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The protection issue that caused Russell Wilson to have his jaw reset

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals
Russell Wilson follows through on a pass as Karlos Dansby leads with his helmet.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week I evaluated the pressure that is routinely being placed on Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, in particular looking at the offensive line and how it handles a blitzing linebacker through the guard-tackle gap. Opponents have repeatedly used this tactic to generate pressure on Wilson this season, and the play against the Arizona Cardinals which resulted in a hit to Wilson’s jaw so severe that it required his jaw be reset came on exactly this type of pressure.

Here is the pre-snap alignment of the players just seconds before the snap with the Cardinals showing pressure from the defensive left side, or the right side of the offense. There are two wide receivers and two cornerbacks not pictured here, as they are lined up far enough outside that they are isolation matchups on the edges.

Pre-snap alignment on play Wilson injured his jaw.

Now, there are several key things to note from the Cardinals alignment. The immediate pre-snap reads are that the defense lining up and showing pressure from Wilson’s right and Deone Bucannon, the safety on the offensive left, is stacked over the top of the linebacker covering Graham. A safety over the top of Graham is not surprising - a threat such as Graham is hard to cover one on one, and a safety lined up directly behind Graham could indicate that the defense is setting up to over-under bracket Graham. However, taking a look at the other side of the formation shows that the defense is likely in zone coverage. This is seen in the fact that there is no defensive player lined up across from most dangerous receiving threat on the field, Doug Baldwin.

Continuing to pay attention to the left defensive side of the formation, taking a gander at Haason Reddick reveals something interesting. Reddick is the Cardinals player lined up on the defensive line’s far left end, and his head position in this still photo indicates he likely has no intention of rushing Wilson on the play. It is only for a second, but it is captured well here that Reddick is staring down the receiver (Doug Baldwin) lined up just outside of the hashmarks and across the line of scrimmage. Looking at Russell’s helmet, it appears as though Wilson sees this, as he is looking in that direction and I would guess that he knows exactly what is coming from the Arizona defense. There will be multiple hot routes on this play, and Wilson delivers the pass to the correct receiver.

Here is a second view of the same pre-snap alignment from the end zone view.

Pre-snap alignment from end zone on play Wilson suffered jaw injury.

Dansby, the Cardinals player who delivers the hit to Wilson’s jaw, is the middle defender of the three Arizona players that are basically stacked across from Jimmy Graham, and Reddick’s staring down of Baldwin is even more readily visible from this angle. (Author’s note: Interestingly, it appears as though the coach’s film is shot with some kind of high end, military grade camera, because from this angle some of Wilson’s robotic sensor arms that are not picked up by the broadcast TV cameras are clearly visible.)

Both of those stills come from roughly three seconds prior to the snap, and as those three seconds pass the Arizona defense telegraphs with even greater clarity what is coming. Bucannon creeps closer, finally stopping once he is seven yards off the line of scrimmage. Here is a closer view of the Cardinals alignment on the offensive left side of the formation immediately prior to the snap.

Alignment to offensive left side just prior to snap.

Once the ball is snapped, the action is largely predictable. Reddick, who had been showing blitz on the left side of the defensive line drops back into underneath coverage and is in perfect position to prevent a quick curl route to Baldwin. Tyrann Mathieu, providing a seven yard cushion to Tyler Lockett, takes a single step backwards before reading Lockett running a quick out and starts forward before pulling up once he sees Wilson throw the pass to the other side of the field.

On the offensive left side Rawls is lined up on the outside, and he runs a go route presumably to pull the outside corner away from the play. Graham, from his slot alignment, simply takes three steps downfield before turning around and boxing out Bucannon. Wilson, reading the play perfectly, stands in the pocket and throws into the space vacated by the blitzing Dansby.

Here is what the play looks like from the end zone as the space between Tobin and Pocic opens for Dansby to apply pressure.

Not hard for a linebacker to rush through a gap that large.

As discussed in the article earlier this week, this pressure does not come as a result of a failure on the offensive line. It comes as a result of the scheme and personnel the Hawks use on the play. On this particular play Graham only gains four yard, but had he been able to break a single tackle, the play likely goes for a first down. Looking at the play at the moment that he catches the pass, outside of Bucannon, there are no defenders close to Graham other than Bucannon, who is in the process of tackling him.

If Graham breaks a single tackle, the play could have gone for a huge gain.

In fact, if Graham is able to break just a single tackle on the play, it is possible he could go well, well past the thirty yard line. Unfortunately for Seattle, Graham gets taken down immediately, Prosise is injured on the next play and then Wilson is sacked on consecutive plays. The first of these consecutive sacks comes when Chandler Jones beats Tobin one on one on the left side and the second by Reddick after Nick Vannett is unable to maintain outside control on a double team.

So, again, while Wilson continues to face pressure, much of the pressure is not only coming from individual failures along the offensive line. Pressure is also coming as a direct result of the scheme and personnel the Seahawks are intentionally using. In short, we once again see that the offense seems to be inviting the pressure on Wilson.