are a couple plays a game when he may have been able to hang in there, but he saw something that made him go. It depends on the game, some games more so than others. It depends on what kind of protection we have. That is part of what comes along with Russell. He makes those marvelous plays because he does have the instincts.

"He’s by far, in our opinion, the best he’s been in the pocket, really solid and really accurate and hanging in there fine. There’s always a couple plays, and we just have to go, 'OK, this is one of those plays.' We always ask him about it. What did he see and why did he go and all that. There is a little bit of that."

Wilson insists the pressure has not affected him, and he said he has talked to former quarterbacks such as Steve Young and Donovan McNabb about the balance between hanging in the pocket and taking off.

If the offensive line improves, this likely won't be an issue. But if the hits keep coming, it'll be something Wilson has to balance the rest of the way.

"You just trust, you go through your reads and if it’s not there, you just try to extend the play and make something positive out of it," Wilson said. "Salvage the play, throw it away if you have to. If you can get positive yards, go ahead and take it. I think that’s the thing. I think my thing is I always try to keep my eyes downfield. I’m not trying to run. I just try to run away. For me, I think just keeping my eyes downfield and trying to find somebody."