With midsummer heat pounding much of the country ahead of the holiday next week, it seems like a good time to stay indoors and enjoy the cool comfort of air conditioning. In doing so, we can take a look back to the Seattle Seahawks Week 11 matchup against the Green Bay Packers in which Russell Wilson led the Hawks back from an early double digit deficit en route to a fourth quarter comeback.
Specifically, Wilson went to work in the red zone, laughing at Mike Pettine’s third down blitzing by tossing two touchdown passes. The first of these touchdowns went to the recently retired Doug Baldwin and the second going to tight end Ed Dickson.
Mike Pettine’s 3rd down pressure scheme caused lots of problems for young QBs... Lots of post snap movement— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) June 24, 2019
But some of the vets (Stafford and Russell Wilson here) beat the blitz with their arms. Gotta have plans for them in 2019... They can ‘post snap process’ as good as anyone pic.twitter.com/tTnrBi4WJr
On both plays the offensive line does a great job of providing protection for Wilson to get the ball out to his target and to allow the offense to score. Or does it?
In watching the video linked in the tweet, the amount of time it takes for Wilson to get the ball out on each attempt is shown: 1.40 seconds after the snap on the touchdown to Dickson and 1.70 seconds after the snap on the touchdown to Baldwin. The fact that the ball was out so quickly is why Russell was not pressured on the plays, as on the touchdown to Baldwin there was an unblocked blitzer from the offensive right side.
That’s 2017 second round draft pick of the Packers Josh Jones, a strong safety who ran an electronically timed 4.41 forty at the combine. That means he’s very fast, but still did not have time to get his hands on Wilson even coming around the edge unblocked.
From the end zone angle It’s easy to see right tackle Germain Ifedi forcing Clay Mathews to the inside, while Duane Brown has barely begun to engage Blake Martinez on Wilson’s blind side. In short, Wilson got the ball out so quickly that it was effectively impossible for a defender to put pressure on him.
Let’s dig a little bit deeper into this play. First, let’s take a look at where the line of scrimmage was on the touchdown to Baldwin.
So, no doubt about the fact that the line of scrimmage is a hair inside the six yard line, while Josh Jones (number 27 for the Packers) has his left foot just inches away from the inside the of hashmarks on the opposite side of the field from where Justin Britt is set to snap the ball to Wilson. That all combines to make this a perfect scenario from which to illustrate a specific point regarding getting the ball out quickly.
Having figured out where the line of scrimmage was, let’s now take a look at how deep Wilson dropped into the pocket. Re-using the picture of the pocket at the time of release from above, here is where Wilson was at the time he threw the pass.
It is readily visible that his foot is in between the twelve and the thirteen yard lines, putting him six and a half yards behind the line of scrimmage. The reason that’s important is because it allows us to dig deep into our brains all the way back to geometry class and do the math on how much time the unblocked safety coming off the edge needs in order to get to Wilson.
Specifically, let’s pull out the Pythagorean Theorem in order to get a rough idea of the absolute quickest Jones could get to Wilson.
Knowing the length of those two sides of the triangle, and knowing that it’s a right triangle, we can figure out the length of the hypotenuse. Skipping the boring math, it’s roughly 8.85 yards from where Jones starts to the spot from which Wilson delivers the path. Now, acceleration doesn’t take place in a straight line, but we know from the combine that Jones’ electronically timed ten yard split was 1.58, so 88.5% of that is 1.3976 seconds. Rounding that up to 1.4 seconds, that’s effectively the baseline for how long the quarterback has to deliver a pass without a defender truly having an opportunity to create pressure.
So, that is effectively the point at which an offensive lineman’s job starts - right around the 1.5 second mark. If a pass play requires two seconds to deliver the pass, the offensive lineman needs to create about a half second of interference on the defender he’s blocking. If the pass play requires two and half seconds of protections, the offensive lineman needs to create about a full second of obstruction. Thus, it follows that if a quarterback consistently takes three seconds to deliver a pass, then the offensive linemen will need to create about 1.5 seconds of time to prevent the defender from creating pressure.
Thus, if a quarterback consistently takes three seconds to get the ball out, we’d expect the offensive lines protecting those quarterbacks to consistently allow significantly more pressure than quarterbacks that throw the ball quicker on a regular basis. Looking to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, there are four quarterbacks who had an average time to throw of three seconds or more during the 2018 season:
- Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans: 3.01 seconds,
- Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks: 3.01 seconds,
- Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens: 3.10 seconds and
- Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills: 3.22 seconds.
Thus, when looking at ProFootballFocus.com’s pressure rates for those four quarterbacks, it’s no surprise that all four of them fall in the bottom quarter of most pressured. Of the 36 quarterbacks with 203 or more dropbacks in 2018 (203 is used because that is how many dropbacks Jackson recorded) Watson and Allen were the two most pressured quarterbacks in the entire NFL in 2018, Wilson was the fourth most pressured and Jackson faced the seventh most pressure.
The Baltimore Ravens provide a spectacular example of the effect a quarterback has on pressure rates. The team’s five starting offensive linemen combined to start 67 of 80 possible games, and yet Joe Flacco faced pressure at a rate far, far below that of Jackson, simply by getting rid of the football in an average of 2.71 seconds.
In summary, while we’re enjoying those Wilson highlights from Week 11 of last season, keep in mind that the biggest factor in the performance of an offensive line in pass protection is how quickly the quarterback gets rid of the ball. On those two plays Wilson knew where he was going with the passes and delivered them quickly. However, that is the exception rather than the rule for the Seahawks, as Wilson traditionally takes far more time to deliver his passes than the majority of other quarterbacks in the NFL.