If Russell Wilson is going to win the starting job in Seattle, more than anything he needs two things to happen. Firstly, he needs Matt Flynn to be unconvincing against Denver on Saturday. Is suspect a couple of good drives – including a touchdown scoring drive – and generally solid player will probably lead to a decision where Flynn is confirmed as the starter. That’s just the vibe I think everyone gets right now. That’s probably the scenario Pete Carroll is hoping for, but it ll be a hard sell if Flynn disappoints on Saturday.
Secondly, he needs to tidy up a few aspects of his game (eg – do a better job selling the play action, tighten up the 5-7 step drop) and above all else continue to make plays. The one thing Wilson has in his locker that Flynn doesn’t is his ability to make the unexpected happen. Flynn isn’t going to break off many big runs, escape consistent interior pressure and sparkle with a lot of big plays. Wilson can do all of those things, it’s his edge in this race. A bad interception against Tennessee prevented a week of fans calling for Wilson to get a start in Denver, but the hype might just be delayed for a week depending on what happens tomorrow.
Let’s break it down against the Titans…
0:02 – Play action with a tight end in motion for Wilson’s first snap. I’m trying to work out what forces the near-turn over here. Nerves? Inside penetration forces Wilson to take an exaggerated boot leg to the right and the Titans do a good job containing and preventing any chance of Wilson scrambling for a gain. The intended receiver (tight end who heads back across the right side of the field) looks like he was accidentally tripped and it maybe prevented him from reaching the ball in time, but it’s debatable he would’ve got there anyway. Pass interference was called, wrongly in my view. This has to go down as a fortunate play.
0:22 – Back-to-back play action calls to start. Two receivers are split to the left with a tight end on the right. Wilson looks in the direction of the receivers but rejects it. He has two check downs here – the tight end who finds a soft zone on the right sideline and the running back who sits underneath. Wilson makes the right decision to go to the tight end for a decent gain on a safe play. Athleticism was key here to buy a little more time – he was tackled immediately after releasing the ball.
0:33 – Perhaps the most impressive play on debut. Snap in the gun, there’s immediate pressure from the interior forcing him to scramble right. He then throws across his body with velocity to pick out a receiver for a nice gain. On a technical level it’s a difficult throw, it’s into a crowd and it needs to have some zip. Wilson manages all three. A pass like this gets you excited. By my count it’s his third read, you see in the replay he looks left, then right as he runs and finally he spots the open receiver through the middle. The linebacker sits in coverage and almost gets a fingertips to the ball, but the velocity beats him. Flynn has areas where he’s superior to Wilson right now, but I suspect he cannot make a play like this.
0:54 – Five step drop which could use some polish, but he spots a favorable 1v1 match-up down the left sideline and takes a chance. He airs it out – not a pretty pass but effective because he gives the receiver a chance to make a play. Quarterbacks have to take a chance like that sometimes, a calculated gamble. The play design was all about creating that situation downfield and it worked. Nobody else was open, so take a shot.
1:23 – Shotgun with four spread options. He scans and takes the easy yardage. Easy play.
1:32 – Shotgun again but seems to get distracted early and maybe feels he hasn’t got time to let what appeared to be a set of long developing routes play out. Nobody is obviously open so running the ball for a small gain was probably the right thing to do. You hope with a first team offensive line on the field they would provide better interior protection, as Wilson isn’t getting any help so far.
1:47 – Play action, easy dump off.
1:55 – Shotgun, throws underneath.
2:06 - Play action right, decent throw and needed stronger hands from the receiver (Durham). One thing I’ve noticed looking at this tape is how Wilson isn’t as polished as Flynn selling the play action. His body language is very deliberate and he needs to just tweak it a bit, sell the hand off more. Teams are going to find a way to jump this constant boot leg right and bring a safety over, so it’ll be interesting to see if Denver make life difficult tomorrow if they keep going to this play call.
2:27 – Another play action right, another easy throw on the checkdown.
2:35 – Shotgun, stands in the pocket. Nice poise and makes a nice completion over the middle in traffic for a first down.
2:44 – Play action and then a scramble. There were a lot of camp reports talking about Wilson running a lot and seeing it as a negative compared to Flynn who was solely a pocket passer. I don’t mind this. Firstly, there’s good pressure to Wilson’s left off the edge and he notices pretty quickly a nice gap up the middle. He even sets up a block with the running back, who quickly adjusts and buys him further yardage. And because Wilson’s an athlete, he makes the most of this chance. It’s opportunistic. It’s explosive. It’s a big yardage play you wouldn’t get if he wasn’t willing to try and make plays on the ground. There is such a thing as being too conservative at times and I like the fact the coaches appear to be allowing Wilson to use his ability to run with the ball when necessary.
3:09 – Seven step drop and the Titans D-line wins the battle up front. He diagnoses things quickly and sees there’s nothing to gain here. Having made that decision early, he buys the time needed to get the ball away and out of bounds. Smart play. Live to fight another day.
3:18 – He looks comfortable here initially standing in the pocket and then buying time before completing the pass. Watch the replay and you see he’s running through multiple options before throwing the ball.
3:37 – This wasn’t quite so good. He doesn’t really sense the pressure to his left and the screen was a little to deliberate. He gets away with it. Lucky play #2 on the day.
3:54 – Had to get the ball away here and does well to avoid the sack and get some yards.
4:01 – Bad interception. First of all – what is he seeing here to attempt this pass? Freeze the video at 4:13. He locks onto the middle of the field right away and you see five defenders drawn to where he’s throwing. Five defenders – one receiver – and he still tries to make the throw. What’s more, he seems to try and float the pass over the head of the main covering defender, but the ball slips a little out of his hand and it looks ugly. But even if he executes on this type of pass, it would have to be so precise in such thick coverage. That window in the back of the end zone would’ve been tiny. A bad decision on so many levels and a mistake that he needs to learn from.
4:23 – A simple dump off where the running back makes a move to get some yards.
4:30 – Another play action bootleg. It’ll be so interesting to see if they use this as much in Denver.
4:45 – After so many PA’s to the right, this break away run probably is the result of Tennessee second guessing. Wilson – for the first time – goes to the left on the bootleg and nobody is covering. He has a ton of room to break off the run, get the blocks needed and finish. The Titans got sucked in here, anticipating the run too much as Seattle ran the clock out and committed to one side.