Don’t blame Russell Wilson.
People say the Seahawks’ passing game is spiraling counter-clockwise down the toilet because Wilson is in a slump.
It might be more accurate to say that Darrell Bevell, the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator, is in a slump.
“His passing game appears chaotic and out of sorts,” said a former NFL offensive coordinator. “Some weeks, Bevell is on and hot with his design and play calling, and other weeks, as cold as the Arctic.”
Bevell is like the professor who gives the same final exam every quarter, and the fraternity has a copy. People know the answers to his test before they take it. That’s how defenses seem to feel about his offense.
“Bevell runs the same standard, generic bootleg pass week after week,” said the former offensive coordinator. “I feel sorry for Wilson. Bevell needs to change it up. Defenses run to spots on the field. They know what’s coming. The Saints knew what was coming last Sunday.”
Here’s an example. On the Seahawks’ second drive against the Saints in Saturday’s divisional playoff game, Bevell called a deep pass to Jermaine Kearse, the wide receiver on the left side of the Seahawks’ formation. Before the snap, the Saints free safety, Malcolm Jenkins, took five steps toward Kearse as if he already knew the pass was going to Kearse.
When the center snapped the ball, Kearse ran a quick slant and Wilson pump faked a pass to him. Kearse was running a slant-and-go, supposed to fake out the defenders, make them think it’s a short pass and then, whoops, it’s a long touchdown.
The Saints weren’t faked. They knew it was a long pass from the start. They had seen it so many times before.
Corey White, the cornerback covering Kearse, didn’t react to the short slant. When Kearse started running deep, White was right there in perfect position to cover him. Jenkins, the free safety, ran over and covered Kearse, too. Double coverage. A done deal before it even started. Bevell’s fault.The play didn’t work. Wilson had to scramble and flip the ball to his running back, Marshawn Lynch.
“Teams track play callers’ tendencies by down and distance and by field position,” said the former offensive coordinator. “You can’t call the same exact plays in the playoffs that you called Week 2. You’ve got to change your tendencies because there are so many games on film.”
The first 12 games of the season, Bevell’s offense produced big plays in the passing game almost every week. Wilson’s passer rating was 109 on passes longer than 20 yards downfield.
But since Week 14 when he played the 49ers at Candlestick, his passer rating on deep passes has been a mere 46. He has completed just three out of 17 deep passes over that five-game span.
Don’t blame Wilson. Blame Bevell.
Wilson needs new plays, plays the opposing defense hasn’t seen him run dozens of time already. But Bevell isn’t giving Wilson new pass plays or even new twists on the old pass plays. Bevell simply is calling fewer and fewer deep passes, only three the past two games.
“Bevell has stopped attacking, stopped being aggressive,” said the former offensive coordinator. “Cornerbacks are squeezing the receivers from the top down, taking away the slants and the short passes because Bevell stopped taking the deep shots.”
Bevell is a leading candidate to become the Vikings’ next head coach, according to CBS Sports.com’s Jason La Canfora. “That has to weigh in Bevell’s mind,” the former offensive coordinator said. “It takes focus away from the game.”
Maybe Bevell isn’t showing creativity because he is thinking about something else, the Vikings and their roster, and he is not as focused as he should be on the Seahawks.
Which is too bad for the Seahawks. Their passing game is all Bevel, a Bevel Production.
“Tom Cable might be able to help a little bit in the run game,” said the former offensive coordinator. “But can he help in the pass game? Hell, no. So if Bevell has a bad day, the Seahawks’ whole passing offense suffers.
“Bill Walsh used to have that same problem,” said the former offensive coordinator. “When Walsh struggled, it was brutal. One time the 49ers scored three points against the Raiders at Candlestick, and Eddie DeBartolo had to chase him down somewhere in the Napa vineyards after the game and, over a couple bottles of wine, convince him he could still coach in the NFL.”
Walsh retired eight games later. Completely burnt out.
The current 49ers coaching staff does not have the problem of only one creative mind on offense. They have at least five coaches who contribute to the offensive game plan — offensive coordinator Greg Roman, head coach Jim Harbaugh, wide receivers coach John Morton, quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst and offensive assistant Eric Mangini. Sometimes, Harbaugh even asks his dad to contribute. The 49ers are a mutual fund while the Seahawks are one wild stock, Bevell Industries.
It’s possible Bevell has been saving all his creativity for this week, possible he will spring 10 new plays on the 49ers and the Seahawks will win. Possible, but unlikely.
So when the 49ers shut down the Seahawks passing game and win by more than a touchdown on Sunday, don’t blame Wilson.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.