Full disclosure: I was born in Britain and I live in Britain. Yet, even in a country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, I can still be thankful this holiday season. We can all be thankful for the placement of some of Russell Wilson’s throws.
Sure, the now-distant Thursday Night Football victory over the Green Bay Packers contained two strangely errant passes—adding to his uncharacteristic misses against the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers.
Yet let me remind you of the sublime. Wilson tossed some passes that were utterly sublime, carving up the defense better than any turkey, bird or vegetarian alternative was yesterday. We’re going to appreciate four gorgeous Russell Wilson passes from that game. This will be done through the usual Seahawks on tape schematic scope.
Wilson plays as though he’s a quarterback that looks to find the winning matchup, as opposed to the winning concept. As my internet friend and Beast Pode contributor @cmikesspinmove excellently surmised: “He beats players, not schemes”.
For that reason, Wilson’s ability against man coverage is truly elite. Against man there’s a few things an offensive coordinator can do near the line of scrimmage like picks or rubs. Of course, routes can be run away from the safety/safeties, or patterns can avoid the rat linebacker. Play-action can also be used to hold the few zone defenders, but eventually it comes down to receivers winning match-ups and the quarterback finding them.
It’s no secret that play-action is one the best aspects to Wilson’s game. The inexplicable open receiver opportunities he decided not to hit following play-fakes against the Rams and Chargers thankfully didn’t continue into the Packers game. Victory over Green Bay re-iterated: when Wilson sees it and does let rip, he’s awesome. Passer rating proves his excellence at the play type:
These QBs have been gashing defenses with PLAY ACTION this season!#GoSaints #Seahawks #FightForEachOther #Colts #KeepPounding #OnePride #LARams #GoBucs #FlyEaglesFly #Jets pic.twitter.com/6nPbQeZ81o— NFL Matchup on ESPN (@NFLMatchup) November 19, 2018
A promising development to Wilson’s game has been his style of escape. As his faith in his tangibly improved protection increases, Wilson’s pocket presence has improved. To keep things simple for Wilson, Brian Schottenheimer dialed up a lot of two-route play-action combinations against run-focused defense.
On this 1st and 15 with Seattle trailing 14-3, George Fant’s pre-snap motion was unfollowed by the defense—suggesting zone. However the linebackers did make checks at the line of scrimmage; a potential reaction to the change in the strength of the offense’s front.
Instead of a pure zone, Green Bay ran a matching cover 2 defense that gave them nine players primarily focused on stopping the run first. Given the seven Seahawks blockers, play-action was the smart call. After keying pass, the Packers dropped eight defenders back into a double spy coverage.
Pattern matching can be a tricky read for any quarterback, and it’s something Wilson has struggled with in the past. However, the deep nature of the play-action takes time to develop. In this period, the matching coverage must show its true intentions, as the receivers have pretty much run their “final” patterns.
Wilson initially appeared to be manipulating what looked pre-snap to be two-high zone defense, seeming to want the deep crosser of Tyler Lockett. He then came to Doug Baldwin and double-clutched—with better anticipation he could have hit it sooner.
Yet this wasn’t an issue. The three-man rush caused Seattle’s protection little difficulty and Wilson had oodles of room plus time in the pocket. Rather than attempting to spin backwards, he instead calmly moved to the space upwards and left, his eyes staying downfield.
Baldwin improvised his route well to the far sideline after the coverage of Tramon Williams matched into man. Wilson stepped into a beautifully floated, on-the-hop ball that was positioned right into the bucket. The placement had the perfect height over Baldwin’s near shoulder. Williams stood no chance and Baldwin made a nice grab close to the first down.
Pass Pro Props: The entire protection, WOW.
Play-Action Deep Over
Having shown off his intermediate placement, Wilson was able to make jaws drop throwing deep on the same drive just a few plays later.
This time the Packers put eight in the box with a single-high defender, making it obvious the coverage was either cover 1 or cover 3. Furthermore, the box count made the play-action call the correct one as the Seahawks had only seven box blockers. The zone nature is confirmed by Lockett’s motion being unfollowed.
Green Bay called a matching cover 3 that had their corners squeeze the opposite receiver as though it was man-to-man defense. The deep safety went over the top. Jaire Alexander matched up with the deep over route of Lockett with clear outside leverage—designed to funnel routes inwards.
Lockett did gain slight separation with subtle hip wiggle in his route and stem. However, Alexander was trailing right in his hip pocket. The cornerback position is almost coaching tape-good. Wilson, again afforded room by his protection, this time a full slide scheme, went full glitch-mode though. His accuracy beat the swatting rookie talent and found Lockett’s comfort for even more than the first down.
Pass Pro Props: The entire protection, but particularly Justin Britt for keeping Wilson untouched after Nick Vannett released.
Play-Action Elongated Flood
Let’s fast forward to the fourth quarter where Wilson was truly brilliant. At this point Seattle trailed 24-20 with time ticking down. Mike Pettine once more elected to put eight in the box for the Seahawks’ seven defenders; Schottenheimer and Wilson punished him another time.
It was apparent from the single-high safety and the Packers’ tendencies that the coverage was going to be a matching 3. Seattle adjusted to the aggression of the cornerbacks by having Baldwin run a pivot route designed to get off the zone-into-man effect.
Lockett sold the play-fake well at the line of scrimmage, jogging at Alexander as though he was coming out to block. He then burned the Packers’ first rounder with blistering acceleration. Green Bay had an adjustment of their own.
Rather than have cornerback Alexander run across the field with Lockett’s deep over route, they left deep safety Williams picking it up. He’s beat by Lockett’s speed. But Wilson’s placement is the standout element here—insert favorite Thanksgiving food here.
Kept as clean as your Thanksgiving plate (hopefully) was at the end of your meal, Wilson managed to position the ball in stride for Lockett and totally away from any defender. It meant Lockett had to dive out for the catch, but it also resulted in him picking up five extra yards and gave no opportunity for a defender to be the hero. Baldwin was also open as the intermediate option, but Wilson’s arm talent meant the deep choice was the only option.
Pass Pro Props: Ed Dickson handling an EDGE with a chip and release, then J.R. Sweezy picking that EDGE up.
Rapid Four Verts
This was prescient line of scrimmage work from Wilson. The pre-snap fake hike gave the Seahawks a chance to draw Green Bay offside. More pertinently, it reduced the Packers’ defensive disguise with funky things going on with their alignment. After all, with Seattle down by 4 late in the game, it was clear in this 3rd and 9 the play was going to be a pass. That gives a defense all kinds of pressure opportunities.
Wilson’s cadence and tempo catches the defenders out. Green Bay appeared to be broken by this, with a defensive signal taking place in their backfield as the ball was snapped. Having noticed no player aligned over tight end Ed Dickson, Wilson fired quickly to his tight end.
It was a release so fast that it beat the player trying to take such a hot throw away. Green Bay’s half-man, half-zone five-man pressure is roasted by Wilson’s pre-snap work. No deep player could get over to Dickson’s seam route in time and he bundled into the endzone for the go-ahead score.
Dickson was massively aided by Wilson’s ideal placement. He fired it in there right in stride, slightly away from the tight end’s frame. This meant Dickson barely had to slow when securing the pass and turning up field for his game-winning touchdown surge.
Pass pro props: Chris Carson being nasty showing a defensive back he doesn’t belong as a pass rusher.
Explosion in Performance
With placement like this, Wilson is going to punish any clear one-on-one or clear opening he is given. His trust in the protection can only increase and his familiarity in the new offense can only grow. That makes him likely to continue improving, especially if he can move on from the shaky missed throws and better his zone diagnosis.
I predict an explosion in performance. It may not be reflected in raw production, but Wilson’s efficiency is going to keep rising; up, up, up. Behind a fantastically strong running game, these play-action throws are made for Russell Wilson’s superb placement. I’m thankful.
Happy Thanksgiving. I’m thankful to all of you, my readers, for allowing me to write Seahawks on tape twice a week. It’s a lot of fun!