In 2016 and 2017, nobody had fun watching the Seattle Seahawks; it was a tumultuous duo of seasons chock-full of injuries and negative one-yard rushes. The frequently dreadful trudges led many to expect the worst, after having witnessed the best for oh so long. Seattle’s quarterback would flash consistently and often kept the team in games, but both the universe and Tom Cable refused to allow the signal-caller to truly flourish.
Well, 2018 is a different year and I am here to make a proclamation, friends.
Russell Wilson is good again.
Now let me clarify, folks. It’s not like Russ hasn’t been good over the last couple of seasons. He definitely has been! But there had been some pretty bad tendencies developing for some time, stemming from a pair of wounds sustained in Weeks 1 and 3 of 2016; an ankle injury that should’ve sidelined Wilson for a couple of weeks, and a subsequent knee injury that probably should’ve knocked him out for even longer. The offensive stalwart missed a grand total of two snaps.
Playing through these debilitations, as one might expect, was not an easy task. Mechanics suffered as a result and routine throws morphed into infuriating misses.
These errant passes occurred during the Seahawks’ first two possessions in Week 14 of 2016 in a blowout loss to the Packers (yes I am still salty). You can’t fully capture two years of poor throws in two plays, but this gif was included to a) give you a little taste and b) force you to relive an awful afternoon along with me before we get to the good stuff.
Without having rewatched the tape, because I am a chump, I think it’s fair to say that these deteriorating fundamentals continued to hinder Wilson’s overall effectiveness and efficiency in 2017, despite him tying his career high in passing touchdowns. Russ was a knight in shining armor in just about every fourth quarter, but merely a peasant in the first three.
ENTER BRIAN SCHOTTENHEIMER.
While it has been fun to schit all over Seattle’s new offensive coordinator — and we have rightfully done so in several instances — Schotty has without question impacted Wilson’s play for the better, forcing the quarterback to meticulously focus on his footwork, pocket movement, and overall mechanics.
Wilson’s new groove didn’t fully take at the beginning of the year, as just about any development was derailed by horrendous offensive line play and inept playcalling (what the fuck Schotty). The old and the new have clashed at times, without a doubt.
But these mistakes seem to be fewer and further between. As the season has progressed, improvements have been noticeable. Russ has always contorted himself in all sorts of ways while moving in all sorts of directions to make absurd throws, but it felt like he had been falling behind in the minute details that separate the very good quarterbacks from the truly elite.
A consistently top-notch thrower of the deep ball, Russ seemed to be overthrowing receivers (see: above) at a clip higher than we had come to expect. 2018 has been a different story. As a result of his rediscovered deep accuracy, Wilson is throwing up career highs in both AY/A and TD%. If you prefer ANY/A, 2018 is currently slotted in as the second highest value of his career*, depressed because of his highest sack percentage to date.
* This value was pulled before Pro Football Reference updated their database after Sunday’s game against the 49ers. As of now, Wilson has the highest ANY/A of any season in his career to date. Shouts to ExcellentPastries on Reddit for pointing this out.
During Wilson’s second touchdown against the 49ers on Sunday, his rediscovered brilliance was on display in all of its radiant glory:
The Seahawks are lined up in 11 personnel with trips to the right and Wilson in the gun. Tyler Lockett wins deep, getting over the top of a linebacker (thank you Schotty). Russ takes a five-step drop against the 49ers’ four-man rush and steps forward as Germain Ifedi propels the left end above the pocket. Duane Brown has Solomon Thomas locked up until Wilson steps forward. Thomas, though, has no chance to make a play, as Russ lets the ball fly at the perfect moment, hitting Lockett in stride for a 52-yard dime.
Deep touchdowns are definitely sexy and there have been plenty thus far in 2018, but what legitimately excites me the most about Russell’s game are the visible advances in his fundamentals (yes I am boring) brought on by the accountability instilled by Brian Schottenheimer. Yes, I am serious (mostly).
We have complained for YEARS about Wilson failing to climb existing pockets and instead bailing early, creating unnecessary sacks. I don’t have any numbers for you because I’m not a nerd, but the eye test (which is obviously the only true indicator of a player’s success) has shown me that Wilson is trusting both his protection and himself to step forward and make the throws he needs to. Offensive line play obviously has something to do with this, but it’s sort of a *why not both* situation.
When the pocket begins to collapse, Russell’s newfound instincts and footwork have been apparent and impressive, most notably in his de facto game-winner against the Panthers last week:
Carolina rushes four, with Mario Addison looping on a delay inside the A gap. J.R. Sweezy deserves immense credit for recognizing this and coming off of a double-team with Duane Brown to wall off the stunting defender, but this play goes nowhere and the Seahawks very possibly don’t pull out the win if Wilson decides to try and step up and attempt to avoid the incoming Panther. Instead, he simply slides left, allowing Sweezy to push Addison out of the play. Russ resets, identifies Lockett coming open on a deep scramble drill, and lets it rip, hitting the diminutive receiver in stride.
I think it’s fair to say that 2017 Russell doesn’t make this play. I’d put my money on this ending up in a sack for Addison.
Wilson’s first touchdown against the 49ers featured another excellent display of pocket navigation:
In empty set against a three-man rush, Russell takes the snap while both ends are double-teamed by the guards and tackles. Wilson feels the ends beginning to close in and, while both linemen are completely contained, has the wherewithal to suppress his natural tendency to spin out of the pocket. He jab-steps, slides backward, resets, and calmly finds Jaron Brown in the end zone for six.
Again, 2017 Russ doesn’t make this play. My best guess says that 2017 Russ bails via pirouette, runs to his right, and cuts the field in half. That strategy might still result in a touchdown, but the odds are dramatically lower. Process over results.
Russ has always been an up-and-down player with transcendent crests but pretty devastating troughs. The infrequent nature of these troughs has always been why Wilson is counted amongst the league’s top tier of passers, along with the fact that his average quality of play exceeds the vast majority of NFL quarterbacks. The development that Brian Schottenheimer promised before 2018 has clearly taken Wilson’s game to another level, as he is in the midst of arguably his best season to date.
You always have to take the good with the bad when it comes to Russ. He will inevitably endure poor sacks and make some puzzlingly inept plays. Hell, he took a mindnumbingly bad sack yesterday, in arguably the most efficient game of his career. He’s a human being. But, as has always been the case, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Like, so fucking far. And if his ceiling has been raised by process improvements and accountability (it has), then there should be no questioning Wilson’s staying power in the Pacific Northwest.
No matter how you feel about the rest of Seattle’s roster, the Seahawks will be a tough out on any given day if Russ is playing at the level that he has shown us throughout 2018 so far.
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