Running For His Life: Deep Throws Tough For Wallace With Depleted Line

Matt RybaltowskiContributor ISeptember 30, 2009

SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 27: Quarterback Seneca Wallace #15 of the Seattle Seahawks looks to hand off the ball during the game against the Chicago Bears on September 27, 2009 at Qwest Field in Seattle, Washington. The Bears defeated the Seahawks 25-19. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Seneca Wallace can run. In the offseason, the Seahawks’ backup quarterback has run with Seattle-born NBA stars Brandon Roy, Jason Terry, and Jamal Crawford in informal pickup basketball games. “I hold my own,” Wallace told the Seattle Times in 2006.

But with a makeshift offensive line that was without three starters in last Sunday’s loss to the Bears, Wallace was forced to run for his life.  Filling in for injured Matt Hasselbeck, Wallace spent more time out of the pocket, than in it. Sacked three times and hurried many more, a panicked Wallace even attempted an underhanded shovel pass to avoid a safety.

“We have to pick blitzes up,” Wallace said. “They’re the Bears, they’re going to try to cause a lot of ruckus, and try to get you to make mistakes.”

During his eight-year career, Wallace has avoided such errors by creating plays with his legs. After the loss, Seahawks coach Jim Mora lauded the former Iowa State Cyclone for his ability to keep plays alive.  Flushed from the pocket on one attempt in the third quarter, Wallace avoided a certain sack by LB Nick Roach and connected with T.J. Houshmandzadeh in triple coverage. 

"He's doing what he does best," Bears DE Adewale Ogunleye said. "If he stays in the pocket, he's going to get killed."

Relentless pressure by Ogunleye and the Bears’ front four, though, provided Wallace with little time to throw deep. Ball-hawking safeties in the Bears’ Cover-Two scheme prevented the quarterback from testing the defense down the field and Wallace instead checked down to receivers on shorter routes. If Hasselbeck does not return this week, Wallace will face a similar Colts’ defense patterned after former coach Tony Dungy’s Tampa Two alignment.  

“Most routes have a deep, an intermediate, and a shallow part to it,” Mora said. “Depending upon coverage and his read and who gets open, he’s got a progression that he’s got to go through to get to that throw. We tried to get it down the field and they (the Bears’ safeties) were there.”

In 2008, teams in the NFL averaged 53.3 throws downfield (of at least 21 yards or more) according to Stats, LLC. Using the same criteria, Wallace attempted a deep pass on only eight of his 44 throws last Sunday. Of the eight, he completed just two for 44 yards.

With the Seahawks trailing 25-19, a downfield attempt might have made their offense less predictable on a final drive that ended with a failed fourth down screen to RB Julius Jones. Instead, the longest of Wallace’s five completions went to TE John Carlson for nine yards. Carlson, in particular, found several openings in the Bears’ secondary during the series.

"They gave us opportunities to connect with John, but I didn't take advantage of those opportunities," Wallace said.

While Wallace found difficulty spotting Carlson, he seemed to have developed better chemistry with WR Nate Burleson. Burleson had no trouble gaining separation from the physical Bears’ corners on intermediate routes and caught nine passes for 109 yards. Though Wallace started eight games last year, Burleson missed all but one game with an injured ACL.

“He gets the ball out of his hands in a very accurate way,” Burleson said. “All we got to do is run routes.”

Regardless of the coverage or blitz packages presented by the Colts this weekend, Mora does not want Wallace to make deep throws just for the sake of testing his arm. The coach still believes he has a number of receivers who can make plays after the catch and wants Wallace to avoid unnecessary mistakes.

“You don’t ever want your quarterback to force things,” Mora said. “You want him to take what the coverage gives you, read his progression, and make the right decision.”