Legendary New York Giants head coach Bill Parcells once said, “if you have two starting quarterbacks, you have none.” But what if you have three quarterbacks?
The Seattle Seahawks opened up camp on Saturday and began the process of finding out which quarterback will be their starter between Matt Flynn, Tarvaris Jackson, and Russell Wilson. With the exception of a failed breathalyzer test from Marshawn Lynch and knee-jerk reactions over their first-round selection of Bruce Irvin, the quarterback situation has garnered most of the attention in Seattle, and for good reason. There’s talent at the position, and the coaching staff now must figure out who will lead their team going into the season.
Jackson was the starter last season, and although he wasn’t entirely poor, he failed to step up when the team needed him the most. Despite possessing a strong arm and good mobility, he made many poor decisions, particularly when he thew off his back foot, and he struggled with inaccuracy at times. Because of this, the Seahawks brought in competition to challenge Jackson for the starting job.
The question is, what exactly do the Seahawks have in their two new quarterbacks?
Flynn hasn’t changed much since coming out of LSU in 2008. Despite being selected in the 7th round, Flynn always had a lot to offer to teams even though he didn’t have an incredibly strong arm and the great size that scouts and general managers so often seek.
He still has issues throwing with velocity down the middle of the field, but his arm can be described as “good enough”, which is all that’s required in the NFL despite what some believe. He is also very smart and does a great job managing games, which may make him sound simply like a “game manager,” but that’s not the case. He’s able to do more for the offense, extending plays with his feet and displaying good pocket presence as he makes the necessary throws to continue drives. This was evident early in his week 17 start against an putrid Detroit Lions secondary.
It’s third down with six yards to go, and Flynn is in shotgun set as the fullback, John Kuhn, stands to his right and the lone tight end is flexed to his left. This down and distance seems like just another third down play, but it’s not; thrid and six (or more) are the plays which separate good quarterbacks from the average and the great from the good. We don’t know if Flynn is any of those right now, but this play could provide some insight.
Once Flynn’s back foot hit on his quick five-step drop, he felt pressure from his left, so he took subtle steps forward to buy himself time. But pressure also came from his right, forcing him out of the pocket and to his left.
After leaving the pocket, Flynn did an excellent job of keeping his eyes down the field and looking for his targets, who were working to get open. When he finally saw receiver Jordy Nelson breaking to the outside, Flynn stayed poised, squared his hips, and delivered the pass. Squaring his hips was important because if he doesn’t do that, the pass probably doesn’t end up in Nelson’s hands because his weight wasn’t transferred properly, which would have resulted in the accuracy being off.
As impressive as Flynn is, all of these traits can also be found in Wilson’s game. Wilson played at North Carolina State and Wisconsin over the past two seasons, where he learned two systems including the (modified) famous West Coast Offense that he’s going to be a part of in Seattle this season.
Wilson’s arm is considerably stronger than Flynn’s, and that was noticeable in the many of his games that I watched. Take last season’s game against Ohio State, for example.
After breaking the huddle, Wilson gets under center with 12 (1 back, 2 tight ends) personnel on the right hash. The top part of the hash is the ‘boundary’, which means it’s the short side of the field, while the bottom part is the ‘field’, also known as the wide side.
After the ball is snapped, Wilson executes a play action with running back Montee Ball and immediately looks to his left, where he has Ball running out of the backfield and his slot receiver running a corner route.
The latter is Wilson’s throw of choice, which has a high degree of difficulty because he’s near the right hash and the ball has to travel quite a bit to reach the intended target. However, this is no trouble for him, as he throws the ball despite not having the greatest footwork (he doesn’t really step into the throw).
On top of all this, he throws the ball with good placement, keeping his receiver in bounds and putting it only where he can get it.
Although he lacks ideal size–measuring in at 5’10 7/8″–that doesn’t hinder his play. On tape, he does an excellent job of moving in the pocket and identifying passing windows, which was confirmed yesterday by a “batted passes” statistic provided by Sports Illustrated’s Peter King:
Even though Wilson nearly threw 100 less passes than Andrew Luck, the statistics back up what the film shows: he just doesn’t get a lot of passes batted down. Moreover, like Flynn, Wilson does a good job of managing the game, utilizing his feet to move the chains when all options are exhausted, and he gets the ball out of his hands quickly when he sees cracks in the defense’s coverage.
Even though Wilson has a lot of talent and is said to be receiving a fair shot at winning the starting job per multiple reports, it’s unlikely he’ll be the Seahawks’ starting quarterback. Instead, he’ll probably sit as the winner of the battle between Flynn and Jackson leads the team to start the season. As the season develops, it’s possible that Wilson gets his shot at starting, and it’s also entirely possible that once he gets that shot, he never relinquishes his position.
But for now, I expect Flynn to be the Week 1 starter.