FanPost

Russell Wilson Game Tape Analysis (from Week 14)

Originally posted at You Make The Calls. See the full pass-by-pass analysis from this game here.

Congratulations to the 2013 Seattle Seahawks who have become the 2nd youngest team to make the Super Bowl. The Hawks even have a coach that looks young (despite being 62). Crucially, they are led by a young, dynamic QB, a player that has surpassed all expectations and taken the league by storm. In only his second year, Russell Wilson has exhibited tremendous command of the offense and perhaps become the league's most valuable player due to his absurd cap number of only $681 thousand. Peyton Manning may be better, but with a cap hit of $17.5 million, is he really 25x better? I think not.

First, the numbers:

(What is Drew Brees doing in there? I wanted an elite benchmark to compare young players to).

Wilson was slightly above average in almost every category. His gross yards/attempt figure was second in this group, he has a strong completion % for a young passer, and he doesn't throw picks. The problem is his sack % and it's a big problem. He was sacked more this year as his offensive line struggled with injuries, though they are getting some guys back. Part of it is because he tries like mad to keep plays alive as long as possible. The net effect is that his adjusted yards/attempt is only 7.10, third behind Nick Foles and Drew Brees. One of those guys had career year (that may be unsustainable) and the other is one of the top 5 QBs in the game. With his absurdly low salary and stats the belie his years, Russell can legitimately stake a claim among that top 5 conversation.

Let's substantiate the stats with some tape. The tape I used is from the Seahawk's Week 14 loss to the 49ers in Candlestick. I actually prepared this for the NFC Championship but was unable to cut all the film in time. I thought about using film from that game instead, but decided not to because the Seattle passing game was out of sorts that whole game and Russell only made 2-3 significant throws. Also, I felt like his performance wasn't all that different from what happened in this game.

As always, I watched every pass multiple times but will only post the more interesting ones. For the full pass-by-pass analysis, please visit the full post here.

1. The first play of the game is a play-action pass that freezes the linebackers and opens a throwing lane to comeback route. Pete Carroll frequently calls play-action as his first play - the defense is usually playing the run and it allows his QB to build confidence and rhythm through an easy completion. His USC teams would frequently open with play-action bootlegs with the tight end as the target, one of the easiest throws in football. Fast forward to the NFC Championship game - the first play was also a P/A boot that ended in disaster as Aldon Smith read pass the whole way and strip-sacked Wilson. But I digress.

With no pressure, Wilson's footwork is on-point.

Good job stepping into the throw with his chest facing the receiver at release; the pass is right on target:


2. The Seahawks use a pick route (yellow circle) to free the seam and a crosser over the middle, but the 49ers are having none of it.

Aldon Smith got a great jump on the snap - he was doing this all day. In the NFC Championship, the Seahawks used Aldon's instincts against him by drawing him offsides on the go-ahead TD to Baldwin.

Wilson takes of to his right. I don't like the way he's swinging the ball (red arrow) like a madman. Aldon can almost swat it away here:

In the next frame, Wilson has done a good job bringing the ball up and securing it with both hands, and I like how he keeps his eyes downfield...

...but the football gods demand punishment. Aldon Smith strips him and recovers with a shot to score. This is why I harp on ball security. I know he's hustling, but I'd rather Wilson get tripped for a sack than risk losing the ball like this. Think of the strip on the first play of the NFC Championship - if Aldon takes it to the house, or if the 49ers score a TD on their next possession instead of a field goal, the 49ers would have been down by only 2 at the end of the game (assuming the rest of the game plays out the same, a big if, but just play along).
The 49ers reached 1st and 10 at the Seahawks' 19 with under a minute left. Down by 6, they had to try for the end zone. But if the margin was 2? They run Frank Gore a few times, kick the game-winning field goal, and the Seahawks go to the Pro Bowl. This is a silly conjecture, but it points out the very real consequences of ball insecurity - it makes this great Seahawks team slave to the whims of a lucky (or unlucky bounce).

3. Russell does a great job selling play fakes:

He extends the ball longer than most young QBs; this makes the fake more convincing but leaves him turned away from the field for longer. He's able to do this because he knows he can progress quickly through reads after the fake.

His read is down the middle but there are a bevy of linebackers that didn't bite on the fake:

Second read is the right sideline:

Fantastic job getting his front shoulder square despite throwing on the run.

The pass is on the money but the corner broke on the ball well enough to break it up. Still a good decision + throw:

4. The 49ers use a zone blitz to get 5 rushers to the right side of the offense line, dropping Aldon Smith into coverage. They have man coverage on the three receivers with a safety on each side.

Verticals clear the man coverage, leaving Aldon Smith on a tight-end crossing the field.

Russell stays calm, identifies the weakness in the zone, keeps his feet aligned to the throw, and hits his target. Great protection, too, which was not usually the case this afternoon.

Note to Vic Fangio: you probably don't want Aldon Smith dropping into coverage:


5. Aldon again flies around the edge. Seattle are counting their lucky stars Von Miller is out of the Super Bowl.

Russell smartly takes a step forward making Aldon overshoot him. Look at how scared the 49ers are of Russell taking off: they have three rushers spying. Three! Great footwork on the pass. A little pressure is no reason to abandon fundamentals.

This shot shows how Russell hits his man in stride making the catch easy and allowing him to avoid the next tackler and score from 20 yards out.


6. The 49ers send 5. Given how poorly the Seattle line has played, this can't end well, right?

And the center/guard miss a protection exchange leaving a rusher (looks like Ahmad Brooks) free up the middle. So much for blocking inside out. Good thing Lynch is there as the last line of defense.

Russell doesn't panic and his is footwork precise. He steps forward, trusting his running back to stop the blitzer. The result is a diving completion to a well-covered receiver. Great QBs love to be blitzed because it opens holes in the secondary.


7. Russell shows off his ability to move adjust his footwork to his reads. His first read is on the right side.

That read isn't there so he looks at his secondary read to the left.

Rather than sling it with his feet out of position, Russell aligns his feet with his eyes.

Still nothing is there, so he goes back to the right side.

Good footwork on the run, he throws completes to a wide open target:

The protection was superb on this play but part of that is because the 49ers were afraid of what Wilson can do outside the pocket. He has earned some of that protection. Either way, not many QBs can switch from one side of the field to the other, and back again, all while keeping their feet moving.

8. This play seems simple: a 3 yard out to the left sideline on 3rd down and 3, an easy conversion to keep the drive alive. The 49ers aren't going to make it that simple though: notice how both defenders are in neutral stances and have their eyes glued on Wilson. This tips Russell that they are in zone coverage and will break quickly on a short pass, the result likely a batted ball or even an interception.

But zone coverage isn't omnipotent. Russell understands there will be a sliver of space between the shallow and deep defenders, so he guns a throw over the short zone.

The safety made an impressive play to get there before the ball, but this was the right throw to make. Importantly, Russell avoided what could have been a bad turnover.


9. Russell's only "bad" pass. The Seahawks got great field position after a big punt return. This season, San Francisco coverage teams were frequently unable to get downfield fast enough to cover the punts.

The 49ers have man coverage under with zone over the top. Russell tries to hit a receiver as the cornerback passes him on to the safety.

Russell leads his man right into the safety, a dangerous throw. There is some space to the sideline; maybe the route is straight downfield, but great QB/WR combos have the chemistry to make this sort of back shoulder adjustment.


10. The last meaningful pass. The 49ers come with a zone blitz; Russell correctly reads which dropping defender is not a cover guy (red circle) and attacks him.

Good footwork during a blitz leads to a completion between 3 defenders.


Russell's last throw was a desperation pass when the game's outcome was already decided. I narrowed this post to Russell's 10 most significant throws; see the full analysis here.

THE CONCLUSION

First, some context:

Running Threat: Before we get to strengths and weaknesses, there's one thing that we didn't looked at: Russell Wilson, run threat. The 49ers consistently had guys assigned to spy Wilson and were preoccupied with him on run fakes like this. This is an element of quarterbacking that Nick Foles and Drew Brees can't offer.

Offensive Line: 49ers rushers beat the line on bull rushes, speed rushes, twists and stunts - even when San Francisco sent only two men at Wilson, those two were able to disrupt plays. The Hawks made some adjustments during the second half of the NFC Championship (mainly for run blocking) but line must play better than this for Wilson to have much success on Sunday.

Receivers: There were some big passing plays, but the receivers disappeared for large chunks of this game. That trend continued in the NFC Championship. Doug Baldwin ranked 2nd in Football Outsiders' regular season WR DVOA and Golden Tate ranked 19th; they need to play like it.

Back to Wilson:

Strengths

  1. Reads. It is unfair when people label Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick as one-read QBs. It's impossible to succeed in the NFL without the ability to make depth or left/right reads. But Wilson is clearly one step ahead of those guys in terms of how fast he makes his reads, recognizes blitzes, identifies weak defenders, and moves from one side of the field to the other. I wouldn't be surprised to see Seattle give him more freedom at the line of scrimmage next year.
  2. Footwork and mechanics. I didn't see one case where his footwork was egregiously off. Despite constant harassment by rushers, Wilson stepped up for each throw and delivered accurately.
  3. Throwing on the move. Colin Kaepernick and RG3 may be more exciting in space and Cam Newton is probably the best short-yardage QB in the league. But none of the other young signal callers is as good a quarterback outside the pocket as Russell Wilson. In fact, I'll take it a step further: I think when the pocket breaks down and the QB is forced to run, Russell Wilson is the best QB in the league.
  4. Stays away from trouble. Russell just doesn't make dumb mistakes. He doesn't try to manufacture things when they aren't there. He understands his limitations as a thrower and for the most part, doesn't try to fit the ball into a place it doesn't belong.
  5. Cool under pressure. The 49ers were very effective at getting to Russell, but late in the game, Wilson maintained confidence in his line and RBs to protect him.

Weaknesses

  1. Ball security. Russell generally does a good job holding the ball high in a throwing stance once he escapes the pocket. But sometimes when he's trying to escape, the ball gets away from his body.
  2. Chemistry with receivers. This is really a nit. The 49ers made some nice plays on the ball in this game, and I think a little more experience playing together will help both Russell and the WRs learn how to shield the ball and complete a few of those 50/50 plays.
  3. Fight another day. I love how Russell fights every play and tries so hard to keep each play alive. It's hard to tell him to stop doing that. But as he matures, he needs to learn that sometimes it's okay to throw the ball away. He only took two sacks in this game (including the strip), but a 9.8% sack rate is not sustainable. A few checkdowns here or there keeps the defense honest and keeps the QB healthy.

That's it for weaknesses. I really can't say that Wilson did much wrong against one of the league's fiercest defenses playing in their house. Wilson is a well-coached, smart, exciting, and fundamentally sound player that leads his team to wins. What else can you ask from a franchise QB? He's more consistent than Colin, Cam, and Robert. He's more athletic and makes better organic reads than Nick Foles. He makes more big plays than Andrew Luck. You hear all the time how some of those guys have higher "ceilings" than Russell. But you know what? Russell is the best young quarterback in the league, RIGHT NOW. I'm not saying one of the others doesn't eventually surpass him. But after seeing how hard he works, feeling the charisma he brings to the huddle, and witnessing his amazing results, are you really willing to bet against him?

That's my conclusion, but as always, #YouMakeTheCalls #YMTC #QBCorner Again, see the full pass-by-pass analysis here.

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