On Monday, Kenneth wrote that the Seattle Seahawks could shock everyone by drafting Lamar Jackson in the first round. Many fans thought that was a ridiculous idea, and brushed it off immediately, however, just days later a similar article proposing the same idea was published in the Everett Herald Net, and once again many fans immediately brushed off the idea.
But how outlandish is the idea that the Seahawks could move on without Russell Wilson? Wilson is the team’s franchise quarterback and the only Seahawk quarterback with a Super Bowl ring. Could the team really move on from Wilson before he even turns 30?
Obviously, the answer to that question would depend on if the team felt Wilson could be replaced. Wilson’s current contract runs through the 2019 season, after which he’d likely be in line for a contract that pays him well north of $30M annually based on current quarterback salary trends, and it may be the team’s unwillingness to spent on the quarterback position that could lead to a surprise outcome.
Yes, Wilson has delivered the team the greatest period of success in franchise history, however, even entering his seventh year in the league there are certain parts of his game where he has failed to develop as needed in order to be able to have a long career. Where Wilson is unmatched is in stressing the defense, and when he is given time to survey the field and to find open receivers sitting in holes in the zone, his abilities can make an offense nearly unstoppable. However, if everything were hunky dory the team wouldn’t have fired Darrell Bevell as offensive coordinator and hired Brian Schottenheimer in order to challenge Russ like he’s never been challenged before to quote Pete Carroll.
So, what specific deficiencies do the Hawks need to work on with Russ? In this piece I’m going to look at one specific play from this season that demonstrates one specific area of his game that can be improved. Is one dropback representative of the more than 650 plays on which Russ dropped back to pass in 2017? Absolutely not, and I’m in no way trying to say it is. What I am putting forth is an issue that is seen repeatedly in Russ’ game, and which he needs to improve if he has hopes of quarterbacking deep into his 30s as his ability to use his legs decreases.
The play we’re going to look at in depth comes from the Week 11 Monday Night Football matchup against the Atlanta Falcons, and takes place on 2nd & 13 with just over 14 minutes left in the second quarter with Atlanta holding a 14-7 lead. Here’s what the field looked like at the snap of the ball.
On the near side of the field the receivers are Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson and Doug Baldwin from outside in, with Jimmy Graham split wide and J.D. McKissic in the slot on the far side of the field. On this play Wilson takes a three step drop, and the bottom of the drop is seen in the next image.
In this image Baldwin is seen dragging the defender covering him (34) to the outside of the field, while Lockett is turning at the 25 and looking back for the ball and Richardson is driving right towards the defender. In the next image we see the play just a split second later with the defender Russ should be reading circled.
The circled defender is not deepening his drop as Richardson approaches, and in fact, just as he and Richardson are about to make contact, we see him drop a foot back to try and jump the route to Lockett.
Now that we know the defender is aggressively jumping Lockett’s route, it means Richardson is now moving in the opposite direction as the defender directly across from him, and as soon as he clears that defender he will have tons of open field in front of him. The next screen grab shows both the defensive backs close to Lockett committing to jump the route.
And that’s it. As soon as both defensive backs break towards Lockett Russ should recognize this and be ready to throw to Richardson because he’s about to hit a hole in the zone. The next couple of images show how open Richardson becomes as the play develops.
At this point the ball should be coming out of Wilson’s hand and drilling Richardson somewhere just past the 30 yard line as he streaks down the field. Richardson is seen in the picture with his head turned back looking back for the ball, because on a play design like this, the ball should come out of Wilson’s hand as soon as Richardson clears the defender. It’s that simple. If the defender jumps Lockett’s route, the ball goes to Richardson as soon as Richardson clears. If the defender drops with Richardson, the ball goes to Lockett.
In case you didn’t notice, Richardson is already wide open, and in the next screen grab I’ve taken the luxury of circling Prich in an action green force field just to show how wide open he is.
Quite frankly, this play should have gone for a first down, if not more. The elite quarterbacks - Brady, Manning, Rodgers, Ryan, and others make the read of the defensive back jumping Lockett’s route, they deliver the ball just as Richardson is breaking free and Richardson catches it in stride with a chance to break it upfield and to the outside for a significant gain.
If that’s the case, why didn’t Wilson make that same read and throw? I’m not certain, but what I can show is a picture of Wilson using absolutely horrible form as he slides away from pressure. As a quarterback moves around in the pocket, they should slide, not hop or jump. By sliding the quarterback has one foot set to throw at all times, and it’s very easy to simply plant and throw in an instant. Wilson doesn’t do that. Instead, this is what we see from Wilson all too often.
Rather than slide, Wilson uses a hop step, much like an infielder getting ready to toss the ball to first base having pulled in a ground ball. Now, that’s great for a baseball player, but that’s atrocious form for a quarterback. In that grab we see Wilson with his shoulders squared to the line of scrimmage and both feet off the ground. It’s hard to deliver an accurate pass from that point, and Wilson does not pull the trigger to deliver the ball to Richardson. That failure to deliver the pass comes in spite of Richardson being wide open and a completely clear line of sight between Wilson and Richardson.
If Wilson were sliding around in the pocket using the proper technique and form, this play has the potential for a big gain. Unfortunately for Seahawks fans, as it is, Wilson is in no position to deliver the pass to Richardson, and by the time he is, Lockett has cut underneath of Prich, dragging the defender into the throwing lane.
So, as a result of Wilson not reading the defender breaking on Lockett’s route and then not delivering the ball to Richardson as he breaks open, the play breaks down. What should have been a pass with the potential for a first down and a lot more if it’s caught ends up a lot worse, because the backside pressure then forces Wilson to try to scramble, and he’s unsuccessful in getting away.
That said, there never should have been pressure from the back side. The instant Wilson sees the defender break on Lockett’s route, the ball should come out. No questions asked. Period, the end. That read needs to be made and the ball sent on a laser to Richardson. That’s the read the Hall of Fame caliber quarterbacks would make on that play, and if Wilson wants to put himself in the discussion for making the Hall of Fame, that’s a simple read and throw he needs to make.
However, instead of making that read and delivering that pass, Wilson did what he all too often does - relied on his legs. He belatedly attempted to run away from the pressure coming from the back side, and that led to an absolutely disastrous chain of events. Wilson had the ball punched out as he was going to the ground, and Adrian Clayborn scooped it up and walked it in so that the end of the play looked like this.
And that’s it. Instead of a rope delivered to Prich in stride that could have gone for a big gain, Ifedi gets credited with allowing a sack and the Falcons score their second touchdown of the game following a Russell Wilson turnover. The line looks bad and the linemen get the blame for a play on which the Falcons score a defensive touchdown, when the reality of it is that it was Wilson’s failure to read the defense and deliver the pass that led to play falling apart. If Wilson delivers the pass as he should, a pass to a wide open receiver, there’s a six point swing in a game the team ended up losing by just three points.
Fans are quick to blame the loss to the Falcons on Blair Walsh because of the lone field goal he missed as time expired, and seem to completely forget the fact that the Falcons scored 13 points directly off turnovers Russell Wilson committed during the first sixteen minutes of the game.
The Seahawks brought in Schottenheimer to challenge Russell and work with him on refining the parts of his game that are still raw as he enters his seventh season in the league. Russ has two more years left on his contract, and if he is able to address deficiencies such as this during those two years, then perhaps the team signs him to the extremely expensive extension that some have talked about. However, if he proves unable to improve this part of his game over the next two years, perhaps the team will decide that it’s better to move on from Russ too early than too late.