The series on the Seattle Seahawks pass protection of Russell Wilson this season continues, with Ben Baldwin and Kasey Stenman teaming up each week to break it down play-by-play. This week on the docket: Demarcus Lawrence and the Dallas Cowboys.
Ben Baldwin: By the numbers, Seattle’s pass protection continued its downward slide on Sunday, allowing Russell Wilson to be pressured 54 percent of the time against a team that has pressured quarterbacks an average of 36 percent of the time this season.
While the culprit against the LA Rams was often interior pressure generated by Aaron Donald, what happened against the Cowboys? Let’s go to the film, where below is a cutup of all Russell Wilson dropbacks against Dallas. After skipping the non-competitive second half against the Rams last week, we are back to looking at the entire game.
The Play-by-Play Analysis
Kasey Stenman: Well, it is certainly true this Cowboys defense isn’t quite the same monster as those faced the previous three weeks by the Seahawks, but there are still some players that have made a name for themselves. No. 90 Demarcus Lawrence is just a half sack behind Chandler Jones for the league lead in sacks despite playing close to three hundred fewer snaps, and he had 10.5 sacks in his first seven games. No. 98 Tyrone Crawford might not live up to his $9 million per year billing, but he still flashes at times while former Seahawk no. 93 Benson Mayowa has become a solid if unspectacular rotational rusher. DC Rod Marinelli is also a generally respected coach and has had plenty of success in the league, including being the assistant head coach of the famed 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers as ... the defensive line coach (featuring the Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice show).
Here is the video, sadly without play numbers this week due to some technical difficulties, to open in another page.
Play 1: 1st and 10, SEA 31. Russell Wilson pass complete short right to Doug Baldwin for 7 yards (tackle by Sean Lee).
Five on four for this quick pass. First off, a hat tip to Wilson here; not often is there such a shot of him going through his progressions so clearly like this, either due to play design or protection failing. See him quickly scan the pair of receivers to his left, progress to Jimmy Graham as he gets to the top of his drop, and begin his throwing motion as he turns to his fourth option. By my timing it is just under two seconds from snap to throw, he gets to his fourth read, and completes a seven-yard pass to kick things off.
I try to avoid delving too much into quarterback evaluation as that is not the focus here and I would spend far too much time discussing quarterbacks I don’t particularly care for, but this is what the pundits who used to say Wilson “isn’t a pocket passer” and “doesn’t go through his progressions” were looking for. We don’t often get to see it this clearly for a couple of reasons:
A) immediate pressure or a blitz dictates he scrambles or throws the ball right away,
B) he has noticed certain options that are in an extremely poor matchup without a potential payoff, i.e. man to man coverage against a good cornerback, but with a safety also over the top, so he avoids them,
C) he has (usually) correctly identified against zone coverage which receivers will draw defenders and “reads” that pre snap instead of post snap before throwing to the ensuing open man,
D) the route combination is entirely to one side of the field with just a go route option or a check-down to the other side, or
E) he just feels like running.
Here we have a pair of receivers to Wilson’s left as his primary options, Graham in the middle as the third, Baldwin the fourth to the right side and Mike Davis to the far right as the final check-down option. Without getting too much into route combinations and passing concepts, Darrell Bevell’s play designs generally lead to scenario D, while scenario A is a result of pressure, and scenarios B and C represent good quarterback play. E is what Cam Newton does.
Anyway, just thought I’d ramble for a bit there, back to the task at hand. Crawford is not a great fit as an edge rusher and as far as I know has not been quite as comfortable there as when he plays inside. Duane Brown is able to comfortably enter his wide drop and completely engulf Crawford, while his hand placement and grip inside neutralizes a potential counter move inside, very well done.
Luke Joeckel and Justin Britt handle their double team beautifully on no. 58 Datone Jones, a guy who on one hand is a former first round pick who has played everywhere from DT to 3-4 OLB, but on the other is on his fifth team in the last year. Ethan Pocic faces second year pass rusher no. 96 Maliek Collins and, while Collins is no Aaron Donald, Pocic does a decent job of repositioning his hands after an initial inside move to move laterally while keeping his hips mostly square to the line of scrimmage. Not great, but he shows good awareness and doesn’t get beat. Germain Ifedi against Lawrence, who pulls off an unusual jump-swim move to avoid engagement and get past Ifedi’s hands. He is beat pretty cleanly here, but because he is so gifted athletically and physically he forces Lawrence far enough upfield to be a non factor, and open a nice passing/running lane for Wilson.
Play 2: 2nd and 8, SEA 46. Russell Wilson pass incomplete deep right intended for Doug Baldwin.
Play-action pass on second and long. I don’t particularly like this call from a down/distance standpoint, but this is a good position on the field to take a shot like this while they have already somewhat “established the run” enough to get the fake to work very well for the bootleg the comes off it. Only thing close to pressure is allowed by Luke Willson.
Play 3: 3rd and 8, SEA 46. Russell Wilson pass complete short right to Paul Richardson for 11 yards (tackle by Chidobe Awuzie).
Five on four with an empty set and chips by Davis and Willson to either side. The former’s is perfect and sets up Ifedi perfectly against Lawrence, the latter’s not so much for Brown against Crawford. There are just three down linemen and no. 50 Sean Lee is a blitzer that loops behind Crawford; regardless of whether this was by design or not is serves as an effective stunt exacerbated by Willson’s chip. As such, and with Lee being a blitzer, it is a tough call between Joeckel and Brown missing it or just nice recognition by Lee and an unfortunate outcome for Brown. Britt solo on Collins and he does very well to prevent any movement, and Pocic helps out to either side of him. I mentioned Ifedi was in perfect position here, and as Lawrence looks to go back outside with his jump-swim move Ifedi gets a bit lazy here to lunge after him to essentially cut block him. It ends up being an effective block and potentially just a good decision, so I won’t really pass judgment on the choice here.
Play 4: 1st and 10, DAL 43. Russell Wilson sacked by Taco Charlton for -4 yards.
A few quirks here; five on four, but one of the down linemen drops into a spy look against Wilson while a blitz comes wide off the left side and we have the first sack that basically kills this drive. The blocking is actually good, and the blitz picked up perfectly; this is one of the rare times Wilson panics and scrambles into a sack. A well-designed play to close off any rushing lanes, but overall this one is one mostly on Wilson.
Brown faces a speed rush by Mayowa that forces him upfield, but he mirrors it perfectly so he is always in position between Wilson and Mayowa and keeps his hips about parallel to the sideline to maintain leverage and not overstep to present a counter opportunity. Joeckel recognizes the blitz and picks it up. His initial punch actually knocks no. 57 Damien Wilson away and allows him to reset for another move, but Joeckel recovers and engages him again.
Britt and Pocic great on double team, Ifedi gets no. 97 first round pick Taco Charlton on a speed rush he converts into a bull rush. Ifedi doesn’t lunge and does a decent job to mirror Charlton, but despite his good positioning and hand placement he gives up a ton of ground to pinch the pocket. When Wilson begins to get jittery, despite this not yet being pressure, he runs right into Charlton since he gives him a perfect angle to disengage from Ifedi. This is not one of Ifedi’s worst plays at all and I definitely pin some unfortunate blame on Wilson, but with his size we definitely need to see Ifedi not give up so much ground; generally he holds up well against a bull rush head on but Charlton was able to threaten the edge first and cut back into Ifedi’s face rapidly. A good rush here, an example of what draft “analysts” like to call converting speed to power from a pass rush standpoint.
Play 5: 2nd and 14, DAL 47. Russell Wilson pass incomplete short left intended for Doug Baldwin.
(Begins at :20) Five on four with a stunt on the right side that Pocic doesn’t see and Ifedi doesn’t recognize to be able to pick up Pocic’s man. Not good by them here, and while it would be easy to pin this on Pocic we have to remember that he is already engaging his initial man with no indication that Ifedi is prepared to help. Perhaps this is a trust issue, or it could just be a random occurrence they weren’t expecting, or maybe they just spaced out for a split second as humans do. Difficult to pin blame here, but it is irrelevant in the context of the play; pressure is allowed. Everyone else is fine for the short time they are engaged.
Play 6: 3rd and 14, DAL 47. Russell Wilson pass incomplete short middle intended for Tyler Lockett.
Five on four with Lee creeping up as a spy and eventually a delayed blitzer. Very good protection here all around; Graham and Davis provide chips to either side and both are well executed, as usual the Joeckel and Britt double team is great and Brown with help is of course great as he is able to stay low and mirror Mayowa perfectly before engaging with perfect hand placement and leverage to allow almost no movement. Ifedi similarly takes advantage and actually drives Charlton down the line a bit as they go upfield, all while maintaining his hip alignment on the rusher. Great to see Pocic here demolish Crawford; an inside slant and a bull rush is what Pocic has faced a lot of this year, and while he does give up ground initially on this admittedly very deep drop, he recovers to get his positioning back and neutralizes the rush before overpowering Crawford to the ground. See what good hand placement can get you after a bit of experience? This isn’t perfect due to the ground he gives up, but he never gets beat and the overall process is a step in the right direction.
That’s what you like to see out of a rookie.
Play 7: 2nd and 10, SEA 1. Russell Wilson pass incomplete deep left intended for Paul Richardson.
A run fake but the line pass blocks so not really play action in the conventional sense. Six on four here with Davis coming off the fake to take on Lawrence. As such it would be impossible to expect him to take him on head to head, so he does what is probably the best he can do here to cut block him. Ifedi/Pocic and Britt/Joeckel each get double teams they handle without issue, and Brown is his normal self against Crawford. He gets pulled forward into a lunge at the tail end of the play but doesn’t get thrown too far out of position and seems to recover from what we can see here. Overall good protection, though it was dependent on Wilson getting the ball out quick with Davis just cut blocking Lawrence and also not getting him to the ground.
Play 8: 3rd and 10, SEA 1. Russell Wilson pass incomplete deep right intended for Paul Richardson.
Five against a simple three man rush with Davis also releasing up the middle. Brown again latches on to Crawford perfectly with his hands inside to absorb him, Pocic/Britt/Joeckel all have Collins. Ifedi aggressively lunges out to meet Lawrence and does get a hand up around his inside shoulder in what could’ve lead to holding, but a combination of Ifedi latching on strong and Lawrence not choosing to burst inside leads to this not being an issue. Instead Ifedi is able to force his hands back inside and drive Lawrence down the line while attempting to stay low to get leverage. This doesn’t look great and could’ve ended up poor, but the outcome is positive. I know there has been some consternation in the past regarding giving up pressure on such plays where there are fewer than four rushers, but consider this; having one less rusher does not make everyone’s job marginally easier because they are facing 25% fewer pass rushers. Ifedi and Brown still have solo blocks just like they would even if there was another DT up the middle, and they can’t just rely on help to the inside assuming that Pocic, for instance, will get free to help. Even here Pocic does get free and looks to help elsewhere even with Ifedi singled against Lawrence. For the tackles on this play their job is just as difficult as most plays.
Play 9: 1st and 10, SEA 39 Russell Wilson pass complete short right to Doug Baldwin for 2 yards (tackle by Taco Charlton).
Quick screen here to open the quarter that is recognized and played very well by Charlton. Joeckel whiffs on a very difficult cut block with his man also slanting inside hard on the snap to make it nearly impossible unless Joeckel had been patient and moved down the line before cutting. Not important in context due to the play but still the only noteworthy aspect here.
Play 10: 3rd and 11, SEA 38. Russell Wilson sacked by Benson Mayowa for -7 yards.
(Begins at :45) Five on three, with a very late blitzer/spy coming in to close off a rush lane. Here you see what I mentioned earlier; Brown gives up a sack here, but it isn’t worse in context of this being a three man rush. With an extra man in coverage, in fact, the blocking has to hold up longer most of the time on such plays. Ifedi handles Lawrence’s inside slant-spin combo with ease to absorb him with a little help from Pocic, while Britt and Joeckel again handle the double team once Britt gets pushed back just a bit at first. For Brown here it is a good rush by Mayowa, as he widens his rush before converting to a bull rush to set up his move. He rips under Brown’s hands as he attempts to recover, which opens up Brown’s hips and gives a lane to Wilson for the sack. This is one of the best plays to break down even if it seems so simple.
A bit of context can explain this a bit; third and long means Wilson isn’t as likely to scramble for a short gain, while the extra man in coverage in addition to the desire to get a first down in this scenario means Wilson is likely to be holding on to the ball a beat or two longer than usual with a deep drop. Brown had been facing off against the more sluggish (for an edge rusher) Crawford mostly up to this pass, while Mayowa is a much better athlete and speed rusher so Brown might not have been quite ready for the change. This rush here also contains three parts; the widening of the rush, the conversion to a bull rush, and rip underneath.
Given the circumstances and knowing he could afford to go this far upfield in a hurry with a spy to close up behind him, while also having time to pull off this type of a rush meant Mayowa could effectively set up Brown exactly as he wanted in poor position and have an angle to get to Wilson. Still a poor attempt here to latch on by Brown, but it was a culmination of circumstances leading to the sack and not just a cut and dry reason as to why Brown failed. So before pointing to the easy complaint of “ugh a sack against a three man rush” we have to consider all the aspects of the play to identify the issue. In this case, sliding protection to the left would’ve been good in hindsight to have Joeckel cover Brown’s inside and allow Brown to overstep to the outside, but it would’ve been the objectively wrong decision; Ifedi on Lawrence is far more likely to need help than Brown on Mayowa, and who knows what happens here if Pocic doesn’t show up on Lawrence to help.
Play 11: 1st and 10, SEA 25. Russell Wilson pass incomplete (defended by Tyrone Crawford).
Six on five; edge rusher on the right drops into zone with the other three down linemen slanting that way, while a pair of blitzers fills in on the left side behind them. This was picked up very well and appeared as though is was possibly identified prior to the snap based on how cleanly they all slide to match the slant and how Davis fills in perfectly behind. Joeckel has trouble with the inside slant but appears to be unsure if he is getting help with blitzer to his outside. Not sure if this is Joeckel not being on the same page as the Wilson and the others or what, but it causing him to lose track of Crawford and allow him to get upfield before he also defends the pass. So while it isn’t necessarily an issue with his blocking there was something involving Joeckel’s awareness that led to his pressure.
Play 12: 3rd and 5, SEA 30. Russell Wilson sacked by Demarcus Lawrence for -22 yards.
Another five on three situation, with Joeckel/Britt/Pocic again on one man. Brown handles his solo block of Crawford with ease, but Ifedi gets bull rushed cleanly by Lawrence before forcing the scramble and sack. This might look awful at first, but it also appears that Lawrence got dangerously close to committing a hands to the face penalty that wasn’t called. Right at the moment Ifedi opens up inside and allows Lawrence to get after Wilson, Lawrence’s hand appears to be shoved up into Ifedi’s head is such a way that twists it sideways and forces Ifedi to disengage. This is difficult to make a call on, but is at the very least curious how Lawrence appearing to twist Ifedi’s head corresponds perfectly to Ifedi opening a lane inside and disengaging.
Play 13: 1st and 10, DAL 43. Russell Wilson pass complete short middle to Mike Davis for 12 yards (tackle by Anthony Hitchens and Chidobe Awuzie).
Tough to distinguish here between true play action and Wilson just doing his customary run fake, but either way the line doesn’t drop into traditional pass blocking drops so it is tough to evaluate them here. Overall there is no pressure allowed and everyone is in good position with no obvious leaks so a good pocket. A “check-down” might seem like a disappointment, but it gained good yardage and a first down, and is a possible example of what I mentioned earlier about Wilson recognizing an opening without necessarily needing to go through three or four reads to get to this first.
Play 14: 1st and 10, DAL 11. Russell Wilson pass incomplete short left intended for Jimmy Graham. Penalty on Jourdan Lewis: Defensive Pass Interference, 10 yards, Penalty on Demarcus Lawrence: Defensive Offside (Declined) (no play).
Five on four with Davis also giving help as Wilson begins to scramble following a more elaborate run fake. Pressure comes almost solely due to Lawrence being offsides so nothing relevant there. Brown does a nice job to recover and force Crawford back inside to the cluster that forms and prevent him from getting upfield.
Play 15: 2nd and 3, DAL 3. Russell Wilson pass complete short left to Jimmy Graham for 3 yards, touchdown.
(Begins at 1:16) As much as seven on four here depending on what Davis does, and as such there is nothing close to pressure on the very quick throw.
Play 16: 2nd and 5, SEA 30. Russell Wilson pass complete short middle to Mike Davis for 6 yards (tackle by Sean Lee and Anthony Brown).
Five on four, and this quickly devolves into an absolute cluster on the right side. Ifedi’s man knocks Pocic’s down, while Brown’s knocks down both Joeckel and Britt. It is tough to elaborate more than that as this is just a massive cluster with five guys on the ground in the pile. Joeckel’s man is able to weave around the cluster to contain the edge and provide pressure, but nobody was necessarily at fault here and there isn’t much to take note of.
Play 17: 2nd and 12, SEA 34. Russell Wilson pass complete short right to Mike Davis for -8 yards (tackle by Sean Lee).
Screen to Davis here. I’m happy to see them call more RB screens recently, but the excellent Lee toys with Pocic a bit here and blows the play up for a loss that ends the drive essentially.
Play 18: 3rd and 20, SEA 26. Russell Wilson pass complete short middle to Mike Davis for 8 yards (tackle by Xavier Woods and Sean Lee).
Well this is probably only a big deal for me, but this is one of the only non play-action under center passes of the entire season and I’ve been asking for this for weeks. Five on four with a stunt on the left side that forces Joeckel upfield but doesn’t lead to an issue with the leverage he has between the rusher and Wilson. Britt is able to pick up the stunter perfectly, while the right side handles their solo blocks with ease. It might’ve been on third and very long, but it appeased me for the season so I’m good.
Play 19: 1st and 10, SEA 21. Russell Wilson pass complete short right to Luke Willson for 1 yard (tackle by Chidobe Awuzie and Datone Jones).
Straight play-action with Pocic pulling back across to set the edge and allow Willson to leak out underneath into his route. Had Wilson gotten the ball to him right away this could’ve been a solid gain. Ifedi has a very difficult job to get in front of his man and gets juked a bit to allow slight pressure upfield, but Wilson is able to easily step up and avoid it.
Play 20: 2nd and 9, SEA 22. Russell Wilson pass incomplete short right intended for Mike Davis.
(Begins at 1:40) Five on five with a pair of blitzers up the middle to Joeckel and one down linemen dropping into zone coverage. Britt is late seeing the blitz and Joeckel is stuck between the two of them, allowing a free rush that forces the throw. This blitz was either not recognized despite the linebackers being so pinched together despite the spread alignment, or Britt just wasn’t ready. Either way not good for overall awareness, but the blocks that were executed were fine for the very quick throw. As an aside this is obviously really bad form here by Wilson as he just tries to get the ball out quick without getting laid out by the blitz, but he is usually much better at getting these throws off without under-throwing like he does here.
Play 21: 3rd and 9, SEA 22. Russell Wilson right end for 10 yards (tackle by Sean Lee).
Five on five with both edge rushers stunting back inside and a DB also blitzing off the left side. There is a lot going on here, so I’d recommend just watching the defense a few times to see what happens, and then watch each player, left to right, on the o-line to get a feel for what happens here. Brown sees the stunt going away from him see he picks up the blitz on that side. Joeckel absorbs his man with his hands perfectly and strong inside to prevent any movement. Britt follows Joeckel’s hip before picking up the stunter on that side, and then passes him off as he continues around the formation and ends up in the face of Pocic’s man twisting back inside along with the stunter on that side. Pocic actually looks ready to hand off his man to Ifedi since he notices the stunt coming inside, but things get tangled up when his initial man twists back inside due to Ifedi shoving him that direction, which is what leads him into Britt. Ifedi thus doesn’t recognize the extremely wide stunter who comes from the opposite side of the formation. This is a chaotic play and unexpected design, but it still would be nice for Ifedi to be aware of this to make himself useful.
Play 22: 1st and 10, SEA 32. Russell Wilson right tackle for 3 yards (tackle by Maliek Collins).
My oh my we have a second one. Under center pass with a five on four and Davis leaking through the middle. Brown has a very tough block to make here but still doesn’t really recover well to stay in front of him, and never truly gets engaged. Joeckel has a similar scenario but stays in front to maintain positioning. Pocic gets help on an inside counter courtesy of Britt, while Ifedi is a bit passive engaging Charlton, which allows him to get his hands positioned inside, read Wilson’s movement and rip underneath. Wilson gets a bit deep due to the pressure from Brown, so Charlton takes advantage of his position and leverage to get free.
Play 23: 3rd and 7, SEA 35. Russell Wilson pass complete deep left to Doug Baldwin for 20 yards (tackle by Jourdan Lewis).
Five on three with Graham contributing his bimonthly devastating chip block on the left side. Joeckel left with nothing and Britt/Pocic handle the double team easily. Ifedi gives up his outside and turns his hips, but forces Charlton almost exactly ten yards upfield before turning the corner, which is usually passable for Ifedi and would’ve been fine if Wilson had stepped up. As it is Wilson slides away to give himself plenty of room for this long pass, but it would be nice to see him set his feet better especially with him moving to his left which is generally more difficult for right handed quarterbacks, but Wilson has shown he can pretty much do everything quarterbacks aren’t supposed to be able to do with such ease.
Play 24: 1st and 10, DAL 45. Russell Wilson pass complete short left to Luke Willson for 8 yards (tackle by Sean Lee).
Almost the trifecta but Wilson does his customary run fake he always adds. Brown oversteps to the outside and his man counters with a slant back inside to force slight pressure, but Brown remains engaged and drives them down the line. Joeckel forces his man all the way back over to Pocic, while Britt handles his man eventually knocks him to the ground. Ifedi does a much better job on Charlton and even handles what might be another hands to the face situation, but it is unclear.
Play 25: 2nd and 6, DAL 6. Russell Wilson pass incomplete short right intended for Doug Baldwin. Penalty on Chidobe Awuzie: Defensive Pass Interference, 5 yards (no play).
(Begins at 2:12) Play-action bootleg that is well recognized on the edge but overall works as designed with not much to note.
Play 26: 2nd and 6, DAL 6. Russell Wilson pass complete short left to Doug Baldwin for 6 yards, touchdown.
Five on four, and after not seeing Lawrence in a while we see him here getting swallowed by Ifedi. Interior three pinch everyone together to clean that up, and Brown faces a spin move inside that he is able to recover enough to take on despite lunging outside; for a quick throw this is fine and overall this is a win.
Play 27: 2nd and 16, SEA 18. Russell Wilson pass complete short right to Tyler Lockett for 7 yards (tackle by Chidobe Awuzie).
Six on four as Davis stays in to help Pocic who gets turned a bit on an outside rush. Ifedi again takes Lawrence out of the play, while Britt/Joeckel double team is again great. This time with just a standard rush Brown has no issues and again this is a great pocket.
Play 28: 3rd and 9, SEA 25. Russell Wilson pass complete short middle to Paul Richardson for 10 yards (tackle by Xavier Woods). DAL challenged the first down ruling, and the play was upheld.
Five on four with a stunt on the offense’s right side that Ifedi is slow to react to. Another cluster forms in the interior and everyone is in great position even though Pocic is obviously unprepared for the edge rusher coming inside so hard. No. 54 Jaylon Smith shows up for the first time as the edge rusher on Brown, and as typically a stand up LB he is not really that much of a threat here and Brown washes him way out of the play. So for this key play Ifedi is the only one slips up here again from not being aware of the situation.
Summary will be a bit concise this week, and things were fairly straightforward anyway:
- Brown was fine right up until the end of the game when he had a bit of trouble with inside rushes. A sack given up by him which was bad, not terrible as I elaborated on, but overall another good day, just not great. Certainly better than he was early on last week against Robert Quinn just not one of his best days.
- Joeckel had a few communication issues, but no terrible plays from him outside of one difficult cut block as he had most of the double teams this week with Britt. I thought this was a pretty good game from him.
- Britt also had a communication error or two on some which could’ve coincided with Joeckel’s issues, but overall he was himself. He was a bit late recognizing a blitz once but overall was decent with his blocks, and all of his double teams were great.
- Pocic had a good day, and I was happy to see him not have any terrible plays. Obviously no Aaron Donald, Malik Jackson, Calais Campbell or Fletcher Cox this week, but this was promising even though he had a handful of plays where he gave up decent ground in what amounted to a win. I liked what I saw from him, and especially liked that their was a balance between Britt helping him and helping Joeckel as opposed to helping a specific side for long stretches.
- Ifedi struggled a bit with both a few mental and physical errors. There wasn’t really a glaring issue other than the mental aspect where he was unprepared for a few stunts, but when accounting for Lawrence’s excellent season he certainly didn’t play terrible. He was the one individual who had a tougher matchup than last week, and I guess what it comes down to is that you could tell Ifedi can be a really good offensive linemen but he just has some lapses.