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The Drive: Russell Wilson’s best deep passes of 2018, Top 10

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Green Bay Packers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The previous installment of The Drive looked at the best deep passes from Russell Wilson’s 2018 season that for various reasons did not call for inclusion on the top-ten list. Now it’s time to count down Wilson’s most brilliant long throws from a brilliant year.

10: The Eerie Anti-Pocket

1ST & 10 AT SEA 30(10:24)

(10:24) R.Wilson pass deep left to T.Lockett to KC 45 for 25 yards (E.Berry).

EPA: 2.65

WPA: 5.3%

This one’s pretty plain until the end.

The play is designed around two crossing routes, one shallow and one deep. A third route, a flat run by play-action decoy Chris Carson, opens up toward the end but is barely viable.

Ah, yes, squiggly lines—today they are necessary, if ugly.

Wilson boots right. He’s in a sort of anti-pocket, neither protected nor attacked. Only sort of because two teams’ worth of pass rush and pass blocking are reduced to a one-on-one of Jaron Brown (#18) versus Daniel Sorensen.

Carson, as stated, is only to be targeted as a last resort. Moore slows his route and sits down in what he hopes is the soft spot of the zone. But it’s Lockett Wilson wants to target. And he has to wait for that opportunity. Lockett might look open in the above, but Moore stopping has allowed (#20) Steven Nelson to sit directly underneath Lockett’s route. He’s just ahead of the beak of the hawk emblem.

Which is bad because Sorensen has finally escaped Brown’s block.

Wilson climbs this anti-pocket with a series of choppy steps, maintaining his throwing rhythm. Under heavy pressure, in part because Sorensen is attacking Wilson’s throwing side, Wilson delivers a strike 25 yards down and nearly halfway across the field.

9: The Jump Pass

2ND & 5 AT DET 24(14:23)

(14:23) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass deep left to T.Lockett for 24 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Expected Points Added: 3.22

Win Probability Added: Approximately 10%

This is a beautiful and strange play which helped end a season-long trend of underachievement by the Seahawks. Detroit was favored to win. Bettors and ELO both saw this as a match between relatively mediocre teams, likely to be decided by home field advantage.

Seattle was down seven with 14:23 left in the second quarter and had roughly a 45% chance of winning. When Schotty II dialed up this little gem.

Detroit will rush four and defend the pass with a cover 1 man. Complementary deep routes strain the deep safety. Or, would, if Ed Dickson didn’t trip over his own feet. And, yes, Doug Baldwin is blocking.

Wilson executes the play fake.

It’s a halfhearted fake. Wilson must prioritize quickness. It’s not a naked bootleg, but the only thing covering Wilson’s shame is Baldwin and Baldwin is badly overmatched. Detroit’s defense is hardly changed by the fake handoff. Except, that is, for deep safety Quandre Diggs. Diggs is caught chasing.

It’s an awful read. He’s the lone deep safety but puts himself in position to defend A) the run and B) Dickson’s ass over teakettle pattern. Which can be seen in beta on the right and just before the 20>.

Lions’ right defensive end Romeo Okwara (#95) is unblocked and succeeds in tracking the ball and thus not biting on the play fake. What he does next is strange.

He sees Wilson still has the ball.

But instead of rushing Wilson or even just containing the boot, he rousts the already covered—and quite obviously blocking—Doug Baldwin. Detroit’s lone viable pass rusher opts out of rushing the passer.

Moments later, here is the read as Wilson begins to pass.

Diggs isn’t doing much of anything. The defensive back assigned Lockett, Nevin Lawson, is beginning to lose outside leverage on Lockett. This is crucial, because in a cover one, defensive backs need to channel the receiver back inside and toward the safety.

Lockett has a step and will be able to cut outside. Wilson sees this and also factors in another important consideration. In 54 starts and 62 games played, Lawson has never intercepted a pass. If Wilson can make this matchup a battle of ball skills, the Seahawks will win. He does, but not before one more complicating factor makes the pass a lot more difficult.

That block by Baldwin? It’s not going so well.

Okwara was 20 when the Giants signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2016. Detroit signed him after New York cut him in 2018, and Okwara went on to start 15 games and lead the team in sacks and quarterback hits. He’s a bit stiff and slow, which might explain his reluctance to chase Wilson, but he’s big and powerful too. Something of a 5-tech miscast as an edge rusher.

Wilson’s window to pass is minuscule. He can’t step into his throw. So he employs a Jump Man sort of motion in order to drive this pass the 38 air yards necessary to give Lockett a chance.

The pass is wide and lofty.

Lockett finds it while Lawson is left chasing.

Touchdown. 90 seconds of game block later and the Seahawks would be up for good.

8: Doug E. Fresh

2ND & 8 AT KC 27(00:51)

(:51) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass deep left to D.Baldwin for 27 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

EPA: 3.63

WPA: ~14%

This game was just about to become a shootout. One stalled drive could have cost Seattle the game.

Chiefs rush four and run a man cover 1. Once again, the deep safety never gets involved with the play.

Baldwin achieves outside position off the snap. That’s enough for Wilson to see the opportunity and begin his throw.

Baldwin never really escapes the coverage of Chiefs DB Steven Nelson. Wilson must throw into a very small window.

Wilson hits that window dead center. Baldwin is able to torque his body clockwise from Nelson, pivot on one leg, and fall into the pylon for the score.

7: The Tiniest Pump Fake

3RD & 6 AT LA 30(01:41)

(1:41) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass deep right to D.Moore for 30 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

EPA: 4.39

WPA: ~18%

Marcus Peters completely blows his coverage. Why Peters blows his coverage is what makes this such a fun play.

What looks like two deep man transitions into a robber look, leaving both safeties woefully out of position for Seattle’s two outside verts. Seahawks block with seven and pass rush is never a factor.

This beautifully coordinated pair of dekes by Wilson and Moore create the touchdown.

Just as Moore is beginning the first motion of his double move ...

Wilson is feinting the tiniest of pump fakes.

Which draws Peters in like a tractor beam.

And allows Wilson to lob it up to Moore for the easy score.

Peters is still with the Rams (hallelujah!) but his rep got cut that day.

6: Forklift

2ND & 19 AT KC 30(02:44)

(2:44) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass deep left to D.Baldwin to KC 1 for 29 yards (C.Ward). Penalty on KC-C.Ward, Defensive Holding, declined.

EPA: 4.56

WPA: 17.4%

Wilson was sacked for a loss of nine right after tossing a moon scraper shot to Lockett for 45. This is the play that followed that sack. By EPA, it was the more valuable of the two deep passes.

Chiefs nose tackle Derrick Nnadi one-arm forklifts Justin Britt off the snap.

That forces Wilson to scramble to his left. He wastes no time finding Baldwin winning his matchup.

Baldwin can be seen in the upper left corner. Charvarius Ward, in an effort to avoid various charring, holds Baldwin like a clingy girlfriend. Which is probably why this pass arrives a little overthrown.

A flaw easily forgiven given the speed and accuracy of the read, the safety inherent in targeting a clearly interfered with receiver, the difficulty of the throw on the run, and the fact that Baldwin catches it anyway.

5: The Second Best Deep Pass in a Losing Effort

2ND & 10 AT SEA 25(01:19)

(1:19) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass deep middle to T.Lockett to LA 46 for 29 yards (M.Christian).

EPA: 2.46

WPA: ~12%

Wilson was under heavy pressure when he attempted this very difficult pass on the run.

Rams are running a very soft cover 2. Mark Barron (#41), functioning as a linebacker/safety tweener, screws up the coverage exchange leaving Lockett wide open. You can actually see his teammate Sam Shields pointing him back to his assignment. Only, it’s too late.

Safeties deep and underneath coverage scrambling to recover, Lockett is functionally wide open. But J.R. Sweezy’s pop on Aaron Donald only aids the Rams twin tackle-end stunts. Duane Brown is saddled with the task of blocking two pass rushers. He chooses to engage the inferior but quicker of the two: Dante Fowler.

Donald rushes free from Wilson’s blindside. Somehow Wilson sees or senses Donald and begins to slide right.

Which fixes one problems but creates a new one.

Wilson must throw across his body and against his momentum, on a line, 32 yards and into double coverage.

4: The Moon Scraper

2ND & 12 AT SEA 34(03:04)

(3:04) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass deep right to T.Lockett ran ob at KC 21 for 45 yards (C.Ward).

EPA: 4.65

WPA: 15%

This is probably Wilson’s most famous deep pass of 2018. It’s pretty remarkable even accounting for the fact that Wilson exploited a game-breaking glitch to achieve this otherwise impossible pass.

There isn’t much to add, but I discovered one pretty interesting detail in reviewing this play for the, I don’t know, 20th time.

Chiefs defensive tackle Xavier Williams is matched one-on-one against D.J. Fluker. He has a very special job. Williams must hold the living heck out of Fluker in order to keep the pass rushing lane open for (#53) Anthony Hitchens. It’s the ol’ Dick LeBeau special.

We can see the felonious act well into execution below.

But Fluker, who’s stronger than absinthe aged in moonshine barrels, regains his leverage and blocks Hitchens with Williams’ backside.

3: The One that Saved the Season

4TH & 3 AT CAR 35(03:33)

(3:33) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass deep left to D.Moore for 35 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

EPA: 5.01

WPA: 33.1%

The next three plays were all in consideration for best deep pass of 2018. This was the single most valuable by EPA, but got knocked down to third because of the relative ease of the completion. It is therefore the most important but not the “best” of Wilson’s deep passes.

This is another three-route play. Carolina is blitzing and Carson never escapes his block.

Moore v Elder is not all that interesting. Moore puts him on a spit and roasts him over a roaring fire.

The pass is arguably underthrown.

The Panthers coverage scheme leaves something to be desired, too. Three defenders track Lockett leaving Moore and Baldwin in single coverage.

But Wilson’s quick and accurate read is commendable.

This:

Becomes this:

But, like the elite pocket passer he was never supposed to become, Wilson calmly reads first Baldwin on the right before looking back left, seeing Moore winning his route, and immediately exploiting the mismatch. He doesn’t falter. He doesn’t fear the turnover on downs. He doesn’t even look at Lockett, who, based on his pre-snap read, is surely covered. And he doesn’t tuck and attempt to rush for the first, which is what Carolina anticipates. He reads. He throws.

He ties the game.

2: McLobster Block

2ND & 8 AT SEA 24(05:19)

(5:19) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass deep middle to T.Lockett to LA 32 for 44 yards (T.Hill; N.Robey).

EPA: 3.31

WPA: 18.5%

The Seahawks lost this game, of course, but following this completion, Seattle was favored to win. Instead Seattle was buried under a lahar of Ram scat. But let us revisit this hopeful moment and with any luck, properly appreciate just how damn excellent it was.

The depth isn’t correct on Lockett’s corner post, but that’s as far as the all-22 reaches. He in fact ran the route about 5 yards deeper than depicted. Also, astute observers might note that every route I’ve drawn for Carson is a hideous mess. This one in particular drove me to drink. Hello 3 Magnets!

Lockett is the only viable receiver after Wilson has been flushed right.

What flushes him right is part of what makes this play so exciting to me.

Is this a so-called lobster block? Germain Ifedi sure is using his left arm like a great claw.

The back judge surely sees this peculiar and rather crustacean means of pass pro. It’s not flagged but it sure freaks Wilson out. He bolts right, fully killing Nick Vannett’s rather moribund block on (#50) Samson Ebukam.

Ebukam is a fish, maybe a flying fish. Wilson again must evade.

The blur in the upper right corner is Lockett. Already he’s angling away from Wilson.

Wilson’s wind up is epic.

The window is deceptively small.

Nickell Robey-Coleman and Troy Hill are both running at near full speed. It’s a wonder this didn’t become a hospital ball. But it didn’t.

It gave Seattle a real shot to win an important division matchup against the future NFC Champion Rams.

1: The One Which Earned Seattle a Playoff Berth

3RD & 5 AT SEA 47(01:07)

(1:07) (No Huddle, Shotgun) R.Wilson pass deep right to T.Lockett to CAR 10 for 43 yards (C.Munnerlyn).

EPA: 3.75

WPA: ~75.7%

Supposedly Carolina had a 62% chance of winning this game. Had they, Seattle would have had a terrifically difficult time making the playoffs. I don’t know if that probability factors in the dreaded 10am start on the East Coast, but that was in play too. Sweezy missed the first series changing out of his unicorn onesie. Tre Flowers was said to have battled sleepers clouding his vision throughout the first half. Jokes, you see.

Apart from the value of this play, completing this pass was a wonderful feat of discipline by Russell Wilson.

Seattle runs what I am guessing is a muddle huddle previous to this play. Carolina is caught flat footed and disorganized. Indeed the only thing moving in the picture below is the ball itself.

Carolina attempts to trick Wilson.

Shaq Thompson, who is largely invisible behind Britt (#68) and Fluker (#78), is rushing wide in order to pull both blockers right. This works. #97, Mario Addison, Carolina’s top pass rusher in 2018, is lurking behind Duane Brown (#76). Seattle is again facing a tackle-end stunt. This one works, tho.

Thomas Davis (#58) appears to be covering Mike Davis (#27). In fact, Thomas is spying Wilson. Luke Kuechly will pick up Mike as he runs right.

Carolina wants to spring the pass rush in hopes that Wilson, panicked, will either outlet to Davis or scramble. Both contingencies are accounted for and neither is likely to be successful.

Addison begins to exploit his interior position on Sweezy. Thomas Davis allows Mike to run right knowing Kuechly is ready to stop him short. Or, done drawing his blockers right, Thompson could jump the route.

Does Wilson scramble? Does he target his hot read? Nope. He slides left, facilitating Sweezy’s block, and keeps his eyes down field.

What he sees is not all that encouraging. Wilson’s been looking forever and defenders are more and more camped out. Moore, in particular, has stopped his route.

But way over outside the numbers to his right Tyler Lockett, that beautiful beautiful man, has turned his crummy little curl route into a curl-and-go. Wilson finds it almost immediately.

Captain Munnerlyn does not quite blow coverage. In fact, by moving inside Lockett and playing under the pass, he gives himself a good chance of picking off a very deep pass which also has to traverse the field horizontally. Only, he doesn’t, as he loses Lockett, loses the ball in flight, and is lucky to catch up enough to make the tackle.

I mean, if you can call making the game-losing tackle “lucky.”

With that steely show of discipline and resolve, Wilson harnesses his God-given ability to throw very far very accurately to all-but ensure Seattle’s spot in the playoffs.

Some dudes are quick. Some dudes can throw it out of the stadium. Some dudes study so they can anticipate every blitz and coverage. And then there’s Russell Wilson.