When the dust finally settled on the 41-20 blowout victory by the Seattle Seahawks over the Minnesota Vikings, there were many positive things for those in Seattle to reflect upon. Lost among the excitement of the return of wide receiver Percy Harvin, and the impressive performance of Seattle's run defense, was the team's renewed ability to protect their franchise quarterback.
This wasn't entirely unexpected. Starting left tackle Russell Okung returned to the field for the first time since Week 2. Right tackle Breno Giacomini saw his first action since Week 3. Center Max Unger returned after missing time with a concussion. The Seahawks were able to get three starters back on the field for this game, and the difference was noticeable.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), quarterback Russell Wilson was under pressure on just eight of the 21 times he dropped back to pass. At first glance, that 38 percent pressure rate is considerably lower than the 46.5 percent of his passes that Wilson faced pressure in the team's first 10 games of the season.
Unfortunately, those pressure percentages don't say as much as they might appear to. That difference only accounts for pressure on 1.75 passes, so clearly there is a small-sample-size error here.
The other problem with that data is that not all QB pressures are equal. Was Wilson under siege the moment he finished his dropback, or was he only under pressure because no receiver was open and he held on to the football for too long? The time before pressure is important to understanding the level of quality of the pass protection.
Since that data isn't available, only the game tape can provide the information that is required to determine if the pass protection was better on Sunday than it had been earlier in the season.
There were 13 plays in which Wilson wasn't under pressure. He threw 12 passes, completing nine of them, and ran for a first down on the other. On all of those plays, the line provided a clean pocket for Wilson.
Of the eight plays in which Wilson was under pressure, three of them were the result of good coverage by the secondary more so than protection breakdowns upfront. On these plays, the offensive line provided at least three seconds of solid pass protection before things broke down. On all three of these plays, Wilson was able to extend the play with his legs before completing a pass downfield.
Here is an example from the first quarter. The Seahawks only kept five blockers in to protect Wilson, which means they sent five players out into patterns.
The offensive line creates a solid pocket. Wilson has room to work and a nice zone to step up into should he need it.
Unfortunately, no receiver is open. After a few seconds of going through his progression, Wilson gets nervous and bails on the pocket. There was no need for him to do that, but given the internal clock that QBs must have to be successful in this league, it is understandable.
Wilson left the pocket, and ran into a part of the field where the DE could apply pressure. Right tackle Giacomini had to let the defensive end go, or he would have been called for holding. Wilson ended up being under pressure, but it wasn't the fault of the offensive line. Wilson eventually hit wide receiver Ricardo Lockette for a 27-yard gain.
Of course, the pass blocking wasn't perfect. There were five plays in which Wilson was under pressure almost immediately. Two were caused by missed assignments that left a defender unblocked, while three others were caused by a player simply being beaten by the defender.
These plays with quick pressure on Wilson were the ones that were the most troublesome. Wilson scrambled for positive yards on one play and was sacked on the other. Wilson managed to get passes away on three of those plays but was only able to get one completion.
Here is an example. This is the play where the Seahawks gave up their only sack of the afternoon.
By the time Wilson gets to the end of his drop, it is easy to see that there is going to be problems on this play. While the left side of the line provided an ample pocket, the right side is giving up ground too quickly.
Right guard J.R. Sweezy ends up out of position after a spin move by the defensive tackle and was never able to fully recover. Meanwhile, right tackle Giacomini was simultaneously getting beaten around the corner.
Ultimately, this plan didn't stand a chance. As soon as Wilson set up to throw, he has to pull the ball down and try to run. He only managed to get two steps before the DE dragged him down from behind.
Putting It All Together
Overall, this was a good showing for Seattle's pass-blockers. There was adequate blocking, or better, on 16 of the 21 times Wilson dropped back to pass.
It was not a perfect performance by any means but don't let the few imperfections cloud what was overall a solid game. This represents a huge improvement over the types of performances this group has put forth all season.
If the Seahawks can continue to protect their quarterback like they did on Sunday, they are going to be extremely tough to beat down the stretch and in the playoffs.