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The Tape: Third Quarter, Placing Brian Russell in the Crosshairs

Something came up this morning that ate the ass end off my time for today, so I'm going to have to push the fourth quarter and overtime posts back to tomorrow. Today we'll handle the third quarter and cover the DVOA when it arrives. The third quarter didn't have a ton of interesting plays or play calls. The most noteworthy decisions were John Marshall deciding to crank up the blitzes (that's good) and Mike Holmgren shelving the run with a big lead and an ailing quarterback (that's bad). The most noticeable Hawks' plays were Babineaux once again blowing coverage, allowing Kellen Winslow to convert a third and 8 on a drive that led to a game-changing touchdown for the Browns. And one vexing PI call against Brian Russell, which got me thinking...

Think when he decides to play bad: I was not very high on the Brian Russell signing. At the time I didn't even think he'd make the starting squad. Through training camp and into the preseason it became clear that Russell would be the starter and Michael Boulware's days as a Hawk were over. I was still pretty iffy on Russell - in part because of a natural distrust of players whose "leadership" is touted well above any particular skill or accomplishment. But the defense was playing well, the deep pass wasn't the bugaboo it had been for so many years and it's just plain hard to evaluate the play of a free safety.

Eight games into the season, it's time we start asking ourselves "what is Brian Russell doing?"

I back through the entire season's play-by-play (provided by CBS) and recorded every play Russell was listed beside. That encompassed an interception, 3 pass defenses and 38 tackles. For each I recorded the total yardage recorded on the play. The interception and 3 pass defenses each earned 0s. I also recorded if the play was successful or not. First let's establish a baseline. Pro Football Prospectus records very similar stats for all defenders, my 2006 copy was most handy so I grabbed a couple players from it: A Pro Bowler and a Castaway.

Brian Dawkins:

Target: 14% (6th out of 75)

Pass Stop: 53% (33)

Pass Yards: 7.4 (28)

Rush Stop: 46% (24)

Rush Yards: 7.2 (41)

Michael Boulware:

Target: 10% (29)

Pass Stop:  51% (39)

Pass Yards: 9.2 (51)

Run Stop: 33% (47)

Run Yards: 8.4 (51)

Boulware had a decent season, it was 2005 and everything was right in the world of the Seahawks. I provided his data instead of someone who performed worse, because Boulware is the player Russell replaced. It's important to look at these stats together. For instance, if a player's target number is high, he may simply be making up for the failings of others, something important to consider when looking at his Stop Rates and Average Yardage rankings. If his Stop Rate is good, but his average yardage bad, that might indicate his team was able to force their opponent into long yardage situations. Remember, allowing a 17 yard completion on 3 and 20 is a success. And if a player's stop rate is middling or poor, but their total yards allowed rate is poor or worse, it might be a good indication that that player is not only allowing a lot of successful plays, but big yardage plays. That's Boulware. Of course when a player is bad in all categories...

Brian Russell:

Target: 9.6% (estimated)

Pass Stop: 18%

Pass Yards: 13.4

Run Stop: 29%

Run Yards: 11.7

That's staggering. Russell must be one of, if not the worst safety in football in all four ratings. When we gripe about opponents converting long third downs, the poor use of zones, and uninspired blitz packages, we might be missing the forest for the tree. A full 21% of Russell's tackles are 20+ yards downfield. Russell is consistently playing so soft, so conservatively, that he's accomplishing little more than preventing the homerun. None of this should be terribly surprising. Russell is a journeyman FS who's been let go by some iffy pass defenses. With two other viable free safeties on roster, it's time Russell's job security is a least questioned.