Before DK Metcalf stormed down the field like the liquid metal terminator, the Seahawks were in line to lose 13.51 expected points. Metcalf’s tackle was the best moment of the game and the best play he’s ever made, in my opinion. As much as the game turned out to be a stab in the gut with a rusty shiv, football fan pain is largely imaginary pain, and the delight I got from Budda Baker’s double take was very much real.
Somehow the Seahawks not only stopped Arizona from scoring but scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession, actually improving their chances of winning the game. Here’s for morale. Here’s for dumb luck. Here’s for hustle.
If not for Metcalf’s hustle, the Seahawks would have lost 97 yards of field position and a touchdown. All real, none expected, but 97 hard earned yards of field position, and all the likelihood of scoring which comes from first and ten on your opponent’s three, and seven real points scored by Arizona. In short, Russell Wilson threw almost the most costly pick theoretically possible.
I am not saying that obvious calls must always be made, or that anything has been proven by now two games of huge downturns in efficiency, but sometimes the obvious run call is obvious for a reason. We’ve been here before. We’re nearing the disastrous realm of too clever by half which has cost Seattle so dearly in the past.
I had a friend who said he always liked when the title of a book would actually be said within the narrative of the book. Well, here you go Matt. The NFL does not want Russell Wilson to win the MVP. A little more than a year ago Vance Joseph was fired from what I presume was his dream job. He really doesn’t care if Wilson wins the MVP. And he certainly doesn’t want Wilson to win the MVP on his back. Baker would much rather earn a lucrative contract for himself. Et cetera.
Discussing this requires speculation, because I doubt highly that anyone within the Seahawks organization will ever say as much, but it feels like Wilson’s individual desire to win the MVP award has affected Seattle’s play calling and is in danger of negatively affecting this team’s hopes of playing their best football. Seattle played with a lead most of Sunday’s game and while that lead was never commanding it was enough to give Seattle a 75% or better chance of winning for most of regulation. Yet Seattle never deviated from a pass-first, second and third approach. Why?
Let’s look at this. Here are four bins: passes, scrambles, runs, and runs specifically designed to kill the clock.
Passes: 52, including two sacks
Runs to kill the clock: 4
When protecting the lead, Seattle wouldn’t run. When a pass might be smart because a first down would win the game, Seattle only ran. I don’t know if Brian Schottenheimer called all of those pass plays, or if Wilson has the freedom to switch between two play calls in the huddle, but accounting for the fact that most of Wilson’s runs are called passes which turn into scrambles, the Seahawks are approaching a 70%/30% split of called passes and called runs. This despite leading for 232 of their 384 total snaps on offense. It’s certainly a revolutionary strategy, but it’s one that seems a lot like the Houston Rockets’ decision to play without a center. That is, a misuse of statistics which assumes opponents will not adjust.
Opponents seem to be adjusting to what Seattle is doing. Wilson now has more interceptions in six games than he had in 18 last year. He earned negative DYAR passing versus the Minnesota Vikings, and that was when Minnesota was mistakenly thought to be a good defense by DVOA. We’ll have to see how good Arizona’s defense ends up being, but before they got to feast on the Jets and the Andy Dalton led Cowboys—who very much seem to be quitting on Mike McCarthy—the Cardinals ranked 19th in defensive DVOA. I’m not saying that’s right but I am saying that I’m skeptical they’re very good. It would take quite an adjustment to dredge up Wilson’s play from negative territory.
Even ignoring the extreme costliness of each pick, and man is that hard, but ignoring the extreme costliness of each pick, even a vanilla analysis of Wilson’s performance rates it at below average. He finished with 5.7 ANY/A. Which is pretty much what Joe Burrow’s has been able to do as a promising rookie for a 1-5-1 Bengals team. It’s not horrifically bad, but it’s bad.
It’s not a great stat, but I’m writing this on Monday so I will use it, but Wilson now ranks eighth in total quarterback rating. Before this week’s debacle, he ranked fifth in quarterback DVOA behind Josh Allen, Derek Carr, Patrick Mahomes and Ryan Tannehill. If he were not the sympathetic favorite, Wilson would not likely be the favorite to win MVP. There are better teams than the Seahawks. Wilson is surrounded by good and great players.
The football gods do not smile on players in pursuit of individual achievement. That’s hokey, but it’s quite often true too. Wilson is a great player but he has specific talents and skills which make him a great player. He’s not something generically great which may be shaped to any purpose. Mozart was brilliant but he was not an architect or painter or diplomat. To make a more modern comparison, Kanye West has produced some good music, but overexposure seems to show he’s terrifically awful at about 50 other things. It’s so damn exceptionally rare for anyone to be as good at anything as Wilson is at playing quarterback, but he has never proven for any length of time that he can be a great quarterback in this kind of offense.
Let’s look at that interception before I wrap this up. It’s a fine line I’m treading to avoid repeating myself too much, avoid in any way gloating, admit that our information is still incomplete, but make a hopefully cogent argument that we’re starting to see strong evidence this radical change in Wilson’s style of play is coming with heavy costs.
Blurry again, it’s not something I can seem to control.
Wilson never looks away from Chris Carson. That’s never good, especially when throwing somewhere with a lot of defenders crammed into a small space. He doesn’t seem to know who’s defending Carson. It seems very much that he thinks Carson is wide open. When Haason Reddick becomes the fifth pass rusher, that seems to indicate to Wilson that Carson is free. Wilson throws with a lot of loft, which is one of his signature qualities as a deep ball passer, but probably a necessary evil for him when throwing short. Hate me for linking to these, but these three picks sixes are all short passes either tipped or lobbed.
High volume, pass-first quarterbacks need to throw short a lot and need to throw with expert timing. I don’t think that’s what Russell Wilson is best at. The Seahawks cannot simply run infrequently and throw a billion play action passes without defenses countering. Assuming they can is assuming defenses are incapable or unwilling to adjust. I don’t assume that. That’s disrespecting the opponent.
That’s very vogue right now. A belief that those who oppose us are stupid, evil or incompetent. Invocation of witch trials is often met with eye rolls, but did you know the horrifying toll of witch hunts in Europe? This was not medieval times, nor a popcorn fart of mass hysteria in a small colonial community, it was mainstream, enduring and done in a spirit of righteousness. It might sound loony right now but I actually like disagreement, y’know, intelligent disagreement. Differing opinions, opposing ideas, just results through fair competition. That stuff. It seems we’re more and more of the opinion that winning is best achieved through eliminating our opponent. I’m more of an Ali-Frazier, Fischer-Spassky, Lakers-Celtics kind of guy. Even talking about who is most deserving of the MVP in October suggests people want a very Disney, just-so, socially engineered kind of NFL season. It’s Academy Awards thinking and I loathe the Academy Awards.
To paraphrase Al Michaels last night, Let Russ Cook is letting Russell Wilson do what he’s best at. That’s the closest I’ve ever heard of a definition, because up to now it seems to have been strategically amorphous. In my opinion, Wilson is best at passing the ball deep, extending plays, avoiding turnovers, staying healthy, and scrambling. That’s the highly simplified set of attributes which make Wilson so special. Nothing about this extremely pass-first offense seems to play to those strengths. He has been forced to pass short much more frequently. Timing patterns are rarely good plays to extend. His turnovers are up. Deep passing will suffer if teams stop respecting the run. Well, correction, he is scrambling more, and the offensive line is better at protecting him. Keep that stuff, but ... maybe run it a bit more often? That might help the defense too.