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Seahawks on tape: Russell Wilson’s play-action spear redemption throw

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Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

On Monday, Pete Carroll praised Russell Wilson’s consistency. Yet the Seattle Seahawks quarterback is still finding ways to improve week-to-week. A great illustration of this happened on Seattle’s redzone play-action waggle spear concept in Week 4 @ the Arizona Cardinals and Week 5 at home to the Los Angeles Rams.

We all know that Wilson has started the season ablaze. After five NFL games, the 30-year-old is a strong MVP candidate with: 281.8 yards per game; 12 touchdowns; a 73.1% completion percentage; 9 yards per attempt; and 0 interceptions.

“He is making the same plays from one week to the next to the next to the next,’’ Carroll told reporters in his Monday presser. “Just rolling one to the other. So it’s his level of play that has really shown up, regardless of who we are playing.” In Arizona, Wilson did not make the play—an unusual miss in this sparkling 2019 campaign. Thursday Night Football saw him hit the same design.

Week 4 Arizona miss

Against the Cardinals, Wilson missed the rare, wide-open touchdown throw that play-action waggle spear created. He didn’t spurn the opportunity with poor vision or processing. Instead, his accuracy was awry and the ball fell harmlessly incomplete.

Brian Schottenheimer gave Wilson a pre-snap coverage identifier, shifting tight end Will Dissly pre-snap. With Dissly’s movement followed and the Cardinals showing a single-high safety, Wilson knew to expect a form of cover 1, man-to-man defense.

Against the single-high safety, the spear route concept, with both wide receivers running crossing/over routes at each other, makes the deep third safety choose a route to cover. This puts the safety in a bind and against man-to-man will leave one of the routes one-on-one with the outside leverage advantage to the endzone. It’s an impossible footrace with the defender.

Wilson was provided with plenty of time after executing the play-fake to Chris Carson. The seven-man protection, which had Carson chipping too, featured offensive tackle George Fant as the second ‘tight end’ in the 12 personnel alignment. It picked up with the Cardinal’s six-man pressure with little issue.

Sure enough, on the back end the middle of field safety, Budda Baker, was forced to pick one of the routes. He opted for the most dangerous man, Tyler Lockett, and the Cardinals ended up double-covering the route.

This left David Moore breaking wide open to Wilson’s right. Moore had beat the isolated coverage of Byron Murphy; he had the leverage advantage to the inside and the open space.

Wilson processed this happening, but unfortunately had a cluster of big bodies obscuring his passing lane. The passer was forced to blindly loft a ball to the back of the endzone. Moore couldn’t real it in. The ball fell incomplete on 1st and goal.

Week 5 TNF dot

The inverse happened in week 5. Wilson executed a ridiculously difficult play after the Rams covered the play-action waggle spear design effectively. This was the quarterback’s concept redemption.

Again, Schotty provided Wilson with a coverage ID pre-snap. This time the offensive coordinator opted for aligning the tight end out wide and then shifting him inside. As Luke Willson had a linebacker, Cory Littleton, over him outside and then follow him inside, Russell Wilson knew the pass defense was man.

The spear concept would have been ideal against vanilla cover 1, but the Rams had clearly game-planned for stuff like this. Similarly to how cover 3 teams are nailing down their safety to take away the intermediate over route of play-action yankee concepts, Los Angeles ran cover 1 cut in the redzone that man-matched the spear concept perfectly.

At deep safety, Eric Weddle picked up the crossing route of Tyler Lockett. Rather than have Aqib Talib run across the field with Lockett, out-leveraged, the Rams got a defensive back with a head-start covering Lockett’s route to the left. Meanwhile, Talib dropped back and covered DK Metcalf’s crossing route, which gave Talib a leverage advantage too.

This totally locked up the concept. Here’s how Wilson described it on his video cast Danger Talk.

“We had two deep crossers and they were trying to, they didn’t want to run with them because they were afraid of them, obviously DK and Tyler running away from them. So they basically in and outed it and Tyler gets matched up against Weddle there at the end.”

And this was what Tyler Lockett saw:

“Like you [Wilson] said, we had the crossing route, I saw that they kinda decided to pass it off. So whenever I ran I just tried to stay true to the route instead of slow down, where you know you’re getting guarded.”

Wilson was given time versus the blitz by the 12 personnel protection scheme again, but the man-matching from the Rams saw him forced to buy more seconds with his legs. Rolling left, he completed one of the great NFL throws to the back corner of the end zone and a diving Lockett. On the run, across his body, with ludicrous ease. MVP.

Seattle scored their first touchdown of the game to go up 7-6.

In dot form courtesy of NFL NextGenStats:

Redzone, Schotty, and the future

Schottenheimer ended up baiting the Rams’ aggression trying to match Lockett’s over routes on the DK Metcalf touchdown, with Eric Weddle falling victim to the adjustment and Metcalf enjoying cavernous room to burn on his post route. It was a superb tactical move from Schotty.

The play-action spear concept is a sweet red zone for going at middle of the field closed (cover 1 and cover 3, single-high safety) defenses. It gives Wilson the time to take a low-risk, high-conflict shot. The play is just one example of why the Seahawks currently have the most effective red zone attack in the league, with the highest touchdown percentage (76.5%).

Spear may well disappear for a while, given the alterations defenses have implemented. Yet football is all about forcing the other team to change and then punishing that adaptation. Schotty has shown himself to be good at that. He may even have a wrinkle off the spear design.

Thankfully, Schotty also has an elite quarterback in Wilson who can succeed even when the initial play is removed. This is one hell of a deadly combination. In their second year together, one is calling career-best stuff and the other is playing career-best football.