Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Seth Russell edition of the Baylor offense

Some thoughtful person calling himself John Hawkins edited all of Seth Russell's snaps from 2014 into one 19 minute video which can be viewed here. Russell played a ton of snaps over the course of the season and not just garbage snaps. He had to beat Northwestern State on his own (I know, I know) and was entrusted with protecting a lead against a furious Texas Tech comeback attempt when Petty got concussed.

He even got a couple of snaps against West Virginia for some reason that I can't remember when Baylor was down and trying to comeback.

Russell got enough snaps for us to be able to make a few solid conclusions about who he is as a QB and player and what the Seth Russell edition of the "veer and shoot" offense will look like.

Seth Russell the runner

Art Briles often liked to talk about Bryce Petty as though he was this freakish athlete who could just as easily have been a star at defensive end or linebacker as he was at QB. He was frequently credited with being able to run a 4.6 at 6'3" 230.

This athleticism was never particularly evident on the playing field however and Petty was rarely used as a runner (in comparison to previous Baylor QBs) and wasn't terribly effective when he was.

While his combine numbers of a 4.87 40 and 4.13 shuttle were reasonably solid (the latter number is actually incredible, and frankly quite shocking) he didn't seem to actually have much quickness in taking the edge or getting up to speed from a standstill in the shotgun. Perhaps he was playing hurt much more frequently than it was let on, who knows? Whatever the case, he didn't add much dynamics to the Baylor run game.

Seth Russell is a different animal, he's quick to the edge and he has another gear when he hits the open field. Whenever he entered the game Baylor brought back their favorite play from the Nick Florence/Lache Seastrunk offense, the power-read:

I drew it up here as Baylor ran the play against the SMU Mustangs. The idea is to leave the DE or OLB to the playside unblocked and account for him via the option. If he goes wide to stop the running back sweep the QB keeps the ball and runs behind the pulling guard. If he stays home to stop the QB, then the RB can get wide on the defense and look to run over or around some DBs.

Gus Malzahn popularized this play with Cam Newton but Baylor ran it reasonably well with Nick Florence and TCU used to do nice damage on this concept with Andy Dalton at the helm.

The trick with this play is that it requires a tough QB who's willing and able to take shots from a linebacker or a safety, he needn't necessarily be that quick although it sure doesn't hurt. Russell is "only" 205 but he's a tough runner who can actually cut the run back against the grain and find openings.

Russell's tape in 2014 also shows him running zone read and QB draw effectively. He looks like he might be a 4.7 guy or faster, he's almost as quick as Colt McCoy moving laterally out of the pocket with perhaps an extra gear to pull away thanks no doubt to having long legs (6'3") that chew up yards quickly when they get going.

Seth Russell is a dangerous scrambler who throws pretty well on the run but...well we'll get into some of his deficiencies in the next section.

Seth Russell the passer

Russell has a strong arm and a quick release, both of which are immensely valuable in the Baylor system. While Briles' "veer and shoot" offense makes reads simpler for the QB and sets him up for ridiculous statistical seasons, the wide spacing of the wide receivers doesn't do him any favors against an effective pass rush and it requires that he make quick throws with good velocity.

You'll never see a QB with a weak arm thrive in this offense, he'd get picked off trying to throw the field bubble screen. So, Russell definitely has that going for him, between his arm and his legs he's got the tools to operate every part of the Baylor offense that we've seen as of yet.

Because of his quick release and his familiarity with the offense, Russell has already proven he can operate Baylor's RPO offense quite well. These concepts are a God-send for smashmouth spread offenses that want to emphasize passing acumen at QB so they can hit homeruns with the vertical passing game but can't always find dual-threat QBs that excel as passers and runners.

The RPO constrains the anti-spread run game by punishing them for bringing numbers to stop the run with a QB option to throw a quick pass into the zone or assignment area that should have been handled by the extra run defender.

Russell's quick release and ability to throw without always having his feet set make him effective on these concepts and he also seems totally comfortable reading the conflict defenders:

The big questions are whether he can throw with anticipation and accuracy, and what he does when teams are actually able to take away his easy reads. As infrequently as that happens, it happens often enough to impact Baylor's goal of winning the Big 12 championship and trying to get into the playoff.

Oklahoma State looms as at least one team that could muck up the works for Russell with their secondary, and while TCU has struggled some with Baylor's offense they've also had success confusing its quarterbacks into throwing game-deciding interceptions. If Texas finds an offense throw them into that discussion as well, ditto West Virginia if they find a pass-rush.

The 2014 film sheds some light on how Russell might answer the two big questions, "can he throw with anticipation" and "what does he do under duress?" He's likely to improve in both facets after an offseason of receiving first team reps but he's not just raw, unmolded clay. His existing tape can still tell us what his potential might look like.

2014 was a mixed bag for Seth in throwing the vertical routes that really make the Baylor offense go. The idea with these concepts is that the QB needs to identify the deep coverage and then throw while anticipating where his receiver is going to break to find open grass. RG3 sometimes struggled, believe it or not, to throw these routes and instead preferred to wait for the receiver to break open before throwing the ball.

He could make that work, because he could buy time in the pocket with his ludicrous speed and throw the ball 40+ yards downfield and hit a moving target without first setting his feet:

For the less athletically gifted QBs that have followed RG3, it's been more important to be able to throw the ball where you believe the WR is breaking. Seth Russell is probably the closest Baylor has come to RG3 in terms of ability to move around in the pocket and throw on the run, but when he's tried to push the ball down the field while doing this he often makes questionable decisions:

You notice the amazing ability here when Russell pump fakes, holds onto the ball in a collapsing pocket, and then escapes but then you notice how off the throw is and how poor the decision was to attempt it.

Over and over again on tape you see Russell exhibit some fearlessness when he's throwing the football but in the Baylor system that can be dangerous when the QB is pressured and all of his targets are a mile away downfield. The two things Russell will need to iron down to please Briles this offseason will be making sure he doesn't miss the open touchdown passes that will inevitably be available to Coleman, Cannon, and co. and avoiding turning the ball over when under duress.

Seth, if you don't have a guy coming back to you then either scramble or throw it away.

Russell was good enough at hitting open receivers on deep routes in stride in 2014 to suspect that he might be great at it in 2015.

Prognosis for the 2015 Baylor offense

Seth Russell is a better runner than Petty, a capable deep ball thrower on a team with a lot of deep ball weapons, and a strong practitioner of the RPO game. When you combine those skills with a team that is returning the entire offensive line, three good running backs, two massive tight ends, and the best WR corps in the conference it's hard not to expect big things.

In particular, it seems that it'll be very difficult to stop either the Baylor running game or their play-action vertical tosses. However, it could all be undone if Russell doesn't learn to read defenses and avoid mistakes.

Bryce Petty threw only 10 interceptions in two seasons as a starter, that's what is possible in this system and that's what it's taken to win back to back Big 12 championships. It sometimes appears as though Briles could train a monkey to throw for 4k yards in this offense but unless Russell can do that without turnovers then that production may not hold off TCU or Oklahoma State from stealing the title belt.

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff, Ian. One thing - in the final video where you talk about Russell pump faking, then escaping a collapsing pocket and making a bad throw, you set the video to some inconsequential run plays vs Northwestern State. Did you mean to highlight that near pick Cannon saved him from vs Texas Tech? About 17:25?

    At any rate, I definitely agree he shouldn't have even put the ball in the air that time. With his speed he might have gotten the first down just tucking and running.