The guy who threw the most infamous red-zone interception in Super Bowl history has, ironically, one of the best touchdown-to-interception ratios inside the 20-yard line in NFL history.
Seattle’s Russell Wilson, who last week became the first quarterback in league history to open his career with eight consecutive winning seasons, has thrown 157 touchdowns and only nine interceptions in the red zone in 136 games, including playoffs.
“He’s a lot like [Aaron] Rodgers in the red zone,” said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, whose sixth-ranked red-zone defense faces Seattle’s fifth-ranked red-zone offense at CenturyLink Field on Monday night.
“He moves. He makes it difficult for the defense. It’s the combination routes that they run, and then he’s going to add that extra dimension of moving, whether it’s the boots or the scramble where guys uncover. That’s a big part of when they get down in [the red zone].”
In NFL history, Rodgers and Wilson rank Nos. 1-2 in the regular season in touchdown-to-interception ratio both overall and in the red zone. Overall, Rodgers’ ratio is 356-82 (4.34) while Wilson’s is 220-66 (3.33). In the red zone, Rodgers’ ratio is 235-11 (21.4) while Wilson’s is 144-7 (20.6).
“Generally, decisionmaking is harder down there because the field is shorter and the coverage is compact,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “[The defense] can play more aggressively and jump more [routes] and all that kind of stuff. It changes the passing game drastically.
“So it is harder on the quarterback. To deal with it well, you need experience. Guys got to make choices, which is why you see the young quarterbacks generally struggle in that situation.”
Speaking of jumped routes in the red zone …
On Feb. 1, 2015, there were 26 seconds left in Super Bowl XLIX. The Seahawks trailed the Patriots 28-24 and were facing second-and-goal from the 1 after Marshawn Lynch bulled forward for 4 yards on first down.
That’s when then-offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell surprised everyone except Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler when he called for a slant pass to Ricardo Lockette. Wilson stepped back and fired, but Butler elbowed his way past Lockette for the game-clinching interception.
An interception that will forever be linked to Wilson’s otherwise stellar career because it kept Seattle from winning back-to-back Super Bowls over teams led by Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
The irony is that’s one of only four interceptions Wilson has thrown after snapping the ball inside an opponent’s 10-yard line in 123 regular-season games and 13 more in the postseason. Meanwhile, he’s thrown 103 touchdowns from inside the 10-yard line.
Besides Butler, the only players to intercept Wilson on a play that started inside the 10-yard line were Tampa Bay’s Keith Tandy in 2013, Carolina’s Josh Norman in 2014 and Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks in last year’s 21-7 Week 14 loss at Seattle on “Monday Night Football.”
In that Vikings game, Zimmer’s defense held Wilson to a career-low 72 yards passing and kept Seattle out of the end zone in three of four trips into the red zone. The offense was AWOL and once again out-of-sync with Zimmer philosophically, which led to the firing offensive coordinator John DeFilippo the next morning.
Kendricks’ interception came seconds before halftime of a game the Vikings were trailing 3-0.
From the shotgun, Wilson had a running back and two receivers to his right. A third receiver motioned left to right, giving Wilson four targets as he rolled to that side.
The Vikings blanketed the targets so well that Wilson stopped, tried to reverse field and slipped at the 9-yard line. Tackle Sheldon Richardson and end Danielle Hunter converged on him.
Wilson tried one of his vintage spin moves but couldn’t escape Hunter. As Hunter was dragging him down, Wilson tried to throw the ball out of bounds to his right. With the nearest eligible receiver 8 yards away, Kendricks stepped in front of the underthrown heave at the 15-yard line.
Asked what he was most pleased about with how the Vikings handled Wilson in the red zone in that game, Zimmer said, “I guess we fought our rear ends off in that ballgame. I guess that would be it.”
Kendricks’ pick was an easy one. But far from commonplace against Wilson.
In fact, Kendricks’ interception is the only pick Wilson has thrown when snapping a ball inside the 10-yard line in 80 games since that infamous slant to Butler handed the Patriots the fourth of their six Lombardi trophies.