When it comes to football strategy and play calling, coaches usually garner most of the praise in the wake of glory — and shoulder the blame when things go awry. Where does that leave the players? Mark Schofield examines the Russell Wilson throw.
“I don’t care. He’s the one who threw the [bleeping] ball.” ‒ Frank Hauser
Those were the words of my college head coach at Wesleyan as I came off the field in a game against Hamilton. I had just thrown my second interception of the game, a horrific decision on a 3rd-and-goal play. The orders from the sideline called for a play-action pass. After faking the stretch play to my right I was supposed to find our tight end crossing away from the flow of the play, from right to left.
Our offensive line allowed the backside defensive end to collapse the pocket, and he burst into the backfield untouched. Under duress, I forced the throw and it sailed over the TE’s head and into the waiting arms of the defender. The offensive line coach came over to apologize to the head coach for the blown assignment, but Coach Hauser was not hearing it. Instead, he laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of his junior signal caller.
The thing about playing quarterback is that once the ball is snapped, all of the decisions rest in your hands. We can debate the wisdom of Seattle’s play call: throwing the football in a 2nd-and-1 situation instead of handing the ball to arguably the best running back in football. We can critique scripting a shield-and-slant route in that situation, rather than a play-action play similar to the one that worked earlier in the game for a touchdown. But it doesn’t matter, because once the play is called and the center delivers the football into your hands, you are the final decision maker.
The scene above is the view Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had last night after taking what proved to be his final snap of Super Bowl XLIX. Ricardo Lockette (#83, lower left) is breaking open on the slant route. However, a quarterback must be cognizant of defenders jumping routes and “blink” in front of receivers to ensure that a defender is not in position to deliver a crushing blow or intercept the football. Again, this is not an actual blinking of the eyes, but just one last quick pause, to make sure the receiver is truly running free.
Meanwhile New England Patriots defensive back Malcolm Butler (#21, lower right) is breaking forward on the slant route. Wilson doesn’t hesitate, delivering a rocket to the receiver toward the middle of the field. The defensive back crashes the party, getting between Lockette and the football and securing the game-clinching interception.
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Wilson is the final decision maker on this play. He could have thrown the ball lower, but that carried the risk of a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage. He could have thrown this to the back shoulder, using Lockette as a natural barrier between Butler and the football. But in this situation, with time running out and two downs left to score from the one-yard line with the best running back in football on your team, Wilson needed to choose his third option. Throw the football into the third row.
This is not to take away from Butler, a rookie who made a veteran play on the game’s biggest stage at its most critical moment. The defensive back can credit practice and film study for the play, having seen it on video and been beaten on it during the week by the Patriots’ scout team. He displayed tremendous awareness on the play, recognizing the route and instantly breaking on the slant. On the other side of the field, the quarterback did not.
Russell Wilson is a great young talent, having led his team to three playoff appearances and two Super Bowls in his three years as a starter. He will learn from this and continue to improve his play. When faced with this situation again, chances are he will blink. Fans can quarrel until they are blue in the face for the rest of the offseason, disputing the acumen and strategy of Pete Carroll and his staff for calling a passing play instead of a run ‒ but their energies will be wasted.
The simple fact is this: Wilson threw the [bleeping] ball.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
All video and images courtesy the NFL and NFL Game Rewind.