Adventures in Quarterbacking: Week 3
I remember hearing Hugh Millen talk about what differentiates great quarterbacks from the rest. It was a long winded reply from the career backup but could be succinctly described as "anticipation and decision making". A great quarterback sees players coming open before they come open and they have the skill set to get the ball in the right spot at the right time. Passing games are structured in such a way that certain routes are coming open at a certain time. Sure, it helps to have good footwork, tight mechanics and a strong arm, but in the end, having the capacity to throw with anticipation and making good decisions is what differentiates the great from the ordinary.
In this column, we look at some terrible quarterbacking and some good quarterbacking and investigate why what happened, happened.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is a modern Jon Kitna, a feeble armed journeyman who has stuck in the league due to his ability to be perfectly serviceable. I went back and watched the Jets latest game against the Eagles. Fitzpatrick threw the ball 58 times and threw 3 picks. One thing I noticed was that Fitzpatrick appeared to lock onto one read and force the ball to that receiver, whether the receiver was open or not.
The Eagles are showing press coverage on the outside. His slot receiver on the left side is running an out route and the pre snap alignment gives him outside leverage on the nickle corner. The outside receiver is running a Go route on the outside to clear out the space. It's a pretty typical route combination. Fitzpatrick has made up his mind, he is going to to the out route.
Once the ball is snapped, it is obvious the corner is sitting on the out route. Fitzpatrick stays on his read, as he goes into his throwing motion, you can see the difficulty of this throw. If the ball is underthrown, it is an interception. There is an extremely small window for this to be a successful play. The only option is to lead the receiver substantially on a high throw. Fitzpatrick combines shoddy mechanics with his rigid decision making and fires the pass out of bounds. Watching Fitzpatrick play, you see constant examples of this, an inability to come off his first read, reset and find his secondary receivers.
Speaking of bad quarterbacking, this brings me to Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick had a terrible first quarter with near identical pick sixes to start the game. On both interceptions, Kaepernick reacted horribly to pressure coming up the middle and threw wildly to avoid a sack. On the first interception, Kaepernick had his eyes locked on Anquan Boldin all the way and flung the ball wildly in his direction before he was hit. The second interception saw a quarterback going through his reads slowly, and panicking once we realized none were open.
The play begins with play action, Vernon Davis is running a sloppy wheel route and is the first read, the outside receiver is running a deep in and is the second read, Boldin is running a stop route out of the slot and is the third read.
As you can see, Boldin comes open immediately. The Cardinals have safety help over the top on Davis and cover him up. Kaepernick takes a while to come off of him though before he looks for the deep in which is covered up by Mathieu, who is sitting on the route. By this time, Kaepernick is getting antsy and the pocket is breaking down to his left, he moves to the right and slings a side arm throw to Boldin who is no longer open. Mathieu picks it off, touchdown. A better quarterback would go through his progressions quicker and hit Boldin when he first came open, or, he would've taken the sack and lived to fight another day. Youth, inexperience and immaturity lead to quarterbacks refusing to accept that sometimes the defense just won a play. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.
To finish, we will look at Tom Brady. Brady and the Patriots rolled with ease over Jacksonville. In the below touchdown, Brady showcases an ability to do what Fitzpatrick and Kaepernick could not. Brady comes off of his first read, handles a collapsing pocket, moves through his progressions, always keeps his eyes downfield, and finds an open receiver.
Brady's first read is the slot receiver on the hook. The safety is crashing hard so Brady pulls off his first read. Jacksonville has a good pass rush and the pocket begins to collapse. Brady has a crossing route coming open to his right but the pressure would prevent him from stepping into the throw. Instead he moves to his left, clearing through the wreckage, keeping his eyes open until he gets to open space.
Brady sees Martin breaking for open space, makes the throw, touchdown. Brady, unlike Kaepernick, never panicked.
That brings to an end these Adventures in Quarterbacking. Look for more adventures in the coming weeks.