When Blair Walsh missed a potential game-winning field goal against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17 of the 2017 season, it brought with it a sea of change. The coaching staffs on both sides of the ball were overhauled, with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and offensive line coach Tom Cable relieved of their duties after seven seasons together.
Hired to replace them were Mike Solari and Brian Schottenheimer, and almost quietly and without much fanfare, long time Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks coach Carl Smith was move out of his role as quarterbacks coach. Smith had been the quarterbacks coach for Russell Wilson for the entirety of his Seahawks career, and Smith’s relationship with Pete Carroll can be traced all the way back to NC State in the early 1980s, when Carroll was the Wolf Pack defensive coordinator and Smith the offensive coordinator.
Schottenheimer was brought in not only to replace Bevell as offensive coordinator, but to “challenge [Russ] like maybe he has never been challenged before.” Russ, for everything he’d done through the first seven years of his career, had serious holes in his game. He’d been able to generate elite production, but much of it had come through an almost free-lancing style of play that took advantage of his athleticism and came out of structure.
I touched on some of these issues in offseason between the 2017 and 2018 seasons, including his lack of pocket presence and awareness, his seeming lack of anticipation and how he himself had been contributing to the offensive line issues. In particular, for those readers who don’t read Field Gulls during the offseasons, I broke down one play from Week 11 of the 2017 season where Wilson had the potential to pick up a potential big gainer to Paul Richardson, but instead at a sack fumble that went for an Atlanta touchdown.
2017 Russ - sack fumble returned for a touchdown.— John P. Gilbert (@JohnPGilbertNFL) November 6, 2019
2019 Russ delivers a heater to Richardson and the only question is whether the deep safety catches PRich. pic.twitter.com/yolBtOaCWi
Richardson is the wide receiver who is the tip of the triangle of receivers on the near side of the field. The short version is that Wilson’s read is the zone defender standing on the 32 yard line. If that defender jumps the curl route to Tyler Lockett, Wilson should immediately deliver the pass to a streaking Richardson. If the defender carries Richardson upfield, then the ball should go to Lockett on the curl. On this particular play, the defender jumps the curl route, but Wilson doesn’t deliver the ball to Richardson due to a combination of poor pocket mechanics and a lack of anticipation.
It’s a disastrous play for 2017 Wilson, but a play which the 2019 version of Wilson likely makes because so much about his game has completely changed. In the coming weeks I’ll be writing a lot more about Wilson and how he has evolved as a quarterback, but for now I’m going to leave that up to Seth Galina, who does fantastic quarterback and passing game breakdowns on Twitter (@SethGalina for those who don’t already follow him).
Russ is pretty— Seth Galina (@SethGalina) November 6, 2019
Quick 5 step drop (3 steps + a shuffle) so that he is balanced by the last step and doesn't have to add a wasteful hitch. Ball is loading as he hits that last step. Almost a negative stride with the left leg to allow back hip to come through first. Back leg trails pic.twitter.com/uA2oo2fh73
this was from the overtime touchdown by the way. pic.twitter.com/ij10KLrV6P— Seth Galina (@SethGalina) November 6, 2019
there just aren't many cleaner guys out there— Seth Galina (@SethGalina) November 6, 2019
ok I did an audio breakdown of Russell's throw to Hollister for the game winning touchdown against Tampa pic.twitter.com/njJgiYDYaB— Seth Galina (@SethGalina) November 6, 2019
As he notes, the last tweet is an audio breakdown of Wilson’s dropback on the game-winning touchdown pass to Jacob Hollister. The use of proper mechanics, a beautiful weight transfer that allows for an on-time, accurate throw and perfect timing are a massive change from the Russell Wilson of seasons past. Compare those drop and throw mechanics from this season to those of two years agao, and it’s night and day.
That play is from less than two years ago, and Russ’ mechanics in the pocket are atrocious. He catches the ball, does some sort of stomping of his feet footwork and then slings the pass out with his weight shifting to his back leg. It’s almost like a basketball player whose weight is moving backwards as they shoot a fadeaway, and it’s exactly the opposite of the proper mechanics for a quarterback delivering a pass.
As I have noted in the past, this lack of pocket mechanics likely played a large role in why many national analysts overlooked Russ’ performance and production earlier in his career. He was putting up elite production, but much of it was done with improper form and mechanics, and thus was dismissed by traditionalists. The new Russ is seeing and understanding the defense better, is anticipating where he will be throwing the ball earlier and is using that better understanding of the game in conjunction with improved pocket skills to absolutely shred defenses.
The potential for Russ to continue to improve, perform and produce at an elite level in the coming seasons could be absolutely phenomenal for Seahawks fans.