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Two Years of Brian Russell, Pt. 1

It was shortly after I had proposed to Alanya that I first crusaded against Brian Russell. Then he was mid-tier free-agent media-darling that contributed more with his mouth than his play. He was a leader. Seattle still employed Michael Boulware and there was a superficial position battle ongoing, or so I perceived. In retrospect, the day Deon Grant was told he would play strong safety is the day Michael Boulware joined the to-cut list.

I didn't know Russell then, but as a cynical sports fan with a semi-antagonistic relationship with the local media, Russell excited fear neurons in my amygdalae.

A week into training camp, Brian Russell certainly seems like the toast of local journalists. Now, by all means, I want Russell to be good, but you'll have to excuse me if I'm a little suspicious of a 29 y/o, coach's son, journeyman DB who gives good quote receiving a lot of attention from the local media--especially when the trait most commonly lauded in Russell is his leadership.

Seattle started the season poorly. After a crushing overtime loss in Cleveland, Seattle was 4-4 and looked only as good as Matt Hasselbeck could make them. 2007 is now seen as a defensive renaissance, one in which the secondary finally stepped up and stopped the deep ball, but that wasn't how it seemed on November 6. Seattle had allowed 428 yards including 364 through the air to Cleveland. It had allowed 431 and 412 to Arizona and Cincinnati, including 299 and 328 through the air. Except, even then, Seattle was bending, but the breaks were breaking for Seattle. It had nine interceptions and allowed only five touchdown passes. It might be that when I wrote this...

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.

that I was missing the point. Or maybe I knew the risk a team takes when it counts on turnovers and red zone stands to save itself from a soft secondary and an inability to stop third and long.

Seattle's defense didn't break again until the Division round against Green Bay. It rode career years from Patrick Kerney, Marcus Trufant, Julian Peterson, Darryl Tapp, Lofa Tatupu and solid seasons from Leroy Hill, Rocky Bernard, Brandon Mebane, Deon Grant, Kelly Jennings and Ellis Wyms to an 11th ranked total defense and a 14th ranked pass defense1. That's right, in the season Seattle had 24 sacks from just two players, four interceptions by its middle linebacker, seven interceptions and 150 return yards from its Pro Bowl cornerback, and career years from three players that have combined for ten Pro Bowls, its pass defense was just mediocre. The logical reaction would be to wonder what was wrong, to see how clueless Jordan Babineaux was in coverage, or how Kelly Jennings looked almost panicky when quarterbacks targeted his receiver, or that Brian Russell was a ghost appearing only to frighten and confound Seahawks fans, but instead the best-in-league touchdowns allowed was heralded and every Seahawks defender part of the team that made it happen. Success can create a kind of sated ignorance, and I ignored how fine a line separated Jennings from failure. Russell was beyond ignoring.

November 25

Trufant is well behind Bruce and desperately in need of deep help. That's where Russell, who is working in a middle zone in the endzone, should run over to cover Bruce. Instead, Russell stays in the center though Grant has his man covered, and then doesn't break towards Bruce until it's entirely too late.

Here's Brian Russell's charted stats for the half: Blown Tackle, Blown Assignment, Blown Tackle, Blown Assignment, Blown Tackle.

December 2

Curtis enters Russell's zone and is double covered, briefly. Curtis runs a double move, false step in, slant out, slant in. On the second move, the slant in, he completely sheds Russell. It's now one on one deep.

January 5

Finally, further proof that Brian Russell rots. It's 4th and 1, the Skins are on the Hawks 27, a stop for Seattle gives them the ball and a 13 point lead with about 16:00 minutes left in regulation. Important, yousay? The Hawks D is in a base formation, the Skins run a play action out of a heavy package. Russell reads the play action, assumes man coverage on Sellers, and then is Cajun cooked by Washington's 32 y/o, 284 pound fullback.

There was this feeling that if you saw Russell bad stuff was about to happen. He was an abysmal run stopper: A rickety tackler with a Frank Gehry eye for angles. His coverage ability disappeared if looked at, inspiring supporters to argue his lack of statistics or witnessed contributions were because teams were throwing away from him -- that Russell was the Nnamdi Asomugha of safeties. The leadership argument again surfaced and Russell, CEO of the secondary, received dividends on others' hard-earned plays. When the defense had its darkest hour, mugged and left for dead at Lambeau Field, it was the rush defense that collapsed. Russell couldn't do everything.

1 Pro Football Prospectus 2008