After his late season offense surge last season, 8 of the last 10 games with a QB rating over 100, Russell Wilson looked to be an elite quarterback in the NFL despite being only 23 years old. While he is far from struggling this year, he hasn’t been as effective or explosive for a variety of reasons. The most obvious is the injuries, primarily to his offensive line that forces him to pull his Houdini routines regularly.
Luckily for the Seahawks, Wilson is even more dangerous outside the pocket than inside. This is in part because of his running ability but mainly because he manages to keep his eyes downfield, always looking for the big play. Combined with receivers that know how to find open space in scramble situations and the Seahawks are dangerous as long as Wilson has the football.
Their ability to turn bad situations into big plays was evident Thursday night as they burned the Cardinals deep on this broken play in the first quarter.
Game Situation: 1st Quarter, 7:20, 1st and 10 at the ARI 31, Cardinals 0, Seahawks 0
Pre-Snap: The Seahawks are in their 10 personnel with trips WRs, Kearse, Rice and Baldwin to the right, WR Tate spilt out wide left and QB Wilson in the backfield with RB Turbin to his right. The Cardinals are aligned in their nickel package showing blitz.
Post-Snap: The Cardinals rush 6, including FS Mathieu, who was lined up over the trip WRs, and LB Washington from the inside. By slanting the defensive linemen rush to the right, LB Washington hiding his blitz until after the snap and bringing FS Mathieu off the edge to occupy RB Turbin, the Cardinals create a wide open lane for LB Washington. In response to the blitz, the Seattle WRs in the trips run hot routes, 2 quick hitches and a flat route.
As the hitch routes turn back towards QB Wilson, the Cardinal defensive backs break out of their zones expecting a quick throw. While the routes are open originally open, the pressure from LB Washington up the middle forces Wilson to scramble out of the pocket.
Wilson escapes the pressure to his right still looking downfield. WR Rice sees his quarterback in trouble and turns up field. The entire deep right side of the field is completely open because SS Bell broke forward on the hitch route and S Johnson is drifted left to help on the only planned deep route, WR Tate's go route.
Rice becomes wide-open deep but Wilson is under pressure from multiple Cardinal defenders. Despite his momentum carrying him towards the sideline, Wilson unleashes an absolute bomb that finds Rice in the end zone for a 31 yard touchdown.
Summary: What looked to be a short completion at best, turned into a tone setting touchdown due to Russell Wilson’s ability to extend plays. A smart blitz look by the Cardinals, allowed the free rusher to not only pressure Wilson but to be in a great position to deflect a throw to his hot routes, was negated by Wilson athleticism. This play was also an excellent display of the understanding between Sydney Rice and Wilson, with Rice taking off deep as soon as Wilson began escaping to his right.
With a bruising running game featuring the most punishing back in the league in Marshawn Lynch and Wilson’s accuracy from the pocket, the Seahawks have a solid foundation for an extremely effective offense. The aspect that puts their offense over the top is Wilson’s ability to create big plays on any snap.
The scariest part is the Seahawks are far from being at full strength. Everyone talks about the pending return of Percy Harvin, but the return of Okung and Giacomini will be more impactful. With a healthy offense line, Wilson will no longer be thrown into hectic situations where he makes to create big play. Instead he will be able to stay in the pocket and deliver the ball to his playmakers, a more traditional and reliable option.
During their 6 game win streak to end the 2012 season, the Seahawks average over 40 points per game as they absolutely demolished every opponent they faced. This year they haven’t been able to repeat that accomplishment, outside of the game versus the Jaguars, but all signs are pointing towards a return to that form. Thursday’s domination of a good Cardinal defense was a notice to the other 31 teams: not only are you going to struggle scoring against us, you are going struggle to stop us.
Defensive Domination: While all of the attention after Thursday nights big win in Arizona was on Wilson’s amazing performance, the defense set the tone by absolutely smothering the Cardinals offense for 60 minutes. Not only did they hold the Cardinals to under 250 yards of total offense and force two turnovers, they physically punished them. They delivered big hits on ball carriers, manhandled the receivers out wide and were in Palmer face all night.
As the Cardinals were about to enter Seahawk territory on a crucial drive in the 3rd quarter, the defense delivered the knockout blow with an interception returned to the Cardinals 1 yard line.
Game Situation: 3rd Quarter, 4:52, 3rd and 5 at the ARI 46, Cardinals 13, Seahawks 24
Pre-Snap: The Cardinals come to the line in the 01 personnel with WR Floyd and Fitzgerald in tight left, WR Roberts out wide right, WR Brown in the right slot and TE Housler standing inline right and QB Palmer in the empty Shotgun. The Seahawks respond with 7 defensives backs playing press coverage with 2 high safeties behind.
Post-Snap: The Cardinals receivers attempt to release but are jammed excellently at the line of scrimmage by the Seattle defensive backs. Inside, the DE Bennett and OLB Irvin execute a stunt allowing Irvin to come untouched in between the LG and LT.
Under pressure, Palmer forces a throw to Floyd with Browner draped all over him. The ball lacks velocity and accuracy, due to Irvin hit, giving Browner time to jump the route. The inaccuracy of the pass also negated Floyd’s ability to shield Browner from the ball with his body.
Browner gets in front of Floyd and intercepts the ball. He returns to inside the 5-yard line before tripping and getting tackled at the 1 yard line.
Summary: Wonderful in design and execution, this play demonstrates what the Seahawks do best on defense, play aggressive. The so called ‘Legion of Boom’ is well known for the combination press coverage by the cornerbacks with big hitting safeties behind them, but now their front seven is providing pressure using aggressive schemes like stunts.
By matching the front and back of their defense, the Seahawks force opponents into bad situations. On this play, the inside stunt meant to force the ball out quick but was accompanied by press coverage, a technique effective against quick throws.
This defensive identity isn’t new for the Seahawks but the additions of Bennett and Avril have made their pass rush as effective as their secondary, forming a complete defense. If given a lead, this defense is nearly unbeatable with the ability to pressure the quarterback and provide excellent coverage down the field. Bring in the 12th man up in Seattle and its downright terrifying.