There's no arguing now that Russell Wilson has turned a corner in his development as a quarterback, particularly when it comes to his trust in -- and ability to throw from -- the pocket.
The numbers really back this up. Wilson has been on the most prolific passing tear of any quarterback in history over the past four or five weeks -- on Sunday, he passed for another three touchdowns and became the only player in NFL history with five straight games with at least three passing touchdowns and no interceptions. Think about that.
If that doesn't get you going, consider this: passing for three or more touchdowns five games in a row is rare enough as it is without even coming to the fact that Wilson has not thrown a pick in his crazy offensive explosion.
Wilson joins just Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Aaron Rodgers and Steve Young as the only quarterbacks in league history with three-plus touchdown passes in five straight games. That's some good company, and he's the only one to have done that without throwing an interception.
But, while you'll hear the numbers and marvel, the eye test of Wilson's progression to the next level is apparent as well. These aren't fluky numbers. Wilson has changed. That was never more apparent to me than on his touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett on the first play of the fourth quarter on Sunday.
(Video via the excellent @WhoIsJoseRivera).
It's kind of subtle, but here's why this play in particular was cool -- it's what Wilson had to do to make it happen. As pressure comes from both sides, Wilson did something that he had struggled with over the first couple years of his career. He stepped up into the pocket, he "hitched up" a few times -- like Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, and Ben Roethlisberger do so savvily -- and bought himself a extra second to deliver the throw to Tyler Lockett.
Pete Carroll spoke about that play this morning with Brock and Salk on 710 ESPN Seattle. What he said is important.
"It didn't take as long as it felt like it took in the game, but Russell, he knew that Tyler was going to come up the sidelines and he has to wait to see what happens," explained Carroll.
"He needed an extra beat in the pocket. And he just stepped up, and slid up, and threw the football. He made a great throw."
Carroll went on. "Tyler pops out of the back of that coverage, because for a while, it's [Russell's] own thing, and he had to see how [Lockett] will came out of it, but [Russell] just knows, if he'll just wait it out, and put the ball out there, that there's a really good chance that nobody's going to be underneath it when we get there."
"And it happened perfectly," said Carroll. "I thought that was the perfect play right there. I love the way the protection worked out, the way the route was run, the way that he fought for that one instant that he needed, and he cleared it and threw a great football for a big touchdown."
That needs to be reiterated.
I loved "the way that he fought for that one instant that he needed, and he cleared it and threw a great football for a big touchdown."
Now, let's rewind the clock to Week 11.
You may remember me pointing out this SoundFX video here at Field Gulls and on Twitter because it illustrated a pretty fundamental concept that still tends to catch up Russell Wilson (and almost every young quarterback) at times.
The video showed Wilson and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell looking at the overhead shots from a recent play, a missed deep throw down the left sideline to Tyler Lockett. It's a very similar situation to Wilson's touchdown to Lockett illustrated above. As Wilson looks down at his tablet, he shakes his head and laments that he "just needed another split-second," and it would've been a touchdown.
Darrell Bevell calmly reminds him: "You could've created it. You could've created it, though."
Here's the play in question, from NFL's SoundFX:
There is one key moment in this play that you can very clearly see on tape. Wilson sees Ahmad Brooks coming toward him from the outside and he panics. You can see it.
Wilson rushes the throw, launching it from his back foot, and he puts it out there too far in front of Lockett.
In a perfect world, instead of throwing from that spot, he should've hitched up, one or two steps forward, to re-set and to allow that "split-second" of time he needed for Lockett to get open in the endzone to happen.
"Man, that should've been a touchdown, man," Wilson bemoans.
"Yes....[with a long, pregnant pause], yes, it should've been," replies Bevell, a former quarterback himself.
The SoundFX video paints a picture of what Wilson could've done here. Two steps forward, max, and he'd have "created" the time he needed to throw the football accurately and on time, as Bevell said he could. Instead, he launches it from behind the true "pocket."
This is a very basic concept, yet it's extremely difficult to master as a quarterback, particularly one with Wilson's skillset. It's very hard to ignore that instinct to keep plays alive -- if Wilson does step up and into the pocket and the play isn't there, it's dead. He takes a sack. For a team whose head coach has bragged about becoming "best scrambling team" in the NFL, it's doubly difficult. Yet, sometimes it's something that Wilson absolutely must learn to do.
Fight off that instinct to run. Fight off that tendency to escape outside rather than stepping up. You might take sacks a little more often this way (and that will be hard on the offensive line, of course), but then you're missing out on plays like this -- and, watch his footwork especially.
It's not perfect by any means. I think there's one extra hitch in there -- a tentative third hitch (those two extra little "happy feet" steps at the end) -- but without that little quibble, I think even Drew Brees would look at Wilson's subtle pocket movement here and nod in approval.
Bottom line is -- that's a big play for more than just the fact that it put the game away. It showed real, tangible development in Wilson's game.