Before the Seattle Seahawks’ thrilling Monday Night Football win over the Denver Broncos, I thought out loud about how the defense would set up against opposing quarterbacks, including Russell Wilson and beyond. You may remember that last year the Seahawks weren’t thrashing deeply, but being torn over small things.
Lots of bending, not a lot of breaking.
Well that planned trend continued against Russell Wilson, whose first stat line looks great for his Denver Broncos debut: 29/42 for 340 yards and a 67-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Judy. It is only the 22nd 300+ yd passing game of his regular season career and the 12th highest overall. His EPA/play was around 0.43, good for third best in the league.
But when you dig a little deeper, the way he achieved his 340 yards wasn’t exactly a typical Wilson performance.
Seahawks fans have long known that Wilson has a penchant for regularly looking for big plays and hitting deep into the ground. There are very few people in league history who can match the accuracy of his week-to-week long ball. And yet, outside of the Judy touchdown, Wilson’s passing success was almost entirely in the short passing game. Does this look like a typical Russell Wilson passing chart to you?
Okay, maybe the only common part is not to challenge in the middle of the field, but you’ll see huge bunches of small dice that turned into big gains. According to the Pro Football Reference, the Seahawks dropped 230 yards after the catch, which is the highest YAC Wilson has had since the PFR began tracking the data in 2018.
Wilson’s goal distribution was unlike anything we had ever seen when he played for Seattle. Isn’t it enough to target the back and tight end in all the inquiries about him? Well…
just a quick use of @stathead And last night was the first time Russell Wilson set a goal to run 10+ times in a game.
Jevont Williams took 11 catches for 12 goals.
The previous high was 8 goals (x3) for Mike Davis twice in 2018, Travis Homer once in 2019.
— Field Gulls (@FieldGulls) 13 September 2022
Wilson’s target distribution by position
wide receiver: 8/15 for 178 yards and a touchdown
tight ends: 7/11 to 85 yards
running back: 14/15 for 81 yards
(Obviously the goal was unaccounted for.)
That’s a huge one-game sample size, but it’s more than remarkable that someone as historically aggressive as Wilson was limited to only 6.5 intended air yards per attempt, and only 3.7 air yards per full. During the opening week, Wilson tied with Kyler Murray for the second lowest average air yards completed. You can also see that the bottom six QBs all lost their games, and then there is Geno Smith in 25th place.
Only five of Wilson’s completions were more than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage; We also saw him on a few successful screens. Perhaps it was Denver’s gameplan to know Seattle’s 2021 trend, but I think it was more on the Seahawks to see how the Broncos passing attack might operate.
Wilson was also prolific on 3rd down, going 12/14 for 199 yards and a TD with no sack. That means his opening down passing for 141 yards was just 17/28, which means when you take the 10 yards he lost on the sacks, that means his net yards per attempt on the starting down was only 4.36. It was a complete 180 for someone who has been consistently brilliant on the first and second downs but has struggled again and again on the third down.
Oh, and if you think the Seahawks are some Stone Age team that doesn’t use analytic data in a meaningful way, Pete Carroll and Clint Hurt can set you straight on a very specific strategy that resulted in many of Wilson’s remarks. There were less effective plays.
Pete Carroll on @seattlesports The Seahawks were “really focused” on their running close to move Russell Wilson, especially to his left.
They asked him to move 10 times.
Say, Wilson’s numbers are significantly less as he moves to his left.
— Greg Bell (@gbellseattle) 13 September 2022
Adding to Pete Carroll’s comments on his radio show about the rescue trying to move Russell Wilson to the left, #seahawks Defensive coordinator Clint Hurt notes that the analytics team plays a big part in those types of gameplans: pic.twitter.com/60DXzuneAT
— john boyle (@johnpboyle) 14 September 2022
I was initially critical of the way the defense allowed 16 points, seeing the element of good fortune to fix two fouls at the 1-yard line, canceled a touchdown due to a false start, and a The touchdown would be called incomplete because the receiver’s toe was barely over the line. With some time to reflect, the way the Seahawks gameplanned against Wilson would have always been the best course of action. It wasn’t perfect execution—better three-down defense and better tackle should go ahead—but the Seahawks players and coaching staff at large did a good job of nailing down what Wilson loves to do.