Despite key injuries to the offense thus far, the Seahawks have escaped the first quarter of the 2016 season with a 3-1 record and are tied for first place in the NFC West.
A big reason for that is quarterback Russell Wilson. One of the league’s top quarterbacks since his rookie season in 2012, Wilson is coming off a career best season in 2015, where he threw 4,024 yards and 34 touchdowns (both career highs) to 8 interceptions and a league leading 110.1 passer rating. Through 4 games in 2016, Wilson’s thrown for 1,064 yards (career high 266 yards per game) 5 touchdowns and 1 interception, leading to a 99.3 passer rating.
These numbers would suggest pedestrian quarterback play, especially in today’s pass happy era, but rest assured that this has not been the case. Wilson’s quality of play has been great, and as a result, he’s emerged as one of 2016’s current MVP candidates.
Perhaps the most athletic quarterback on the field, Wilson’s mobility is still intact but hasn’t been where he’d like it to be due to sprained ankle and knee injuries he suffered early in the season. Astoundingly, #3’s pocket play has done more than enough to hold the fort while he heals up. In fact, in terms of efficiency and peak play, Wilson’s never been off to a better start in my mind.
The biggest key to Wilson’s success (not to mention the Seahawks this season) so far is his improved pocket presence. In previous years, Wilson was hesitant to throw downfield to open receivers due to overwhelming pressure, limiting plays and giving the idea that his receivers weren’t good (when the opposite was the case).
Since the 2nd half of the 2015 season, however, that’s no longer been an issue, as he’s able to stand tall more and survey the field. In the first GIF above, Wilson manipulates the middle linebacker by turning his head towards the checkdown. When the linebacker bites, Wilson uses this to his advantage, turns and fires to an open Doug Baldwin (himself one of the league’s most efficient receivers). The play turns into a nice gain.
In the 2nd GIF, the left tackle blows his assignment, as defensive end Sheldon Richardson easily moves by the tackle and is in great position to sack quarterback. Wilson doesn’t hesitate here, and makes an excellent throw as he’s hit to tight end Jimmy Graham for a huge gain.
Wilson’s improved pocket movement has allowed him to exit the pocket when he needs to, and as aforementioned, his mobility, though not fully intact, is still there. What makes Wilson so exciting to watch is his playmaking on the run, as his escapability alone is worth the price of admission. He’s able to make the offense better by using his legs to throw off pressure as well as get receivers open.
In the first GIF above, Wilson scrambles out of the pocket when the pressure comes in. Again, he manipulates the defense by turning his head towards the left side of the end zone before turning back to Graham and firing to his tight end for a touchdown. A great play by the quarterback.
In the 2nd GIF, Wilson is given good protection, then climbs up the pocket once he sees space wide open. Using the space, Wilson fires a tight pass that looks like a hospital ball to Baldwin, but is nevertheless accurate. Because of Baldwin’s consistency as a pass catcher, he is able to make tough catches such as this when hit by a defensive back.
It’s been well documented that Wilson is a premier downfield passer. His arm strength and precision were never a question when he was eligible for the 2012 draft, but rather his height. Since becoming the Seahawks starter from day 1, he’s shown off his efficiency downfield tenfold.
During the 2015 Deep Ball Project, I graded Wilson out as an A+, and the 2nd best downfield passer that year (behind Carson Palmer) because of how good his best throws were and because he did not make any glaring downfield throws. And while he posted a 52.4% downfield accuracy percentage in 2015, he’s at 65% this season, which would be first place in 2015.
Simply put, Wilson’s ability to take care of the ball while still giving his receivers chances downfield is astounding. In the first GIF, the pocket collapses (typical of the Seahawks offensive line), but Wilson keeps his eyes on Graham downfield, anticipating he’ll win a 50/50 matchup. The pass gets to Graham, who makes the jump ball catch.
In the 2nd GIF, Wilson throws a tight sideline throw perfectly. His quick release allows the ball to arrive to the receiver on time, which is very indicative of his play in general. Because of the quick release, Wilson is able to make his receivers better on the field.
The 3rd GIF is Wilson’s best play of the season so far, and that’s saying a lot. Down late in the fourth quarter, Wilson wisely side steps to his left once the pressure comes near him, then fires an absolute bomb to Tyler Lockett. Lockett is a talented sophomore receiver with great speed and explosive playmaking, making him perfect for splash plays. This year, he’s been inconsistent because of health, but on this play, he makes up for it with a greta over the shoulder catch.
Wilson’s throw does not force Lockett to stop or adjust his body. He’s hit perfectly in stride and in a place where the receiver and only the receiver can catch the ball. A beautiful play from Wilson.
Wilson is a smart quarterback and one of the league’s more precise passers. He possesses the ability to not only make the passing game better, but the running game as well. His knowledge at read option is textbook, allowing the run and pass game to thrive.
And now that he’s playing with more consistency than in previous years, his playmaking has been enhanced. The raw stats are not indicative of just how well Wilson has played this year. His splash plays have increased, and he’s throwing with greater anticipation of route openings than ever before. Not to mention his pocket patience has significantly improved.
It’s not clear if he’s better than Ben Roethlisberger or Matt Ryan in 2016, but Russell Wilson has always been a great quarterback, and through the first 4 games of the season he is a legitimate MVP candidate.
(Featured image via eastidahonews.com)