Like Steph Curry, Seahawks’ Russell Wilson outstanding from long range
RENTON, Wash. — Right after the ball left Russell Wilson’s hand on his game-winning touchdown pass last week, a heave to DK Metcalf that sailed 42 yards in the air, the Seattle Seahawks quarterback went into a backpedal.
He was merely retreating from an oncoming pass-rusher. But given how masterful Wilson has been on deep throws — during his career and especially this record-setting start to the season — you could have confused him for an NBA sharpshooter uncorking a deep 3-pointer and starting his celebration well before the ball swishes through the net.
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Wilson used that exact analogy a week before.
“I think 3-point shooters would probably say when it comes off their hand, guys like Steph Curry, they just know it’s going in and that’s how he starts going back the other way,” Wilson said. “He just kinda knows. I think that for me, when I throw the ball and you know you let one go that you feel like it’s going to be on the money, you just kinda know. There’s this kind of moment in time that you’re like, here we go — boom! — and it hits his hands. I kind of … play music in my own head when the ball is in the air.”
Wilson has been hearing it often through three games.
He has a league-high seven completions on nine attempts that traveled at least 25 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, according to ESPN charting. His 301 yards on such throws are a league-high as are his five touchdowns, which are three more than anyone else. He would have had a sixth had Metcalf not fumbled right before crossing the goal line earlier in Seattle’s win over the Dallas Cowboys last week.
Not that Wilson’s proficiency on deep throws is new. Since entering the league in 2012, he has the most completions (146), yards (5,895) and touchdown passes (49) on 25-plus-yard throws. Only Ben Roethlisberger has more attempts on such throws (350 to 340), and no quarterback who has attempted at least 50 of them has a higher completion rate than Wilson (42.9%). Based on that same criteria, only Patrick Mahomes has a better Raw QBR (99.1 to 98.9).
“He’s amazing,” coach Pete Carroll said. “One of the real aspects of the game that has always captured America and captured the fans is that ball flying so far in the air and it comes to some guy flying down the sidelines and makes the play on it. Russell is just a master at it. I don’t think he’s any better at it than he used to be. He’s always been great at it.”
One thing is better this year: Seattle’s offensive line has been giving Wilson more time to make those deep throws. The Seahawks are fifth in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate (65.9%), which measures how frequently linemen sustain their blocks for 2.5 seconds or longer. Wilson matched his career-high last week when he completed 18 passes on which he had at least 2.5 seconds to throw, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. He’s had that amount of time on a league-high 10 of his 14 touchdown passes this season.
Those plays can’t get off the ground without time to develop. They can’t result in completions unless Wilson puts his ball on the money and his receiver comes down with it. Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and David Moore have done their part. Wilson will have two more deep threats at his disposal whenever Phillip Dorsett II comes off injured reserve and Josh Gordon is reinstated from suspension.
“I honestly think it goes back to his ability to control the trajectory of the throw,” said Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, a quarterback in his playing days. “It helps when you have fast receivers because you have guys who can run balls down like DK in the Atlanta game.
“But I really do think he knows when I have to put more air up underneath it, when I have to maybe drive it a little bit harder, and that’s a huge part of throwing the deep ball because bottom line is you want to make the ball catchable and so the trajectory that he uses is the thing that jumps out at me. Some guys are really good at lobbing balls, some guys are really good at driving throws deep down the field. He’s the guy that can do both. Certain routes and certain coverage techniques are going to require him to make different throws.”
The throw to Metcalf against Atlanta Schottenheimer mentioned was a 38-yard touchdown on fourth-and-5. That was only Wilson’s fifth-longest throw this season in terms of air distance, an NFL Next Gen Stat that measures the actual yardage a ball traveled from release point to landing point.
He’s completed four of five throws that had 50-plus yards of air distance. Metcalf caught the longest and shortest of the four. His would-be TD against Dallas was a 62-yard completion with 62.9 yards of air distance while his 54-yard TD over Stephon Gilmore in Week 2 traveled 55.2 yards in the air. Lockett (52.6 yards of air distance on his 43-yard TD vs. Dallas) and Moore (55.3 yards of air distance on his 38-yard TD against the New England Patriots) had the others.
Oh my goodness @DMoeSwagg23 gets his feet in!! 🙌
Q3: SEA 21, NE 17
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— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) September 21, 2020
Over the past five seasons, Wilson’s 25 completions with an air distance of 50-plus yards are eight more than any other quarterback.
The Seahawks are only now letting Wilson “cook.” They’ve always let him pull up from well beyond the arc.
“This has just been a stat for him that he’s owned for years,” Carroll said. “Great awareness and sense and special savvy and all that to create it and obviously the great physicals has made it just a spectacle when he plays. I’ve had as much fun watching as you guys, and I hope there’s a bunch more.”