Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Film Room: 49ers Opponent Quarterbacks Part 2 - Russell Wilson

Aug 22, 2018 at 5:45 PM

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In part one of this series we looked Rams quarterback Jared Goff. Today in part two we'll look at Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has had nothing short of a remarkable career since his rookie year in 2012. That same year the Seahawks signed veteran quarterback Matt Flynn to three-year $26 million deal based on his limited tenure with the Green Bay Packers. In the final game of the Packers 2011 season, Flynn threw six touchdowns against the Lions back-ups in week 17, prompting the Seahawks to take a chance at signing him to a deal while drafting and developing Russell Wilson.

Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD TD% Int Int% Lng Y/A AY/A Y/C Y/G Rate QBR Sk Yds NY/A ANY/A Sk% 4QC GWD
2012* 24 SEA QB 3 16 16 11-5 252 393 64.1 3118 26 6.6 10 2.5 67 7.9 8.1 12.4 194.9 100 72.7 33 203 6.84 7.01 7.7 3 4
2013* 25 SEA QB 3 16 16 13-3 257 407 63.1 3357 26 6.4 9 2.2 80 8.2 8.5 13.1 209.8 101.2 66.8 44 272 6.84 7.1 9.8 3 4
2014 26 SEA QB 3 16 16 12-4 285 452 63.1 3475 20 4.4 7 1.5 80 7.7 7.9 12.2 217.2 95 71.5 42 242 6.54 6.72 8.5 1 4
2015* 27 SEA QB 3 16 16 10-6 329 483 68.1 4024 34 7 8 1.7 80 8.3 9 12.2 251.5 110.1 67.3 45 265 7.12 7.73 8.5 2 2
2016 28 SEA QB 3 16 16 10-5-1 353 546 64.7 4219 21 3.8 11 2 59 7.7 7.6 12 263.7 92.6 56.8 41 293 6.69 6.56 7 4 3
2017* 29 SEA QB 3 16 16 9-7 339 553 61.3 3983 34 6.1 11 2 74 7.2 7.5 11.7 248.9 95.4 58.1 43 322 6.14 6.45 7.2 2 2
Career 96 96 65-30-1 1815 2834 64 22176 161 5.7 56 2 80 7.8 8.1 12.2 231 98.8 248 1597 6.68 6.9 8 15 19
Statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference

As the weeks and months went on during OTAs, minicamp, and training camp, Wilson continued to outperform Flynn so that by week three of the preseason, head coach Pete Carroll named him the starter for what is essentially viewed as the final dress rehearsal for week one of the regular season. Wilson went 13-18, 185 yards, two touchdowns, and added another 58 yards rushing in that performance against the Chiefs. After that start, Carroll named him the week one starter and accepted the fact that Wilson was the better quarterback, telling ESPN that:

"He is so prepared. He doesn't seem like a first-year player. He seems like he's been around. He gets it, he understands and he is a tremendous leader in that way. He doesn't do anything but the right thing in all of his work and his preparation and his competitiveness has been demonstrated again."

Carroll and the Seahawks would not look back with regret on that decision. In Wilson's rookie year, he led the Seahawks to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth, beating several eventual playoff teams that season, including the 49ers, Packers, and Patriots. They would go on to beat the Redskins in the wild card round but fell a field goal short to the Falcons in the divisional round. Things would seemingly go up from there as they won the Super Bowl over the Denver Broncos the next season. The next year they lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl, then lost the next two divisional round games to the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons, respectively, followed by a 2017 season where they missed the playoffs despite a winning record at 9-7.

The standard narrative around the Seahawks the last couple of years is that the primary problems lay with the offensive line and not being able to protect Wilson. But the last two seasons have seen several key injuries to players such as Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, and Cliff Avril on the once highly-touted defense. Sherman is gone, Michael Bennett was traded, and Earl Thomas still hasn't ended his hold out as of this writing. The future is anything but promising for a team that has shed its big name players for a younger roster.

This season they are without former offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who was replaced by Brian Schottenheimer (formerly of the Rams, University of Georgia, and NY Jets) and more than anything it will hinge on Wilson's ability to carry a young roster through a challenging NFL and NFC West schedule in a new offense (for a more detailed breakdown of the new Seahawks offense, see this excellent piece by Matty F. Brown at Field Gulls). To do that, he (and the team) must improve in several areas as last season Wilson struggled throwing deep passes and missed out on several big plays by running himself into sacks by not recognizing his reads. However, the duality of Russell Wilson is that he is skilled and adept at turning something negative into something positive and still has an elite arm to be able to make plays most quarterbacks cannot.

Before we get into the bad and ugly of Wilson, let's look at the good.


What makes Wilson so dangerous is his ability to work outside the structure of the play to turn nothing into something. 49ers fans are all too familiar with his ability to escape the pocket on a scramble drill and find a wide open receiver. For instance:

In fact, this is Wilson's primary skill next to his elite level arm talent. He's never been a true pocket passing quarterback and doesn't see the field as well as some of the top quarterbacks. But for Wilson, it's worked anyway and not many teams have been able to contain his athleticism when the pocket collapses. Wilson is still in the top 10 of quarterbacks in the NFL currently, maybe top five.

Against Green Bay in week one last season, Wilson drops back but doesn't have time to settle in the pocket and throw due to the time it took for the receivers' routes to develop beyond the first down marker. Wilson escapes to his left to avoid the rush and against his body, and rifles a pass on the sideline to receiver Paul Richardson (no. 10), who hauls the pass in for a catch. The ability to get that throw off while running to the left as a right-arm thrower takes an elite arm that not many quarterbacks possess.

Similar to the play against the Packers above, Wilson again escapes to his left on a third and nine against the Colts. The pocket collapses to Wilson's left thanks to the pass rush of Colts linebacker Jabaal Sheard (no. 93) against the left guard and left tackle combo of Luke Joeckel (no. 78) and Rees Odhiambo (no. 70). The Seahawks receivers are all running routes deeper past the sticks, causing the play to take longer to develop. Wilson escapes Sheard's pressure to his left as Tyler Lockett breaks out and up down the sideline. He sees Wilson scramble and breaks back inside to give him a target. Wilson launches an accurate pass 45 yards in the air running to his left at a target that is breaking back toward the middle of the field for a 41-yard completion.


The one area in which Wilson struggled was deep passing. According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson ranked 28th in deep passing accuracy. Before 2017, he finished outside the top 10 in deep passing accuracy just once. For now this only appears to be an anomaly in his career and shouldn't be too concerning given the fact that he's been relatively consistent and in the top 10 for a number of seasons.

However, I qualify it as bad because he missed several opportunities to make big plays that didn't necessarily cost his team but it was a repeated pattern of consistent struggles.

From an empty set at mid field against the Rams, Wilson's pre-snap read shows the man coverage across with a deep safety, or cover one look. The free safety is cheated slightly toward the middle of the field, indicating to Wilson that he should work the two-receiver side running the scissors concept.

Receiver Doug Baldwin releases off the line from the slot position and immediately runs right by the dime defender as the corner funnels inside with the outside receiver. The natural rub this creates also aids in Baldwin's ability to get open down field.

Wilson attempts to look off the safety but as soon as he looks at Baldwin, safety Larmarcus Joyner (no. 20) makes a break for the ball as Wilson releases. All Wilson has to do is lead Baldwin to the sideline as he's open outside the numbers.

Instead, Wilson's pass is too far inside and Baldwin never even has a chance to make a play on it. Joyner nearly picks it off as a result. Wilson needed to lead Baldwin away from the safety.

In a play similar to the last one, the Seahawks are on the road against the Giants and facing down another cover one coverage shell.

They're running a simple post-out route combo with Baldwin as the outside receiver running a deep post.

At the snap, Baldwin runs right by the squatting corner Eli Apple (no. 24) who passes off Baldwin to safety Landon Collins (no.21) as he sits on the deep out route. Wilson makes the right read as he sees Collins take a flatter angle also toward the deep out route and Wilson gets off the pass to Baldwin.

Unfortunately, Wilson throws a half second too early and completely overshoots Baldwin. Baldwin had not even cleared the safety before Wilson threw it and as a result completely overshoots a potential touchdown.

Lastly, against the 49ers in week 12, Wilson and the Seahawks faced a first and 10 from near mid field on the first play of the game.

The Seahawks are running a "flat-7" concept to the right and the "smash" concept to the left off of play action. Flat-7 and smash are similar in that the inside receiver runs the corner or "7" route and the outside receiver on flat-7 runs more of a flat route out of the backfield while the outside receiver on smash runs a curl route. Both are effectively in the flat.

As Wilson rolls out to the left, tight end Luke Willson (no. 82) is open heading out to the flat as linebacker Reuben Foster slips and falls after biting hard on the run fake. It's a play Wilson has made a 100 times.

Instead, Wilson comes back to the right to look for Jimmy Graham running the corner route from an inline tight end spot. Running back J.D. McKissic (no. 30) sneaks out into the right flat after the play action and is open on the sideline. If Wilson lets it go now to Graham, he's likely got an easy touchdown if he chooses not to throw to the flat.

Instead, Wilson stays locked on Graham and tries to fit a pass into Graham as safety Eric Reid (no. 35) undercuts the route and the pass for the interception. Wilson is still moving in the pocket as he throws instead of setting his base and launching it over Reid. Instead, the momentum takes any velocity off the pass he would have had had he readied himself to throw sooner.


Throughout his six years as a starter, Wilson has never been a quarterback who excels in clean pockets and more often than not he's at his best when he has to get rid of the ball quickly based on his pre-snap read or when he can hold onto it and extend plays outside their structure. When he operates within the pocket though, he often runs himself into pressure, taking avoidable sacks.

Wilson was sacked 41 times last season, 14 of which were his fault where he either ran into pressure or didn't make a quick enough read to get the ball out, according to PreSnap Reads Cian Fahey's Quarterback Catalog. There were still a handful of other sacks outside that metric where Wilson should have thrown the ball away but instead tried to keep the play alive by scrambling. The Seahawks offensive line is undeniably bad, but it was not as bad as its reputation suggests last season.

Against the Colts, The Seahawks line up for a 3rd down conversion at their five yard line. They spread the Colts out with five wide, motioning the running back out to the three receiver side, giving them four on one side. The play call is the "spot concept", a half-field triangle read with a flat route, a curl or spot route, and a deep corner route on the same side of the field.

At the snap, Wilson only takes a three-step drop, suggesting that his reads are the flat to curl combination with the corner being the tertiary read. At the top of his drop, he has to make a quick decision and throw it if it's open, especially since he's in the end zone.

He hesitates and pulls it down and looks back across the field. Colts defensive back Nate Hairston (no. 27) comes on a blitz from the nickelback spot over the slot as Wilson looks to throw over the middle. However, he is not able to get the pass off as Hairston arrives to trip him up for a safety in the end zone.

Later in the season against the Texans, in a play that didn't actually hurt them, Wilson was hit again for a strip sack due to his slow processing in the pocket and not throwing as his receivers come open. However, he fumbled the ball 20 yards downfield and ended up with a first down anyways. It didn't hurt them, but it highlights the struggles he faced in the pocket.

The Seahawks are looking to stretch the field on third down again with a modified "drive concept" route combo with a backside wheel route with the 2x2 bunch running the drive combo.

Wilson takes the snap and the drive route (in green) comes open underneath when he sets his feet to throw. Instead, he looks off that route for the wheel route to come open and as he sets to throw, Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney comes around the edge for the strip sack.

But putting all the blame on Wilson would be ignoring the obvious elephant in the room: the offensive line. Wilson could've done more to mitigate disaster on certain plays like the ones above but there were numerous instances of linemen getting beat at the snap and giving Wilson no chance to do anything.

The biggest culprit for the lack of success on the Seattle offensive line was left tackle Rees Odhiambo (no. 70). Odhiambo graded 116th out of 124 offensive tackles receiving grades per PFF's grading last season. He gave up two sacks, six hits, 27 hurries, and 35 total pressures from the left tackle spot.

Much like the toreros of the Spanish bullfighting culture, on the plays above, he practically lets the pass rusher run right around him like a bull. Wilson has no chance to escape or make anything happen outside the pocket.

And sometimes, former offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell (who isn't coaching anywhere in 2018), couldn't even scheme his receivers open to give Wilson an opportunity to convert third downs into first downs.

Running an all-curls concept third and long against the Cardinals, Wilson drops back to pass, and at the top of his drop no one is open and there is no opportunity to get rid of the ball as the Cardinals pass rush gets to him before he can make anything happen.

Taken altogether, Wilson's season was not that bad. While he wasn't quite the MVP candidate the NFL media saw, he certainly wasn't the only reason for the Seahawks missing the playoffs or even the primary reason. In fact, I would contend that had they not had Wilson last season or lost him for a period of time, they would not have finished 9-7. Wilson had his share of faults, but they were not the biggest contributing factors to their lack of success. Instead, they asked Wilson to shoulder too much of the burden for carrying the team. And how could they not, he's one of the league's best quarterbacks. They made no significant improvements on the offensive line despite years of pouring resources and draft picks into it, and they have had no viable running game since letting Marshawn Lynch go. Last season, Wilson was their leading rusher with 500+ yards rushing and three of their four rushing touchdowns. A new look offense, led by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, aims to get back to the basics, something that Matty Brown at Field Gulls recently said Darrell Bevel lost sight of in his breakdown of the Seahawks offense thus far. And offensive line coach Mike Solari should improve a bottom tier offensive line to protect the quarterback. One thing is for certain, no one should be counting the Seahawks out as long as Wilson is at the helm.

Part 1 on Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff.

All gifs courtesy of the NFL.

All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted..
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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