Seattle Quarterback Russell Wilson

When it comes to clutch plays and big playoff games, Russell Wilson says, “Sometimes I think I’m made for these situations.” Based on Wilson’s performance so far in his young career, and specifically what we saw last Saturday  at the Clink in a Divisional round playoff game against the Carolina Panthers, won by Seattle 31-17, I think Wilson is right—only for me you can drop the “sometimes.” Consider the following about Wilson:

*Against the Panthers the Seahawks quarterback completed 15 of 22 passes for 268 yards and 3 touchdowns. On 3rd downs he was beyond clutch—a perfect 8 for 8 for 199 yards, AND all 3 touchdowns!! His quarterback rating for the game was 149.2—the 5th best for a playoff game in NFL history!

*Wilson’s average passer rating for his career to this point is a stellar 98.6. However, in his 6 playoff starts that rating jumps to 109.6—a full 11 points higher. In addition, that 109.6 is the 2nd highest passer rating of any quarterback ever in NFL postseason history—just behind Troy Aikman (111.2) and higher than Aaron Rodgers (105.3), Bart Starr (104.8), Kurt Warner (102.8) and Drew Brees (100.7). The only point Wilson can be challenged on here is that he has only 6 playoff starts while the others range from 11 to 13; but that gap is rapidly closing. Also, he has the highest average yards per passing attempt (8.97) in NFL playoff history; and he has 9 postseason TD passes and one post season running TD against only one postseason interception across his playoff career.

All of this spells out just how clutch Russell Wilson is, and as the games get bigger the more clutch he seems to become. He does, indeed, seem to be “made for these situations”, a fact on full display in this playoff game against the Panthers.

In many ways this game was a tale of two quarterbacks—the brilliance of Russell Wilson vs. the mistakes of Carolina’s Cam Newton. In taking Newton with the 1st overall pick of the 2011 draft I’m sure the Panthers brass had in mind that he would develop into what Russell Wilson is now becoming. After an unbelievable rookie season however, (Newton threw for over 4,000 yards as a rookie, while rushing for 700 plus yards and scoring 14 TDs) the Panthers quarterback seems to have regressed. On Saturday he fumbled a handoff on a zone read play and the resulting turnover led to the Seahawks first TD. He, at times, displayed bad throwing mechanics, throwing off his back foot or not stepping in to his throws, which led to inaccurate passes and missed receivers. He also exhibited an annoying habit (to Panthers fans and football purists) of staring at his intended receivers, which allowed the Hawks defenders to read his eyes. This directly led to Seattle safety Kam Chancellor’s 90 yard interception return for a TD in the 4th quarter, a play that broke Carolina’s back in this game. On top of that pick, and another by Richard Sherman earlier in the game, Hawks defenders dropped 2 other passes they should have intercepted. Another bad Newton habit is that when things are not going well for him and his team he has a tendency to hang his head and pout. Such bad body language communicates volumes to teammates and opponents alike; and you NEVER see that in Russell Wilson, no matter what is happening on the field.

Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton

Wilson’s mastery was evident all through this game, but particularly on the 3 TD passes he threw. Keep in mind that all 3 came on 3rd down and long situations and were against a Panthers defense that, coming into the game, had been playing as well as any in the league. The first of Wilson’s scoring tosses took place late in the first quarter shortly after the aforementioned Newton fumble gave Seattle possession deep in Carolina territory. With 3rd down and 9 yards to go and the score still 0-0, the Seattle quarterback brought his team to the line of scrimmage at the Panthers 16 yard line. Staring him in the face was an apparent Carolina all out, “casino” blitz formation, with 7 defenders on the line of scrimmage intent on rushing the Seahawks passer and doing him harm. Wilson instantly recognized the defense AND the opportunity it presented. Calling the signals from the shotgun, he saw one of the Carolina safeties creeping towards the scrimmage line, and knew that his left side, slot receiver Doug Baldwin would be one on one against the other safety, Panthers rookie Tre Boston. With the snap of the ball Wilson retreated a few steps and, well before the Carolina blitz could get to him, simply lofted the ball toward the rear of the end zone. Meanwhile Baldwin put a nifty, double move on Boston at the 5 yard line, stepped around him across the goal line, turned back towards Wilson and caught the perfectly thrown ball against his chest about 7 yards deep in the end zone for the score. The Hawks had the game’s first TD and a 7-0 lead!

Doug Baldwin hauls in Wilson TD pass

As great a pass as that was, Wilson’s next touchdown pass was even more impressive. The Panthers had taken the kickoff following Baldwin’s TD catch and put together a well executed, for the most part, 14 play drive to tie the game on a 6 yard Newton TD pass to his gifted, young receiver Kelvin Benjamin. (Even that score never would have happened, however, had Richard Sherman hung on to an interception he had right in his hands but dropped—another example of Newton staring down a receiver) Remarkably, that touchdown was the first that Seattle’s defense had allowed in 11 quarters of football—nearly 3 full games—which demonstrates how great the Hawks defense has been lately.  Four plays into Seattle’s possession following Newton’s TD throw, Russell Wilson and co. had the ball with a 3rd and 7 at their own 37 yard line. On this play the Seahawks were in a “trips right” formation (3 receivers split to the right side) with the slot receiver being Jermaine Kearse. I have watched this play in slow motion replay multiple times, and as he is standing in the shotgun you can see Wilson making his pre snap read of the defense and indicate something to his receivers with his hands; and you can see that Kearse indicates something back to Wilson—there was a lot of pre snap communication going on. Likely what it all meant was that both Wilson and Kearse realized that there would be one on one coverage on Kearse by his defender, Panthers cornerback Bene Benwikere; and that they could take advantage of it. With the snap of the ball Wilson retreats to pass as Kearse takes off from the line of scrimmage, gets a step on Benwikere and, while running hard, angles across the center of the field from right to left. At about the Panthers 45 yard line Benwikere, realizing he is beat, reaches out with his hand and grabs Kearse’s left arm to slow him down; a move that was actually pass interference as by then Wilson had released a beautiful, spiraling, arching pass towards the Seattle receiver. While looking back for the ball Kearse fends off Benwikere’s grab with his left hand, so as the ball descends towards him does not have that hand available to aid in the catch; which turned out not to be a problem because of the marvelous touch and placement that Wilson had put on this pass. With his left hand engaged with Benwikere, at about the Panthers 37 yard line Kearse reaches out with his right arm as the ball comes down, and a moment later it gently nestles into the receiver’s right hand. Jermaine secures the one handed catch and then takes off at full speed, beating Benwikere and a pursuing Panthers safety to the left side of the end zone with a dive to the pylon; thus completing one of the most beautiful 63 yard scoring pass and run plays you will ever see. With Kearse’s amazing touchdown the Hawks took a 14-7 lead which, as the first half was coming to a close, the Panthers cut to 14-10 with a field goal.

Jermaine Kearse diving for the pylon

We cannot move on to Wilson’s 3rd touchdown pass without making a few comments about Seattle safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas and the plays they made right before the end of the first half. Carolina took the kickoff following Kearse’s touchdown with just over 4 minutes left in the half and, using a combination of effective runs and Newton passes, moved the ball to the Seattle 24. There they had a 2nd down and 8 with 23 seconds left in the 2nd quarter. On the ensuing play Newton took the snap from the shotgun, quickly scanned the field to his left, then under pressure turned back to his right and gave his receiver on that side, Kelvin Benjamin, a long look before unloading an arcing, wobbly pass to him just before the Hawks pass rush arrived. By the time the pass got to Benjamin it appeared that he was getting double coverage with Seattle’s Earl Thomas in front of him and Richard Sherman behind him; but a more accurate statement would be that Newton caused the double coverage by how long he looked at Benjamin before he threw the ball. Earl Thomas simply read Newton’s eyes, came over from his safety position and made a leaping interception in front of Benjamin. Newton never should have thrown that ball and the fact that he did would have cost Carolina dearly, but for the fact that Thomas dropped the ball ever so slightly upon hitting the ground. The refs ruled the play an interception at the 1 yard line, but Thomas’ muff was picked up on replay and the call was reversed.

Carolina ran one more play which left them with a 4th and 3 at the Seattle 18 yard line and 4 seconds left on the clock. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera sent his field goal unit onto the field and they lined up for what everyone thought would be a routine field goal attempt. It turned out to be anything but. As the Panthers holder was getting ready to receive the snap, Seattle’s Kam Chancellor, who must have really paid attention during his film study of the Carolina field goal unit, from his position on Seattle’s field goal defensive unit about 5 yards down field, suddenly  made a bold dash toward the line of scrimmage. With perfect timing he arrived at the scrimmage line just as the Panthers center was snapping the ball. He then literally leaped OVER the Carolina linemen as they were about to execute their blocks, continued in a direct line towards the Carolina kicker, and very nearly blocked the kick. The timing and athleticism of Chancellor on this play was exquisite to watch, even though he missed the block.

The kick was good, but on the play Carolina was flagged for a false start penalty; so the Panthers field goal unit went back out on the field 5 yards further back, and lined up again for a kick. Unbelievably Chancellor did the exact same thing on this attempt as he did on the first, with perfect timing leaping the Panthers line; only this time actually causing the kick to be shanked to the left and missed. It looked for all the world like the Seattle safety had blocked the kick, but in reality he had just shocked the Panthers kicker into a miss. Unfortunately, as Chancellor was following through with his block attempt he nudged the Carolina kicker enough to be called for a running into the kicker penalty. This wiped out the Panthers field goal miss and let them try the kick a 3rd time. On this attempt Chancellor, who was probably winded by then, stayed home and the kick was good. Thus, the first half came to a close in a most entertaining fashion, with Seattle clinging to a 14-10 lead.

Kam Chancellor leaps the Carolina line

The teams exchanged punts to start the 3rd quarter, but the Seahawks mounted a long drive across the last 6 minutes of the period and on into the 4th quarter that gave them a field goal and a 17-10 lead. To that point in the contest the Panthers had proven they could move the ball on Seattle’s defense, but the Seahawks had done the same to Carolina and seemed to be slowly taking control of the game. That control was enhanced a few minutes later when Russell Wilson connected with his tight end Luke Willson for his 3rd, 3rd down touchdown pass of the game.

The scoring play was set up by another Wilson to Willson pass during which the Hawks tight end made an incredible, tackle busting run that took the ball to the Carolina 25 yard line. Two plays later, with 10 minutes and 33 seconds left in the game, the Hawks were still parked at the 25 with a 3rd and 10 situation facing them. Once again Carolina was lined up in a blitz formation, and once again Wilson read it before the snap and made the exact right decision; a quick slant pass to Willson, who caught the ball right where the blitzing line backer should have been. The tight end then split the defenders with his 4.5 second, 40 yard dash speed and beat them all to the end zone to give Seattle a 2 touchdown lead.

With Wilson’s 3rd TD pass “Twelves” all over Seattle and the nation breathed a little easier. At last it looked like the Seahawks were exerting their will in this game, and that the Panthers were folding. With time running out, and being 2 scores down, Carolina would at last be one dimensional and have to pass the ball; and the Hawks pass rush could pin their ears back and get after Cam Newton. It didn’t work out that way exactly, as the Panthers put together another long drive, but in the end it was another huge mistake by the Carolina quarterback that put a stamp on this game for Seattle.

The Panthers started their drive following the Seattle TD on their own 20 yard line, and 7 plays later had the ball at the Seattle 13 with a 2nd and 4 and 6 minutes and 10 seconds left on the clock.  The drive to that point had been a mostly good and efficient piece of work by Newton, but that was all about to change as the Carolina QB would demonstrate the flaws that set him apart from his Seattle counterpart. The play began with Newton in the shotgun, taking the center snap and scanning the field to his left. With his receiver to that side covered and Seattle’s pass rush closing in on him, the Panthers quarterback turned back to his right looking for his check down receiver. Once again his eyes lingered too long on his target, and observing this a few yards down field from the receiver was Hawks strong safety Kam Chancellor. Apparently the Carolina Cam never saw the Seattle Kam lurking in the weeds, for when he cocked his arm and fired a bullet pass toward his check down receiver the Seattle safety broke on the ball, stepped in front of the receiver and picked it clean returning it 90 yards to the house. I won’t soon forget that image of Chancellor, running all alone on my TV screen, and not another player in sight. It was something to behold!

Kam Chancellor’s 90 yd pick 6!

That play made it a 31-10 game and the Panthers were through. A meaningless Carolina touchdown brought the score to its final 31-17 count, but Chancellor’s play had removed all doubt—the Hawks were moving on to their 2nd NFC Championship game in 2 years!

Kam Chancellor, with his 90 yard pick 6, the longest such play in Seattle playoff history, and with all of his great hits, tackles and leaps, played a truly remarkable game against Carolina; but for my money it was Russell Wilson who made the difference. He played as close to a perfect game as we have seen at the game’s most vital position. The disparity between his excellence and Cam Newton’s errors was a huge advantage for Seattle; and in that sense truly made this game, “a tale of two quarterbacks.”  

In the NFL playoffs, however, there is no resting on laurels if a team wants to get to and win the “Big Game”, and that has been Seattle’s goal all season. The divisional round is now behind the Seahawks, and the NFC Championship game, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are staring them in the face. The pace quickens, and our team is one game away from an historic, 2nd consecutive trip to the Super Bowl.

So it’s time to get excited, Hawks fans!

I think we’re going to see a helluva game come Sunday!

Go Hawks!!

Copyright © 2015

By Mark Arnold

All Rights Reserved

Called a “Casino” blitz because the defense is gambling it can get to the quarterback with their 7 or 8 pass rushers before the QB can release the ball.

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2 Responses to Seahawks Pound Panthers 31-17–A Tale of Two Quarterbacks—by Mark Arnold

  1. Steve Rodriguez says:

    Yes! A tale of 2 quarterbacks! Well communicated Mark!!

    We’re performing at an overwhelming magical level. The city of Seattle and the 12’s are living a dream, a magical unified fan base with an electricity I’ve never witnessed before!

    Hawk Nation, enjoy the ride and and savor these moments. We aren’t just knocking on the door, we are collectively kicking it in to the view of another Worlds championship!

    Go Hawks!

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