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Russell Wilson is getting blitzed relentlessly (again)

Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

If it feels like teams are sending a lot of pressure to harass Russell Wilson... well you’re right. I’m here to confirm your priors.

Pro Football Reference, in partnership with Sportradar, has an advanced stats tracker that I highly recommend playing around with if you’re into numbers. The focus of this post is on the frequency in which Wilson is seeing extra pass rushers.

As of the Week 10 update, Wilson has been blitzed 130 times out of 363 dropbacks (334 pass attempts + 29 scrambles). I checked on this stat before the Wednesday update and at the time it was 117, so Wilson was presumably blitzed 13 times by the Los Angeles Rams. Only Josh Allen (158), Daniel Jones (150), and Carson Wentz (132) have seen more blitzes and neither Allen nor Jones has had their bye week yet. It’s possible that Wilson could end the year as the most blitzed QB in the league when the regular season ends. Cam Newton currently has the highest blitz rate among qualified QBs at a whopping 46.6%, 11 percentage points higher than Wilson.

This is not a particularly new approach, either. Last year Wilson was the 2nd most blitzed QB behind Jameis Winston, topping out 2019 with 221 blitzes on 561 dropbacks (39.3%). However, in 2018 (which is as far back as this tracker goes) Wilson’s blitz rate was just 31.7%, so it wasn’t a product of him throwing as infrequently as he did.

I think it’s fair to say that teams are sending extra men against Jones and Wentz because they are both bad quarterbacks who make terrible decisions when pressured, and they 2nd and 3rd in pressure rate. Allen’s is a weird case because he has just a 20.8% pressure rate (20th in the league), and stats suggest he’s at his worst against zone defenses. Maybe it’s a reputation thing (which was fully deserved) that he’s still shaking off.

Unfortunately I do not have any stats or access to additional facts such as Wilson’s completion rate, turnovers, etc. against the blitz, so the discovery ends here as to whether Wilson has been any better or worse vs. the blitz compared to say, his excellent 2019. That’d require a lot of film review that I do not have time for. We do know that Cover 0 against Russell Wilson historically does not work.

Why is Wilson being blitzed this frequently? I can only provide speculation but my theory is that teams have figured out that the best way to combat the Seahawks’ love of shot plays is to force Wilson to get the ball out quicker. This means increasing Seattle’s reliance on a short, timing-based passing game. That is not what the Seahawks excel at and teams are trying to force them into something they’d prefer not to do.

There’s little reason to believe this is going to clearly let up. Arizona blitzes at the 4th highest rate in the NFL and not coincidentally made Wilson a drastically worse QB when they ditched their ineffective four-man rushes for more blitzing in the first meeting. The New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers are 8th and 10th respectively in blitz rate. Their other four games are against teams either slightly below or below average in blitzing, but that can always change based on the gameplan. Washington Football Team doesn’t really have to blitz with that defensive front and they’ll be by far the biggest challenge for the Seahawks offensive line with their base defense.

The onus is on Wilson to be better of course, but Brian Schottenheimer will have to be wary of the fact that teams are very willing to get after Russ with various blitz schemes and he needs to playcall accordingly to counter that. More screen passes, more easy throws, and yes, the pass-heavy predictability is a glaring tell right now and it’s become less efficient for a month solid. When Pete Carroll says they need to be “more balanced” on offense I don’t think it necessarily means 50-50 pass-run, but rather they cannot continue to gameplan with everyone knowing they are going to dropback at a near 3-to-1 rate on a weekly basis.