The Seahawks are 4-0 despite having the league's 25th-ranked passing game. Just imagine how good they might be if Doug Baldwin were starting.
With just 66 receptions on 104 attempts, Seattle's receivers are the second-least-used unit in the league behind Carolina, which has played one less game. The Denver Broncos, riding the resurgent arm of Peyton Manning, have nearly twice as many completions (119).
But the Hawks have been just as effective as Denver at one thing: throwing downfield. The Broncos lead the league at 9.3 yards per attempt, and Seattle is third at 8.8.
That is largely due to one guy: Baldwin. And it's time he moved into the starting lineup.
Baldwin easily has been the best weapon in the passing game, making stellar catches in every game so far.
In the opener at Carolina, he bailed out Wilson with an amazing double-toe-tap sideline catch on third-and-long. It was one of seven catches Baldwin made in that game, four of which converted third downs.
Against San Francisco, he caught just one ball, but it was a 51-yard gain on third-and-12. Then, against Jacksonville, he made a diving touchdown catch on a 35-yard pass from Tarvaris Jackson.
He was key again in Houston last week, coming up with another stunning sideline catch for a first down -- one of two third-down conversion on three catches. That one was so amazing it was initially ruled incomplete, and coach Pete Carroll had to be convinced to throw the challenge flag.
Because Wilson split practice time with Matt Flynn and Jackson in camp last year and because Baldwin was then injured for much of the early season, they were not in sync last season. But they are now.
“Doug Baldwin has done unbelievable so far and he’s only going to keep getting better," Wilson said. "He’s so intelligent. He's on a constant quest for knowledge in terms of watching film with me, in terms of asking me questions, and we’re just trying to learn from each other as much as we can.
"He’s come up in some big games obviously," Wilson added. "Obviously in Carolina, he led off the season with his seven catches … and some big third-down conversions that he made. And then obviously last week, that catch getting both feet in was unbelievable. He’s a great, great player. He’s got it all. He’s got the speed, he’s got the ability to go up and get it, he’s got the intelligence to make a guy miss and the quickness to make a guy miss too as well. So he’s got it all.”
But the Hawks have not been using it all.
Baldwin has been thrown to just 15 times, but he has caught 12 of them and converted nine into first downs. That's an 80 percent catch rate, with a 60 percent chance of getting a first down when Wilson throws him the ball.
Sidney Rice has caught just 45 percent of his passes (9 of 20), with seven first downs (35 percent). Golden Tate has been better, catching 62 percent (13 of 21) with eight first downs (38 percent).
But Baldwin -- now healthy after a litany of injuries last season -- has been the No. 1 receiver and Wilson's go-to guy on third downs.
He also has caught a pass of at least 24 yards in every game -- Rice's long for the season is 23 yards (vs. the Jaguars) and Tate has only one catch over 24 yards (a 30-yarder vs. the Jaguars).
Baldwin has made the better plays against the better teams, and he certainly has earned more playing time -- and not just in blowout wins.
He led receivers with 53 snaps in the Jacksonville wipeout, but in the close games against Carolina and Houston, he was the true No. 3 receiver. His seven catches at Carolina came on just 37 snaps (Tate had 47 and Rice 39). Last week, he played 30 snaps to Tate's 41 and Rice's 36.
Yes, the Seahawks are a running team -- their 139 rushes are second in the league -- but they have to become more efficient in the passing game. And the best way to do that is to use Baldwin more.
Remember, this is a guy who led the Hawks with 51 catches as an undrafted rookie in 2011.
“He’s kind of savvy and has an instinct of finding the spaces," Carroll said. "He really has a very, very good quickness with getting in and out of breaks and setting things up. So we try to utilize him to do that. He’s like a lot of the classic slot guys that have that knack and sense inside. That, coupled with the chemistry that he and Russell Wilson have and continue to grow, makes him a very valuable target in those situations. And he’s obviously a big-play guy, too. He can make the big play when the chance comes. So he’s come through a lot for us.”
Why not let him come through some more? Let him start and move him inside on three-receiver downs.
If Carroll is about competition, as he always touts, he shouldn't mind moving Rice or Tate to the No. 3 role.
In addition to helping the team now, it would set up a smooth transition next year when Baldwin is likely to step into a starting spot as Tate moves on in free agency and Rice gets released (assuming Percy Harvin is healthy and starting). On the hook for $13.4 million in cap space for Harvin, the Hawks are not going to pay big money to Tate or Rice, who has a scheduled $8.5 million salary.
The Hawks also have Jermaine Kearse, who has shown he is ready to step into the No. 3 role.
Just as Baldwin has shown he should be starting.