The old-fashioned re-route has been dead in the NFL for some time. Contact after five yards is illegal and punished by a five-yard penalty. However, the Seahawks’ offense suffered some physical football within the legislated contact window in their Week 16 loss at home to the Cardinals last weekend. This exposed how the issues in the Seahawks’ attack are impacting Russell Wilson.
Arizona’s defensive gameplan was predominantly single-high, middle-of-field-closed. In order to avoid being out-leveraged on the intermediate over routes Seattle loves off play action (Yankee, Flood), the Cardinals asked their underneath defenders to physically re-route the intermediate option. This contact was disguised as incidental, with the defenders moving downwards to their landmark immediately afterwards.
For the Seahawks, this totally disrupted the timing of their two-route play action concepts, once a staple of the attack and still a core concept of the offense. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was left having to dig deeper into his playbook.
Observe this throwback screen, a design where Wilson appears to have the option between the intermediate route or the toss back to the running back behind the walling offensive linemen. Arizona stayed disciplined on the backside of the play, waiting by Chris Carson.
That, in theory, should have left room for DK Metcalf’s crosser over the middle. The issue was that safety Jalen Thompson coming down into his curl-flat zone impeded Metcalf in his path with aggressive contact.
Patrick Peterson at cornerback was tasked with covering Metcalf’s crosser across the field. Initially out-leveraged by his outside alignment, Thompson’s delay of Metcalf enabled Peterson to gain better leverage.
Additionally, it broke the timing of the play. Metcalf was supposed to be streaking clear of Peterson in the middle of the field, heading towards the sideline. In reality, Wilson was forced to scramble, trying to beat Cassius Marsh around the edge. Wilson no longer has lightning speed and Marsh got a hard-earned sack for zero yards.
Wilson looked spooked all game. That’s little surprise given the quarterback was rarely afforded the time to move on from his primary read on his progressions. His pocket was cramped and pushed back. Center Justin Britt's third contract-worthiness was questionable even before his injury, but Joey Hunt’s struggles at center have proven Britt’s relative talent. Hunt’s technique has to be absolutely perfect or his lack of strength is punished.
Jamarco Jones is a fine guard but certainly not a left tackle. Chandler Jones started registering instant pressures that would make thirsty madden players scream NANOBLITZ. Worse, Chandler Jones didn’t need to get fancy, using the same move each time. Being two-down on the offensive line is not good, especially when the group was a troubling pass protecting unit before the injuries hit.
Wilson’s receivers continued their funky season too. David Moore could not win or separate against man and disappointingly fumbled. DK Metcalf had another bizarre drop that spurned a much-needed first down.
There was also Pete Carroll’s gross mishandling of the 4th and 1 situation in the first quarter, where Wilson threw the ball away on 3rd and 1 presuming Seattle would go for it on Arizona’s 33-yard line. Far from it: the Seahawks then lined up for the field goal, took a delay of game, and then were forced to punt.
Difficult circumstances acknowledged, even at his very best, Wilson is occasionally guilty of trying to do too much. In the torrid situation of last Sunday, he missed some reads and could have shown more anticipation. It’s been well-documented that Wilson is a quarterback who sacks himself, something that is especially obvious when the great innovator is pressing too hard.
Nothing showed that better than on the offense’s sixth drive of the game trailing 14-7. Budda Baker came down in the flats and looked to disrupt Metcalf at around five yards. Although Metcalf absolutely pulverized Baker, the action and impact still delayed Metcalf’s crosser. (A sign of his inexperience is that he got caught up in this battle in the first place) Peterson was therefore in prime position to blanket the over route.
It was at this point that, on 1st and 10, Wilson should have taken the yards available. There was no throwback screen as a checkdown. Instead, this was a classic three-level flood concept that featured a late check-and-release inside from George Fant as the checkdown. It’s a smart idea that exploits the underneath hooks over-pursuing with the bootleg action.
Fant was wide open inside the hook underneath zones and would have at least got some positive yardage. The faux tight end was the natural progression in the route concept and Wilson had plenty of time to hit the receiver. Furthermore, Fant is a load to bring down and has only ever been tackled by the turf in the NFL!
Yet Wilson was intent on trying some wild improvisation after ignoring his open target while willing Metcalf open—which was wishful thinking. Wilson cut backwards, where his pass protection would have least expected, and was eventually sacked after meeting a nasty crowd of defenders. This was trying to do too much. It was greedy. It was bad.
So, should you, the reader, be worried? The short answer is, sadly, yes.
Schottenheimer had some answers for what the Cardinals were doing and has shown an ability to consistently adjust plus adapt to opponents—even if his initial gameplans aren’t always there. Using the hook-curl to re-route the intermediate crosser was an intelligent Arizona solution to that specific crossing route, but Schotty has other designs and is not beholden to the three-level flood or the Yankee concept that looks to primarily target an intermediate over route.
The execution issues at receiver and up front are difficult to overcome though. Part of what makes Russell Wilson special is that he has been able to thrive in spite of chaotic pass protection. Yet Wilson has slowed down and become more of a pocket-oriented passer. The 31-year old no longer has anything like his rookie year quickness and now struggles to beat edge defenders to the corner.
Ultimately, talent trumps scheme. Wilson can only do so much in what is a depleted offense. As the aggressive re-route of Arizona showed, Seattle’s quarterback has started getting anxious for plays, which isn't a good development for the postseason.