On the second drive of the third quarter against San Francisco, Russell Wilson threw his second of two interceptions on the night. Russ was targeting Jermaine Kearse deep over the middle of the field. On first view, the interception looked like this:
From just that single broadcast still, it’s pretty obvious that the throw was a poor decision by Russ. Perhaps because it was such an obviously poor decision from a usually smart quarterback, CBS and the NFL Network decided to give it’s audience a peek at the play from the All 22 view. That looked like this:
On that view you can see Jermaine Kearse momentarily slow down at the top of his route, which lead to a bunch of people with takes like this bozo:
Kearse stopped running his route. Awesome.— Danny Kelly (@FieldGulls) October 23, 2015
As the resident Kearse apologist, this cannot stand.
So, let’s break this play down a little. Here’s the play design from Seattle’s presnap alignment.
This is a pretty familiar play. Seattle will run one or two play action shot plays where they send two receivers deep on post or crossing routes, with a back or tight end leaking out as a dump off option. I haven’t been able to see the All 22 on Lockett’s touchdown, but I expect it to have come off of a similar play.
Here is the play about three seconds after the snap. This is roughly the time that Jermaine Kearse slows down in his route. The Niners pressure Russ up the middle and he rolls outside the pocket to his left. Jermaine Kearse, nearly 30 yards down field at this point, has his head turned around looking for Russ or the ball.
Kearse likely identifies this as a scramble drill and reads the situation. He can continue on his route, but that takes him the opposite direction from Russ and there is a safety closing the middle of the field. He can try to get deep, but he has a corner in man over the top of him. Plus, he’s already 30 yards down field. Any deep ball would likely give a DB the chance to recover and make a play on the ball.
Kearse slows down here because he likely, and correctly, reads that he needs to work back to the area along the sideline marked by the green box. We’ve seen Seattle receivers do this many times, breaking off their route to run diagonally back towards Russ to make a toe tapping catch along the sidelines.
Jermaine isn’t quitting on his route, in fact it’s the exact opposite. He’s read the play and is looking for a way to uncover.
Instead, Russ forces the issue and launches the ball deep. Like, really deep.
The yellow circles are where Kearse, the corner, and the safety were in the previous picture. The ball is a little over 25 yards from where Kearse is when he initially slows. The corner, who has about a yard on Kearse and didn’t slow, has to make a really nice diving catch to pick off the pass and the safety has also converged on Kearse.
Even without slowing around the 40 yard line, this ball is destined to be intercepted. If Jermaine is able to get to the ball at all, two defenders are in place to jar it loose or tip it up for the other to grab. The best case scenario is that Jermaine is somehow able to break up the interception and force an incompletion. Kearse knew that back on the 40 yard line, which is why he didn’t expect the pass to be forced deep.
"I was really disappointed in the long ball," Carroll said. "That’s too bad. We don’t need to do that. He thought he had something. We don’t need to throw the ball up like that. The other one, it was a scramble, and he saw Doug [Baldwin], and he flashed to throw that ball, and he lost track of what’s going on. So that’s a mistake for us. But the other one, the last time we did that, it was against the Cardinals, I think in his first game or something like that. So don’t need to throw the ball up like that."
And Russell confirms that there was confusion about the scramble.
"We had a deep play. Jermaine and I kind of got confused a little bit," he said. "I think he thought I was scrambling, so I was trying to get him a shot, and we were off on the timing of the original play, I felt like."