Archive for May, 2012

Keith Price (QB, Washington) vs Baylor

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

I didn’t include Keith Price among the top 40 watch-list for 2013, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a player to monitor this year. This was a game where Price outshone Robert Griffin III. It’s also a chance to see UDFA Jermaine Kearse in his final Huskies performance before joining the Seahawks.

Russell Wilson under the microscope: Everything else

Friday, May 11th, 2012

Pete Carroll said it's up to Wilson whether there will be a 3-way race for the starting job. In other words, there's going to be a 3-way race for the starting job this Summer.

There is so much to like about Russell Wilson.  He’s accurate.  He’s smart.  He’s a fast learner.  He’s very athletic and elusive.  He plays his best on crucial downs and in the 4th quarter.  His confidence, mental toughness, and leadership ability is within spitting distance of Tebow territory, but unlike Tim Tebow, Russell Wilson can actually throw the football, and throw it quite well.  Metaphorical character and interview meters were shattered when he sat down with NFL coaches and general managers.  Jon Gruden- infamous for being tough on young quarterbacks- stumped for Wilson with all the bias and passion of a proud father.  Gruden had only met with Wilson for one day.

To say that I personally am a fan of the Wilson selection would be an understatement.  I think that Drew Brees was more of a pioneer than an exception to the rule, and that Russell Wilson is latest of a very rare breed of quarterback to come down the pipeline.  However, unchecked optimism has a way of biting people in the ass, so I think it’s of crucial importance to analyze Wilson with the same degree of critical attention that I would give anyone else.  Then again, finding faults in Wilson’s game is no easy task.  Wilson grades out between good to great in just about every category other than height.  As such, digging into his flaws has taken more effort and closer attention to detail.

Last week, I looked into the claim that Wilson’s accuracy dips in the pocket.  My conclusion from studying three games downplayed that concern while raising another: that being his tendency to overthrow when going intermediate and deep.  Today I’ll cover a handful of other critical observations that I was able to come up with.

The Wisconsin effect.

At NC State, Russell Wilson had a career 135.5 passer rating, a 57.8% completion rate, 7.2 yards per attempt, and a 76/26 TD/INT ratio.  He also averaged 120 rushing attempts per season.  Those are Jake Locker type numbers almost across the board, if a bit better.  I guess that’s fitting, as both quarterbacks flashed talent but lacked much of a supporting cast.

Wilson went to Wisconsin in 2011 and all he did was have the best statistical season in Division I history:  a 191.8 passer rating, a 72.8% completion rate, 10.3 yards per attempt, and a 33/4 TD/INT ratio.  How much of that performance was Wilson taking a step forward, and how much of that performance was Wilson capitalizing on an environment that was conducive to putting up huge numbers?  Wisconsin has a recent history of statistically strong quarterbacks who did nothing in the NFL.  Scott Tolzien being the most recent example.  Tolzien posted a very similar stat line for Wisconsin in 2010:  a 165.9 passer rating, a 72.9% completion rate, 9.2 yards per attempt, and a 16/6 TD/INT ratio.

To be sure, Wilson is probably not as good a quarterback as his Wisconsin numbers would suggest, but the draft status of Wilson’s predecessors is ultimately irrelevant.  Quarterbacks are not drafted purely on their stats.  They are drafted for the qualities they possess.  I’ve scouted Tolzien.  He was a good quarterback.  He checks reads well, he makes smart decisions, he’s an accurate passer, and he can even hustle for a first down with his legs on occasion.  He didn’t go undrafted because Wisconsin elevated his statistics.  He went undrafted because he was an average athlete with a below average arm- a guy who stood 6’2″ and tipped the scales at just over 200 pounds.  But more importantly than any of those things, Tolzien had sloppy throwing mechanics and terrible footwork.  He was Robert Griffin without all the incredible natural gifts.  Players like that tend to go undrafted no matter how good their natural abilities may be.

Other than size, Wilson is vastly superior to Tolzien in every way, which I think says a lot since Tolzien really was a pretty good college quarterback.  Wisconsin is a great offense for a quarterback to play for, but what it isn’t is a gimmick based offense.  Tolzien and Wilson earned every bit of their 72% completion rates.  They took most of their snaps under center, they threw to all areas of the field, and they routinely progressed through multiple reads before finding and targeting an open receiver.   It wasn’t a case like Oregon or Baylor where their scheme was designed to exploit college level athletes.  It wasn’t an offense like TCU or Arizona that lives off of one-read plays or bubble screens.  It wasn’t an offense that spread defenses out with constant four or five receiver sets like Oklahoma.  Wisconsin’s is a legit offense that requires quality quarterback play to succeed.

Wisconsin has had some solid weapons the last couple years, but nothing great.  Lance Kendricks was a 2nd round tight end (who left for the NFL before Wilson arrived).  Nick Toon was a 4th round receiver.  Jared Abbrederis will probably be a mid round receiver in a future draft.  Both Toon and Abbrederis saw their production shoot through the roof when Wilson replaced Tolzien in 2011.

What Wisconsin does have is a pretty good offensive line and a phenomenal running game.  That helps sell the play action and keeps the quarterback’s pass attempt totals low and increasingly opportunistic.  Part of the reason Keith Price was so productive in 2011 for the Washington Huskies was because he completely bought into the philosophy of using the pass to set up the run.  It’s essentially the same idea at Wisconsin, but with a stronger foundation in place.  Did a good offensive line and strong running game boost Russell Wilson?  Absolutely.  But the exact same thing could be said for Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley.  Put Wilson on USC or Stanford last year and you would probably see similar production.

The bottom line is that Wilson will not produce in the NFL like he did at Wisconsin, just like Andrew Luck won’t produce for the Colts quite like he did for the Cardinal.  The real Russell Wilson is probably somewhere between his NC State and Wisconsin performances.  Where he fits on that spectrum is anyone’s guess, but I tend to lean towards the Wisconsin side, if only because the Seahawks philosophy of building around the run and the offensive line is very similar to what the Badgers did, even if the literal playbook verbage more closely resembles NC State.

Pocket paranoia?

Overall I would grade Wilson’s pocket presence and elusiveness as well above average, though there are moments when he seems to react to pressure a bit earlier than he needs to.  Wilson has no love for the pocket and almost seems to be forcing himself to stay between the tackles against his personal wishes at times.  Wilson also has a habit of escaping out of the back door instead of stepping into the pocket.  Wilson usually makes it work, but it’s the kind of habit that will backfire into drive killing 20 yard sacks in the NFL on occasion.

Forget about snap throws and three step drops.

Russell Wilson requires two things to overcome his height disadvantage:  time and distance.  He needs time because linemen begin every play clustered together but spread apart as the play develops.  This is where throwing windows come from, and they don’t really exist in the first second or two of a play.  Wilson needs distance because distance helps him see over the line and gives him more options for navigating through his throwing windows.  A quick pass or short dropback affords Wilson neither of those things, so it shouldn’t be surprising that Wilson took about as many quick passes last season as Darron Thomas had snaps under center.

Thankfully, the Seahawks run an offense that utilizes developing routes, play action, and bootlegs- much like Wisconsin’s offense did.  As such, I don’t see this as being much of a sacrifice, so long as Seattle’s pass protection can avoid embarrassing themselves.  And if the second half of last season is any indication, things will probably hold up just fine.

Final thoughts:

We all know what Wilson does well at.  It’s finding out what he doesn’t do well that has required all the work.  Height is a flaw, but it is just one flaw among many that a quarterback could have.  Then again, maybe a word like “flaw” is the wrong word to use.  Perhaps “quirk” might work better.  I say that because Wilson is not a flawed quarterback but a unique one.

People tend to fear things they don’t understand, and that goes double for NFL general managers.  Fear and lack of understanding was the real reason that Drew Brees was not a first round pick, and it’s the same reason why Russell Wilson was not selected in the first two rounds.  A handful of teams had the insight to see past Wilson’s faux height problem, and the Seahawks won the lottery for his services by committing on him the earliest.  Wilson’s name was called at the 75th pick, and in a couple of war rooms somewhere two other general managers snapped the pencil they were holding in half when they heard it.  There is a reason why Pete Carroll and John Schneider reacted the way they did when making that pick.  They knew.  After the draft they talked about how it would have hurt to walk out of this draft without Irvin and Wilson.  From what we’ve learned since the draft, it sounds like a few other teams felt that way too.

Wilson will never post a 33/4 TD/INT ratio in the NFL or complete 72% of his passes.  He might find it harder to run from trouble.  He’ll have limitations on his game and will require a coach that is willing to work around them.  Luckily for Wilson, he’s going to exactly the right kind of team, the kind of team that doesn’t need him to post MVP numbers to win championships.  He’s going to the kind of team that can protect him and support him with the running game like Wisconsin did.  He’s going to the kind of team that doesn’t live off of quick plays.  But most importantly, he’s going to a team coached by Pete Carroll, who more than just about any coach lives by the philosophy of putting unique talents in position to succeed and building an offense with the idea of making life as easy as possible for the quarterback instead of asking for a messianic franchise quarterback to lean on.

Russell Wilson is in a really good situation, which means we are too as Seahawks fans.  Mel Kiper is right.  If Wilson can’t make this work, then maybe no quarterback under six feet can.

Bruce Irvin tape review vs Maryland

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

This tape comes from 2010, Irvin’s first year at West Virginia where he was predominantly used as an impact pass rusher on third downs. It shows in the snap count – Irvin featured in just 15 defensive snaps, ten of which were on third down. He took just three snaps on first and second down. Yet despite this limited work-load, he had three sacks and three quarterback hits.

First down snaps: 2

Second down snaps: 1

Third down snaps: 10

Fourth down snaps: 2

In 2011 Irvin took 43 snaps against Pittsburgh, 30 against Louisville and 27 against Clemson. He more or less doubled his game-time in comparison to 2011. Almost certainly due to the scheme, Irvin was more comfortable as an impact player at West Virginia. He had 14 sacks in 2010 with 15-snap games. After taking on a larger role at the start of 2011, he managed just one sack in his first five outings. When WVU scaled back his snaps in the second half of the season, he recorded 7.5 sacks in his last five games for the Mountaineers. There’s some consistency between work-load and snap count.

We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog talking about the 3-3-5 and how it didn’t suit Bruce. Pete Carroll has described him as the ‘ideal’ LEO pass rusher, and it’ll be intriguing to see how he adapts into that role as a full-time starter in the future. With Chris Clemons likely to remain the every-down LEO for at least 2012, once again we’ll get a chance to compare Irvin as an impact player and a starter. Even if he never truly translates to a full-time starter, if he can make three sacks in 15 snaps as a pro, nobody will be calling him a bust.

Among the 15 snaps tallied above, Irvin faced a double team six times from two offensive lineman. On one futher snap he had to deal with the running back blocking down to support the right tackle. He got his sacks on 1st and 10, 3rd and 7 and 3rd and 18. If the Seahawks sneak Irvin into the game on third downs, it’s going to be very difficult not to keep the tight end blocking, forcing teams to either take a receiver off the field or stay in max-protect. It won’t always be in the stat-column where #51 had an impact.

The first sack is at 1:58 on the video. Irvin lines up on the right side of the now infamous 3-3-5, with the two other defensive lineman positioned to the extreme left. First of all the blocking is abysmal on this play – despite the fact the left tackle and guard only have to monitor Irvin (there isn’t even a blitzing linebacker) it’s a complete mystery how he’s managed to penetrate inside. He engages the tackle, disengages with too much ease (did the tackle expect inside support from the guard?) and hammers the quarterback to end the first half. Fair play to Irvin for capitalizing on an opportunity, but this was a gift.

Irvin gets his second sack at 3:40, this time lining up on the left side again in a three-man front. He just flat out beats the right tackle for speed off the edge, leans around the corner and gets to the quarterback. This is the type of explosive edge speed the Seahawks are looking for and against sluggish right tackles and tight ends, Irvin should have a field day even in the NFL.

The final sack comes at 4:30. Again, I have no idea what the left tackle and guard are doing here. The tackle is left on an island with Irvin, who just dips inside and sprints past him like he’s not there. Where’s the guard? The most impressive part of this play is the leap at full stretch to get a fingertip to the quarterback’s shoe-laces to take him down. Great execution, again making the most of bad line play to make a maximum impact.

Even when Irvin was blocked out of a play, the tendency to be double teamed created opportunities for others. Teams aren’t going to be able to zone-in on Clemons off the edge with Irvin in the team, and it works the other way too. If the Seahawks can get any kind of impact from Jason Jones as an interior rusher, the defense (and team in general) will receive a substantial upgrade. Irvin will have an impact next year playing around 50-60% of snaps. The acid test will be how he copes as the eventual LEO starter, but it’s a role that suits him a lot better than the 3-3-5.

Star Lotulelei (DT, Utah) vs Washington

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Ranked by many as a potential top-15 pick this year, Loutulelei returned to finish what he started in college. A former BYU recruit who never attended the school due to academic issues, Lotulelei is now at Utah via the JUCO ranks and he’s made an impact in the PAC-12. He shared the Morris Trophy with Matt Kalil last year and is already being tipped to be a top pick in 2013. We put him at #6 in our top-40 watch list.

I actually think he made the right decision to return to school. He needs polish, he needs time on the field. Lotulelei is far from the finished article as both a pass rusher and a run defender, but he’s a guy to keep an eye on in the fall.

Bret Bielema on Russell Wilson

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Bret Bielema, Wisconsin coach, speaks to KJR about the guy he coached last year.

Russell Wilson full game vs Oregon (Rose Bowl)

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Logan Thomas (QB, Virginia Tech) vs Virginia

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

This guy could easily be next years #1 pick. I’m a big Matt Barkley fan, but Logan Thomas is the one quarterback who could go above him in the 2013 draft. Big arm, plus mobility, a little Big Ben to his play and he still has another level to reach. He impressed as a first-year starter but can still get even better. He’s at #2 on our top-40 watch-list for next year, but he could be the first name off the board if he declares.

Pete Carroll interview on ESPN 710

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

What I take out of this:

- This is a genuine quarterback competition. Carroll has been nothing but honest about his quarterbacks, initially naming Matt Hasselbeck the starter in 2010 despite trading for Charlie Whitehurst, then naming Tarvaris Jackson the starter in 2011. If anyone had the job to lose at this stage, Carroll would say so. This isn’t the first time he’s referred to the Matt Leinart/Matt Cassel competition at USC. This appears to be a fluid situation.

- Carroll on Russell Wilson: “If you didn’t measure him, if there wasn’t a height issue, he’d have been right up there with the top three guys (Luck, Griffin III, Tannehill). No doubt in my mind. We need to see how that translates. There isn’t anything he can’t do…. when he gets here this weekend, I’m really excited to see how he looks and fits in. I’m not worried at all about him learning it, he’s a brilliant kid, so it’s just a matter of time until he can compete and I don’t know what that means for the fall – we’ll just have to wait and see. But it’s exciting and it’s a great position group for us.”

- I think Carroll wants Wilson to be right in the mix to compete for a start, they’re just not putting any extra pressure on the guy to make it so.

- It was stressed again that Bruce Irvin will be a LEO and that the pressure is on Chris Clemons to keep his slot. Assuming that happens, with Clemons being the teams most productive pass rusher the last two years, then Irvin begins his pro career at the Raheem Brock slot. Carroll sounded a little frustrated here, preempting the inevitable questions about Bruce’s role on the team. Irvin is being groomed to be a full time starter at the LEO.

- Irvin had a lunch with some of the players – including Red Bryant - after flying to Seattle for his introductory press conference.

- We anticipated Seattle would bring in a big physical back to spell Marshawn Lynch – and projected Robert Turbin to the Seahawks when we extended our mocks beyond the second round. Carroll confirms here that they weren’t looking for a change of pace back, they were looking for a keep the pace back. Or at least, keep the physicality back.

- Bobby Wagner will play inside linebacker but he’s going to have to compete (there’s a surprise) to start. KJ Wright will continue at the SAM with Leroy Hill at the WILL.

- Carroll believes in this group of receivers, at least to the point where it wasn’t an off-season priority. The Seahawks will hope several players can either get healthy or take the next step. Next years draft class is looking weak at receiver, so there’s no obvious solutions on the horizon if players don’t emerge.

- “Garbage” – Pete Carroll’s brutal assertion that he was “giggling like a schoolgirl” at Ryan Tannehill’s pro-day work out. Despite a lot of talk to the contrary, I understand Tannehill wasn’t even the #3 quarterback on Seattle’s board after Luck/Griffin III. They really, really liked the guy they took in round three and drafting a quarterback in the first two rounds was never a realistic consideration. They were all about the pass rush in round one.

Bruce Irvin would’ve been a Jet after all?

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Bruce Irvin tape review vs Louisville

Monday, May 7th, 2012

PFT broke the news today that Bruce Irvin had agreed terms with the Seahawks, becoming the first 2012 round-one pick to sign a contract. The deal is worth $9.34m fully guaranteed over four years, with over $5m in bonuses. The news is less of a huge relief as it was in the past, with the rookie pay scale all but ending the long hold-outs witnessed pre-2011. Eight rookies in total agreed terms today, including second round pick Bobby Wagner and third round quarterback Russell Wilson.

Today we’ll look at Irvin’s senior tape against Louisville after previously studying his performances against Pittsburgh and Clemson.

One of the things we’ve looked at so far is how West Virginia used Irvin, schematically and in down/distance. By now everyone’s aware of the 3-3-5 formation the Mountaineers used and Irvin’s admittance that he didn’t exactly fit within that system. Irvin: “We ran a 3-3-5 stack defense, I was 235 pounds and you got me in a three technique? I can’t help you. You got me going against two 300-pounders and I’m only 235? I don’t know anybody who could play the run against two 300-pound guys at 235 pounds.” The thing I always come back to is this – everybody knows it was a bad fit for Bruce. He admits it, the Seahawks won’t use him in a three-man front and most people who watch WVU tape can see it wasn’t a great fit. Yet he still had over 20 sacks in two years. So what will he do in a position or scheme which suits him down to the ground?

While he was as exclamation point to the pass rush and not used as an every down player at WVU, it’s time the critics realised this is just the way the game is going. If Irvin has ten or more sacks next year as a rookie specialist, few people will be disecting the decision to make him the first pass rusher off the board. Greg Cosell today called the mocking of Seattle’s choice as, “so absurd it’s laughable” before breaking down why:

“It could easily be argued based on tape study that Irvin was the most explosive edge pass rusher in the draft.  Think about that for a minute. The most important defensive priority in today’s NFL is rushing the quarterback. You can go all the way back to Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh in the 1980s; Walsh, always a step ahead, said that fourth quarter pass rush was the key to winning.  His theory has evolved to the point where it encompasses all four quarters. Thus, the Seahawks selected a player with explosive attributes at a premium position.

“What about the argument that he’s not a “three-down player”? That’s another use of “conventional wisdom” that does not withstand further scrutiny.  Irvin will likely be on the field close to 60 percent of the plays in an increasingly pass-first league. In the NFL, if you cannot defend the pass, you will not win.  Last year, the San Francisco 49ers selected Aldon Smith with the seventh pick in the first round. I watched every 49ers defensive play in 2011.  Smith did not play more than 20 snaps in the base 3-4 defense.  He was exclusively a sub-package player, playing only in nickel and dime personnel.  He had 14 sacks in the regular season, and two more in the playoffs.  Was he a poor draft choice because he was not a three-down player? Please, let’s think before we react.”

Aldon Smith too approximately 46% less snaps than Von Miller last year, but still had more sacks. Against Louisville Irvin took 30 total snaps, which is 13 less than he took against Pittsburgh and three more than against Clemson. Yet the great thing about the Louisville game is it kind of sums up Cosell’s argument quite emphatically. Irvin’s first snap in the game doesn’t come until the score is already 14-7 to Louisville with 1:21 remaining in the first quarter. Irvin’s first snap is a sack for an 11-yard loss. He stays on the field for 3rd and 19, and gets another sack. Two plays in one entire quarter, two sacks.

The Seahawks have enough defensive lineman who can stop the run. They need a pass rush to get teams off the field. If Irvin can team up with Chris Clemons as a rookie it doesn’t matter if he only plays two snaps in a quarter as long as he can have an impact.

First down snaps: 11

Second down snaps: 11

Third down snaps: 8

Fourth down snaps: 0

This is the first tape I’ve studied where Irvin is on the field for 1st and 10 more than any other down/distance. The two sacks are classic Irvin, beating the tackle to the edge and getting to the quarterback. The second sack is the kind of play that will really appeal to the Seahawks – flashing the explosive get-off, the ability to find the edge before the tackle can adjust and then showing impressive lean to turn at a seemingly impossible angle to make the play. Balance, speed, execution – something the Seahawks lacked last year aside even with Clemons playing the majority of downs.

When Irvin talks about playing the three, look at 1:32 in the video when he lined up as an interior pass rusher. There’s essentially a center, guard and tight end teaming up to block him. It’s almost unexplainable that he’d be put into that position, but WVU did use a lot of creative blitzes and looks and actually made a sack on this play via the left edge rusher with the extra attention Irvin received to the right-center.

Irvin has two staple moves – the speed rush to the edge and the inside counter. He’ll drive and plant his foot into the ground to give the impression he’ll go outside, before sidestepping inside to attack the center. I don’t buy-in to the theory that he’s too weak to engage a tackle, because there are examples of a capable bull rush or successful brawl. In this video though, the left tackle had his number when he got into his pads. This will be the greatest test Irvin has to deal with if he’s to become a permanent LEO pass rusher. Tackles in the NFL will be quicker and trying to counter will be more difficult. Can he cut back with a punch to the chest to jolt the tackle? Because if the tackle always covers the inside but can kick out well enough, he could be dominated at times. Can he adopt a spin move so that when he fakes the edge rush he can avoid contact and break into the middle in a more fluid manner without sidestepping/dancing? Developing a spin move could be a major positive for Bruce.

I like the play at 3:25 where he dips inside and spots a hole to break on the quarterback. Seattle could find some fortune having Irvin dip into the interior from Clemons’ side similar to the way San Francisco uses the two Smith’s. Justin holds the edge, Aldon loops back around and attacks from the interior. Seattle could use the extra attention given to Clemons in order to similarly enhance Irvin’s ability to have an impact. I also like the way Irvin reads the play, it’s an underrated quality he has. Seattle struggled against mobile quarterbacks on the bootleg or PA and getting out of the pocket. Irvin should help here because he reads the game very well in space, takes good angles and will limit the area in which a quarterback is prepared to move into.

Anyone who says Irvin can’t hold up against the run needs to watch the play at 3:49. He blows through the guard and knife’s through from the left end position and destroys the play for a loss. Irvin’s strength for his size is deceptive and while he won’t play with the same level of ferocity on every down, it’s worth noting that he plays stronger than most 235-245lbs lineman.