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The term “mobile quarterback” or “read-option quarterback” or “running quarterback” previously came with a stereotype, one that’s only just recently started to get smashed into several pieces, though it still lingers.
So many moons ago there was Bobby Douglas, who built the stereotype I speak of in 1972, when he rushed for 968 yards while completing only 37.9 percent of his passes. Decades later the mold began to crack with Randall Cunningham, who held the all-time quarterback rushing yards record until it was later broken by Michael Vick, who also holds the single-season record and remains the only quarterback to ever run for over 1,000 yards in a season.
But even with Vick, the stigma of being the fast and elusive quarterback who can easily be defended by making him become a more standard quarterback still existed because of the throws he often sprayed. Inaccuracy is the running thrower’s downfall, a fact of life which was furthered by a man named Tebow.
We live in a new age, though, one in which a select few pioneering quarterbacks can both run and throw, and do both well as long as their knee ligaments aren’t still in the healing process (get well soon. Robert Griffin III). Chief among them is Russell Wilson.
Wilson is now preparing for a divisional round playoff game against the New Orleans Saints, and we can look back to his Week 13 game against those same Saints to see Wilson at his best and most slippery. While leading his Seahawks to a 34-7 win — one of the most lopsided losses in Saints history (Wilson accounted for 357 total yards (310 passing, and 47 running) while throwing three touchdown passes and completing 73.3 percent of his passes.
One of those touchdowns wasn’t at all just your normal, chillin’ toss.It went to Doug Baldwin on a play near the goal-line when Wilson sprinted right, saw his first read was covered, and then turned to the opposite side of the field to complete an off-balance strike to a wide open receiver. Why was he wide open? Because who the hell is able to go against their own momentum to throw across their body, and to the back corner of the end zone like that? Russell Wilson.
Repeatedly in his second season we’ve seen that sort of off-balance magician work, the kind of pass that leads to an insta-cringe the second it’s released, and then jubilation upon the result. When he’s operating at his highest level (which has been often this year), that’s the adjustment we have to make with Wilson. His creativity leads to opportunities that others wouldn’t even consider.
Much like Colin Kaepernick, who demonstrated similar brilliance Sunday night, Wilson is the ideal read-option quarterback, as that combination of creativity while on the run and, well, running has led to frequent chunks. I often reference chunk plays, and so do coaches, because they’re pretty important for the most obvious yet vital reason ever: moving the ball and your offense down the field while covering vast stretches of space in only a few plays is a very good thing.
In total this year Wilson accounted for 53 plays of 20 yards or more, four of which came on the ground. Those bursts are often the product of defenses having to make a read-option decision which isn’t at all fun: commit to Wilson, or Marshawn Lynch. What’s even more impressive is that unlike, say, Vick before him (who’s had only one season as a starter with a completion percentage over 60.0), he did that running while staying accurate (63.1 completion percentage), and more importantly, staying accurate on longer passes with a higher degree of difficulty (his 8.2 YPA was seventh among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts).
Some other digits from Wilson’s impressive stretches during the 2013 regular season:
- While averaging 25.4 attempts per game, he had five games when his YPA went above 9.0
- He had six games with a completion percentage above 70.0, including four straight between weeks 9 and 13
- Oh, and about sizzling stretches: during a seven-game run between weeks 6 and 13, Wilson threw just two interceptions and 14 touchdowns (he finished with 25 TDs in total, and just nine picks).
In only two seasons a dynamic quarterback who fell to the third round in the spring of 2012 due to concerns about his height has been a Pro Bowler twice (first as an alternate last year). And for the second time in two years, he’ll quarterback an offense in an divisional round playoff game.
Maybe this year he’ll do the same a week from now in the NFC Championship. Or three weeks from now in the Super Bowl.
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