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What allowed Russell Wilson to be so efficient in 2018?

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys Shane Roper-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been barely two months since the Seattle Seahawks dropped the Wild Card playoff game to the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Dallas ending the Hawks surprising 2018 season, and still the debate rages about how Russell Wilson was able to put up such shocking efficiency numbers on the season.

But, when one digs down into Russ’ efficiency numbers and starts watching film closely, certain details pop up which show how simplistic the Seahawks offense is. To demonstrate what I mean, over the next few days I’ll be working through every single Seahawks passing play from 2018 on which the offense attempted a deep pass and looking at the type of coverage the defense played. This is in order to dig into whether the Hawks were doing something special to create opportunities for David Moore, Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett, or if they were simply being given advantageous looks.

So, to start, we’ll take a quick peak at every pass completion from the 2018 season that gained 43 or more yards (I’ve excluded the 66 yard catch and run by Will Dissly in Week 1 simply because the fact that he broke multiple tackles after catching the ball 15 yards downfield doesn’t tell us anything about throwing deep down the field).

In any case, here are the coverages that were seen on the nine deep completions of 43 or more yards form the 2018 season. In the first we see Lockett has destroyed the high safety and doesn’t have a defender within ten yards. My favorite part of this is Duane Brown in the lower left hand corner celebrating before Lockett has even caught the ball. Brown’s an intelligent individual and he obviously knew right away that Lockett was worth every penny of the extension the team gave him back in August.

Moving on to the coverage Lockett beat in Week 3, we once again see that it’s one on one coverage, with the over the top safety being the only defender that might have any semblance of a chance of stopping Tyler, who is five yards behind the underneath corner.

Yet again it’s Lockett deep (he’s the lone Seahawk who is past the first down marker. This capture from the Week 5 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams shows that Lockett was the only downfield target, but that was largely irrelevant since there was no over the top safety help and that left a single defensive back attempting to cover him all alone in space.

The next captures shows that there were in fact two Detroit Lions in “coverage” of Moore, but he is behind both of them. That means a deep throw to the outside has two places it can come down: in Moores hands or over his outstretched arms. The first is a big gain, the second is a harmless incompletion, and neither is all that risky of a throw.

That’s Moore once again behind the cornerback and fifteen yards away from the safety. I’m much older than Russ and have a bad throwing shoulder, but even I could have put this ball in a spot where the defensive backs couldn’t catch it.

For those who don’t recognize the next play, this is the completion to Lockett that set up the game winning field goal by Sebastian Janikowski in Week 12. There are two players outside the hashmarks on that side of the field, and Lockett is three yards behind the defender.

Not to rip on Russ or Jaron Brown, because this was obviously a quality play, but this is not a difficult play to make. I’d expect every NFL quarterback and wide receiver combo to be able to complete this pass for a big gain. For readers who aren’t sure where Brown is on this play, he’s the receiver just outside the numbers at the 47 who is about twelve yards away from the closest defender.

Here again we see Russ delivering a deep pass to Lockett in single coverage deep down the field. The safety is not in a position to help, and Lockett has gotten advantageous position on his man.

And for the finale, here is the moon shot from Week 16 against the Kansas City Chiefs. Both of the deep receivers for the Hawks are covered by a single defensive back, so this play is little more than Russ throwing up a beauty of a pass and letting Lockett go get it. That’s not to downplay how great a throw and catch this was, simply pointing out that there is zero safety help for either receiver on this play.

So, that’s the first nine of 33 passes that Wilson completed more than 20 yards downfield during the 2018 season. On the majority of plays there is no over the top safety help, and on most of the plays where there is, or should be, safety help, the receiver is already behind the safety.

We’ll see if these conditions hold true going forward in the coming days when we take a peak at what the defense looked like on the remaining two dozen deep completions from the season.