RENTON — The blitzing linebacker broke through the middle of the line untouched and delivered a straight-on hit to Russell Wilson’s midsection.
The Seahawks quarterback, his feet straddling the 25-yard line, released a pass a split second before absorbing the hit from Cleveland’s Joe Schobert, the ball floating high to the right side of the end zone. There, with 22 seconds left in the first half, Jaron Brown hauled in the first of his two touchdown receptions in the Seahawks’ comeback victory over the Browns on Sunday.
That sequence will be remembered most for what transpired after the touchdown — a choreographed “Bye, Bye, Bye” *NSYNC dance from Brown and fellow receivers Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf and David Moore.
Not to be overlooked was the chain of events that led to the touchdown pass — specifically, Wilson’s ability to diagnosis the oncoming blitz before the snap and release the pass quickly.
No one in the NFL has, objectively, been better than Wilson this season. He has a 14-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, a league-leading his passer rating of 124.7, and he’s considered the front-runner to win his first MVP award.
What’s more, no one in the NFL has, statistically, been better than Wilson when the defense blitzes. He has, in fact, been more effective when a defense blitzes — posting a league-leading passer rating of 141.8 against blitzes this season.
“I’ve always liked pressure,” Wilson said Thursday.
Which makes Sunday’s matchup against Baltimore especially intriguing for Wilson and the Seahawks (5-1).
The Ravens (4-2) have the most aggressive defense in the NFL through six games. They’re blitzing — that is, sending five or more defenders after the QB — on 49.3% of opponents’ dropback plays, according to Pro Football Reference. (Seahawks offensive line coach Mike Solari said the team’s film analysis of Baltimore shows the Ravens are actually blitzing 60% of the time.)
The Seahawks, for comparison, have blitzed on 28.5% of pass plays, which is just a hair above the league average of 28%.
Wilson and the Seahawks are well aware of what the Baltimore defense will bring Sunday at CenturyLink Field. The challenge will be to diagnosis when the Ravens bring the pressure, and figure out where it comes from quickly.
“We have to have our antennas up,” Seahawks center Justin Britt said.
The Seahawks have been pretty good against the blitz so far. On the Cleveland blitz late in the first half Sunday, in which Wilson took the direct shot just after his touchdown throw, Britt said the play was diagnosed correctly. (The one breakdown came when running back C.J. Prosise incorrectly read that right guard Jamarco Jones would pick up Schobert in the middle; instead both Prosise and Jones picked up another rushing linebacker on the right side of the line, leaving Schobert with a free path to the QB.)
“Here and there, we’ve had a couple plays that have gotten away from us, but overall I feel like Russ has been damn near perfect,” Britt said. “We’ve been communicating and playing together, playing as a unit, and it starts with our preparation during the week.”
Curiously, Wilson has seen more blitzes this season than he did in 2018, according to Pro Football Reference.
Last season, he was blitzed on 30% of his dropbacks. This year, opponents have blitzed him 39% of the time.
Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, for comparison, has been blitzed on 26% of his dropbacks this season; New England’s Tom Brady 27%; and Houston’s Deshaun Watson 32%.
To beat a blitz, it helps to know that it’s coming; and to do that, Wilson said the real work is done during film study during the week.
“That’s something I’ve always tried to pride myself on, to be ready for pressure and the protections of it all,” he said. “That’s where the studying is so important, just trying to figure out what teams are doing and when they’re going to do it.”
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said much of the team’s success against blitzes is owed to players’ comfort and familiarity in their second season with the system. He also credited the communication up front between Wilson and Britt.
“Justin Britt does a great job at the line of scrimmage,” Schottenheimer said. “He drives so much of it so Russ is able to go play.”