Russell Wilson's "dancing" in the pocket

Grant Halverson - Getty Images

Despite whatever he does while moving the ball with his legs, Russell Wilson is becoming smarter in knowing when to run - and when not to.

"We want him to move to throw. We don't want him to move to run." - Pete Carroll, on Russell Wilson

When one mentions Russell Wilson, a lot of topics are bound to be raised. Among the most interesting and most important topic is his mobility, because let's face it: everybody wants a mobile QB that won't run. A QB with just enough quickness and athleticism to keep the play alive, but not undisciplined enough to use his legs first and his arm second. It's one thing to be 2010 Philadelphia Eagles' Michael Vick, and another to be 2001-06 Atlanta Falcons' Michael Vick.

This key question that was directed towards pre-Eagles Vick also has been lingering around Wilson's play. Indeed, the repeated times he's been flushed from the pocket or "dances" his way out of the OL protection is especially frustrating on third-and-long, and again questions arise about his tendency to scramble. If he never was really a true running QB in college, why is he doing this now?

Rewatching the Carolina game last night was key in understanding that. I'm definitely not a numbers guy like Kenneth, but just off of my impression on how Wilson played, I can assure you this might be the least amount of times he moved out of the OL's pocket protection. Perhaps this improvement may be due to trusting the OL more, or perhaps the Panthers D-Line was inferior? Or even maybe, just maybe, Wilson himself is secretly improving within the limelight...? Let's look at the film:

Q1: 13:33. 1st and 10, Ball on CAR 27. R.Wilson passes incomplete to TE A. McCoy.


On the first true rollout of the game, Wilson play-fakes the run to Lynch, which is enough to draw off two LBs, a DB and the LDE. The Seahawks' OL, true to the ZBS, leaves the RDE, Charles Johnson, free, to sell the fake even further, and instead lets Tate get a good, solid block on him while Wilson continues to rollout towards the sideline.

Tate does get a good job with the block on Johnson, who is initially blown backwards. The play dictates that Tate continues to run his route, which means that he's not "on" Johnson anymore. Unfortunately, the latter recovers with superb athleticism, forcing Wilson to make a throw quicker than expected as the play is being transitioned into the sideline:


You can see Miller, his primary target, being covered very well by the OLB Thomas Davis, so Wilson has no choice but to throw it away to avoid the sack. A smart play.

Q1: 5:10. 3rd and 4, Ball on CAR 40. R. Wilson scrambles right for gain of 1.

On this play above, you see the "pocket" the OL provides for Wilson. Upon a closer inspection however, notice that both DE's have already beaten the blocks by Breno Giacomini on the right and Anthony McCoy on the left respectively, with their inside shoulder penetrating the pocket. The Panthers DT is also preparing to loop around and retain contain on the right, compensating for the RDE Johnson rushing inside.

A one-on-one race between Wilson and the DT is probably unfair to say the least, so again Wilson aims for the sideline and runs. You may notice that the FB, Michael Robinson is open in the picture, so why did Wilson not throw to him for the first?

I'm assuming that it's either because #58 Davis seems to be covering Robinson very tightly and could easily swat/intercept the ball if need be, but I also think Russell may be more inclined to run because Robinson has the right angle/depth to be a lead blocker should he runs. Bad result? Yes. Good process? Definitely.

Q2: 12:32. 1st and 10, Ball on CAR 41. R. Wilson scrambles up the middle for gain of 9.


The pass protection by the O-Line this week has also improved, and again I can easily outline the "pocket" Wilson has. One weak link of the unit though here is James Carpenter, who is great at run blocking but still only average as a pass blocker. His shortcomings are better hidden at LG than at RT, but he still gets beat inside here by the DT.

Carpenter does his best and compensates by driving the DT towards the side, keeping the pocket pretty clear. Unfortunately, this also clogs up the downfield vision Wilson has that even a tall QB probably could not manage to see through:

The DT rushing inside creates a lane for Wilson to run through, and he again flushes out of the pocket with a gain of 9 yards.

Q3: 10:08. 1st and 10, Ball on CAR 30. R. Wilson scrambles up the middle for no gain.


Solid protection all around by the O-Line, and Wilson has plenty of time to throw. Notice the huge gap the Panthers have created on their left side with the DE and DT.


With no downfield options open, Wilson instead decides to take advantage of such huge gap and run. I like his decision here particularly because he's instinctive enough to see two blockers for two defensive players. Had Marshawn stayed in to block or had Miller reacted quicker to Russell running, this would've been a gain of 10. Unfortunately Wilson doesn't bounce outside quickly enough and is brought down by the OLB #50.

Q3. 9:49. 1st and 10, Ball on CAR 30. R. Wilson pass intended for M. Lynch INTERCEPTED by L. Kuchely for -3 yards.


The very next play - the Hawks try again with the pass; this time however, the protection is more sketchy. Charles Johnson has Breno beat inside again, which forces Wilson to rollout to his right. A logical move, considering that the picture above shows that Carolina has lost contain on their left side.


Before he could do all of that though, Johnson moves quick enough to get a hand on Wilson, delaying him from a smooth rollout. Nevertheless, he manages to move away from all the pressure and get within reach of open space. On the left side, Miller loses his block on the DE and the DT in the middle manages to free itself from the pile...

The DT manages to swim himself away from the relentless crowd, forcing the outside shoulder by the G Carpenter and now retains the outside leverage on Wilson, who has to stop from running all the way to his right.

Sensing the oncoming pressure from the DE on the offensive right side, Wilson must do a difficult maneuver in re-establishing the play on the offense's left - a complete 180 from what the offense was originally designed to ran. And he almost did it, throwing a dart to Marshawn Lynch that ended up being bobbled and picked off by a certain rookie LB...

Q3. 3:38. 2nd and 10, Ball on SEA 24. R. Wilson passes incomplete to D. Baldwin.


This was a traditional WCO play that required precise timing and precision. Wilson three-step drops from the snap and immediately locks on to WR Doug Baldwin for the 4-5 yard quick slant. Everything goes according to plan until the RT Giacomini misses the cutblock, leaving the DE standing up and alone.


The DE is wise not to rush immediately and recognizes that he the original play has been busted. Wilson, on the other hand, has to run away from the DE's sight and vision, so that his pass won't be easily batted down by the DE, or worse, be intercepted. He does do the rollout but ends up firing a ball off the hands of Baldwin.

Q3. 3:34. 3rd and 10, Ball on SEA 24. R. Wilson passes to R. Turbin for a gain of 5.


On this play, Carpenter again plays the weak link. Biting on the DT looping around for outside contain, he steps forward too much letting the RDE play off the inside of Okung. As the ZBS employs slide protection, the RDE should be logically passed on from Okung's man to Carpenter's, a fact made impossible since the latter is nowhere near where the pocket should be.


Again, noticing the inside pressure and the collapsing pocket, Wilson moves to his right. The left DT, again noticing that Wilson is being flushed, immediately runs with him towards the sideline in order to keep contain on the left.


Noticing that the left DT has become the outermost guy on his side, Giacomini exhibits slide protection, passing his man (the DE) off to Unger while he hurries to block the new man. On the other side, Carpenter could not retrace his steps fast enough and lets his man, the right DT, come inside for pressure on the left. With nowhere left to go, Wilson decides to...


...step up and throw to his checkdown, Robert Turbin to avoid the sack. Smart play by Russell.

Q3. 0:49. 2nd and 8, Ball on CAR 13. R. Wilson passes incomplete to WR G. Tate.


This is a badly designed play, in my opinion, and I think could be one of the main culprits for why people are questioning both Wilson's insistence on scrambling and Bevell's ability to call plays. Here, the play action is again designed to draw the defense away from Wilson and the offensive left side of the field as Wilson bootlegs to the right, but again the ZBS line blocking forces the OL to leave the RDE open as they downblock left. Only this time, the only thing holding the RDE is the fake, which Charles Johnson does not buy at all. Since we've already got a good understanding of his athleticism, I won't outline in detail how Johnson manages to keep Wilson off from the sideline.


You can see the angle Johnson has on Wilson, and things are even worse when Okung loses inside leverage on the other DE. Now both of them are guarding Wilson's area quite well, with the intention forcing him to throw a incompletion or take a sack. Wilson ends up doing neither just yet.


Instead, Wilson stops, then quickly takes an inside step before bouncing back outside for the rollout. This little movement causes Johnson to bite inside, thinking he has a sack and also in turn losing the angle/contain he had in the picture above.

This is a great example of Russell's athleticism and mobility being put to good use.

Q4. 10:41. 3rd and 13, Ball on CAR 26. R. Wilson deep pass incomplete to S. Rice.


This is a designed screen play - one way to tell is how Carpenter "position blocks" the DT coming in. He's not getting his hands on the defender, but he's positioning himself to let the DT come in on a straight rush. You can see the mini pocket the right side of the offense holds, but the entire left side is moving away from protection quickly and instead, downfield.

Here, the right DT and DE still haven't yet realized it's a screen, but Russell doesn't have the space to pass it to Turbin, who is the intended receiver. Meanwhile, Giacomini is holding up the best he can against the DE, while Paul McQuistan begins to let his guy go.


When the defensive linemen do realize its a screen, they hold their ground and immediately surround the RB Turbin to stop it. Meanwhile, the guy that McQuistan let go to screen eventually moves in to retain contain on the left side, at the same time, the DT immediately rushes from the right. Without much choice, Wilson buys as much time as possible, drifting further and further back before throwing it out of bounds.

And there you go. In the eight times I saw Wilson being flushed out of the pocket, none of them were bad decisions, per se, and in fact, I think they were all very veteran-like decisions that a young rookie like Russell wouldn't be expected to make this early. Pete did admit earlier that Wilson left the pocket too soon 3-4 times last Sunday, and I think he might be right in asking Wilson to even minimize his ability to scramble on instinct even more. The play where Breno failed to cut, for example, was one that Wilson still could've made had he been confident enough to do so.

But if there's one thing Wilson can do, and do very well, it's adjusting - this is certainly not the 19 yard loss we saw two weeks ago against Green Bay, and it's of my opinion that he's an improving player and that he'll become a very good quarterback.

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