We're now exactly two months from the Seahawks' September 13th opener vs. the Rams, and it's about that time in the offseason where we stop messing around with draft and roster talk and start talking about real, actual football again. It's time to turn on the tape.
My plan over the next couple weeks is to watch the Seahawks' final six regular season games of 2014, all of which were wins that followed Seattle's now-famous closed-door meeting. That huddle-up with Pete Carroll somehow got the leaders of the team all back onto the same page and into championship caliber play again, and they never looked back.
The first game after the loss in Kansas City was a tough inter-division rivalry game against the Cardinals, and the Seahawks won it with a very Seahawky-style score of 19-3. They stifled Arizona's offense all the way through, while grabbing four field goals to build their lead before capping it off with Cooper Helfet's run-and-dive touchdown late in the game. I watched this game with no particular focus on anything, but the main goal was and will be to look at football concepts from a teaching/learning point of view.
There were three plays the Russell Wilson made in the first half that I thought were worth bringing up. Wilson has been in the media a lot lately, obviously, first and foremost, because of his contract, but secondary to that, there's been a lot of talk about his pocket play. I didn't go in with the goal in mind to show show Russell Wilson highlights, but these three plays do demonstrate his command of the pocket and his ability to read defenses from there.
The tactical dump-off
This type of play is going to be a huge part of the Seahawks' repertoire in 2015, mark my words.
Watching Jimmy Graham tape from New Orleans, a big chunk of his catches come from the slot, where he runs simple hitch routes over the middle, ostensibly with the order to "sit down and provide a big target for your quarterback." Graham has a great feel for finding the soft spot in the defense, and he does an excellent job of sealing off defenders even if they're close enough to contest the pass. This will be a big deal with the Seahawks' heavy use of play action as well, and as linebackers suck up to the line to stop the Beast, Graham will be an intermediate target in the middle of the field that Russell Wilson hasn't really had in three years in the pros.
This play below demonstrates Wilson's ability to diagnose the defensive coverage and adjust from there. This play is exceedingly simple and really doesn't look like much, but it's important for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it's Wilson calmly making the throw to defeat a five-man zone blitz by Arizona -- not an easy task against a team that is great at disguising coverages and is known to throw literally every combination of pressure in their book at you in a given game. This isn't Wilson watching tape and knowing where to go with the ball based on a pre-determined plan, it's Wilson reacting in real-time to what the Cardinals are doing.
As Larry Foote creeps up to the line prior to the snap, Wilson has to calibrate where pressure will come from and which of his routes will be open once the ball is snapped. A Foote blitz means that Doug Baldwin's route up the seam might be the open route, depending on the actions of the deep safety. But, as Foote drops into a zone coverage at the snap (his goal is to take away a slant route to the slot receiver) and pressure comes from the left, Wilson knows that his dump-off route right over the middle to Tony Moeaki should be the to go-to in this case.
He calmly dumps it to him, and the result of the play is an easy 19-yard gain. Not all dump-offs are necessarily bad.
Wilson takes a big hit right after making the throw too.
This is just one example, but it's clear that Wilson is reading the defense, and checking to his open man based on the coverage. With three-on-two protection on the left side, he knows that he has to get rid of the ball quickly, and does so.
Many young quarterbacks, especially in the face of a blitz, just throw the ball to their pre-determined 'first read,' but Wilson demonstrated poise and understanding of his routes. Each route in any particular play has a role and a design, and Wilson's job is to know where each of his receivers will be on the field almost instinctually, because he has to run through his options in a split second and make a decision on where to throw the ball.
For the most part, I think that Wilson does a good job of manipulating defenders with his eyes and helmet. He'll stare down a route every now and again and this can get him into trouble, but for the most part, he plays with a "calm helmet" (that's a Greg Cosell term), meaning his movements are smooth and as he goes into his drop, he doesn't affect frenetic body language.
This play is a great example of that.
The Seahawks run play-action from an unbalanced set to the left. It's a perfect play-call against a six-man Arizona blitz, because Seattle's in max-protect with eight in the box to block for Wilson. This was going to be a deep-shot attempt out of the huddle, pure and simple (and look at the two receivers on the field -- Ricardo Lockette and Paul Richardson). Seattle wants to go for the gusto on this play.
Wilson's boot after his play-fake to Marshawn Lynch is to the right, and as he sets to throw, his eyes and helmet are all pointed to the "reverse" throwback to the left, a deep post to speedster Paul Richardson. This is a common thing in the Seahawks' passing game, and I'm sure safety Rashad Johnson had game-tape study in mind when he turns around to pursue the pass back to the left.
The key, though, is that instead of just throwing to a pre-determined route, Wilson reads that mistake by Johnson and makes him pay for it.
Johnson initially carries Lockette up the field but then gets duped into thinking that Wilson's making a throw back to the left. It's not just Wilson's head that sells the fake, either, it's his feet and shoulders. All three point to a deep throw to the left.
Once Wilson sees that his "look-off" has been hilariously effective, he makes a weird across-his-body throw to Lockette, who has gotten a ton of separation from Patrick Peterson, and the result is an enormous gain.
Again, this is savvy manipulation of the defense by Wilson, who is reading what they had presented and delivers a throw based on their actions. It's about knowing who he has to effect, and knowing where to go with the ball once he's done that. In this case, Lockette is absurdly wide open, but not by accident. It's Wilson's doing.
As stated above, it's not just a quarterback's eyes and helmet that can manipulate a defense. Subtle shoulder fakes -- different than full-on pump fakes -- can be enough to get a defense on their toes (or heels). Here's a good example of this.
Marshawn Lynch motions to the wing to line up in a stacked formation behind Jermaine Kearse. This draws an outside linebacker into the flats. The cornerback that's lined up over Kearse signals something about the coverage to the linebacker, and quickly the ball is snapped.
Wilson's shoulder fake to Lynch gets the outside linebacker onto his toes and leaning forward. This means that he's not dropping back into a passing lane to take away the route that Kearse will eventually run. The mere threat of a screen play to Lynch clears that intermediate zone of defenders. This is a nice design.
Kearse's route is pretty brilliant as well. He fakes a stalk-block for Lynch, which gets the defender on his heels and thinking the ball is going to Lynch, but Kearse quickly peels off from that and runs a quick seam-route up the numbers. Wilson throws a strike.
Additionally, the tight end route up the middle keeps the deep middle safety occupied long enough for Kearse's route to become viable. If that deep safety breaks on Kearse's route early, and Wilson sees it in time, that deep throw over the top to Luke Willson is a touchdown. He's matched up against a far slower linebacker in trailing coverage. Cool play.