Frustrated, distraught, and flailing are not words that usually describe Adrian Wilson’s demeanor and on field affect, but unfortunately they are appropriate as of late. In the Cardinals’ locker room yesterday, the Pro Bowler was asked to describe his play. “Like [expletive],” Wilson responded. The question, though, is whether we can simply lay the blame on Wilson’s broad shoulders for his sub-par season so far.
The drop in Wilson’s play is really a mystery. Just last season he added another Pro Bowl year to his resume. Among all NFL safeties (87 players), Wilson tied for 1st in sacks, tied for 3rd in QB hits, tied for 4th in QB pressures, tied for 4th in interceptions, tied for 14th in passes defended, and ranked 35th in tackles.
This season, his pass coverage has been the major issue. Again, it’s helpful to compare his performance to last season when Wilson held opposing quarterbacks to a remarkable 53.0 passer rating, which ranked 7th among all safeties with at least 700 snaps. He did give up 3 TDs in coverage, but also intercepted 5 passes.
The sudden turn around, therefore, is baffling. It can’t be explained by lack of conditioning or talent because he has both in spades. There are only two other options: the defensive scheme or a lack of effort.
I seriously doubt that Wilson’s play this year is a result of a lack of effort. He’s thrown his hands up in frustration on the field a few times, most notably last game against the Seahawks, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t giving it is all. Just the opposite I would say. He’s frustrated because he expects more of himself and the defense. In addition, Wilson isn’t immune to the ill-effect of a disastrous season, but he personally is not a quitter. It would seem, therefore, that the majority of the blame must be placed on the defensive scheme.
Consider the big plays where Wilson has been targeted in coverage. Adrian constantly appears out of position, rather than simply getting beat by the receiver. Wilson is constantly chasing the play down to recover from bad positioning. If he finally arrives close to the spot to contest the pass, he’s so twisted and contorted that’s it’s nearly impossible to make the play. This suggests that Wilson is out of place even before the snap. In fact, Ken Whisenhunt admitted as much when discussing Wilson’s play against Seattle:
There were a couple of times where we made the check and it wasn’t played correctly and a lot of times that puts your safeties on an island when it’s not their fault. That’s part of the reason we gave up so many yards and so many points today.
Basically, Whisenhunt is saying that they called the wrong defense and hung Wilson out to dry. It’s tough to ask a strong safety to sprint straight back and cover a deep ball to a receiver that’s been sprinting the whole way. The amazing thing is that Wilson actually gets close. Adrian almost batted the game-tying touchdown to Visanthe Shiancoe in Week 9 and narrowly missed the deep bass to Deon Butler in Week 10.
Obviously, Wilson can’t be divorced of all responsibility. After all, he has to find a way to get it done no matter what and Adrian knows it. “I have to make those plays whenever they come my way,” Wilson told reporters on Monday. “That’s what I’ve always said I’d do and for whatever reason, it’s not happening this year. Yet.” Still, it’s a tough assignment considering all the things the Cardinals ask Wilson to accomplish, which includes run support; blitzing; short, intermediate, and deep pass coverage; and overall leadership.
Since Whisenhunt stated that there will be no coaching changes in the foreseeable future, Adrian will apparently have to figure out how to get it done with Bill Davis leading the defense. At this point, that seems tantamount to asking Wilson to be Superman on Sundays.