For years observers have been highly critical of the offensive line of the Seattle Seahawks, but the quarterback the line was trying to protect was often a piece of the problem. Through the first six seasons of his career Russell Wilson generated Hall of Fame level production in spite of mechanics and pocket habits that leave a lot to be desired, which was a major reason behind the changes to the offensive coaching staff during the offseason.
So far the results of the team’s performances on the field have left fans left than perfectly happy, with a record of 4-4 equaling the two worst first half records for the team since Wilson was drafted out of Wisconsin in 2012. However, with the hiring of Brian Schottenheimer in the offseason has come significant improvement for Wilson and the squad in an area for which I have been highly critical of Wilson during the past several seasons, and that is the depth at which he drops when passing.
Through his career Wilson has consistently dropped deeper than quarterbacks typically drop, which places extra stress on the offensive tackles. This was on display regularly in years past, but so far in 2018 things have been cleaned up considerably. For what I mean by this, let me start by showing a chart of Wilson’s drop depths on Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Against the Chargers Wilson had fewer than twenty percent of his drops that reached a depth of ten yards or greater, and less than five percent of his drops were more than ten yards. Now, compare that to Week 8 in 2017, and the results are striking.
In Week 8 of 2017 against the Houston Texans Wilson had more than half of his dropbacks that reached a depth of ten yards or greater, and more than twenty percent were eleven yards or deeper. For comparison, here is the distribution for Tom Brady in his Week 3 2017 game against the same Houston Texans squad.
Against the Texans Brady dropped ten yards or deeper on less than a quarter of his dropbacks, and eleven yards or deeper on less than three percent of his drops. Thus, what we’re seeing in 2018 is that Wilson’s dropbacks are distributed much more like the dropbacks for elite quarterbacks across the NFL.
To help fans understand just how important this factor is in helping keep Wilson protected, here is a demonstration of just how critical this one factor is. To lay things out, we’ll be looking at the 3rd & 13 play at the Chargers 38 yard line with just under seven minutes to go in the second quarter. Here is how things looked prior to the ball being snapped.
What is seen is that the line of scrimmage is the 38, and one of the key things to watch here is the clock in the lower right hand corner of the screen grab, which is showing at nine seconds. What we see is that on this play Wilson took a 9 yard drop, capping his drop with his back foot just inside the 42 yard line.
For another angle of the same drop depth, here is the end zone angle showing Wilson at the top of his drop.
Here two things are seen. The first is exactly where Wilson places his back foot just under nine yards from the line of scrimmage, and Melvin Ingram turning the corner on the left side of the picture, coming right for Wilson. To show how fast Ingram beat left tackle Duane Brown and gained the corner, here is a grab of Ingram about to turn the corner and go after Wilson before the clock in the lower right hand corner has even reached the eleven second mark. Thus, this is showing that even $12M Pro Bowl left tackle Brown can allow quick pressure when Wilson does not uphold his obligations in the pass protection system.
In particular, just a fraction of a second later we can see Ingram has unquestionably beaten Brown around the corner, and is heading straight for Wilson. Because Wilson is only eight and a half yards behind the line of scrimmage, Brown can use one arm to push Ingram further upfield past Wilson, while Wilson can step up and completely avoid the pressure. If Wilson were at 10 yards or deeper, such as he was on more than half of his drops in Week 8 of 2017, Ingram goes straight for Wilson and there would be nothing that even Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown could do to help.
This is an issue that Wilson has quietly addressed so far this season, and this is not the only play on which it resulted in a much more desirable outcome. On Saturday I took a look at every touchdown pass that Russell Wilson has thrown so far in 2018, and a couple of those plays stand out as a great example of exactly this issue.
The first is the long touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett in Week 3 against the Dallas Cowboys, which is seen here.
On this play the line of scrimmage is the 48, and it is readily visible that the man Brown is blocking has once again gotten the corner. If Wilson had taken a drop of ten yards or deeper, instead of delivering a beautiful 52 yard touchdown pass to Lockett, he’d likely be running around trying to avoid pressure.
Now, so it doesn’t seem like I’m picking on Brown too much, here’s an example of the same issue in Week 6 where the defender being blocked by Germain Ifedi has gained the corner.
On this play the line of scrimmage was the ten yard line, which is evidenced by the referee straddling the ten at the top of the image, and Shilique Calhoun are engaged at the 18 yard line. If Wilson takes a ten yard (or deeper) drop on this play, Calhoun simply pushes off of Ifedi with his right arm and disengages to have a clean shot at Wilson. However, with Wilson capping his drop at nine yards, Wilson simply steps up and delivers the ball to Lockett for the score.
Now, I’m obviously not trying to say that Wilson and Schottenheimer resolved all of the problems for the offensive line, but this one change to Wilson’s game has made a massive difference in Wilson avoiding pressure so far this season. It’s been a great thing to see, and knowing Wilson, his work ethic and his desire and drive to be the best, I’m certain fans will continue to see improvement through the second half of 2018 and into future seasons as well.
So, while I’ve been highly critical of the Schottenheimer hiring for multiple reasons, this improvement in Wilson’s game alone should pay dividends for the team for several years to come.