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Russell Wilson’s two turnovers are easy to explain

New York Giants v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Chris Carson’s gonna eat shit for his part in Wilson’s interception but make no mistake that Russell Wilson hand delivered that turd burger. This rare and very peculiar camera angle reminds us of the scarifying ordeal that is playing quarterback in the National Football League. It also makes me think Carson hardly saw Wilson. To him the football seemed to appear from Ethan Pocic’s helmet.

That’s what it looks like on the All-22. Even seen from above it’s clear from Carson’s perspective Wilson would be almost entirely obscured by Pocic and Dalvin Tomlinson. So pity Carson a little.

Wilson is also late. He’s not just late. He essentially pump fakes toward Carson. That allows Tae Crowder the player who tips the ball into the air and Darnay Holmes the player who intercepts the pass to close considerably toward Carson. No pump fake telegraphing his target and this doesn’t happen. Here’s a gif of the period from when Wilson shows who he’s passing to and when the pass arrives. Crowder in particular eats up 10 or more yards of separation because of Wilson’s goof.

Wilson’s indecisiveness, newfound terrible habit of pumping toward his intended receiver, and innate trouble finding a throwing lane all factor into this becoming an interception. It would have been an ordinary dropped pass if Wilson had done none of those things. Second and ten.

Wilson doesn’t usually play like this. But it’s becoming more common. It’s not hard to understand why it is happening. Wilson is looking for long developing routes. So he holds the ball. Wilson is getting hit an absolute ton. With 52 he has the most in the NFL. Last season he had 57. The season before: 31. It is increasingly hard, at a mortal level, to ignore pass rush and make good decisions when you’ve been intermittently beaten for hours.

This looks like the same deal. Nerves, the yips, a healthy self-protective reaction to the madness of playing a kind of highly abstracted combat sport and losing. Everyone’s got a plan before they get hit, right? Before the snap New York was changing gaps, disguising coverage and threatening blitz left, right and center.

Which understandably preoccupied Wilson. The previous drive was preemptively done in by Jabrill Peppers executing a safety blitz.

Seattle had converted two first downs and were first and 10 at the Giants’ 41. One genuinely incredible play by Peppers and Seattle’s expected points dropped below where it was when the drive began. That’s the funky math of the NFL. Eight yards lost can more than wipe out 23 yards gained.

Both turnovers killed Seattle in terms of raw EPA and win probability, costing nearly four points and 10% apiece. That’s using ESPN’s model which assumed Seattle was the much better team. Intuitively the interception felt like the dagger. After watching Seattle get bullied by New York’s defense for three quarters a sudden reversion to the glory days of Week 3 seemed unlikely. The Giants took away the deep ball and Seattle did nothing to counter.

Wilson is a good deep ball passer because he’s accurate and the arc of his pass’s parabola is such that it clears the defender and drops directly into the receiver’s grasp. It’s been noted before. Wilson often cants to the left so that though his motion is not quite perfectly overhand his arm angle is nearly perpendicular with the turf. See?

The ball leaves his hand quickly gaining verticality and the ball descends into the receiver’s grasp quickly plunging earthward. This motion was probably developed to compensate for the fact that Wilson was well shorter than even his high school linemen.

It’s a cool example of turning a (perceived) weakness into a strength. But it doesn’t help him throwing short over the middle. He doesn’t do it very much and though I cannot prove this statistically, I do not think he does it very well. Compare him to almost any taller quarterback and you’ll get a heat map like this.

This is a potentially problematic weakness. In the game within the game of football, the battle through no man’s land to move the sticks, the area directly in front of the offensive line extending to the first down marker is the most direct path to getting a first down. Moving directly toward the first down marker has a kind of primacy like the go route. If you can run an effective go you can build a tree off the intimidation created by that route. If you can steadily move up field toward the first down marker you can force your opponent to commit resources to a relatively small part of the field and create favorable matchups elsewhere.

Wilson does not effectively attack this part of the field. Therefore teams can attack the edges and widen coverage. We’ve seen the results. Teams are blitzing because Wilson will not beat them in the spaces the blitzers have vacated. Teams are playing deep and toward the sidelines because Wilson is largely ineffective short and toward the middle. To be effective elsewhere Seattle must re-establish its ability to attack the space between the offensive line and the first down marker. That’s too general. I’ll say it another way.

Run the damn ball.