When the Seattle Seahawks face the New York Jets in Week 14 on Sunday, the only question regarding the outcome will be whether they are in second place by way of tiebreaker or a full game back of the Los Angeles Rams. It’s a far cry from where things stood exactly two months ago Friday, when the Hawks defeated the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football of Week 5 to move to 5-0 and atop the entire NFC.
However, two weeks later after a Week 6 bye, Seattle dropped its first game of the season against the Arizona Cardinals to start a stretch in which the team has gone 3-4 heading into the game Sunday. In the loss to the Cards Russell Wilson tossed three interceptions, including a disastrous toss in overtime that gave Arizona the ball in Seahawks territory needing just a field goal to win the game.
That interception not only capped off a rough game for Wilson, it started a streak of poor performances in which he threw seven interceptions over a four game stretch. These interceptions and the overall lower level of play from Wilson came as defenses looked to confuse him with late shifts and disguised defensive fronts. This is a fantastic video of many of the ways the Cardinals were able to frustrate Wilson and the Seahawks offense in the Week 7 game.
One of the key plays from that game was, of course, the Isaiah Simmons interception in overtime that gave the Cardinals the ball back and a chance to win. For those who don’t want to watch the entire video breakdown, here’s a replay of the Simmons interception, which came on a play on which the Cardinals showed an all out blitz, but then dropped several of the defenders on the line of scrimmage into coverage.
ISAIAH SIMMONS. CLUTCH INTERCEPTION. #RedSea | NBC pic.twitter.com/xIAT2lf0hS— Sunday Night Football (@SNFonNBC) October 26, 2020
And for those who would prefer simply to watch dots without the announcers, here is what that play looks like from above using the NFL’s player tracking data.
Cardinals first round pick Isaiah Simmons picks off Russell Wilson late in overtime to give the Cardinals one more chance to close the game out.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 26, 2020
Simmons had played only four snaps (out of 81 team snaps) before this play.#SEAvsARI | #RedSea pic.twitter.com/kDzPRNmMmj
Now, this is important because many fans have argued that Russ hasn’t been right since the first Arizona game and that the Cardinals may have broken him. And that may be correct. Against the New York Giants in Week 13, it appears that Wilson consistently did not trust his eyes when it came to his pre-snap reads of the defense. Here is an example of that.
russ bby wyd? pic.twitter.com/qlf90rlo54— John P. Gilbert (@JohnPGilbertNFL) December 11, 2020
On this play, the Giants bring pressure from the defensive right side, from the area in which tight end Jacob Hollister had been lined up. Instead of recognizing this and throwing to Hollister, who sets up on a five yard curl at the eight yard line, Wilson delivers a much longer, more difficult pass in the direction of Tyler Lockett that falls incomplete. A five yard completion to Hollister in the first quarter itself isn’t game changing, but 2nd & 5 at the eight yard line is a lot friendlier than 2nd & 10 at the 13. After that incompletion to Lockett, Wilson tossed two more incompletions to set up a field goal from Jason Myers to give the Seahawks a 3-0 lead.
Does the outcome of the game change if the Seahawks pick up five yards on the first down play and then go on to score a touchdown? It’s, obviously, impossible to answer that question definitively, but it certainly likely would not have hurt. What we can say is that New York consistently brought pressure, specifically on first down and in situations where Seattle likes to look for the deep shot, and that contributed to Wilson taking five sacks on the day.
So, in short, Wilson failing to trust his reads, combined with predictability in certain facets of the offensive playcalling, combined to doom the Seahawks offense against a lesser opponent. Luckily, Week 14 brings a lesser lesser opponent, so fans can just hope that the Hawks don’t look past the Jets.