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Russell Wilson needs to throw to Jermaine Kearse less, and Tanner McEvoy more

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As a starting WR, Kearse is on pace for career lows in 2016

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

In case you didn’t know it, Jermaine Kearse is the Seattle Seahawks all-time leading touchdown receiver in the playoffs and has some important game-winners along the way. We all remember them; the circus catch in Super Bowl 49; tackle breaker in Super Bowl 48; the 2014 NFC Conference Championship overtime game winner; and of course the game winner against the 49ers in the 2013 NFC Championship.

But what we don’t always remember, are all the passes that he hasn’t caught, and that’s because there’s a lot of ‘em — 104 of them to be exact and that is projected to increase to over 112 by the next three games. Now don’t get me wrong, not all of those incompletions are his fault, some of the blame belongs to Russell Wilson. Wilson has missed on some throws to Kearse, some might have just been a throwaway, no real chance of catching it, or, Kearse just flat out wasn’t open in the first place. But it’s not whether it’s Kearse’s or Wilson’s fault, it’s the fact that they keep happening, especially in 2016.

It’s not just the incompletions either, but also the interceptions. Wilson has thrown a total of 44 regular season interceptions in his career. Include the playoffs and that number is 53. (Just for giggles, Andrew Luck has 65 regular season interceptions and another 12 in the postseason. That’s 24 more interceptions, despite playing in 14 less games). Out of all 53 of Wilson’s interceptions, 10 of those came when targeting Kearse, which is a ridiculous 19% of his total. His interception rate when targeting Kearse is 3.7%, which is 1.5% higher than his overall career interception rate of 2.2%. Essentially, Wilson completes less passes and throws more interceptions when targeting Kearse. That’s the opposite of good.

Here’s a quick look at Kearse’s career stats, with 2016 projected out to a full 16-game season for clarity on the type of season he’s having:

2016 projected out from 13 games to a full 16 games

Not including his rookie season in 2012 where he barely saw the field, Kearse is on pace to have career lows in catch rate (<50%), yards per catch (down by 1.72 yards from 2015), yards per target (huge drop of 4 yards per target), touchdowns (goose egg), and one more very important stat, first downs (19% drop).

Compare that to Doug Baldwin’s stats (with Russell Wilson as QB).

2016 projected out from 13 games to a full 16 games

Baldwin is on pace to having career highs in receptions, targets, catch rate, and yards. His yards per catch has dropped by nearly two yards, yards per target is also down by 1.2 yards, as well as his touchdowns (which come on, did we really expect him to get 10+ teeders again, realistically?). As for first downs, he’s on pace for a career high, but his conversion percentage drops one point.

Why am I comparing Doug Baldwin, who is one of the best slot receiver’s in the NFL to Jermaine Kearse, who doesn’t even play in the slot?

Simple. They have the same quarterback.

Arguments for Kearse this year is that Wilson has been playing injured for over half the year. Well, if that were the case, Baldwin wouldn’t be setting career-highs, he would have a downward trend somewhat similar to Kearse. However, Kearse also knows the system, is a good blocker, and has trust/chemistry with Wilson. But are those true? Or are they just assumptions?


The Red Zone

So what about when Seattle is in the red zone? Might as well call it the no zone, for as much trouble as the Hawks have had there this year, especially when they target Kearse.

Those are the top five red zone targets every year since Russell Wilson has been the starting quarterback for the Seahawks. Man, I miss Golden Tate.

First thing I noticed, three out of the four years that Kearse has played significant minutes, he has been a top two red zone target, despite never having a top red zone touchdown rate. In those four years, Kearse has a red zone touchdown rate of 12% (I swear it’s just a coincidence).

Compare that to 30% for Doug Baldwin, 20% for Lockett and 19% for Graham. This year alone, Baldwin and Graham are the only players who have a receiving touchdown in the red zone (other than Wilson) who have five and four respectively. Kearse doesn’t only have zero red zone touchdowns, he also has zero red zone catches. Even Lockett, who has no red zone touchdowns, has three receptions on six targets in the red zone.

Well isn’t Kearse a great run blocker? Well sure he is, and that must be why he still is on the field so much (but doesn’t explain his receiving). That has to count for something right? Right! But that doesn’t mean he’s a far superior blocker than the other options. Take both Paul Richardson and Tanner McEvoy for example. As highlighted by Sheil Kapadia on Christine Michael’s 41 yard TD run against the 49ers, they both had key blocks. Oh yeah, McEvoy can also do stuff like this:


Now let’s review.

  • 49% catch rate.
  • 6 yards per target.
  • 0 touchdowns.
  • 28% first down conversion rate.
  • 0% catch rate in the red zone.
  • $13.5 million over three years (and almost no savings in 2017 if released)

Difference Maker

Needless to say, Kearse hasn’t been a difference-maker this year, and has been underperforming in every statistic. You would think that someone performing so poorly would lose some snaps due to competition, and eventually get benched (see Sowell, Bradley, and Gilliam, Garry). Want to know who’s been a difference maker? Tanner McEvoy, that’s who.

  • 9 targets, 7 receptions for a 77 % catch rate.
  • 124 yards for 13.7 yards per target
  • 5 first downs for a 56% conversion rate
  • 2 touchdowns, for a 22% TD rate

Granted, McEvoy has the smallest of small sample sizes. However, with production like that, wouldn’t you think he would start getting more playing time and opportunities? Well, so far that hasn’t been the case. Through week 14, Kearse has averaged 53 snaps per game and is routinely in the top two for wide receiver snap counts. Compare that to McEvoy, who only averages seven snaps per game, which is the lowest out of the wide receiving group.

Although, over the past two weeks, McEvoy has 17 and 16 snaps each, both season highs for him. We can make two conclusions from that:

  1. Paul Richardson was out with an injury during week 14, resulting in roughly nine additional snaps for McEvoy.
  2. The coaching staff is starting to finally give McEvoy more playing time due to both his performance and Kearse’s (or lack thereof).

Honestly, it probably has more to do with Richardson having an injury more than anything, since Kearse’s snap count didn’t drop for those games, with 64 and 53 each.

Mike Bar’s film review of McEvoy from Sunday’s game is a good look at how “T-Train” performed. The press saw the same thing Mike did, and after Sunday’s shellacking, they finally caught on and asked Pete Carroll about it.

Pete Carroll’s Monday Presser, fast forward to the 6:38 mark.

Carroll was asked if he’s considering replacing Kearse in the lineup with McEvoy or anyone else. Pete responded with,

“We’re competing all the time. We’re trying to get the best guys in, in the best opportunities and best situations and all that. Jermaine has been a really good player for us and he’s busted his tail every day he’s been with us, and we’re just trying to get connections and do things right. We’re always competing, if you watch we always mix our guys, they’re all playing and being a part of it. So, there’s no clear statement to be made to satisfy your question there.”

There was then an immediate follow up question about how McEvoy was doing. Pete provided this,

“He’s doing well. He really, in his opportunities, he’s doing quite well. He made the most of some plays, and he’s had very few real good shots. And even when we gave him a chance to throw the ball he did a real nice job. You know, so there’s some play making in there, and he’s an exciting young guy coming up. He’s got an usual body, he’s really big, he’s over 6’5” so he’s got some special qualities.”

Translate that Carroll speak how you wish, but Carroll’s comments don’t match with what is happening on the field. Both McEvoy and Richardson are getting mixed in, but are routinely getting a limited amount of opportunities. If they are indeed competing, there’s a reason why McEvoy isn’t getting more snaps. First thought would be is that he can only run a limited amount of routes, since this is just his first year playing wide receiver. With how poor Kearse has played, there has to be something else behind the scenes that is keeping other wide receivers from taking playing time from him. Just having the experience that Kearse has, along with his work ethic, isn’t enough for him to getting so much playing time with how poorly he’s played. Could also be that the coaches are just being stubborn, but highly unlikely, which how quickly Carroll admits mistakes with personnel decisions.


Playoff Push

If the Seahawks win on Thursday, or the Cardinals lose on Sunday, they’ll clinch the NFC West and a playoff berth. However, they are still fighting for the #2 seed and a first round bye. Unfortunately, this is probably going to go down to Week 17 and could possibly keep McEvoy from increasing his playing time. If the Hawks were locked in with their playoff seeding, the last couple of weeks would be a great opportunity for McEvoy to get a lot more snaps and opportunities.

We all know that Carroll loves to play younger guys, so towards the end of the year they are up and running at full speed. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the case with McEvoy. Unless Carroll really starts to let competition actual manifest itself in the receiving corps, don’t expect McEvoy to get an expanded role this year, even though he deserves the opportunity. In the meantime, let’s hope that “playoff Jermaine Kearse” shows up right on schedule.

However, look out for McEvoy in 2017. He’s going to be the player we wanted Chris Matthews to be. But for now, just appreciate Tanner McEvoy, just like Kenneth does.