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Reacting to Russell Wilson's Pro Football Focus grading

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Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY

Kenny has been doing an excellent job breaking down Russell Wilson's 2013 season here at Field Gulls (HEREHERE), but I have been remiss in pointing out the excellent work that Pro Football Focus's Steve Palazzalo has done with his QB in Focus articles as well. The sheer amount of interesting data PFF has collected on quarterback performance in 2013 is staggering: they've tracked data that illustrates how each player does on each down, down and distance, how they perform under center/shotgun/pistol, and how they fare vs. the blitz or against pressure.

They've tracked pass distance, pass direction, dropback depth, time to throw, how they do with play-action; they study their pass distribution, they look at how each QB does on specific routes, vs. specific defenses -- anyway, the list is absurd. It's literally overwhelming. Which is why I haven't tackled it yet.

Luckily, Palazzalo has done me a solid and put together some cliff-notes on what the data says about Russell Wilson. Make sure to head over to Steve's post for the nitty gritty and all the spreadsheets they've included (plus you should really peruse the entire QB in Focus Series, some amazing work in there) -- but I also included his notes and wanted to react to those findings.


"Second-best grade on third down at +13.1, including a +5.6 grade on 3rd-and-long."

This is actually really surprising to me, because I felt that third down was one area where Russell has room to improve on. I am guessing that this grade may take into account Wilson's ability to scramble well on third downs and pick up the key yardage, because I felt that Wilson's throws on third down were up and down all year.

Wilson has said that two of his main areas that he focuses on the most are third downs and the redzone, so these two things will always be at the front of his mind.

"Led the league with +9.9 on plays that broke out of the pocket and ranked second on designed rollouts at +4.7."

Not surprising whatsoever. Wilson is very strong on the run or on the move, even relative to the mobile quarterbacks in this league. Escapability is one of the hallmarks of his game, and the Seahawks have developed and focused on a package of scramble rules for their receivers that are meant to take some of the chaos and randomness out of these 'broken plays'.

Additionally, Wilson throws while running to his left (across his body) remarkably well, which enables the Seahawks to bootleg to the left more often than they would with most other quarterbacks. Obviously, Wilson is one of the best at throwing while rolling-out or bootlegging to the right, and his '2nd baseman's throw' has become pretty famous, at least around here.

• "Showed well at pass depths, namely 11-20 yards (+7.6), 21-30 yards (+6.6), and 31-40 yards (+3.1)."

Again, not surprising, considering deeper passing is a big part of the Seahawks' offense. Longer drops, rollouts, exploiting one-on-one matchups downfield when facing eight-man boxes. Further, Seattle likes to utilize route combinations that include, almost always, at least one deep route. This tends to open up things in the intermediate area as deep safeties are forced to backpedal.

Bottom line, Wilson's accuracy down the field is very strong.

"Threw extremely well outside the numbers, including +12.1 to the left and +10.3 to the right."

Redline, baby. Redline. This is Wilson's bread and butter, and there's nothing random about it. He has the ability to place the ball right at the sideline and over the reach of the defender, particularly if the receiver has done a good job of opening up and holding the redline (essentially, keeping their defender on their inside with a nice cushion to the sideline -- the spot where Wilson will be dropping the football into).

"Third-highest grade when pressured (+4.5) and also graded well from a clean pocket (+19.2)."

The pressure-numbers are encouraging, especially considering the sieve that was the Seahawks' offensive line last year. The clean pocket numbers are also nice to see, because it's sort of a given assumption around the league that Wilson can't throw from the pocket like a normally-sized quarterback can.

"Led the league with a +21.5 grade against the blitz, including a +14.4 grade on third down."

This is a big deal. Like, a big deal, considering one note you'll see below is that Wilson faced the second-highest percentage of blitzes in the league at 39.2%. Teams like to blitz Wilson. We'll see if they continue to do so when he continues to burn them on it.

NFL best grade per PFF against the blitz. Wow. Surprising to me, to be quite honest, but that's a great stat.

"Showed well on 7-to-8-yard drop-backs (+10.6), and drop-backs of 9 yards or longer (+6.0)."

This is not surprising, however, considering Seattle's offense really favored deeper drops by Wilson.

"Led the league with a +14.5 grade on plays lasting at least 3.6 seconds."

Again. Wilson's wheelhouse. Deeper dropbacks, bootlegs, rollouts, extended plays.

"Graded at +23.9 when throwing to wide receivers (by alignment)." (as opposed to tight ends and backs)


•  "Tied for league lead with a +6.0 grade on crossing routes, and also showed well on hitches (+5.6) and go routes (+10.7)."

Long-developing crossing routes are commonplace in the Seahawks offense, and a lot of the time are accompanied by a Wilson rollout or bootleg. The go-route thing, again, is no surprise. That's Wilson's specialty. He can place the ball on a dime deep down the sideline, and trusts his receivers to make plays on it if the ball isn't perfectly located.


• "Graded at -2.7 on throws of at least 40 yards in the air."

40+ yard throws are typically going to be pretty infrequent and usually pretty low percentage, so this doesn't really worry or surprise me too much. It's worth looking at because Wilson grades out near the bottom of the league in this category, but it's also worth noting he only attempted 12 of these such passes all year, so it's not a big part of the equation. He ended up completing two for 123 yards. Matt Ryan, Nick Foles, Jay Cutler were one-two-three in this in terms of PFF grade, which makes a lot of sense when you think about those arms, their receivers, and their offenses.

"Graded at -0.1 on throws in between the numbers."

It's been well documented that Wilson is not as great throwing to the middle of the field, and in Pete Carroll's offense, he isn't asked to do it nearly as often as to outside the numbers (this probably partly a vision thing, but it's also probably very related to Carroll's belief system on avoiding turnovers.; throwing to the sideline means that ricochets or deflected passes travel out of bounds rather than into the arms of typically single defenders).

However, keeping a poor grade by PFF in mind, Wilson's raw numbers look pretty damn good on throws over the middle: 130 for 177 (73.4%), 8.1 YPA, 1436 yards, 11 touchdowns, and four picks, and a 108 QB rating. I'm actually not certain how he graded poorly in this area with those numbers.

"Struggled in the first quarter (-9.1)."

"Can you win in the first quarter? No." Concerning though. Would think that getting off to better starts has to be a goal for 2014.

As pointed out by Stat Mode, it's definitely worth noting that Wilson did, however, have the second best grade (+14.7) in the second half of games, behind only Peyton Manning per that split; Wilson ranked 7th in the 3rd quarter (+7.7) and 6th in the 4th and overtime (+7.0).

"Posted a negative grade when pressured from a traditional rush (-4.1)."

This, as compared to how he fares against the blitz, says a few things to me: one -- the Seahawks' offensive line needs to do a better job against a vanilla four-man rush. Two, Wilson may have a habit of dropping his eyes to the oncoming rush and lose track of where he should be going with the football.

Whereas with a blitz, Wilson has the advantage of knowing his read and knowing who to throw to hot based on which player is blitzing, with a four-man rush, opponents still have seven in coverage, so things get dicier out there. Wilson prefers to step outside to evade a rush, but one area that he could improve on in 2014 is to climb the pocket and throw from there.

"Graded at only -1.0 when throwing to tight ends."

Middle of the field? Not often the first target? Interesting stat. Obviously would probably prefer that this improves in 2014.


"35.9% of drop-backs came from under center; seventh-highest in the league."

Still a traditional I-formation run team, Seattle is. Many teams eschew snaps from under center for many reasons, but with Seattle's penchant for play-action and full-back lead runs, this number will probably stay in this vicinity.

•  "Had highest percentage of designed rollouts (14.5%) and second-highest percentage of drop-backs that broke the pocket (13.5%)."


• "15.9% of attempts traveled at least 20 yards in the air; sixth-highest in the league."

Makes sense. Again, with the redline concept and the explosive pass concept heavily influencing the Seahawks' playcalling, longer passes downfield are going to be more commonplace.

"Threw 53.1% of passes outside the numbers; ninth-highest in the league."

Actually pretty surprised it's only 53%.

"Faced pressure on 43.8% of drop-backs; second-highest in the league."

Sheesh. Now, part of the issue is Wilson, who isn't necessarily known to be a "one-two-three get the ball out when you hit your back foot" type of quarterback, but the offensive line obviously had issues as well. Wilson may improve on this going forward as he's better at identifying pressure packages and knowing where to go with the ball, but the offensive line will likely improve as well.

"Faced the second-highest percentage of blitzes in the league at 39.2%."

Teams loved to blitz this guy. Because of the way he burnt them last year, I will be very interested to see if this continues.

• "Only 13.1% of drop-backs went 9 or more yards; eighth-lowest in the league."

This is surprising, actually.

• "Faced the second-highest percentage of pressures that came in two seconds or less (14.7% of drop-backs)."

This tells you that the offensive line is getting beat immediately or allowing free rushers way too often.

• "Used play action 34.1% of the time; highest in the league."

Pete Carroll, baby. Play action is king. It's really pretty awesome -- and I think this is the first time I've seen this stat -- that the Seahawks were #1 in the NFL in the use of play-action.

• Threw to slot wide receivers 26.0% of the time; above the league average of 19.7%.

Doug Baldwin was his security blanket on third downs, so this is good to see. I wonder if this number will increase in 2014 as well, with Percy Harvin seeing more snaps (hopefully).

• "Threw 43 crossing routes, 41.9% of which came off designed rollouts."

Yeah, so nearly half of the crossing routes Wilson threw to were on designed rollouts (after play-action, almost certainly).


Ok, so all in all, not a shabby season.