Russell Wilson has always faced challenges as a short quarterback. Under 6-0, it’s been a knock on him throughout his career. But over his two years in Denver, the numbers made it feel like he had shrunk. Stemming from a conversation Dave Bryan and I had on last week’s Terrible Podcast, we pulled up data on the number of passes Wilson had batted down the last two years. The numbers were striking.

Over the past two seasons, Wilson has the fifth-most passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. In total, 30 of them were swatted away as a member of the Broncos. In 2021, he had 19, and in 2022, he had 11. The list of quarterbacks who “lead” here makes for an interesting bunch.

Most Passes Batted Down, 2022-2023

1. Baker Mayfield – 36
2. Justin Herbert – 34
2. Joe Burrow – 34
4. Trevor Lawrence – 33
5. Russell Wilson – 30

Another short quarterback like Mayfield topping the list isn’t a shock. But Herbert, Burrow, and Lawrence all have traditional size, proving height alone isn’t the causation.

Still, it’s a problem. That’s 30 wasted passes, nearly two per game. At best, they fall to the ground. At worst, they get tipped into the air to be picked. Even more curious, Wilson’s issue hasn’t existed throughout his career. You’d think a 5-11 quarterback would have faced this problem every season, but the data doesn’t support it. Since the stat was tracked year-by-year, here are Wilson’s bat-down numbers.

Russell Wilson Bat Downs (Since 2018)

1. 2018 – Zero
2. 2019 – Nine
3. 2020 – Four
4. 2021 – Three
5. 2022 – 19
6. 2023 – 11

In his final years with Seattle, these numbers weren’t alarming. When Wilson was dealt to Denver, they spiked. This suggests the issue was scheme more than anything Wilson did wrong. And that tracks with the Broncos’ system. At least under Sean Payton in 2023, there were more traditional dropbacks, which led to more static pockets and launch points.

Arthur Smith should – and must – change this. His system looks more friendly, utilizing quarterback mobility to change the launch point and get the passer on the move with boots and rollouts. But it’s a number that has to come down and normalize. Here’s how recent Steelers’ quarterbacks have performed.

2023 – Kenny Pickett (Nine)
2022 – Kenny Pickett (One)
2021 – Ben Roethlisberger (13)
2020 – Ben Roethlisberger (13)
2018 – Ben Roethlisberger (Zero)

It’s interesting to see Roethlisberger’s numbers change so much in his final two years. That likely spoke to his quick-release defenders began to time, knowing they wouldn’t get home in 2.4 seconds. Russell Wilson has the opposite issue, holding onto the ball longer than anyone not named Justin Fields. It’s one of several numbers worth tracking during Wilson’s debut year with Pittsburgh.


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