Russell Wilson's effective movement & pinpoint ball location on the run

Jonathan Daniel

At this point, there's little need to wax poetic about how well Russell Wilson is playing. He's been a big part in the formerly anemic offense's slow evolution into a seemingly well-oiled and powerful machine. Seattle has dropped fitty on their last two opponents, a rare type of ownage in the modern NFL, and the offense seems to be building some momentum going into the final two games of the year. Obviously, there's the hope that this carries over into Sunday's matchup with San Francisco, because facing the League's top defense, even at home, is nothing to be trifled with.

It's tough to attribute one single factor to the offensive explosion over the last few games and just in general, the improved effectiveness and efficiency on that side of the football. There's no doubt that the read-option has been a catalyst for some success, it's probably true that some continuity at key positions like running back and wide receiver are helping as the players all get more snaps together, and as the playbook opens up for Russell Wilson, the Seahawks become much more difficult to gameplan and prepare for, which makes it easier for Seattle to run their variety of schemes.

Also, as much as we've preached the importance of 'pocket passing' for Russell Wilson and the ability to stand there as the play is constructed and make throws on 3rd down from behind the line, Wilson's play outside of the pocket has been really, really good for the most part. We hammered on the idea, prior to the year, that Wilson should not become a 'running quarterback', a guy that depends on bootlegs or out-of-pocket improvisation, or even a guy that just takes off a little too early, but I maybe underestimated a bit how beneficial Wilson's ability to escape pressure really would be.

Now, first, it's important to note that Wilson has in fact played well from the pocket, within the confines of the offense and based on the structure of the play-designs. Mike Sando touched on the Skip Bayless assertion that Wilson was 'dependent' on getting outside the pocket to make plays a couple of weeks back, after the Chicago game but prior to the Arizona and Buffalo shellackings.

"[Wilson] has better numbers from inside the pocket than outside the pocket. It doesn't matter how you look at it, and he spends the vast majority of his time in the pocket. 296 plays... inside the pocket, and he's got 14 touchdowns and seven picks on those, passer rating of 95.2, and his ESPN QB Metric is 77.4 out of 100. That's from inside the pocket.

Outside the pocket, 60.8 QBR and 95.1 passer rating.

The whole league's QBR inside the pocket is 60.3, and 30.8 outside the pocket. For the entire league, passer rating is 87.2 inside the pocket and 77.0 outside. So, Russell Wilson is higher than the league average inside the pocket and well higher outside the pocket, so to say that he is dependent on getting outside the pocket for a lot of his game, would really be inaccurate."

Obviously, those numbers don't even take into account Wilson's last two games, where the offense has looked even stronger.

Going back even further on the idea though, when asked about his quarterback evaluation checklist prior to the year, John Schneider listed off some of his top priorities:

"How does he manage the game? What's he like on third downs? How does he handle pressure? Is he staring at the pressure coming at him or does he keep his eyes down the field? Can he square his shoulders, can he back out? Can he move? You have to be able to move in this league.

"You have to be able to move and avoid shots and keep your eyes down the field. You know, like Ron Jaworski would say on Monday Night Football, "You gotta be able to stare down the gun barrell."

Reading that just makes is so clear why Schneider loved Wilson coming out of Wisconsin so much.

Though Wilson's pocket play was fairly ugly at the beginning of the season -- he'd sense pressure and look to run quickly out of the play's design a little too often -- at this point in the season, Wilson's movement ability is actually one of his biggest weapons.

You'll regularly see him float behind the line, make subtle movements within the pocket, waiting for his receivers routes to develop, and when they're not there, he'll escape pressure and move to his right or left with his eyes downfield, often pointing out to a receiver on which way to go. Important to all this is that Wilson and his receiving weapons have certainly worked on 'off-script' routes once he's forced from the pocket, oftentimes dragging in his direction, coming back to the ball, or settling into a pocket as the flow of the play takes defenders Wilson's direction to stem his ability to run with the ball.

Again, Schneider: "How does he handle pressure? Is he staring at the pressure coming at him or does he keep his eyes down the field? Can he square his shoulders, can he back out? Can he move? You have to be able to move in this league."

Wilson's ability to keep plays alive, even when blitzes appear to get home, has been remarkable. Against Buffalo on Sunday, there were several instances in the game where Wilson saw pressure coming from Mario Williams, and juked his way out to the edge, reversed directions, and managed to keep his eyes downfield for several extra seconds to let plays develop.

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H/t to Nate Dogg for making that gif -- Wilson scrambled for some nice yardage on one of these plays and I believe he eventually threw the ball away on another, but for many other quarterbacks in the league, that would have been a sure sack against one of the best edge rushers playing right now.

Wilson is great at half-escapes too - the partial rollouts or simple pocket adjustments that take him out of his natural footwork and make him move, but then allow him to quickly re-set and throw to a now-open receiver. If you've seen it then you'll know what I'm talking about when I say that Wilson has a nifty little 'break your ankles' juke movement with his legs that allows him to keep a balanced and wide base, but forces a defender to change speeds. The only way I can describe it is to point you to a video of Shawn Kemp doing it in celebration, right after grabbing a rebound and reverse-dunking it on two defenders. As fellow writer David Crockett points out, "Wilson's small stature helps him stop his feet, get bigs to stop theirs, then re-accelerate more quickly than them." Not only that, but he effectively and effortlessly uses subtle pump fakes to keep oncoming defenders honest and hopefully get some of them off their feet.

Related to all of this -- the hardest thing to quantify is plays one quarterback is able to keep alive that another player would not, and the throws he's able to complete that another quarterback wouldn't even attempt. The eye test tells me that although Wilson is fairly conservative about forcing passes into tight, highly contested windows, he's certainly not afraid to throw a pass downfield and challenge his receiver compete for the ball.

"You have to be able to move and avoid shots and keep your eyes down the field. You know, like Ron Jaworski would say on Monday Night Football, "You gotta be able to stare down the gun barrell."

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How many plays have we seen Russell Wilson make where at first it looks like he'll just run it upfield for a couple of yards, but then just prior to the line of scrimmage, he'll let a pass rip downfield for 15 or 20 yards? I broke down one touchdown pass against Minnesota where he did exactly that earlier this year, and another play against the Bears really stuck out to me.

It stuck out to me because it came with :43 seconds remaining with Seahawks trailing 14-10.

1-10-CHI 41 (:43 4th Quarter) (No Huddle, Shotgun) R.Wilson pass deep middle to S.Rice to CHI 14 for 27 yards (K.Hayden).

The play came out of '10' personnel - one tight end and four receivers. As the Bears did toward the end of the game, they assigned a defender to spy Russell Wilson in passing looks, leaving one fewer deep defender in pass coverage and one fewer pass rusher. This little nuance - the necessity to keep tabs on Wilson as a runner, is something whose impact can't really be measured but is a fairly important factor.

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The ball is snapped and the protection holds up well. The pass coverage also holds up well as the Bears drop 7 into the secondary, so Russell, seeing a wide open right side of the field, looks to make something happen on the move. In this case, I prefer the action, because sitting back and hucking it into double coverage isn't going to be very high-percentage.

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You can see Shea McClellin tracking Wilson as he moves out of the pocket.

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Russ probably could have run for a first down here and stopped the clock, but as he sees/anticipates Sidney Rice stop and change direction to sit down in a hole in the zone, he lets the pass fly. Part of the reason Rice is able to get open here is that you've got four defenders looking back in toward the LOS to make sure Wilson can't pick up big chunks of yardage with his legs.

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27-yard pickup. Demoralizing.

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As BigTrain pointed out in a previous thread - Wilson looks like a 2nd basemen, charging at a ground ball to throw to first.

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The passing mechanics look nearly identical to the touchdown to Rice from several weeks prior.

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Former NFL offensive coordinator, current CFL head coach, and by reputation, QB guru Marc Trestman was an assistant coach at N.C. State, when, according to the Toronto Sun:

"...One day, the baseball coach Elliott Avent walked over during their off-season workouts and introduced him to a teenage infielder to whom they had just given a scholarship. "He wants to play baseball and football," Avent said.

"If he's good enough to play both, we'll do it," said the head football coach, Chuck Amato, not necessarily believing it was going to be possible. So Trestman walked the infielder out to the football field, uncertain as to what to expect. He had done this so many times before. Just never like this one.

"That day, watching an 18-year-old, having never seen him in a game, I would have projected Russell as a fourth-round NFL pick. Right away. That's before he'd ever played a game in college football. I was that confident of his ability, just because of what he showed me."

Trestman knew then that Wilson would one day become an NFL quarterback, as he recollected to Greg Cosell recently (which Cosell talked about in the Shutdown Corner podcast from two weeks ago, at the 21:00 mark), and made his judgements based just on Wilson's advanced understanding of football, life, his world view, etc.

Baseball was a nice 'in' for Wilson at N.C. State, as Trestman, after meeting the young baseball infielder that day, became the chief Wilson recruiter for the Wolfpack, eventually landing the two-sport athlete. But, ironically, Wilson ended up transferring to Wisconsin from N.C. State because of a disagreement with the subsequent coaching staff on his decision to continue with his career in minor-league baseball, and his experience in the minors probably can't be overlooked when it comes to Wilson's throwing on the move.

I keep seeing that 2nd baseman, charging a ground ball and throwing to first.

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*Photo credit to: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports, Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports, Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports, Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Trestman didn't forget about Wilson after moving on from NC State to Canada's Montreal Allouettes. He made a trade with the Calgary Stampeders' front office for the rights to Russell Wilson, were Wilson to go undrafted in the NFL and want to play up north. As we all know, that trade was ultimately fruitless.

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Let's not kid ourselves though. As much as I like to watch Wilson throw on the run when running to his right, there are tougher throws than that. Like, for instance, throwing against your body and momentum as you drift/scramble left. The disparity in difficulty between these two throws is why the Texans, for instance, do a lot of zone left running, then use bootlegs right so Matt Schaub can throw off the run that direction. With the NFL hashes being so close together, it allows teams to run plays to whichever side works best in any situation, for the most part.

To this point though, Wilson has shown the ability to make plays running to his left, and quite possibly the most impressive play thus far in his short career came mid-way through the 2nd quarter of Week 12's matchup in Miami.

3-12-SEA 27 (12:56) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass deep left to S.Rice ran ob at MIA 47 for 26 yards.

The Seahawks find themselves in a 3rd and 12 situation and Miami, sensing blood, decides to bring a triple A-gap blitz.

Seattle's lined up in 11 personnel, with Turbin flanking Wilson in pass protection. Miller is to Wilson's left at the H-back spot. You can see the route combination that Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin will run here to get themselves open against coverage.

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Below, you can see Miami bringing up two of their linebackers into a look that is referred to as 'sugaring the A-gaps.' (The A-gaps are the two gaps to the outside of the center's shoulders). Seattle must account for both of these two gap-sugarers as threats when setting their protections - and even if both of them drop back into coverage, they've done their job of confusing or at least altering Seattle's plans. Chicago does this a lot, incidentally.

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As the ball is snapped, you can see the protections unfold. Robert Turbin is assigned the weakside a-gap and takes the free rusher to that side (left) as he rushes the passer. Max Unger takes the strongside a-gap so he nuetralizes the other 'a-gap sugarer'. However, Miami sends S Reshad Jones (#20) screaming up the middle (triple a-gap blitz woo!) and the Seahawks have no time to adjust.

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Luckily, Seattle has Russell Wilson. Wilson pulls his best Tony Romo impression with a slick spin move away from pressure to the offensive left, and Jones can't bring Wilson down. This is where Wilson might be yelling "WHOOP!"

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Wilson calmly moves to his left and makes the throw on the run to a comeback-route-running Sidney Rice. It has absolutely pinpoint accuracy and Rice drags his feet to make the catch. An absolutely unbelievable play.

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Watch it in real-time speed:

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This may have been lost in the shuffle following the frustrating loss, but hot damn.

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Thanks again to BigTrain21 for all the gifs!!

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