First, the numbers:
Outside of not throwing as much of some of the other QBs (which make sense for a power running team), Wilson was slightly above average in almost every category. His gross yards/attempt was second in this group, he has an adequate completion %, and doesn't throw very many picks.
The problem? He takes a ton of sacks. Some of this is because his offensive line has struggled with injuries, though they are getting guys back for the Super Bowl. Part of it is because he tries like made to keep plays alive as long as possible. The net effect is that his adjusted yards/attempt is only 7.10, third behind Nick Foles and Drew Brees. One of those guys had career year and the other is one of the top 5 QBs in the game. With his absurdly low salary and stats the belie his years, Russell can legitimately stake a claim among that top 5 conversation.
Let's substantiate the stats with some tape! The tape I'll use is from the Seahawk's Week 14 loss to the 49ers in Candlestick. I actually prepared this for the NFC Championship but was unable to cut all the film in time. I thought about using film from that game instead, but decided not to because the Seattle passing game was out of sorts that whole game and Russell only made 2-3 significant throws. Also, I felt like his performance wasn't all that different from what happened in this game.
As always, I watched every pass multiple times but will only post stills from the more interesting ones:
Jump to the Conclusion
1. The first play of the game is a play-action pass that freezes the linebackers and opens a throwing lane to comeback route. Pete Carroll frequently calls play-action as his first play - the defense is usually playing the run and it allows his QB to build confidence and rhythm through an easy completion. His USC teams would frequently open with play-action bootlegs with the tight end as the target, one of the easiest throws in football. Fast forward to the NFC Championship game - the first play was also a P/A boot that ended in disaster as Aldon Smith read pass the whole way and strip-sacked Wilson. But I digress.
2. The Seahawks use a pick route (yellow circle) to free the seam and a crosser over the middle, but the 49ers are having none of it.
The 49ers reached 1st and 10 at the Seahawks' 19 with under a minute left. Down by 6, they had to try for the end zone. But if the margin was 2? They run Frank Gore a few times, kick the game-winning field goal, and the Seahawks go to the Pro Bowl. This is a silly conjecture, but it points out the very real consequences of ball insecurity - it makes this great Seahawks team slave to the whims of a lucky (or unlucky bounce).
3. Aldon again gets a great jump. Both receivers in the flats are open but Smith closes the first throwing lane on the left side.
4. Quick pass complete to RB in the flat, minimal gain.
5. Russell does a great job selling play fakes:
He extends the ball longer than most young QBs; this makes the fake more convincing but leaves him turned away from the field for longer. He's able to do this because he knows he can progress quickly through reads after the fake.
6. Aldon Smith better be paying rent; he's living in the backfield.
7. Starts off facing right, works back to the middle.
8. The 49ers use a zone blitz to get 5 rushers to the right side of the offense line, dropping Aldon Smith into coverage. They have man coverage on the three receivers with a safety on each side.
Verticals clear the man coverage, leaving Aldon Smith on a tight-end crossing the field.
Russell stays calm, keeps his feet aligned to the throw, and hits his target. Great protection, too, which was not usually the case this afternoon.
10. Sacked on 3rd and 15; 49ers covered deep routes well and 6 Seattle blockers couldn't handle 4 rushers.
11. Fantastic throw: Russell start on his left and works right. It's harder going right because the QB often has to shuffle both feet around. The image quality is horrible but believe me when I say his footwork is correct.
12. Faked the inside zone handoff, working left. Aldon is flying of the edge, forcing Russell right.
The throw was on target but good coverage makes it incomplete.
13. Chased from the pocket again, Russell does a better job keeping the ball higher. Good footwork = good pass.
14: After a steady diet of runs, a crossing route over the middle.
15. Aldon again flies around the edge. Seattle are counting their lucky stars Von Miller is out of the Super Bowl.
This shot shows how Russell hits his man in stride making the catch easy and allowing him to avoid the next tackler and score from 20 yards out.
16. Checkdown, linebacker tipped it away.
17. The 49ers send 5. Given how poorly the Seattle line has played, this can't end well, right?
18. Russell again shows off his ability to move his feet with his eyes. His first read is on the right side.
19. This play seems simple: a 3 yard out to the left sideline on 3rd down and 3, an easy conversion to keep the drive alive. The 49ers aren't going to make it that simple though: notice how both defenders are in neutral stances and have their eyes glued on Wilson. This tips Russell that they are in zone coverage and will break quickly on a short pass, the result likely a batted ball or even an interception.
20. Short curl, complete.
21. Flushed from the pocket yet again, buys time by rolling right and throws a strike.
22. Pocket collapses again, Russell runs forward for minimal gain.
23. Bubble screen. Nice play call to get the ball in space with blockers on a side where the closest defender is 10 yards away.
24. Easy completion to the tight end in the flat.
25. Man the Seattle tackles are having a rough game. I saw only some of the all-22 film, but the receivers seem like they had trouble getting open quickly, necessitating some longer drops.
Great job reading the linebacker. What is with the guy (yellow circle) Tebowing?
26. This was Russell's only "bad" pass. The Seahawks got great field position after a big punt return. This year, the 49ers coverage teams were frequently unable to get downfield fast enough to cover the punts.
27. The last meaningful pass. The 49ers come with a zone blitz; Russell correctly reads which dropping defender is not a cover guy (red circle) and attacks him.
Russell's last throw was a desperation pass when the game's outcome was already decided.
First, some context:
Before we get to strengths and weaknesses, there's one thing that we didn't looked at: Russell Wilson, run threat. The 49ers consistently had guys assigned to spy Wilson and were preoccupied with him on run fakes like this:
Look how out of position Aldon Smith is because he has to honor the Wilson fake.
The Seahawks looked content to led Russell hand off and save his legs (and hits) for later. On this inside zone handoff, the Seahawks actually have numbers on the weak side, but Wilson hands the ball off. My guess is that these aren't truly "read" plays in that the QB doesn't have the freedom to pull the ball and run. I expected to see more true reads in the NFC Championship, but can't recall Russell breaking any huge runs in those situations. Something to keep an eye on for the Super Bowl where the Seattle coaches will presumably use every tactic they can muster.
Russel's line was truly offensive in this game. 49ers rushers were beating them on bull rushes, speed rushes, twists and stunts - even when San Francisco sent only two men at Wilson, those two were able to disrupt plays. During the second half of the NFC Championship, when it became apparent that the 49ers defensive line was dominating yet again, Seattle went with 6 linemen in a desperate effort to run the ball, and that turned out to be very effective. Denver is missing their best pass rusher for the Super Bowl, but Seattle's line has also gone through a few different starters. The line must to hold better than this for Wilson to have much success this Sunday.
I love Doug Baldwin. He works hards, runs good routes, and has steady hands. He is emblematic of a receiving core that maximizes their talent. Problem is they were in invisible in this game and for much of the NFC title game. There were some big passing plays mixed in, but I think Seattle will need some more consistency from this bunch, especially on 3rd down. Doug Baldwin ranked 2nd in Football Outsiders' regular season WR DVOA and Golden Tate ranked 19th; now they need to play like it.
Back to Wilson:
- Reads. It is unfair when people label Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick as one-read QBs. It's impossible to succeed in the NFL without the ability to make depth or left/right reads. But Wilson is clearly one step ahead of those guys in terms of how fast he makes his reads, recognizes blitzes, identifies weak defenders, and moves from one side of the field to the other. I wouldn't be surprised to see Seattle give him more freedom at the line of scrimmage next year.
- Footwork and mechanics. I didn't see one case where his footwork was egregiously off. Despite constant harassment by rushers, Wilson stepped up for each throw and delivered accurately.
- Throwing on the move. Colin Kaepernick and RG3 may be more exciting in space and Cam Newton is probably the best short-yardage QB in the league. But none of the other young signal callers is as good a quarterback outside the pocket as Russell Wilson. In fact, I'll take it a step further: I think when the pocket breaks down and the QB is forced to run, Russell Wilson is the best QB in the league.
- Stays away from trouble. Russell just doesn't make dumb mistakes. He doesn't try to manufacture things when they aren't there. He understands his limitations as a thrower and for the most part, doesn't try to fit the ball into a place it doesn't belong.
- Cool under pressure. The 49ers were very effective at getting to Russell, but late in the game, Wilson maintained confidence in his line and RBs to protect him.
- Ball security. Russell generally does a good job holding the ball high in a throwing stance once he escapes the pocket. But sometimes when he's trying to escape, the ball gets away from his body.
- Chemistry with receivers. This is really a nit. The 49ers made some nice plays on the ball in this game, and I think a little more experience playing together will help both Russell and the WRs learn how to shield the ball and complete a few of those 50/50 plays.
- Fight another day. I love how Russell fights every play and tries so hard to keep each play alive. It's hard to tell him to stop doing that. But as he matures, he needs to learn that sometimes it's okay to throw the ball away. He only took two sacks in this game (including the strip), but a 9.8% sack rate is not sustainable. A few checkdowns here or there keeps the defense honest and keeps the QB healthy.
That's it for weaknesses. I really can't say that Wilson did much wrong against one of the league's fiercest defenses playing in their house. Wilson is a well-coached, smart, exciting, and fundamentally sound player that can lead his team to a win. What else can you ask from a franchise QB? He's more consistent than Colin, Cam, and Robert. He's more athletic and makes better organic reads than Nick Foles. He makes more big plays than Andrew Luck. You hear all the time how some of those guys have higher "ceilings" than Russell. But you know what? Russell is the best young quarterback in the league, RIGHT NOW. I'm not saying one of the others doesn't eventually surpass him. But after seeing how hard he works, feeling the charisma he brings to the huddle, and witnessing his amazing results, are you really willing to bet against him?
#YMTC #YouMakeTheCalls #QBCorner
#YMTC #YouMakeTheCalls #QBCorner