There’s been a lot of criticism of Russell Wilson as of late. It’s been about how he didn’t finish the regular season with remarkable statistics, or how he’s missed throws he should be completing. He has been a bit inconsistent at times, leaving throws on the field in favor of holding the ball and trying to make a bigger play, but he’s played fairly well in the playoffs. In the games against the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers, two games which have stark contrasts in raw statistics, he played well, making big plays when his team needed them and keeping drives alive.
If he continues to do what he did in those two games, there’s a strong chance the Seattle Seahawks will win the Super Bowl. What the Seahawks need from Wilson is not necessarily to win the game — they can do that with their hogs up front — but to avoid making critical mistakes like interceptions. Turnovers are deflating for a team, especially if they become quick touchdowns. Mike Shanahan once said throwing a pick-six was the most devastating thing mentally for his quarterbacks. That goes for not only quarterbacks, but the entire team as well. It puts more stress on the shoulders of every player, and suddenly they try harder to make bigger plays, usually leading to bigger mistakes more than anything else.
In the playoffs, Wilson has zero interceptions and one fumble lost. He also has quite a few big plays under his belt, making seam and rail shots downfield as well as mesmerizing scramble drills that inexplicably lead to massive daggers downfield. He’ll miss routine throws, however, which can make you shake your head because sometimes it’s a matter of just getting him to throw the damn ball. Then he’ll make the awfully difficult throw and you’ll smile. It’s a trade-off, a concept that the Seahawks seem to deal in frequently (see the defense’s willingness to take penalties in favor of physicality). That concept is very well the kind that could win the Super Bowl because let’s face it: the Seahawks need a big passing play from Wilson at some point, even if it is to merely flex their muscles and show the Denver Broncos that they too can pass at will.
In the Divisional Round against the Saints, Wilson completed half his passes, a startlingly low statistic for a Super Bowl quarterback. Perhaps even worse was his average of 5.7 yards per attempt, another low number. But he didn’t play as bad as those numbers indicate, and he kept his team alive in many instances by way of his feet. He made big plays when his offense needed them, including a beautiful rail shot to wide receiver Doug Baldwin.
The shot came in the fourth quarter with three-and-a-half minutes left. Wilson was in shotgun when the ball was placed on the right hash of the 45-yard line. Twelve personnel was aligned to his right, with two tight ends and one running back filling out the end of the formation. Additionally, two receivers were off to his far left. When the play began, they cross released, with the outside receiver running across first in a design to slow or pick the defensive back covering the slot receiver, Baldwin.
At the top of his five-step drop, Wilson’s wrist came forward and the ball flew off his five fingers at the same time Baldwin ran underneath the outside receiver’s route and crossed over the 49-yard line. The cross release helped him get a step on the defender covering him and now it was vital that he maintained discipline down the sideline, where he would need to leave enough room for Wilson to place the ball on a back shoulder throw.
As Baldwin ran, he left plenty of room, moving nearly in between the 40-yard number and the sideline. The ball arched through the air and landed behind him and above his head. Wilson put it in a perfect place, where the defender could only defend it by playing through the receiver’s hands — a difficult technique to perform — and as a result, Baldwin was able to bring down the ball for 24 yards.
Throws from the pocket like those are always needed because that’s ultimately where the game is played. But there’s also room for broken plays when a quarterback has to improvise. This is an underrated trait at the position, and it’s a reason why Wilson can be very good, as seen in the championship round against the 49ers when he completed 64 percent of his passes and kept many plays alive.
His finest scramble play may have come when he netted the offense a 51-yard gain after a hellacious run. The Seahawks were on their own 38 on second-and-seven in the second quarter when Wilson lined up in a shotgun set. He was the only player in the backfield on an Empty formation that saw a Trips set (three pass catchers) to his right and a Twin set (two pass catchers) to his left.
After a quick motion by outside receiver Baldwin to the Trips side, Wilson caught the snap and rolled to his right. He looked for a quick throw to create a manageable third down but found no one open. His best option was the back-side receiver coming into his vision, but that required a throw across his body, a risky proposition. After rolling out past the 30-yard number, Wilson essentially hit a dead end and looked back across the field, but again found no one open. He was running out of time when the 49ers’ pass-rush suddenly started to close in on him. One linebacker nearly sacked him, but fortunately missed; Wilson was still alive and scrambling. He ran back to the near hash, abruptly turned his body, and quickly set his feet to throw downfield to Baldwin, who was working back to the middle after running a corner route. Baldwin found an opening between the two deep safeties and caught the pass inside the 20-yard line.
The scramble drill above was perhaps the finest illustration of Wilson’s capability on a broken play. He makes plays similar to the above example frequently, although not all see him scrambling for so long or such a long throw, and that’s one of the reasons why he’s so effective as a passer even in times when some think he’s struggling. If he continues to make deep throws within the pocket and outside of it, it’s hard to argue against him regardless of what the raw data shows. He’s playing better than the stat sheet says, anyway.
It may not always be pretty, but Wilson gets the job done.