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The StatHawk, Week 14: Throw, Catch, Spread It All Out

/ These are the things that we love to count / Come on / He's throwing to you / Come on

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

(That one was for all of us who grew up in the eighties.)

Actual Post: Receiver Usage

Russell Wilson is such a twelve-read quarterback.

No, really. Of the 53 men on the active roster, he has completed passes to 12 of them. It's poetic. When you add in the three guys no longer available to him (Percy Harvin, Zach Miller and Derrick Coleman), you reach 15. Russell has completed passes to 15 different humans this season.

Is that a high number? It seems high. I guess it is, compared with the teams Seattle has faced this season.

In this chart, the "Total Spread Factor" in the final column is calculated this way: each receiver is worth one point, each 10-catch receiver worth two, each additional 5-9 catch receiver worth three. Not going to win any statistical cook-offs with this scale, but its goal is simply context anyway.

Team Total receivers w/ receptions Receivers with >10 rec. Receivers with 5-9 rec. Total Spread Factor
Raiders 17 (includes 2 OL) 8 5 48
Hawks 15 8 5 46
Chiefs 16 8 3 41
Rams 14 10 2 40
Panthers 14 8 3 39
Cardinals 13 7 3 36
49ers 11 6 4 35
Giants 14 9 1 35
Skins 13 8 2 35
Chargers 13 7 2 33
Broncos 12 7 2 32
Eagles 12 7 2 32
Cowboys 12 6 2 30
Packers 13 7 0 27

Observation: Russell has had to build chemistry with many receivers. Out of roster-related necessity at times. Other teams that struggled moving the ball through the air (Oakland is 28th and St. Louis is 26th and Carolina is 25th, via Football Outsiders) have similar stats. The difference of course is that the Hawks are winning and still moving the ball well enough through the passing game: Wilson is at or above league average in all indexed categories save sack percentage, according to pro-football-reference's advanced passing stats.

Generally, the less spread out a quarterbacks' targets are, the more efficient the pass offense is. If you make a composite ranking of pass offenses by visiting Pro Football Focus, Advanced Football Analytics and Football Outsiders, the result is:

1. Green Bay, 2. Denver, 3. New England, 4. New Orleans, 5. San Diego, 6. Pittsburgh.

Three of those teams are in the chart above... all of them sitting near the bottom.

Next Steps

Okay, that was fun, but a little trivial. Let's go one step deeper, one step meaningfuller: this season, how many receivers, on average, does Wilson find in a single game?

From a quick jaunt through the season's box scores, we get this log of amount of different receivers: 8, 7, 10, 6*, 8, 7, 9, 7, 5**, 7, 9, 8.

*36 rushes that game including 11 for 122 yards from Russell himself.

**45 rushes that game, yep, that's the unforgettable Giants one.

In standard games, where the rushing attack is of the non-historic variety, Wilson consistently finds anywhere between 7 and 10 pass catchers. Every time; no more, no less. Sounds impressive, but we don't know yet if that's a high number, compared with his peers. So let's test the digits against the quarterbacks of the top six offenses listed earlier.

The QB's are sorted at the end by something called Spread Quotient. Because it's the number of adjusted dropbacks per game divided by the number of different receivers found per game, a lower number means the quarterback does a better job of spreading the ball around. A high number means that quarterback goes to the same smaller set of guys over and over.

QB Dropbacks - runs - sacks D - r - s / game Avg. receivers / game Spread Quotient
Wilson 335 27.92 7.58 3.68
Rodgers 380 31.67 6.75 4.69
Brees 489 40.75 8.58 4.75
Rivers 408 34.00 7.00 4.86
Roethlisberger 470 39.17 7.08 5.53
Brady 453 37.75 6.50 5.81
Manning 476 39.67 6.42 6.18

You'll tell me, "Well duh, of course Russ completes passes to almost eight guys on average, that's because usually about a dozen guys are active at skill positions on gameday, and the Hawks don't have a clear primary target."

Sure, but the other guys have a dozen pass catchers active too, and they aren't spreading the ball to the extent Russ is. Except for, coincidentally enough, Wilson's role model: Brees' game log goes 7, 8, 8, 9, 9, 9, 9, 8, 8, 9, 10, 9. But then again, the Saints QB has had 150 more opportunities to throw than the Hawks QB.

Now we're finally touching on what's amazing here: that RW outpaces almost all these elite guys despite a Letterman-front-teeth-sized gap in number of dropbacks per game.

It's almost like he's doing it on purpose!

(Two bonus fun facts: Manning is 0-3 when completing passes to eight or more targets, and 9-0 when he keeps it to seven or less. Roethlisberger connected with 11 different receivers in Week 5, the most of anyone on the list.)

Bird v. Bird

For dessert, how about a series of interesting team stats that illustrate how differently -- and just maybe how similarly -- the Hawks and Eagles are behaving this season?

I bolded eight of the lines, because they warrant some commentary.

Turnover-free games: Hawks 6, Eagles 1.

Games with passing yards > 200: Hawks 3, Eagles 11

Games with rushing yards > 150: Hawks 6, Eagles 4

Games where rush yards > pass yards: Hawks 4, Eagles 1 (Thanksgiving!)

Points per game: Hawks 24.8, Eagles 31.2, gap of 6.4 points

However, special teams and defensive TD scored: Hawks 2, Eagles 10 (!!!)

So, offensive points per game: Hawks 23.7, Eagles 25.4, gap of only 1.7 points

Scoring defense, ppg: Hawks 18.4, Eagles 23.8

However, special teams and defensive TD allowed: Hawks 1, Eagles 3

So, defensive points per game: Hawks 17.8, Eagles 22.0, gap of 5.2 points

Therefore, offensive ppg minus ppg allowed: Hawks 5.9, Eagles 3.4

TD surplus (offensive TD minus defensive TD allowed): Hawks 8 (29-21), Eagles 4 (32-28)

Yards per play, offense then defense: Hawks 5.8 vs. 4.9, Eagles 5.7 vs. 5.4

Points per play, offense: Hawks 0.38, Eagles 0.35

Total offensive scoring drives: Hawks 56, Eagles 59

Percentage of drives ending in a score: Hawks 43.4, Eagles 38.1

Red zone TD%: Hawks 47.2, Eagles 43.5

(Sources: team pages,,


  • Turnover-free games. Philly has given the ball away in almost every game, 11 out of 12. Seattle has played mistake-free in half its games. And while Mark Sanchez carries a 3.4 INT% into Sunday's game, Russell Wilson's is at 1.5. If the game is decided by a single score, whichever team commits the extra turnover is probably going to put itself in a delicate position. But that team probably won't be the Seahawks.
  • 10 special teams and defensive touchdowns is just silly business. Of course, amassing the fantasy points didn't exactly help the Eagles out in Week 4, when they lost 26-21 to the Niners without scoring an offensive touchdown. With Seattle's special teams performing much worse than in previous years (FO has them ranked No. 18 by wDVOA after two years in the top 10), a big play here could most certainly swing the final result in Philly's favor.
  • These offenses are on the same level of potency. If the Eagles are on Viagra, the Hawks are on Cialis. (Note: stop watching in-game ads.) A team scoring 25.4 ppg would place 10th in the league; a team with 23.7 would place 14th.
  • The defenses are not comparable, in terms of points allowed. The gap is 5.2 points per game, or the difference between 2nd place and 15th place.
  • The Hawks outscore their opponents, excluding ST, by 5.9 points. The Eagles manage just a 3.4 margin, or about half of Seattle's.
  • For all the talk about Philly's offense, it scores on a lower percentage of drives than Seattle's. The difference is significant, even.
  • For all the talk about Seattle's inept red zone offense, Philly's is worse. This time the difference is small. But the Hawks finally found a field-goal kicking buddy. 26-25 final score anyone?