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How Russell Wilson Became the NFL's Most Productive Running QB

Cian Fahey@CianafFeatured ColumnistNovember 11, 2014

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson walks on the field after the team beat the New York Giants in an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

It hasn't been a good season for Seattle Seahawks starting quarterback Russell Wilson.

Wilson has attempted 259 passes, completing 162 for a completion percentage of 62.5. Those completions have gone for 1,841 yards and 11 touchdowns with five interceptions. Most significantly, Wilson is averaging just 7.1 yards per attempt after averaging 8.2 last season and 7.9 as a rookie.

Those numbers reflect Wilson's inability to consistently complete passes down the field. Over the first two seasons of his career, Wilson's deep accuracy was very impressive. In fact, it could be argued that he was the best deep thrower in the NFL last season. This year, he has just three 40+ yard plays after nine games.

Over his first two years in the league, Wilson had 21 40+ yard plays in 32 regular season games.

While his offensive line has been an issue and his receiving talent isn't what it was last season because of Golden Tate's absence, Wilson largely only has himself to blame for his poor production on downfield throws. He hasn't controlled the trajectory of his passes or thrown with precision to covered receivers this year like he did on a regular basis last season.

Furthermore, while Wilson has only thrown five interceptions through nine games, putting him on course to throw one more interception this year than he did last season, he has made many more poor decisions with the ball this year that he hadn't in the past.

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Wilson has made up for his lack of precision in the passing game by using his feet.

Michael David Smith @MichaelDavSmith

Russell Wilson is the only player in NFL history with three different games of 200+ pass yards and 100+ rush yards.

Before this season, Wilson had 1,128 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 190 attempts in 32 regular season games. Through nine games this year, he has 66 rushing attempts for 500 yards and four touchdowns. In three separate games, the 25-year-old has rushed for at least 100 yards despite never running more than 14 times.

One of those games came in Week 10 against the New York Giants.

For a long time now, the Giants have lacked speed at the linebacker positions. The Seahawks were able to highlight this by using Wilson's rushing ability to complement Marshawn Lynch/Robert Turbin/Christine Michael.

The trio of running backs and their quarterback combined for an incredible 350 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Lynch had 140 yards and four touchdowns on 21 carries. Michael had 71 yards on four carries. Turbin had 32 yards on six carries. Leaving 107 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries for Wilson.

Wilson was able to constantly find space against the Giants because they were too focused on trying to stop Lynch. There wasn't backside containment when Wilson pulled the ball down and ran with it.

NFL.com

Against the Giants, Wilson attempted seven read-option runs for 71 yards. Of the remaining seven, three were kneel downs, one was an 11 yard scramble and the remaining three were designed runs that went for 33 yards.

Wilson keeping the ball on read-option plays is something that has become more prevalent in the Seahawks offense as the season has developed.

In total, Wilson has 18 read-option runs this season. Not only did seven of those come against the Giants, but 11 have come on his last 17 rushing attempts when you discount any recovered fumbles or kneel down plays. On those 11 runs, Wilson has 91 total yards.

This chart tracks Wilson's rushing attempts for the season as a whole.

AttemptsYardsTouchdownsYPC
Read Option1816048.9
Scramble25258010.3
Designed Run681013.5
Fumbles/Kneel Downs1210N/A
Analytical Analysis through NFL.com

It's clear that the Seahawks have made a concentrated effort to use Wilson's legs, but his primary success comes from plays when he initially drops back looking to throw the ball. While he is very effective taking the ball on the read option, much of that must be attributed to the poor play of the Giants last week.

Being fair to Wilson though, he has typically made good decisions on read option plays and proven to be an intelligent, explosive runner.

He may not have the same explosion as Colin Kaepernick, but he doesn't need to if he is to be effective.

NFL.com

The Seahawks keep their read-option plays relatively simple. When Percy Harvin was on the roster, they showed signs of more creativity, but even then their typical setup came from a formation such as this one. Wilson does have a tight end to the left side of the field who is going to move wide at the snap, but that is the one rare wrinkle added to this play.

NFL.com

When that tight end goes out wide, the cornerback has to stay with him or risk giving up a free pass down the sideline, and in this situation an easy touchdown. Meanwhile, on the edge, the containment defender crashes down inside, giving Wilson an easy decision to pull the ball back and run with it.

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Wilson initially attacks the space that is made available to him, but he is aware enough to cut back outside when the two initial defenders move inside. Wilson is able to comfortably find his way into the end zone, just past the pylon, for a touchdown.

All of Wilson's touchdown runs have come on read option plays this year and every single one of those runs started in the red zone.

Read option plays have become more popular in the NFL in recent seasons, but designed runs are rarely used. The Seahawks have used a design run on six occasions this season and they've always used the exact same one.

NFL.com

The pre snap alignment of the offense is significant for this designed run. The Seahawks show a run-heavy set with a fullback and running back behind Wilson under center. For all the read-option plays, Wilson is in the shotgun, for this designed run he has to be under center.

NFL.com

As they do on many of their zone runs to Lynch, the Seahawks leave a defender unblocked to the side of the field that the offense is working away from. This defender can't see that Wilson is holding onto the ball instead of giving it to Lynch, so he needs to either keep his discipline or risk giving the Seahawks a numbers advantage in the area Lynch is attacking.

With Lynch being such a dominant runner, it's very difficult to stay disciplined in this situation.

NFL.com

The defender concedes ground to Wilson as he runs into the opposite flat. This could be seen as a simple bootleg play action, but Wilson never puts the ball in a position to throw it. He never looks down field or turns to square to the line of scrimmage when he gets the ball.

Wilson tucks the ball and accelerates as soon as he completes the fake to his running back.

NFL.com

When the quarterback advances further downfield, he has a receiver in position to block for him. That is not a coincidental occurrence. That receiver never looked to run a route. He simply put himself in position to block for Wilson because he knew the run was coming to his area of the field.

An easy 12 yards is the result.

The designed run has been the most effective run for Wilson on a per-play basis this season, but it's not the kind of play that you can use all the time. The play is designed on the concept of the backside defender being drawn to the running back. If he's not drawn to the running back, Wilson is immediately put in trouble.

Unlike the option play, where Wilson makes his decision based on what the defender does, Wilson never sees the defender until he has taken the ball on this type of play.

Wilson is not just a running quarterback who can throw the ball, he proved last season that he can be a high quality pocket passer who would still be effective without his mobility. However, so far this season he hasn't lived up to the standards he set in 2013.

A huge amount of scrutiny would likely be falling on Wilson this year if he wasn't being so productive as a rusher. That facet of his play has played a huge role in keeping the Seahawks offense on track despite their injuries and the losses of Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice since early in the offseason.

Wilson isn't on schedule to set a rushing yardage record for a quarterback, but at this pace, he will likely have a chance to come close to Michael Vick's 2006 total of 1,039 yards.

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