Russell Wilson or the offensive line – who is most responsible for all that pressure?


Does Russell Wilson cause himself to be pressured by holding on to the football too long? Does he hold on to the football for so long because he consistently has to move and reset because of pressure? Both? Neither?

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Discussing Seattle’s generally-poor pass blocking always seems to bring out the critics of Wilson who claim that it is his fault. Any criticisms of Wilson are typically met with comments about how bad the pass blocking is. It becomes a chicken-and-the-egg type conundrum.

To try and get to the bottom of this, I started by looking at some of the signature stats from the guys over at Pro Football Focus (subscription required). It turns out there is statistical evidence for both sides of the debate.

For starters, Wilson was pressured on 46 percent of his passing snaps last season. That is the highest in the league. It is also more than double that of Peyton Manning who was at the other end of the spectrum at just 21 percent of his passes.

Wilson was also great at avoiding sacks. Despite being the most pressured QB in the NFL, he only allowed 15.9 percent of those pressures to result in sacks. Combine that with having the NFL’s sixth-best accuracy rate when under pressure, and it is easy see how the Seahawks were able to win in spite of poor pass protection.

The other side of this debate also has some statistical leverage to fall back on. Wilson’s average time to throw of 3.2 seconds is the worst in the NFL. The best at that stat was Peyton Manning at 2.24 seconds. It can’t be a coincidence that the top and bottom quarterbacks in terms of time to throw were the top and bottom quarterbacks in pressure percentage, right?

A quick look at the data seems to support that conclusion.

Look a little closer though and you’ll see that the correlation isn’t as strong as it seems. 0.56 implies a fairly weak correlation. So why there is some connection between the variables, there are clearly bigger factors.

One issue here is that not all teams use play-action at the same rate. The Seahawks use it more than anyone other than the Kansas City Chiefs. At 30.8 percent of their passes, Seattle’s rate completely eclipses the other end of the list. The San Diego Chargers used play action on just 7.8 percent of their passes.

As interesting as those play-action stats are, they don’t tell the story here. It turns out that there is almost no correlation between how often a team uses play-action and a quarterback’s time to throw.

That means we can ignore that element of scheme-dependance, no matter much it makes logical sense that play-action passes should take longer. The data doesn’t support that conclusion.

There is one more interesting nugget hidden in the data though. When Wilson got the ball out of his hands under 2.5 seconds, his passer was a very impressive 113.2. That’s second in league, just behind Tony Romo’s 113.6.

Stretch out the play to beyond 2.5 seconds and Wilson’s passer rating drops to 73.8. That’s only good for 21st in the league. That is quite a drop, but it makes perfect sense when considered alongside how often Wilson is pressured.

Of course, that doesn’t get us any closer to answering the initial question. It is just interesting, and tells us that better protection would lead to serious uptick in the production of Seattle’s passing game.

Overall, the data suggests that both parties should share some of the blame. Though it is important to note that the side that says it it primarily the blocking has the stronger correlational argument at this point.

To really get to the bottom of this, we’re going to have to dig into the game tape. That’s a project for another day.

Next: Exclusive interview with Obum Gwacham

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