When are you most comfortable? For me, it’s sat on the couch, beer nearby, playing NCAA ‘14. For Russell Wilson, it might well have been last Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. It’s been awhile since he’s looked this calm in Seahawks Blue/White.
Wilson started the season looking like he was in a state of fiery hell, not tranquil bliss. It’s a league-wide trend for a new offensive playcaller to bring regression to the entire offense. But there’s no doubt Wilson looked restless. Damaging habits remained from 2017 and appeared to worsen; He was running backwards; He was ‘sensing’ ghost pressure; His internal clock looked totally scrambled.
The Chicago abomination was the culmination of bemusing play-calling and behavioral flaws at the quarterback position. Thankfully, since that point, Brian Schottenheimer has slowly worked out how to design an offense for Wilson and Pete Carroll.
Mike Solari’s offensive line has also been one of the league’s best. It’s unrecognizable to the disastrous iterations of Tom Cable. It’s improved to such an extent that Wilson has taken a while to ‘settle’ behind it. The length of time in a clean pocket is an unfamiliar luxury. It would be like a flying first-class after years of flying in coach; you might take a while to remember that you can fully recline your seat to sleep.
The result has been a transformed Wilson. His happy feet and tendency to sack himself have disappeared. No longer do we see him turning his back to the line of scrimmage trying to spin away from rushers. Gone are is his jitteriness in clean pockets.
I wrote in my analysis on Wilson’s early-season issues that: “The Seahawks have been trying to develop Wilson as more of a pocket passer who operates in a structure for some time. The partial remit of Schottenheimer will be to hone more of these skills.” The domination of the Raiders suggests Schotty’s succeeding. For the longevity of Wilson’s career, his progression in structure is brilliant to witness.
Moving up in the Pocket
A way to avoid “taking” sacks and to buy more time is to move up in the pocket. This can also generate more passing lanes. The 6’ Drew Brees is the maestro at this.
Wilson flashed this in England. As opposed to spinning backwards to buy more time—into the waiting deep EDGEs—he instead took what was available to him.
In this first example, Oakland gets a bit of heat on Wilson via left EDGE Shilique Calhoun’s get-off. At this point, their cover 1 defense has every route locked up. Wilson is looking for the 1v1 he has with David Moore’s post, but his receiver hasn’t broken inside.
With that passing lane now closed, and instead of panicking, Wilson scrambles into the sizable area to his upper right. Knowing the coverage is man-to-man, Wilson magics a dash into a beautiful touchdown. It’s an awful situation for the Raiders defenders, because Wilson has legs that must be respected too.
Tyler Lockett improvised his slant route up-field. Running behind the linebacker zone, Lockett has inside leverage on the man coverage he faces. The deep safety is gone, having run with the crosser of Tyrone Swoopes. Wilson, still scrambling forwards, lofts a deft touch pass for the touchdown.
Combination of Improvisation and Moving up
Wilson is never going to be much of a ‘pocket-slider.’ More often, he’ll scramble upwards in the pocket rather than shuffle. An encouraging theme of the game was the moving-up combining with his play-making instincts.
Wilson’s mishandling of the snap starts this off badly. However, he stays calm with his eyes and head facing downfield. Encouragingly, he doesn’t try some crazy backdoor escape after recovering the football.
Oakland is in a cover 1 again. In scouting circles, ‘eye-discipline’ is an oft-used term. Here, cornerback Daryl Worley shows terrible eye-discipline. His assignment is to cover Moore man-to-man. Wherever Moore goes, he must follow.
Worley doesn’t stick to his assignment. His tempted eyes get stuck in the backfield, drawn to the early fumbled snap. Moore fashions his dig route into a go route and Worley has no idea. First, Wilson pump-fakes to the man-beater side, corner route of Doug Baldwin to buy more time. Then he takes the open space upfield.
Moving up, he floats a perfectly placed pass into the back of the endzone for Moore. It’s another great play; one which Wilson wouldn’t have made earlier this year.
Standing in the Pocket
I love this play-design by Schottenheimer. The pre-snap right-to-left, left-to-right motion from Lockett provides Wilson with important information. The sugaring of the line of scrimmage from the Raiders hints at a tricky pressure. Lockett’s motion brings more clarity: because it’s unfollowed, the coverage is likely zone.
(It’s also a nice ‘layer’ to the offense. Lockett and Moore (used more Golden Tate-y YAY), each carried once on jet handoffs.)
Instead Oakland is bluff-pressuring, sending just four men. Wilson registers this quickly.
What happens next should bring Seattle fans great joy. There’s no unnecessary disorder. There’s no unnecessary mayhem. There’s no unnecessary scramble. It’s late in the 3rd, the Seahawks are up 20-0 and Wilson is loving his protection. The pass pro does well to pick everyone up despite the seven at the line of scrimmage before the play. Props to Chris Carson on the edge here.
Wilson waits almost 4 seconds in the pocket, navigating to room and staying on his toes while making his decision. Given the time to wait for Baldwin’s y-cross route, Wilson progresses through his reads and processes the zone defense—something he has had issues with.
Baldwin doesn’t have much separation, but Wilson brilliantly leads him outside. An elite throw.
Sat behind this play, seeing the same passing lane as Wilson, I can’t convey how fantastic this placement was in-stadium. It was exquisite.
Faith in the Offensive Line
Not all movements preceding the hike are perfect. Lockett runs to the right pre-snap and it’s followed, so Wilson thinks man.
Post-snap, it is man to the right but Wilson does well not to throw his primary slant due to the robbing linebacker underneath. Wilson’s comfortable taking his time, remaining in the pocket and looking to the other side’s spot concept.
However, rather than man the Raiders stick with their trips bunch matching rules on the left side. It’s a ‘lie’ almost as big as listing Oakland as the ‘home’ team. (It was LOUD for Seattle)
The Seahawks’ route combination is initially well covered by the matching. Yet still Wilson waits in a gorgeous pocket. Jaron Brown creates well from his initial snag route, breaking inside to the space beyond the linebacker running outside with Chris Carson’s release into the flat.
Wilson notes this, delivers the strike and Seattle gets the opening drive touchdown. They hadn’t done this in 34 games!!! It’s a score that proves the faith Wilson has in his o-line. His patience has increased exponentially.
2018 to be Wilson’s Best Year
Wilson has started slowly in recent years (2017 and 2016 combined for 72-111, 667 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and a 79.67 passer rating), but the stuff he showed against Oakland was more than him emerging from his usual funk.
It was a strong indicator that Wilson is growing comfortable in this attack. Even on his interception, where he forced it into a stupidly tight window, he showed faith in the quick-passing concept rather than trying to work outside the structure. Ultimately, Wilson appears more in-sync with Schottenheimer.
More than that, Wilson is finally comfortable behind what is the best offensive line the Seahawks have had in years. Solari’s coaching cannot be understated. His blend of zone and gap principles has produced an effective run game. Such a strong rushing aspect makes Wilson a far more efficient quarterback, but he’s also enjoying unfamiliar time in the pocket.
In this less stressful work environment, Wilson is going to produce staggering results. It may not show up as his most productive year, but 2018 is going to be his best from a performance perspective. The Raiders vanquishing was just the beginning.