Dual threat quarterbacks are difficult to stop, goes the prevailing wisdom. In actuality, that was rarely true.
If quarterbacks are superb runners like Mike Vick and Randall Cunningham, they tend to have problems with accuracy or a tendency to pull the ball down and take off with it. If they're better pure passers than runners like Robert Griffin III, they can put themselves in harm's way by believing too much in those magic legs. And quarterbacks who can run tend to expose themselves to injury by taking off and putting themselves in the way of linebackers who might as well be missiles launched from the opposite end zone.
It's early in a young career, but it's safe to say that Russell Wilson has been an intriguing exception to that rule.
The lack of injury could be due somewhat to luck, but Wilson is smart with the football. He extends plays with his legs and is willing to take it down and run when the situation calls for it, but he's also insanely accurate for a rookie and puts good zip on his passes. He is the complete package, and a true dual threat, even if he's not the kind of runner we typically associate with that label.
For the Falcons, stopping Marshawn Lynch is critically important, but that leaves the game in Wilson's hands. He's capable of winning it because he's a great decision maker with some underrated weapons. That means the Falcons have to pull out all the stops to force him to make some uncharacteristic mistakes and ensure he never quite gets comfortable in the pocket.
How do you do that? In my eyes, there's a handful of methods, all of them smart but none of them foolproof. Slap those goggles on and let's go for the deep dive.
Put A Spy On Him
This is the default answer for running quarterbacks, similar to "rub some dirt on it" for an injury to a Little League player. Generally speaking, a spy is only useful if he can read the play in the backfield and keep a close eye on the quarterback, and then catch up to the guy if he starts running. Not always easy to do.
The Falcons have the advantage of having some terrific athleticism from their linebackers. The natural choice in my eyes is Akeem Dent, who isn't yet an asset in coverage and has the requisite combination of natural football smarts and thumping tackling ability to put a little fear into Wilson. The only question is whether he can take the right angles and fight off blockers to get after Wilson.
That's an open-ended question, because Wilson is both fast and good at those split-second decisions. Read this piece on Field Gulls to see what happens when you don't have a linebacker with his eyes on the QB and the line blocks well. The Falcons have had a lot of success containing rushers of all stripes off the edge with Kroy Biermann, but Wilson may have more luck up the middle or around the end to John Abraham. Can't count on him going where we want him to.
So this is one solution that addresses the scrambling, but is not guaranteed to be effective. How do you deal with his passing?
Get After Him
The Seahawks love to run play-action. Football Outsiders lists them as one of the most frequent users/abusers of that particular play call, with nearly 35% of all plays fitting the category. Wilson is also insanely accurate out of the pocket, and has thrown passes outside of it on about a quarter of all passing plays for Seattle this year.
Combine those two facts and you begin to see that simply collapsing the pocket around Wilson isn't enough. He handles the pressure well, can roll out of the way and make throws that other quarterbacks would have difficulty with. It also underscores one of the fundamental dangers of selling out to stop Lynch: That ball may not be in the hands you think it's going to be in.
If the Seahawks have any weakness at all on offense—and Football Outsiders can only confirm one between heavy, borderline creepy panting about this team—it's their success when a defensive back blitzes. They've averaged a dead-last number of yards on those plays, and it's not hard to figure out why.
Wilson tends to avoid pressure by rolling out, using his superior foot speed and agility to avoid slower ends and tackles and find a man downfield. When a speedy defensive back is coming into the backfield, generally unblocked when it works the way it's supposed to, he doesn't have the luxury of a leisurely roll out and time to find an open man. He's got to take a hit or find his checkdown.
I don't know if the Falcons will use a lot of these blitzes, but the important thing is going to be getting enough pressure off both edges to flush Wilson into the path of a pass rusher. Not easy, but vital. Get after Russell Wilson.
Contain The Receivers
These are getting progressively more obvious. I apologize.
When you're facing a quality player on a quality offense, the answers are often obvious on paper but difficult to execute. Stopping Wilson will require effective management of his running abilities and a good pass rush, but it will also require quality coverage.
Comparatively speaking, this might be the easiest thing for the Falcons to do. They've absolutely locked down #1 and #2 receivers this year thanks to a strong suite of cornerbacks, They're not fantastic against tight ends or slot receivers, but they're competent enough. The Seahawks have underrated weapons, but they're not exactly the Falcons.
Taking away Wilson's options—especially downfield, where he's surprisingly adept at slinging the ball already—ensures the pass rush has more time to get after him and limits opportunities. The best way to do this is to focus on stopping Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Zach Miller, recognizing that Doug Baldwin might hurt you a bit, but not nearly as much as those three. It'll be crucial to put Samuel on Rice, who has the best wheels on the team.
I'm sure you have your own suggestions to add to this. Hit us up in the comments.