Russell Wilson's Running Ability a Huge Super Bowl X-Factor

Matt Bowen @MattBowen41NFL National Lead WriterJanuary 26, 2015

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 02:  Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks rolls out to pass against the Oakland Raiders at CenturyLink Field on November 2, 2014 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Russell Wilson's ability to run the football is a key to the Seattle Seahawks' offensive game plan because of the opportunities the quarterback can create in multiple schemes and personnel groupings.

A true X-factor at the position, Wilson's skill set allows offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to think outside the box, while generating stress for opposing defenses on the read-option and misdirection concepts (boot/swap boot).

Let's focus on Wilson's impact as the Seahawks begin their prep out in Arizona for the Super Bowl XLIX matchup versus Bill Belichick's New England Patriots.


Base Read-Option

Wilson is the NFL's best read-option quarterback. The third-year pro is smooth through the mesh point (quarterback-running back exchange), and he displays the instincts/open-field ability to produce while avoiding high-speed collisions versus second-level defenders.

In Seattle, it is a base scheme (out of a Shotgun alignment) with Wilson reading the edge defender (defensive end or outside linebacker based off the front). If the defender closes on the dive, Wilson pulls the ball and attacks the edge of the formation. If the defensive end or outside 'backer stays up the field, then the ball is handed off to Marshawn Lynch on the inside zone scheme.

Here's an example of the Seahawks' read-option out of a Slot Open formation (3x1 with tight end attached to the core) in the red zone versus the Washington Redskins.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind
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Wilson reads the initial path of the edge defender (closes on the dive) with the tight end on the arc release (outside release to block) versus the defensive back. One quick read from Wilson and the quarterback is on the edge of the formation with a clear path to put the ball in the end zone.

The idea for the Seahawks is to test the discipline of the edge defender and the linebackers. Do they play with option responsibility (dive, quarterback pull), and can that outside linebacker or defensive end "slow play" (account for both quarterback and running back) through the mesh-point read?

Make a mistake on the edge versus the Seahawks' read-option, and Wilson is going to move the sticks or put six points on the board.

Window Dressing and Creativity in the Read-Option Scheme

The Seahawks will show some creativity in the read-option scheme through alignment or by adding a pass off the mesh-point read for Wilson.

Take a look at this example versus the Philadelphia Eagles with the Seahawks showing double-stack formations in an over-split alignment (outside of the numbers) out of Jet/10 personnel (4WR-1TE-1RB).

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

The initial alignment of the wide receivers forces the Eagles defensive backs to widen (match to coverage) with the Seahawks running the same read-option scheme that we broke down above.

With the edge defender crashing down on the dive—and the linebackers flowing to the inside zone scheme—Wilson can pull this ball and attack the open alley. That's a free run to the end zone with no safety support (removed versus the double-stack).

This is all window dressing from the Seahawks (alignment and personnel), but it's another way to cater to Wilson's ability on the read-option. Put the defense in an adverse situation and test the discipline of the players in the box.

Another scheme that has shown up on the tape this season is the triple-option with Wilson once again reading the edge defender. However, in this situation, the Seahawks release the No. 1 wide receiver on the curl or fade depending on the coverage look in the secondary.

This is an example from the Seahawks' matchup versus the Carolina Panthers with Wilson pulling the ball off the mesh point and reading the open-side cornerback for the run/pass option.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

If the cornerback sinks with the release of the No. 1 receiver, Wilson will run the ball. However, if the cornerback squats or attacks the line of scrimmage, the Seahawks quarterback can target the curl/fade.

Where else did we see this play? Back in Week 1 with Wilson hitting Ricardo Lockette for a touchdown versus the Green Bay Packers. This is a solid example of the creativity Seattle will use to take advantage of poor discipline in the secondary.

Seattle will also run packaged plays with Wilson to take advantage of the numbers in the box. That's just another way for Bevell to create production off the read-option scheme.

Running Lanes for Lynch

The Seahawks are going to show the core zone and power schemes Sunday night, but the threat of Wilson keeping the ball off the read-option opens up running lanes for Lynch when the edge defender hesitates or attacks the quarterback through the mesh point.

Remember, the read-option is a base inside zone scheme when Wilson hands off the ball on the dive as the offensive linemen utilize a "zone-step" (step play-side) and work up to the second level. That allows Lynch to press the ball, attack a vertical lane or cut back when the edge defender fails to close on the dive.

Here's an example with Lynch scoring a touchdown versus the St. Louis Rams off the read-option scheme.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

What do we see here? The defensive end plays Wilson through the mesh point, and there is no one to close versus the dive. With the Seahawks using zone blocking up front, Lynch can push the ball through the second level and into the end zone.

In the NFC Championship Game, the threat of Wilson pulling the ball forced the edge defender to hesitate at the point of attack on Lynch's fourth-quarter touchdown run versus the Packers.

Take a look as Julius Peppers is late to close on the dive off the mesh-point read from Wilson with Lynch pressing the ball back to the open side of the formation on a key play for Seattle.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

As much as we talk about Wilson's playmaking ability off the read-option scheme, the production from Lynch is crucial to this offense. And there will be running lanes for Lynch to exploit when defenses are threatened by Wilson pulling the ball to attack the edge of the formation.

The Boot Game

The Seahawks will run the boot and the swap boot (bring receiver behind the line of scrimmage) off the same mesh-point action that we see with the read-option. This tests the eye discipline of defenders in coverage and also forces the defense to play with contain responsibilities on the edge.

This is a run/pass option for Wilson with the Seahawks running a three-level route combination as they move the pocket. But again, it's the threat of Wilson running the ball that sells this misdirection concept versus the secondary.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

In this situation versus the Arizona Cardinals, the Seahawks bring Posse/11 personnel on the field (3WR-1TE-1RB) and run the swap boot with the edge defender closing hard on the dive.

This allows Wilson to extend the pocket with the tight end releasing down the field and the wide receiver coming behind the line of scrimmage to burst to the flat.

Look at the defensive back to the closed side of the formation as he attacks downhill versus Wilson. This creates an open target for the quarterback to hit tight end Luke Willson for an 80-yard touchdown.

In the intro, I talked about Bevell thinking "outside of the box," and that's what Seattle did off this same scheme on the "throwback" to Lynch with Ace/12 personnel (2WR-2TE-1RB) in the game versus the Eagles.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

Move the pocket with Wilson and hit the running back on the wheel route to the open side of the formation for six points. A wide-open target for Wilson off the same mesh-point action at the snap.

By getting Wilson to the edge of the formation, the Seahawks are once again catering to his skill set. Wilson's accuracy goes up when he has clear sight lines outside of the pocket, and it also creates a true run/pass option for the quarterback.

How Will the Patriots Account for Wilson?

Belichick will have a solid game plan for Wilson and the Seahawks on Sunday night. We know that. However, can the Patriots account for the quarterback on the read-option, defend Lynch and contain Wilson on the boot schemes?

I would expect the Patriots to use a "spy" versus Wilson (linebacker Jamie Collins is the best fit in my opinion) in passing situations to limit the quarterback if he steps up to run the ball. And the "scrape exchange" technique (edge defender plays dive, linebacker scrapes over the top to quarterback) is a proven way to defend the read-option.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 07:  Quarterback  Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks runs 26 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter of the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on December 7, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsyl
Al Bello/Getty Images

But that's just chalkboard talk as the two clubs begin to prep for Sunday night out in Arizona.

The Seahawks and Bevell will put together a call sheet that utilizes Wilson's skill set, while testing the discipline of the Patriots defense. Think assignment, eye placement and tackling from the perspective of New England.

That's why Wilson is a true X-factor in this matchup. He can force the Patriots to adjust their game plan with his ability to run the football and produce in multiple schemes.

Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.