In Part I, which you should read before this, I went over Russell Wilson’s bad habits displayed in the Seahawks Week 1 loss to the Denver Broncos, including reading the defense, and playing in structure. Part II is more of what Wilson needs to do differently to have a higher chance of success in 2018 than he did in 2017.
After his 2016 injury, Wilson’s mechanics never really recovered into 2017. He was throwing off un-set platforms and the result was inaccurate passes. This was particularly noticeable on deep balls. These mechanics appeared fully sharpened this pre-season.
That’s what made his 3rd and 1 miss so bemusing. The play design is a speed bootleg. Wilson is reading hi-lo—so don’t criticize him for passing up the open Tre Madden in the flat; criticize the play-design if you have an issue.
(Wilson does have a situational problem with holding out for the bigger gain rather than taking the shorter available yards, we didn’t see it this time)
The hi option, Nick Vannett, is wide open beneath the deep zone coverage as the entire Denver second-level underneath zone coverage gets sucked up. Yet Wilson on the run doesn’t set his feet or step into the throw properly. This sees him sail the ball badly.
What was a Brian Schottenheimer gift of a first down rots into an incompletion due to sloppy quarterback mechanics.
Beating the Blitz
Yes, Seattle’s offensive line has been an appalling, abomination of a catastrophe these past few years. I’m pretty surprised it hasn’t broken numerous clauses in Wilson’s contract.
Schematic dishonesty is rife whenever there is a gif or still of Wilson being pressured or sacked though. Sometimes, a defense will just send more guys. Or guys in an area the protection can’t pick up.
Furthermore, there is the inescapable truth that Wilson is the toughest quarterback to pass protect for. And we shouldn’t try to run away from that fact; we should engage with it. Having a quarterback who rapidly re-sets the pocket with his backwards spinning escapes is tough on an offensive lineman. His play-making style and extension will see him sack himself.
On these occasions, a combination of poor blitz recognition and structural anarchy are to blame. On designed quick throws, Wilson will scramble around. There is always the tradeoff between incredible playmaking ability and taking a sack. Yet his style of turning his back to the line of scrimmage is something that seems to have increased as an escape mechanism.
That would be less of an issue if he had speed more like his rookie year, but the fact is he now struggles to outrun disciplined EDGEs. Worse, defensive coordinators now scheme to have their EDGEs rush deeper to prevent such backdoor slipperiness. As his speed declines, the balance between ‘wow plays’ and ‘facepalm plays’ is starting to swing to the undesirable outcome.
This sack is the least forgivable. Sure, there is just 0.37 left in the half. But it’s 2nd and 1, you have no timeouts and you can live another down. Wilson should be experienced enough to know this. It is a five-step drop, vertical design which is taken away by the Broncos’ cover 2 man-under pass defense.
Wilson has an opportunity to slide up and right, which he doesn’t take. As he runs left, he could try to squeeze the ball to the running back checkdown. Out of the pocket and feeling the pressure, this ball should be thrown away if not.
Rather than those choices, Wilson decides to spin backwards right. Shaquil Barrett has attacked deep—like I wrote about earlier—and nails Wilson. Wilson taking the sack on this play rather than throwing the ball away enormously reduces the Seahawks’ chances of getting in field goal range to make the game 13-17.
Wilson has been given more responsibility this year in handling protection calls. Mile High is one of the most difficult places to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage. That said, look at the playclock here. Wilson takes at least 8 seconds to register and notify the line of the potential slot corner blitz off the right edge. His late pointing, with just 3 seconds left on the playclock, isn’t going to get it done.
It is a 3rd and 5 late in the fourth with Seattle trailing, so Wilson trying to make something happen is more understandable. Denver’s pressure scheme destroys the Seahawks’ protection design well. Perhaps an earlier diagnosis from Wilson would have seen a better adjustment? It is up to Wilson to change stuff if it is not right.
Hypothetical aside, Wilson has to be thinking that the corner is blitzing. Running away from overwhelming pressure is not how it’s done. The ball needs to be out hot and fast.
Sometimes Wilson is too short to see stuff, which is the case for the spot route of Marshall when he starts looking left. Marshall is his hot option, as he is left totally uncovered by the Broncos.
A better course of action would have been Wilson standing tall and moving up in the pocket. Rather than trying to outrun blitzers, while turning to the side of the line of scrimmage, his eyes downfield could have used the clear passing lane to see Marshall and Dissly come open over the middle.
Wilson would have taken a hell of a hit, given C.J. Prosise’s pathetic pickup, but the pass would have been complete to Brandon Marshall with smarter pocket maneuvering. Wilson just needed to hang in there a moment longer.
Next up, a 3rd and 3 with 9.39 left in the 4th quarter. Oh boy. Again, I understand Wilson is trying to keep the drive alive. But this is a quick concept. The read to the right is taken away immediately so Wilson does well to look left hastily. The ball has to be out in a maximum of three seconds.
Then it turns putrid. He locks onto Nick Vannett with a clear passing lane granting access to Jaron Brown’s open out too. Then pressured, he goes left rather than right. Right is where all the space is, but that’s not his signature move.
Going left is okay though, because he could try to improvise down the sideline with Jaron Brown or beat the EDGE for pace to the corner and the first down.
Problem is, Wilson is focused on executing his signature move; so he inexplicably spins backwards to the right. Waiting there is the deep rush of Von Miller—enjoying the exploitation of Wilson’s tendency—and down Wilson goes.
Wilson had average protection play around him throughout the game, despite being sacked six times. Duane Brown and Justin Britt particularly impressed me in both the run and pass game. I counted three pressures, three hits and two sacks that were all on the offensive-line. Here’s my log of negative protection play:
- Pressure due to J.R. Sweezy missing a cut block on a fake tunnel screen.
- Pressure due to Rashaad Penny not picking up a blitzing linebacker well.
- Sack due to Germain Ifedi completely whiffing versus Miller.
- Sack due to Ifedi and Sweezy not communicating the stunt properly. Wilson stepped up correctly and had open routes, but it was right into the unblocked stunt.
- Hit due to Ifedi and Sweezy not communicating the stunt properly, Wilson got the ball out for checkdown to Chris Carson.
- Hit due to Ethan Pocic not picking up a stunt after Brown signalled.
- Pressure due to Britt getting pushed back into the pocket. It saw Wilson sail a sure-touchdown to Dissly as he couldn’t step into the throw.
- Pressure due to Pocic getting walked back into Wilson. Wilson missed his checkdown as a result.
Wilson’s penchant for escaping round the back sees him frequently pass up good opportunities to step up. We’ve seen how Wilson’s height can be an unavoidable impediment; stepping up is something the similarly short Drew Brees does so well to see the middle of the field.
The last play I covered showed a few of Wilson’s pocket navigation issues. In this final cut-up, he could slide up and middle to avoid Miller’s deep rush. From that new vantage point, Wilson would be able to hit the open post of Marshall in the back of the end zone. Instead, he runs right and throws the un-open incompletion on 2nd and goal.
(We must hope that Wilson’s one time stepping up, right into a stunt, won’t dissuade him)
Wilson didn’t lose the game, but…
By no means did Wilson lose this game for Seattle. Only seven carries going towards the 7.3 yards per rush Chris Carson didn’t help the offense. And the defense, with big issues at weakside linebacker, was witheringly torn apart to the rune of 475 yards by Case Keenum and the Denver rushing attack.
The Broncos’ defense is also a unit with genuine top 5 potential, and Miller is an all-world talent. They schemed intuitively for the Seahawks’ attack. Combined with the altitude, temperature and raucous Mile High crowd, it was a very tough opener that Seattle narrowly lost—with no thanks to Sebastian Janikowski for missing a 45-yard field goal, twice.
However, I hope I’ve proved to you that my concerns around Wilson’s game are valid ones to hold about what is still an elite quarterback. His processing, internal clock and play-style must be refined. This isn’t close to being based on a one-game sample size.
If anyone will make me look foolish writing Seahawks on tape, it’s Russell Wilson.
We’re on to Chicago.
Disclaimer: It is easy to nitpick performances from All-22, particularly a quarterback’s. All quarterbacks miss open receivers and throws. However, I’d like to think I’ve remained objective, highlighting plays and a process which are part of broader long-standing issues.