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Seahawks vs. Panthers: Russell Wilson and the quick game

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers had four sacks last week against the Cardinals, produced 40 on the season (13th NFL), and let's face it, the Seahawks' offensive line has had trouble protecting Russell Wilson consistently. This could be a recurring theme on Saturday night. There have obviously been issues in creating a workable pocket, but, Russell Wilson is not a normal pocket quarterback. As Tom Cable put it earlier this season, "he's not a spot thrower -- he's all over the place -- so it's not normal pass protection."

It's pretty clear that the majority of the time, rather than step up into the pocket to try to hang on and make a throw (even if there's nothing there), Wilson prefers to break out and take off over potentially taking a sack. The Seahawks, while they've encouraged him to really try and trust his protection and stick with it, also have embraced his scrambling skills. That's where 'scramble rules' come in and that's where the chemistry between Wilson and his receivers becomes important. That said, the Seahawks are still developing Russell.

On's SoundFX segment from last week, Pete Carroll is shown talking to Paul Allen before the Rams game, and Allen asks Carroll how Russell is doing.

"He had a great week again. Great month." Carroll replies.

"Feels like he's just getting better," opines Allen. "He's getting the ball out quicker."

"You'll see, that's what's happening," Carroll continues. "You remember I told you about it a few weeks ago, we've made it a really big emphasis to him, and he just totally took it to heart. Totally took it to heart. "Okay." And he's been matching that with the plays.

"A lot of plays have the opportunity to have the ball come out quickly, you just have to choose to go there. And, he's really choosing to do that consistently. I'll be really surprised if he's not popping the ball around really nice again."

Key quotes to take away from that:

1. "We've made [getting the ball out quicker] a really big emphasis to him, and he just totally took it to heart."
2. "A lot of plays have the opportunity to have the ball come out quickly, you just have to choose to go there."

At times, we wonder if Carroll's obsession with limiting turnovers has a negative effect on Wilson in terms of making him gun-shy in getting the ball out. It's apparent that if Wilson even feels slightly concerned about where a defender is, he'll eat the ball and scramble around looking for something better, ostensibly as part of Carroll's mandate. However, based on what Carroll is saying, the Seahawks may feel that he's a little too gun-shy at times in terms of pulling the trigger on those quick throws. "You just have to choose to go there." So, I mean, some of this is on Wilson too (obviously).

Most of the time, Wilson's conservative nature is a great thing, because turnovers are devastating. They really, really are. But, I'd be lying if I didn't say that I often find myself getting annoyed watching this passing offense. I'm that irritating jerk that ruins the game by screaming "throw the goddamn ball!" on every play without even knowing if anyone is open or what the playcall is. While in those moments I'm obviously being irrational and unreasonable, there is a certain refreshing, satisfying feeling when Wilson takes a three- or five-step drop and guns a pass in to a receiver after hitting his back foot, even if it's not for very many yards.

If anything, it just feels nice knowing the Seahawks can run regular plays where a quarterback takes a snap and throws the ball to the receiver at the spot the receiver is meant to be. There were times early this season where it literally felt like the Seahawks could not do this.

Even a play like this one below, where Wilson makes his first read, sees it's covered, then dumps it off to his running back, is key. This is the type of routine play you see Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and all the greats making (also the non-greats -- it's Alex Smith's specialty). But, it's actually not the easiest thing to do for many quarterbacks, as read progressions take too long or as that internal clock ticks away to the point that you find yourself looking down at the pass rush.

Sometimes you have to just take what the defense is giving you, but you have to make that decision very quickly.

I love the crazy, whirling dervish Wilson that makes plays on improvisation as much as the next guy, and I won't discourage the Seahawks from accentuating those skills or relying on them at times as well, but as I've said all along: Wilson's only going to be that much more dangerous when he has the foundation to run these types of plays with consistency. When that other stuff is just a bonus? That's when you get an Aaron Rodgers caliber quarterback.

Even quick plays like this mini-bootleg where he "pops the ball around" and out can get a thrower in rhythm and give them some confidence much in the same way free throws can help a basketball player recalibrate after missing a few shots. The hardest thing to do is to come in off the bench cold and hit a three.

Matching that with the plays

What this does is it establish a rhythm for the a passer where the nerves are gone and a calmness takes over. And, I'd say, this is especially true when it comes to Russell Wilson -- that's when he enters "the zone" and just starts slangin' it. It doesn't happen every game, but there are glimpses of it that make you realize what kind of a passer Wilson can be. There are times where Wilson not only looks like the best player on the field, he looks like the best player in the NFL. I'm not saying that he is the best player in the NFL, to be clear, but what I think the Seahawks -- Darrell Bevell and Pete Carroll -- want to do is to manipulate the offense to the point where Wilson's making throws and getting completions with the goal of getting him into that zone where he looks like he's in complete control.

You saw it during the 2nd half of the Arizona game, where Wilson made throws down the field and into the endzone to put the game away. You saw it during the 2nd half of the first St. Louis game this season, where Jeff Fisher called a fake punt inside his own ten yard line rather than give the ball back to that plucky little quarterback. You saw it at times during Super Bowl XLVIII. He was zoned in, throwing p-rods over the middle of the field, moving around, throwing dimes down the sideline. You saw it during the Monday Night Football win over the Saints last year, beating cover-0 blitzes like it was nothing. The 2nd halves of the 2012 Atlanta and Washington Playoff games. The run in '12 where the Seahawks beat like five teams by 50 points. You definitely saw it Wilson's rookie year in the preseason when he won the starting job. There's a reason Wilson's name has been floated in the MVP race the past two years, even if his off-days diminish the momentum for that.

You get Wilson feeling good and in a rhythm and in the zone, then he'll just go out and make nonchalant throws like this.

Which in turn helps Seattle be better able to run plays like this.

And this.

I wouldn't say that the St. Louis game was Wilson's best performance, particularly in the first half when Seattle failed to score and he threw a terrible pick by trying to hit Paul Richardson across his body over the middle. But, Wilson turned things on in the second half, eventually finishing 17-of-25 for 239 yards and an absurd 9.56 YPA.

One thing that I noticed even before hearing the Carroll conversation with Allen was that on several snaps he got the ball out quickly and in rhythm, something that is often missing from his game as he drops back to pass. You can tell that it's an emphasis. There's a reason, and I believe it's rhythm based.

As Carroll said: "A lot of plays have the opportunity to have the ball come out quickly, you just have to choose to go there. And, he's really choosing to do that consistently. I'll be really surprised if he's not popping the ball around really nice again."

I think back to the second half of the Arizona game, Seattle was up 14-6 and starting to gain some traction on the ground with back-to-back Marshawn Lynch runs of 7 and 13 yards.  I wrote "good, now keep running it," on twitter then got all in a huffy when they they went to pass and Wilson took a sack. The next play, Wilson threw this dime to Luke Willson up the seam...

... then on the next play, he hit Paul Richardson on a "scramble rules" type of thing as Richardson came back to the ball. After those two plays, as I wrote at the time, I think Bevell could sense that Wilson was seeing things really well, and dialed up another seam shot to Willson.

Coincidentally enough, this was very similar to the throw that Wilson made to Luke Willson to win the first matchup against the Panthers.


Bottom line:

As Carroll noted, this is an emphasis, so look for quick-hitters tomorrow night as the Seahawks look to establish a rhythm for Russell. I actually think Wilson has shown he can generate a rhythm by running the ball on read-option keepers or bootlegs -- it's kind of just the fact that he's running around with the ball that gets to him that point where he's "feeling it" and then he starting doing shit like this -- but I think Seattle will try and give him a few "free throws" so he can start hitting those "threes" in rhythm.