Russell Wilson took a huge step as a passer this Sunday. He had his career high in passing yards, and completed 19 of 24 passes. Aside from his underthrown ball on the pick 6, Wilson was accurate, poised, and made mostly correct decisions.
What was the underlying factor behind his improvement? Surely increased game experience has helped. An injury-riddled Panther defense is also at fault. Ultimately; however, I say a large amount of credit lies with last week's villains: Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevel and Assistant Head Coach Tom Cable.
Apparently, the two guys largely in charge of offensive playcalling read my article from last week, because Russell Wilson was called to make throws in this game he's scarcely been called to throw before.
For the purpose of this article, I'm going to focus on two specific throws: the slant and the seam.
Before I begin, let me get into the philosophy behind these throws and the West Coast Offense as a whole. Basically, the whole idea is to run high percentage plays, while keeping throws low risk and effective. When employed correctly, this offense eats up time steadily, keeps momentum in favor of the offense, tires out the opposing defense, and reduces turnovers.
The slant throw is vital to this philosophy. Commonly referred to by myself and others as "The unbeatable play," the slant beats multiple coverages, and is good for at least a gain of seven yards every time it is effectively run. Is the defender playing man or press coverage? The receiver needs only to cut in immediately and shield the ball with his body, and the throw is there for the quarterback. Is the corner ten yards off the receiver, with his butt to the sideline, indicating zone? Hit the receiver before the edge of the outside linebacker's zone and that's consistently good for a first down and possibly more (perfect example: Larry Fitzgerald's long touchdown against the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII).
The seam route, conversely, is quite versatile in its execution. Usually thrown to a tight end or a slot receiver, this route sends the pass catcher straight down the field, into the heart of the defense. If the defense is in a deep zone, the quarterback can zip the ball quickly off of a three-step-drop, and lead the receiver to a good gain of about 12-14 yards (Matt Hasselbeck did this constantly during his pro-bowl days). If the quick throw is not there, a well-timed seam throw can destroy a defense, as the TE/Slot is past the linebackers and before the safeties. The seam throw is murderous against a 3-4 base alignment, and is can beat Tampa 2 formations as well when combined with effective play action.
Now that we've covered that, let's talk about how Wilson and Bevel employed these throws in Sunday's game.
The touchdown is a perfect example of the slant. Even though it didn't come as Russell Wilson's first read, look at the result. Golden Tate is given the ball in a zone, and does that whole "not getting tackled" thing into the end zone. Every route on the play was covered except for that slant. I really, really, really hope that play gets used more, because Golden Tate (and Sidney Rice even) in space is incredibly dangerous.
Zach Miller was the main beneficiary of the seam route. I'm happy he's being used more, because he is a pro-bowl tight end, after all. With Marshawn Lynch routinely gaining big yardage, the defense was forced to play close to stop the run at the line. Zach Miller, as a result of well-run play action, would run up the middle for wide open yardage. His 30-yard gain is the prime example of how open he can get. As I stated earlier, the run game complements the seam route perfectly. Thus, it only makes sense to abuse the middle of the defense as much as possible considering that we have one of the league's best running backs on our team.
Overall, I'm thrilled to see Russell Wilson increase his throw variation. In my opinion, the predictable playbook was a major factor why the offense struggled in the first few weeks. By making opposing defenses plan for more, we will have more success, and more wins. Funny how that works.