Question Two: How will quarterback Russell Wilson fare being tested by future Hall-of-Fame cornerback Darrelle Revis?
Jan 18, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson hoists the NFC trophy following their victory over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks defeated the Packers 28-22 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Seattle Seahawks passing attack lost top receiver Golden Tate and then traded disappointing wide receiver Percy Harvin after he failed to make any impact in an expensive season-and-a-half. Veteran receiver Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse have been the two top targets for Wilson. Rookie Paul Richardson had emerged as an impact receiver before being placed on injured reserve with a knee injury after the Divisional Playoff game against Carolina.
A rash of injuries at tight end have forced second-year tight end Luke Willson into a prominent role in the passing game. The 2013 fifth round draft pick had just 17 receptions on the season heading into week sixteen against St. Louis. Since then, the Wilson to Willson connection has accounted for 11 receptions for 250 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The key match-up with Russell Wilson, however, is keeping the mobile quarterback in the pocket and negating his big-play ability outside the pocket. Forcing him to stay in the pocket and make progressions keeps the deep passing plays to a minimum. What makes it so difficult is that teams usually need to bring an extra safety into the box to stop running back Marshawn Lynch. Then, when Wilson is outside the pocket, he has single coverage outside and is able to find a receiver able to get away from coverage.
Jan 18, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Dan Herron (36) is tackled by New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty (32) in the first quarter in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
When Wilson beat the Patriots in week six of 2012 with two long touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, the New England secondary consisted of Devin McCourty and Alfonzo Dennard at quarterback with Kyle Arrington in the slot. Arrington remains, but McCourty is the free safety now and Dennard hardly played this season before landing on injured reserve. In addition, strong safeties Tavon Wilson (then a rookie) and Patrick Chung (out of position at free safety) both played most of the game at safety and both are clearly more comfortable playing near the line of scrimmage at strong safety. It was Tavon Wilson who Sidney Rice ran past for the game-winning touchdown.
However, with former Seahawk cornerback Brandon Browner and All-Pro Darrelle Revis (as well as the underrated Kyle Arrington) excel in man coverage. Browner did not play until week seven and though he was highly penalized, he only gave up two touchdown passes while being credited with defending six passes. Arrington–who shut down T.Y. Hilton twice this season–allowed just 25 receptions on 45 targets in the regular season for 298 yards and just one touchdown. Quarterbacks testing Revis this season (including the playoffs) had a combined 70.5 QB Rating completing just 51.2% of passes with just 3 touchdowns and Revis picking off 3 passes and credited with 12 passes defended (all defensive passing stats per PFF).
Jan 18, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) reacts after intercepting a pass against the Indianapolis Colts in the third quarter in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Wilson has faced Revis just once prior. Against Tampa Bay last season in week nine, Wilson led the eventual Super Bowl Champions to a 27 to 24 victory over a then winless Buccaneers team in overtime at home. What stood out in the game review was that Wilson was reluctant to test Revis, throwing his way just twice for a total of eight yards (per PFF). In addition, both of the passes were at or near the line of scrimmage. As a rookie facing the New York Jets, Wilson missed out on facing Revis as the All-Pro cornerback was already out on injured reserve due to his knee injury.
New England has defended the deep pass well this season (after struggling for many years with subpar safety play forcing Pro Bowl cornerback Devin McCourty to free safety) and Revis was a large part of that success. While Seattle uses the deep pass sparingly, when they use it no one in the league has a higher completion percentage on passes traveling over 20 yards in the air than Wilson (44.4% per PFF) or yards per attempt. The Patriots are ninth in the NFL in yards per attempt on deep passes allowing just 33 completions on 100 passes this season.
Wilson is coming of a game that had three-and-a-half quarters of his worst play at quarterback as a professional against Green Bay. The Packers brought pressure with linebacker Clay Matthews while attempting to pin Wilson in the pocket with the outside rushers. The Patriots have used that game plan against mobile quarterbacks all season long and look to continue that plan against Seattle in the Super Bowl. For Wilson, if the Patriots get a lead he could be forced to test Revis and the secondary more than he would like to and that could lead to Revis making a big play on the big stage.