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The importance of a quarterback getting the ball out quickly

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Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Regular readers know that for as good as Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is, I have long been critical of certain parts of his skill set that were not a developed as other pieces of his game. In particular I have been highly critical of his drop depth - something that he has largely corrected this season - and his propensity to hold the ball longer than necessary rather than anticipating his receivers coming open on certain routes.

Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams a very slight hesitation led to a disastrous result for the Seahawks, as a delay in getting the ball out of barely a quarter of a second transformed what could have been a completion for a first down into a strip-sack fumble recovery for Dante Fowler.

I was going to look at this play, but former Field Gulls contributor Samuel Gold had already posted a fantastic breakdown of the play on Twitter, and there’s no point in wasting good analysis.

And then checking in on what actually happened, Gold offers the following:

Sam’s tweet puts Wilson 8 yards behind the line of scrimmage, but when I chart drop depth, I round up from the location of where the back foot is planted on the drop, so I would put this at a drop depth of 9 yards. Either way is fine, as it is when the depth gets as deep as ten yards behind the line of scrimmage is when issues start to arise.

Now, what is readily evident on that still in the second tweet from Sam is that if Wilson was ten yards deep on that play, which is how deep he often dropped in previous seasons, it’s an even easier play for Fowler to make after having beaten Duane Brown around the corner (Author’s note: Hat tip here to Matt_J who pointed out a computational error in the offensive line model I have been using that inflated how often Wilson dropped ten yards or deeper, and there will be an article with corrected numbers that can explain a large percentage of the pressure difference between 2017 and 2018 based on nothing more than drop depth. Again, it’s all thanks to Matt_J who noticed something that led to finding a flaw buried in hundreds of lines of code that I got to spend hours upon hours digging through to find).

In any case, the relevant piece today is that Wilson has Vannett breaking open and, as Sam points out, he hesitates for about a quarter of a second rather than instantly pulling the trigger. Here is the moment where Russell should have delivered the ball, just a Vannett is making his break.

In that picture we see that Fowler is still a couple of yards away from Wilson, while Vannett has just made his second step after his plant cut and is about to break open. Here is a second view of the same play a fraction of a second later from the All-22 angle, and we see Russell doesn’t even have the ball cocked to throw while Vannett is driving off the second step to get open.

When observers complain that Russell often doesn’t anticipate his receivers getting open or doesn’t throw his receivers getting open as much as he should, this is exactly the type of play they are talking about. This is a play that had a very good chance at being a completed pass to Vannett for a good sized gain. Instead, it was a strip sack that gave the ball back to the opponent, who went in for a touchdown on the very next play.

This has been seen repeatedly throughout Wilson’s career and it’s simply an area of his game that he needs to improve. On this play, if he delivers a pass to Vannett instead of hesitating, regardless of whether it is caught, incomplete or even intercepted, this goes down as a dropback with no pressure and a pass. Instead, because of a quarter second of hesitation it goes down as a dropback with pressure, a sack, a fumble and a turnover. The phrase, “it’s a game of inches” is often bandied about by media analysts, but in truth it’s a game of fractions of a second.

And as insane as it may sound, in this situation a quarter second of hesitation in a game that lasted three hours and nine minutes ended up representing the difference between the Seahawks boarding their plane back to Seattle on Sunday night as winners rather than as the team that had let another close game slip through their fingers.