Taysom Hill Proved He’s a Starting Quarterback

Taysom Hill finally got his shot to start for the New Orleans Saints and he did not disappoint. He showed good mechanics and accuracy and was routinely able to move through reads. He dealt well with pressure off of play-action, understood where his hot routes were, and his ball placement helped keep his receivers out of harms way. While it wasn’t a perfect game and he was inconsistent with his anticipation throws, it was a very good showing for his first start as a quarterback.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

(SN/Getty)

Reading the Defense

One of the more common pass game concepts that the Saints run is Dagger. It involves a clear out from the slot and a deep dig in behind it from the #1 receiver with a shallow drag from the receiver to the backside of the play. The clear out takes away the deep defenders and the shallow drag is designed to help hold the linebackers underneath which opens up space for the deep dig. This play shows the versatility that Taysom Hill brings to the quarterback position.

He did a really good job most of the game keeping his eyes up when moving in the pocket and getting outside. Taysom comes out of the play action and looks to locate where the underneath defenders are to see if they’ve gotten under the dig. As he diagnosis that, he feels pressure and has to climb up and out of the pocket. A really good indicator that he has a chance to become a legitimate starter is that he keeps his eyes up instead of relying on his legs. He sees that the dig has made its way across the field and delivers a really accurate ball on the move to his receiver.

This is that same Dagger concept but I want to use this example to show Taysom’s ball placement ability and his understanding of defenses and holes that appear. The Falcons here are bailing to a two-high safety look with the slot defender immediately turning his hips and bailing at the snap. Again, off of play-action, Taysom has to quickly diagnose this shift and process what that means for the play.

With that rotate and with no receivers releasing to the top of the screen, Taysom understands that that corner can now get under the clear out and the original middle field safety is freed up to rob anything in the middle. This means that Taysom needs to protect his receiver on the deep dig if that’s what he’s going to throw. He can’t lead him into the middle of the field because that free safety will be able to deliver a big hit or impact the throw. Taysom is able to diagnose all of that and throw to the back hip of the receiver to slow them down and prevent a big collision with the safety.

Taysom Hill showed a few good anticipation throws throughout the game as well. The guy might be 30 years old, but for a first start and his prospects of being a legitimate starter, these are some really big things at the quarterback position. Taysom consistently had a stable base which allowed him to be accurate and stay on rhythm to throw with anticipation. Here he’s seeing the space underneath the deep curl is open and begins his throwing motion just as his receiver is breaking down. These are the kinds of throws that can be problematic if you throw them late or aren’t seeing the defense well but Taysom was able to hit a number of these through the game.

He wasn’t perfect, but the throws he made were definitely good indicators. Here again, he keeps a solid base and begins his throwing motion just as the receiver is starting to break their route off and hits him at eye level for an easy completion.

Ball Placement

That ball placement is what I found most impressive.  It’s starting quarterback caliber. He’d throw back hip to slow receivers down and protect them from hits, give them balls that they could easily run with after the catch, and showed decisiveness and zip on a lot of his underneath and intermediate throws even with pressure in his face.

Understanding Blitzes

While he showed good understanding of where his hot reads were, there were a couple times where he didn’t realize he was hot. Based on what the defense is showing here, there are seven total potential rushers and the Saints are in an empty formation with no running back to help in pass protection. Taysom knows that if more than five rushers come, he has to get rid of the ball.

The Saints are running a half line slide here to the side with more potential rushers. From the center over, they’re sliding right to take care of the three “bigs” or defensive linemen to that side. Taysom Hill has to know that if either linebacker comes on a blitz to that side, he’s hot and has to throw to the area that that linebacker is blitzing from. The Saints have a drag from Michael Thomas built in that would be the route Taysom should throw since the linebacker is blitzing from that area. However, Taysom doesn’t look to check for a blitz and therefore doesn’t see the pressure coming soon enough. By the time he feels it, it’s already too late and he takes a sack.

Late Reads

While Taysom did show a number of anticipation throws, there were also some reads where he was a beat late. On his only turnover worthy throw of the day here, he’s seeing the window, but throwing it late. He initially wants the route out of the backfield to Deonte Harris but holds onto it for a beat too long. There’s a window for the drag to Thomas but it has to be thrown with anticipation. With Taysom being a beat late, the defender is able to close the opening and get a hand on the ball.

It’s a small sample size in his first start but there also may be some concern for his deep ball. Taysom Hill had no issue driving the ball on intermediate throws but the two times he tried to load up and throw deep, he ended up underthrowing his receivers. It worked out both of these times, but if he’s going to attack deep downfield, he might need to be a guy that does it on rhythm much like Drew Brees does. He doesn’t seem to be a guy that can throw it late on a broken play since he’s topping out at about 50-55 yards on these throws. That’s more than enough for normal fades and rhythm posts, but not quite enough to sling it late downfield.

Arm Strength

Running Threat

Of course, while Taysom Hill may struggle throwing deep late, he does bring his ability to scramble and run to the table which can’t be overlooked. The Saints really didn’t do anything fancy but ran this quarterback power lead play five separate times in the game. It helps the offense gain an extra blocker when the quarterback is the ball carrier and adds to Taysom’s ability and utility. In important situations, he’s able to get yards with his legs and adds another dimension to the Saints attack.

We knew Taysom Hill was a versatile player before this but I came away very impressed with his accuracy, clean mechanics, and ability to keep his eyes downfield when under pressure and outside the pocket. He’s always a threat on the ground but if he wants the opportunity to be a legitimate starting quarterback, he’s going to have to continue to put together games like he did against the Falcons. It wasn’t perfect, but it showed his ability and gave the Saints something to think about going forward. Maybe all that talk Sean Payton did about him being the next Steve Young isn’t so far off and the Saints will be set for years to come.

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NFL Film Breakdown: How Lamar Jackson Has Grown as a Passer and is Used in the Ravens Run Game

Lamar Jackson is one of the most unique quarterbacks in the NFL right now with over 2,000 yards rushing in his career paired with almost 6,000 passing yards and a 102.1 passer rating. A lot of talking heads diminish Lamar’s ability calling him a running back playing quarterback like it’s some kind of knock or dig at his ability. Some of the criticisms are valid, he can struggle mechanically and can overly rely on athleticism but trying to box Lamar into the strict definition of what a quarterback is as foolish as trying to tackle him in the open field. He isn’t a normal quarterback. So why try to define him as one? Lamar is an all-world runner so people try to point out his his ability, or inability, to throw – especially this year where his completion percentage has dropped (although his receivers have dropped 4.9% of his passes) along with his sack numbers rising and a higher rate of fumbling and interceptions. He’s not producing at his 2019 MVP level but let’s take a look at Lamar the player and not just as a pure passer – though we’ll look at that too. When looking at Lamar you have to take a wholistic view and understand how he helps that offense operate both in the run game and the pass game.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

Nick Wass/Associated Press

Lamar is at his best in the passing game when he’s working the underneath game and throwing on rhythm. Because he’s such a dynamic runner, when he progresses through his reads, he can start to get jumpy in the pocket and is prone to try to escape because, ultimately, I think he still trusts his legs more than he does his arm. However, he has started to throw with really good anticipation that shows trust in the scheme, his receivers, and illustrates his growth in his ability to throw off of defensive movements. There are some mechanical issues, but for the most part, the mental side of the game seems to be really slowing down for him.

Here, the Ravens are running a deep Dagger concept with a clear out post from the slot and a 15 yard dig from Hollywood Brown outside. The running back releases into the flats to try and hold the linebackers from getting depth underneath the dig. The post here is designed to hold the safety and pull defenders to open a window for the dig. The clear out is able to pull the safety and there is a window but it’s not a very big one and it’s 15 yards downfield. Lamar begins his throwing motion just as Brown is getting out of his break but he’s still about 10 yards from where he’ll catch the ball. Lamar see’s the two linebackers dropping to their seam responsibilities in cover 3 and knows he has to drive it in the deep hole behind them with anticipation because if he’s late, the window to the dig will close fast.

These anticipation throws are the biggest step Lamar has begun to take in his game and more than that, is an indicator that he’s starting to trust his eyes and his arm to make these plays. These aren’t throws where he’s seeing someone open first and then throwing. It takes high level processing to make these kinds of throws. Here, Lamar is starting his throwing motion just as the receiver is planting to break to the corner. Lamar trusts his guy to be at the right spot and trusts his arm to get it there. It’s an impressive tight window throw with pressure bearing down on him.

Anticipation like this is a really good indicator for Lamar. On this play, he’s hoping to throw the seam to his tight end the whole way but he sees the safety shaded directly over the top bail to the middle of the field at the snap. He looks off the safety to ensure that he has created enough room and then throws an absolutely perfect ball to the seam right over the defenders’ head and before the safety has a chance to make a play on the ball.

However, like I said, as a passer, there are still some big mechanical issues that Lamar has and they’re issues that he also had last year, which is concerning since they don’t seem to have been cleaned up much. This play encapsulates basically all parts of Lamar. His biggest issue throwing the ball is a huge dip at the top of his drop, subsequent heel-click which causes even more issues with vertical accuracy, and then an occasional tendency to drop his eyes and look to escape from the pocket. On the flip side, despite all that, he turns this play into a 10 yard gain and first down.

At the top of his drop, you can see how low Lamar gets and how much his hips sink towards the ground. As a quarterback, you want to stay as even and stable as possible and you don’t want that vertical bounce because if you throw off of this last step in your drop, your body is now rising simultaneously as you throw, it’s harder to get good power and drive, and you get a lot of vertical accuracy issues. Because of this elongated last step of his drop, he also tends to heel click and bring his feet together on his hitch steps. This again creates vertical bounce which you want to eliminate. He then drops his eyes and looks to scramble but if he kept his eyes up, he would see the safety is flat footed and his receiver is running open on a seam for a potential touchdown. Lamar has a pocket, but instead escapes out. I say all this knowing that he gains a first down on this play and that’s great, but it’s important to know that he is leaving plays on the field in the passing game as well.

As a pure passer, these mechanics are going to make you less consistent. You can see here that same huge vertical dip at the top of his drop and how that gets him onto his toes and bouncing in the pocket. If all your cleats aren’t in the ground, you’re going to have difficulty generating power and accuracy from your legs up. As a result, Lamar is unable to open his hips to the throw with his toe pointed towards the sideline and can’t generate enough power and leaves the ball behind his receiver which results in an interception.

The longer the throw, the more impactful this heel click and vertical bounce can be on his vertical accuracy. You can see how pronounced it is here against the Bengals on this deep shot which causes him to overshoot the throw by about 5 yards.

These mechanical issues and misfires pop up in almost every game. Big dip at the top of the drop, lots of heel click, and vertical inaccuracy. While Lamar does tend to sidearm which leads to most of his horizontal inaccuracy, issues with touch and vertical misses are all because of his footwork and this is now year three of these same issues.

A passer isn’t all that Lamar is, though. It’s foolish to think of him as just a quarterback because he just flat out isn’t just a quarterback. He might not be what most people think of as a conventional player, but to use that as a knock just flat out makes no sense to me. We are seeing that he is capable as a passer and to add that to what he does on the ground is what separates him from every other player in the league.

Lamar adds a ton to the Ravens run game as you might expect but he does it whether he keeps the ball or not. The Ravens use a ton of read option which leaves one defender free to be read by Lamar. This allows them to gain an extra blocker and forces defensive flow and gap fits to become compromised. The Ravens really like to run a center and tackle counter read and it can be incredibly powerful. A lot of the time, teams have issues sealing off backside pursuit on counter and preventing penetration from the defensive end but since the Ravens read that guy, it eliminates that issue. Since the Ravens have two ball carriers in the backfield at all times by default with Lamar, they now can force teams to be gap sound on every play. If that end comes down to chase the counter and pulling tackle, Lamar will give the ball to the running back running to the outside. If that end stays up-field, Lamar will pull it and run the counter himself. What this also does is give false read keys to the linebackers who are often taught to read and follow pulling linemen. They can’t really do that anymore because if they do, there’s no way they’ll be in position to chase the running back. You can see that here as the linebackers are frozen during the mesh and are late to get outside which enables to running back to get around the edge of the defense.

The Ravens will also switch it up and have Lamar be the outside keep and the running back run counter. The same principles apply. Read off of the defensive end. If he chases, pull the ball and run around him. The Ravens are also crunch to arc blocking with their fullback. He’s coming around to go up and block the linebacker to seal the outside for Lamar if he keeps the ball. So now there’s a ton of backfield motion for defenses to look at and Lamar is special in the open field. If you crash down like the defense does here, he’s capable of ripping off huge gains when he keeps the ball.

Now since Lamar has kept it once, it opens up the counter action for the running back. Just watch this at full speed and try to figure out what’s going on in the backfield and know that Lamar is capable of burning you if you don’t protect against him keeping it to the outside. The defensive end comes up the field so Lamar gives the ball to the running back since he has taking away his path to the outside. Two of the linebackers are also now sitting and staying home in case of the keep by Lamar which gets them out of position on the counter. The Ravens now have +1 blockers to the play-side as Lamar has influenced three separate players on defense and taken them out of position to make a play.

This is the full power that Lamar has. He influences the running game like no other quarterback does and then he can also play action and boot out of those same looks and has developed into a solid passer of the ball. If for a second, you aren’t sound on defense, the Ravens will make you pay on the ground. That’s never really been up for debate. But as Lamar has grown in the passing game, they’ve also started to make teams pay through the air. Lamar is not by any means an elite passer at this point, but he is still growing and is showing signs of the game slowing down for him. With all that he brings to the field, there’s no deadlier weapon in the NFL right now and if Lamar can continue to evolve, the Ravens may just run – and throw – their way to the Super Bowl.

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NFL Film Breakdown: A look at Tua’s First Start, His Mechanics, and Decision Making

While Tua had a relatively pedestrian first start against the Rams with only 93 yards and one touchdown, the fact is, he just didn’t have to do much and the Dolphins didn’t ask him to do that much. With outstanding performances from the defense and special teams that gave the Dolphins the lead, Tua just needed to run the offense and run it against a very good Rams defense that can get after the quarterback and also has the guys to cover in the secondary. While Tua did struggle at times, especially early before he settled down, there were also some moments where he looked like he could be the guy of the future. It’s way too early to know what he’s going to turn into but let’s take a look at a couple of his plays from his first start.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

Sep 20, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) warms up prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Tua didn’t push the ball down the field a whole lot, but notably, the Dolphins are really set up to make him feel at home in the shot gun with a lot of spread concepts and plays. The Dolphins here are running Dagger with a clear out from the slot at the bottom and a deep dig behind it from the outside receiver. To the top of the screen they have a seven yard out. Something that you love to see from a young QB in their first start is reading calmly and throwing with anticipation. Here Tua looks to the Dagger concept and sees a defender dropping into the area where the dig will enter. This forces him to come off of that read and he comes all the way across the field to his seven yard out. What’s incredibly encouraging here is that he is throwing with anticipation. He starts his throwing motion to get the ball out to Gesicki before Gesicki has planted for his cut. He read the defense, comes off his first read, and then throws the ball with anticipation to his check-down.

This ability to be calm and use his eyes really jumped out. He was able to look off defenders, make decisive throws underneath, and move through his progressions. Here, he takes one of his few deep shots but first looks to the top of the screen to help hold the safety. He knows that the Rams like to use jump calls on crossers on 3rd downs, so he’s expecting the safety #24 to come down on his shallow drag which leaves a true one-on-one outside with Mike Gesicki. He throws a beautiful ball in rhythm in a great place for his receiver to make a play. This is again a good indicator that he’s processing and understands what’s going on around him.

Overall, Tua handled pressure pretty well. Even when faced with free runners or blitzers, he was able to move out of the pocket and throw off platform to keep the offense on schedule and create plays. A lot of the time, being able to create and make things happen on broken plays or when teams blitz you can be the difference in what makes a good quarterback.

While there were some really encouraging things, there were also some rookie issues where he was expecting a receiver to be in a different spot, lost his consistency in his mechanics, made some rushed throws, or missed some reads downfield. Here he’s just expecting the quick screen to his receiver to be closer to the line of scrimmage and misses what should be an easy completion.

Especially early in the game, he was very frenetic in the pocket. There was a lot of bouncing which can cause some huge vertical inaccuracy. You want to stay as level as possible as a quarterback and calm your feet otherwise when you start your throwing motion as you’re moving up and down, you can get balls that sail on you. Here, Tua does just that and in combination, misreads the leverage of the defender covering the fade to DeVante Parker. The DB is stacked on top, eliminating vertical space. If you’re going to throw that, you have to throw this back-shoulder. You can’t put it in a position where your receiver has to play defense and break up the play. So Tua’s mechanics here were off with the bouncing, he over shot his throw, and he didn’t indicate that he understood the leverage of the defender and where that meant he needed to throw it.

All things considered, Tua did a good job for his first start. There were some flashes of his potential even in the 93 passing yards he had. There were also some rookie mistakes which are to be expected. It’ll be exciting to watch him progress because the Dolphins are rolling with the number one scoring defense right now and are right in the thick of the playoff race. If the team around him keeps playing at a high level and lets him learn while not having to do too much, the Dolphins are going to make some noise in the second half of the season and even compete for the AFC East crown.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

NFL Film Breakdown: A Look at Drew Lock, His Potential, and Some Concerning Trends

If you aren’t strapped in already, it’s time to buckle up for Drew Lock’s wild ride. The Broncos are 6-3 in games that Lock has played in their entirety as the starter but he has just as many games this year with multiple interceptions as he does games where he’s thrown a touchdown. It’s important to remember through this all, that Lock is still incredibly raw and has only played nine full games in his career but it’s worth looking at his upside and potential areas of concern because Lock has the talent to elevate the Broncos to wins but he also has some mechanical and decision-making issues that can lead to game-changing mistakes.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

DENVER, COLORADO – NOVEMBER 01: Quarterback Drew Lock #3 of the Denver Broncos looks to throw for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers in the fourth quarter of the game at Empower Field At Mile High on November 01, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Drew Lock does not like pressure. Against blitzes, Lock has just a 47.7% completion percentage and has thrown three of his five interceptions on the year. When teams don’t bring extra men, Lock has completed 62.6% of his throws and has thrown four touchdowns to two interceptions. This disparity can also be seen with his time spent in the pocket. On throws that happen within 2.5 seconds, his completion percentage goes up by 23%, his QB rating is 28 points higher, and he’s attempting throws further downfield. All this is to say that Lock is at his best as a rhythm thrower. He has an unreal arm that allows him to hit receivers in stride and if he’s throwing on time as receivers get out of their break, he’s almost impossible to stop and the film and numbers both back it up.

When Lock can key off of one defender, he plays much more decisively. The Broncos are running a drive concept here against the Patriots which creates a high-low read for Lock. You have a shallow drag from the #1 receiver, and a dig behind it from the #3. The Patriots play a lot of man coverage and you can see at the snap of the ball that Lock locates the blitz from the linebacker and then immediately goes to check if anyone is under the dig being run by his #3 receiver. With man coverage, there’s nobody to get into the passing lane, and Lock is able to hit the top of his drop, drive off his back foot and deliver the ball in stride to his tight end.

Lock is still young and can have some trouble diagnosing things so if you simplify his reads and let him play fast, he’s going to play much more efficiently. The Broncos will use some motions or release the running back to help him read off of linebackers and throw off their movements. The Broncos here run a man in motion and pull the running back across the formation in pass protection which let’s Lock read the flowing linebackers and attack the vacated space in the middle. Again, he gets to the top of his drop and is able to hit his receiver in stride.

The Broncos are starting to figure this out too. After a rough first quarter against the Chargers, the Broncos started to dial up some simple reads for Lock and while they didn’t manifest into points on those drives, Lock slowly become more decisive and accurate as his confidence built into the 3rd quarter. What’s most encouraging is that Lock is growing and learning on the job.

In the first half, Denver called another high low concept with a quick hook at 6 yards and a dig wrapping in behind it. The read on this is to watch the linebacker with inside leverage. If he stays up on the hook at six yards, the quarterback should throw behind him as the dig is wrapping around him. If he drops underneath the dig, you throw the quick hook. Here, Lock misses the dig and instead checks it down late to the running back. If he throws with anticipation and waits a beat, the dig is open. Instead, he gets bouncy in the pocket, his base starts to deteriorate, and he throws an inaccurate check-down.

Fast forward to the 4th quarter now and the Broncos call the same concept to the top of the screen. This time, Lock is dialed in and has learned from his first rep earlier in the game. The linebacker steps up to the hook and Lock hits his back foot on rhythm and fires the ball to hit his receiver in stride for the score to pull the game to 27-24.

When he isn’t on rhythm though, he has a huge issue with pocket movement. He will drift in the pocket and into pressure, bail from clean pockets and get into trouble, and his drop will often take him too deep which allows pass rushers to take easier angles to impact his throws. To top that all off, his mechanics when he moves tend to get sloppier and he has trouble getting consistent footwork and hip rotation. As we talked about before, when Lock throws after 2.5 seconds he is way less accurate and is more prone to mistakes.

On a four-man pressure here, Lock drops his eyes and misses four separate receivers that are breaking open because of a stunt to his blindside. Lock is initially looking at the deep curl to the bottom of the screen and wants to take a deep shot over the top to the post which is coming across the field with the curl holding the corner from getting underneath it. The play works perfectly and if Lock stands strong in the pocket it’s an easy big gain to the post and he can even throw the curl if he wants. But the movement on the line scares him out of the pocket and he immediately comes off those reads to check it down. To take the next step he’s just got to be able to stand in and make throws and not be so skittish in the pocket. He’s leaving tons of plays on the field because he’s feeling pressure that isn’t there.

What makes it worse is Lock will often create some of this pressure himself by dropping too far back. Unless you’re working a play-action bootleg, normal shot gun drop backs should be at about 8 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Lock’s skip drop he takes after his initial punch step will often take him to 10-11 yards behind the line of scrimmage though. This makes the offensive tackles lives incredibly difficult because they can’t wash edge rushers behind the pocket anymore since Lock is so deep. It also creates pressure in Lock’s face and gets him out of rhythm on his throws which causes inconsistent footwork. He just flat out cannot handle pressure. On this play he misses a touchdown down the sideline because his drop is so deep he feels pressure and tries to check it down. If he climbs or drops to 8 yards, he can hitch and deliver a strike down the sideline for a touchdown. Instead he’s falling away from his throw with pressure in his face which causes the ball to go high for an incompletion on a check-down.

Lock takes a little longer to process things than you’d like and that’s why you get some of his wild variability. When he takes longer to process, his feet get sloppy, he throws late, and gets himself and the team into trouble. He can lock onto receivers which pulls deep defenders that way and causes turnover worthy plays as he waits for things to open up instead of throwing with anticipation or getting to his next read.

Things are slowing down for Lock though. He’s starting to build comfortability with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, understand concepts and defender keys, and has made progress in the underneath game. To really unleash his potential though, he has to translate that to seeing the entire field and to being able to stand strong in the pocket. Even with those things, he still makes some amazing throws and the talent is clearly there. Drew Lock has the potential to carry a team on his back but he also makes a few decisions a game that put them in a disadvantageous position. One thing’s for sure though, he makes the Broncos exciting and as he gets more and more experience, the Lock rollercoaster may have a lot more ups than downs and if things start to really click, we’ll all be along for the ride.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

NFL Film Breakdown: What in the World is Going on With Carson Wentz and the Eagles?

To put it bluntly, the Philadelphia Eagles are off to a terrible start. Their offensive line is in shambles with Brandon Brooks, Isaac Seumalo, and Andre Dillard all out. Alshon Jeffery still hasn’t played this year, Goedert and Maddox are both dealing with ankle injuries, Miles Sanders and their first round pick Jalen Reagor have missed time, and the worst of it all is that injuries aren’t even the biggest concern that the Eagles have. It’s Carson Wentz. Wentz has completed under 60% of his passes, thrown 6 interceptions to just 3 touchdowns, has fumbled 3 times, and is looking like a shell of what he was in 2017 when he was in the running for league MVP before tearing his ACL. Wentz isn’t alone in the blame and the whole Eagles team has been dealt a tough hand, but he is the epicenter of everything going wrong for the Eagles.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 20: Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz (11) walks off the field after an interception in the second half during the game between the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles on September 20, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

For quarterbacks, everything starts with the feet and the base and Wentz has some huge issues here. The biggest and most prominent mechanical problem is his tendency not to point his toe towards his intended target. This prevents full hip rotation and causes accuracy and power issues to one direction in particular. To his left.

To a degree, this has always been there – and we’ll get into that – but first let’s understand how this mechanical issue impacts his throwing motion, accuracy, and just how frequent it is for him right now. Through the three games in 2020 I charted Wentz’ accurate throws and, on each throw, whether he was aligning his feet and toe to that throw. Wentz has been accurate on just 50% of his throws to his left and is aligning his toe on just 41.3% of throws to his left. Compared to throwing to his right, where he has accurate throws 67.1% of the time with 78% toe alignment, it is a staggering difference in consistency, accuracy, and mechanics. This includes throwing routes that are going from his right to his left as well. Since he likes to align his feet more to the right, a huge percentage of his throws miss to the right because he doesn’t open up his hips and feet to throw to his left.

When you don’t point your toe at your target, you are closing off your ability to fully rotate your hips. You can try it at home and point your toe 45 degrees to the right and then attempt to make a throwing motion even just straight in front of yourself. Your foot is going to want to move on the ground to follow the momentum of your hips. If you keep your foot in the ground, you’ll feel tension in your knee and your core and be unable to get your hips all the way towards the direction you want to throw. If you can’t get your hips all the way around, there’s no way you’re going to be able to consistently generate the proper amount of power and accuracy from throw-to-throw. Biomechanically, it is detrimental to being able to throw. And that’s what we see almost 60% of the time from Wentz throwing to his left.

Both of Wentz’ interceptions in the Washington game were directly caused by being unable to point his toe to his left and as a result, being unable to generate the necessary power and accuracy to that direction. This left the ball inside — the direction his feet and hips end up pointing. This allows for the defender to make a play on the ball. The decision on this throw is totally fine. He reads the DB with their hips turned in zone to the inside which signals an opportunity to throw the ball to the sideline on a comeback or back shoulder and that’s exactly what he goes for. The issue is his foot is pointed directly down the center of the field. In addition to his toe pointing issue, he can also tend to over stride, which is why you’ll often see him falling away from throws. If you spread your base too wide, which you can again try at home, and now push off with your back leg, you’ll see what it feels like. You can generate some power but you’re now immediately falling backwards after your throw because you don’t have a solid base. Not good for generating power or accuracy. You want to be in a stable position when finishing your throw.

In the second interception of the Washington game he does almost the exact same thing. The defenders leverage is telling him to throw outside, but Wentz leaves his foot pointed downfield instead of more towards the sideline. You can see him off balance and falling away from the throw and the ball goes where his body is telling it to. He leaves the throw inside which gives the defender the opportunity to intercept it.

This happens again and again and again. The toe doesn’t open all the way to the left, it prevents him from being able to open his hips that way and generate power, and he routinely throws balls into the dirt, air mails them because he’s off balance due to the wide base, or misses to the right.

When you combine these things at the same time – the bad toe and the overstride —  you get throws that are both high and behind to the right. Even if the throws are to his right, he ends up struggling throwing routes that are going from right to left because he doesn’t point his toe to lead his receiver which closes off his hips and will often point at where the receiver is right now. Not where they will be.

While sometimes the ball will air mail because of a wide stance, it can also force the ball into the ground because you’re changing vertical levels as you’re throwing and you can’t get power on the ball with your hips since you’re too spread out to get full rotation.

Sometimes when you over stride and over shoot throws or can’t get enough power, you throw interceptions.

Whenever he tries to push the ball downfield or get some heat on the throw, he tends to over stride which only exacerbates the issue and makes his tight window throws inaccurate or lose velocity. You can see how incredibly wide his feet are when he’s beginning his throwing motion and how he routinely falls back and away from the throw after releasing. It’s just not good quarterback mechanics.

It may seem small but it makes a huge impact on the mechanics of throwing the ball. I cannot emphasize enough how impactful this is to throwing on a snap-to-snap basis. Wentz has some seriously great arm talent which allows him to get away with it at times and he can generate power even when he can’t get his hips around. But from a snap to snap basis, he’s just not consistent because of his feet

It happens predominantly to the left but it also crops up all over the field. It turns routine catches into difficult ones on the back hip or that are high and in the worst case scenarios, turns into turnovers and incompletions that can kill drives and change games.

Now that we’ve looked at what Wentz’ current mechanical issues are and how he’s struggling, let’s take a look back at 2017 and see how Wentz’ mechanics have changed since then and give context for what it looks like when Wentz is doing things right because when he’s on, he’s shown that he is absolutely one of the best quarterbacks in the league. I mentioned earlier that I charted Wentz’ accuracy and toe issues in the three games this season but I also charted every game of his from 2017. His accurate throws to the left jump from 50% to 66.7%, he points his toe that direction on 20% more of his throws, and was just flat out more accurate at every level and area of the field.

This is a great first example of Wentz’ better lower body mechanics in 2017. You can see that as he’s going through his progressions, his feet are coming with him through his reads. Something that just isn’t happening as consistently currently. It helps speed up his decision making and gets him into a position to throw as soon as he locates his open receiver instead of locating and then subsequently having to fix his feet to match where they are.

This is another good example of what it looks like to open your hips to the throw by pointing your toe. By opening up, he’s able to get a lot more mobility in his hips which helps him drive the ball and be more accurate despite the DB breaking on the ball and causing an incompletion.

When the toe matches the aiming point, Wentz is unbelievably more accurate. If we match the endzone view here with the sideline view, we can get a great vantage point of that. You can see as he opens his front leg and points his toe, it’s pointed directly at the outside leg of the running back coming up in pass protection. If we draw a line from that point now from the sideline view we can see the projected line on which the ball should travel. The line looks like it should intersect at about the 30 yard line a few yards from the sideline and that’s exactly where the ball ends up.

You can do this with a ton of his throws from 2017. The ball is going to want to go where your toe is pointing. When everything is aligned, Wentz has some insane accuracy. When he isn’t and he’s fighting to throw in spite of his toe, we see what we’re seeing right now in 2020.

While he was much much better in 2017, he did have some issues with his toe at that time too. It was just way less frequent. It’s always been there, he’s just been better at controlling and working to iron it out in the past.

Now that we have some context let’s quickly go back to his interception against Washington. His toe is aligned down the middle of the field and he has to fight against it to be able to throw outside to his left. You can see that he can’t bring his leg all the way through, his body isn’t in alignment like it often was in 2017, and the ball ends up inside and intercepted.

So, we know the mechanical issues have always been there to a degree, they’re just becoming more prominent now. Wentz has slowly been having less and less consistent mechanics through 2018 and 2019 where he also had issues with his back which can impact his ability to rotate his hips and have consistent mechanics. Mechanics aren’t the only issues going on in 2020 though.

Obviously, the line has its issues but that’s now manifesting in extremely light boxes for Philadelphia. Teams are routinely putting only five or six guys in the box against them. If you take away Wentz’ 74 rushing yards on 12 attempts, the Eagles have only 279 rushing yards and have attempted true runs just 67 times which puts them at 4th last in the NFL. The thing is, they’re running the ball just fine at about 4.1 yards per carry but teams just aren’t scared of them running the ball because Pederson gets away from it quickly and teams feel like they can hold up without extra men in the box and still be able to get home on pass rushes. So that means more guys in coverage, more difficult reads, and forcing Carson Wentz to make tighter window throws which he’s just not doing right now. Miles Sanders should help this as he becomes more healthy and impactful, but it’s making life tough for Wentz right now.

To keep with the theme of the offensive line and pass rush, Wentz is also guilty of not helping his offensive line. Jason Peters has not played particularly well but had his hands absolutely full with none other than Carl Lawson – and if you’re not a Bengals fan you probably haven’t even heard of the guy. He has 59 tackles in four years but has managed to get 17.5 sacks in that time. While Peters hasn’t looked great, the reason he was having trouble with Lawson, was because of Wentz’ snap count. Lawson was able to jump the snap quite frequently in their game against the Bengals and there’s no way to do this other than figuring out the QBs cadence. You can see in these clips that Lawson is moving even before Peters is. He’s not even out of his stance by the time that Lawson is on him. It doesn’t seem like much but you can see how far ahead of everyone Lawson is on his pass rush and this is because Wentz isn’t varying his snap count enough. The defensive linemen should not be moving at the exact same frame as when the ball is snapped. Unless they know the snap count. It didn’t just happen in the Bengals game either, it was happening with the Rams as well. With no fans or sound, defenses can hear the recordings of snap counts and key off of them for good get offs.

While Wentz is still doing a solid job of reading defenses and is choosing the right guy to throw to, he’s also becoming a little bit more indecisive as the season is going along. In week 1 here he did a really really good job of using his snap count to force Washington to show their blitz and coverage. He gets the corner to the bottom of the screen to bail, the linebacker to creep up and show blitz, and the safety to come down. He diagnoses this and determines it’s going to be a cover 3 buzz look with the other inside linebacker needing to flow to get to the tight end and hook area to cover the vacated area of the blitzer at the bottom of the screen which is going to open up a hole in the middle of the field. He quickly looks off to his left to widen the buzz safety coming down and comes back to the middle of the field to hit Ertz. His feet just betray him and the ball goes incomplete.

Compare that now to plays where he’s locating open receivers based on the coverage but being hesitant to throw the ball and allowing the windows to close. Here the Rams have blown a coverage and Goedert is wide open in the endzone as the Rams don’t match his route. Wentz looks, and doesn’t throw it.

Here a similar thing happens. The Bengals are running cover 2 man and matching the #3 receiver with their safeties. The outside route creates a rub for the deep out and the safety has to navigate over the top of it to be able to come down on the route. Wentz is reading it, sees it, almost throws it, and pulls his eyes off just as he gets contacted in the pocket and then scrambles downfield.

Carson Wentz and the Eagles are not playing good football right now and it’s a combination of things all turning into some very lackluster performances in the first three weeks of the season. Wentz’ mechanical issues are becoming more pronounced than ever, the offensive line is injured as are a lot of his weapons outside, and Wentz isn’t doing a good job of protecting those guys with changes in snap count cadence and by throwing with anticipation and trusting his arm and eyes. It’s not all doom and gloom though because while the mechanics are tough to rep and fix, it is very possible and he has shown he has the capability to do it. The game plan will need to be structured around his limitations right now though. Throws to his right and some RPOs that force his feet in the right direction due to the mesh with the running back might be the name of the game. The RPO game was incredibly effective with Foles on their Super Bowl run and it’s a good confidence-building scheme that will let Wentz attack short throws, align his feet, and make decisive reads. He still has that magic of being able to run around the pocket, make plays happen, and when he does line his feet up he throws maybe the best ball in the NFL. Some of his throws this year still look like vintage Wentz. Now he just has to do it more consistently. And if he does, don’t count out the Eagles because as they get more healthy and in rhythm, that confidence may quickly come back, the defense is a real problem for teams, and the NFC East is still wide open for the taking.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

NFL Film Breakdown: Josh Allen’s Growth in Buffalo is Almost Complete

After a shaky start to his career in 2018, Josh Allen made big strides in year two with the Bills. Buffalo made it back to the playoffs and Allen cut down on the interception rate, dropped his bad throw percentage by 5.7%, and gained 510 yards on the ground. Allen showed really good understanding of blitzes, made good decisions and reads, and actually showed good touch on a lot of throws. He struggles a bit with anticipation but he moves through full-field reads with ease and he has the arm strength to push the ball into windows despite his lack of anticipation. However, his 58.8% completion percentage was dead last in the NFL and it was that low for a reason. His mechanics are wildly inconsistent and lead to a number of accuracy issues. He might be deciding to throw to the right guy, but getting it there reliably is a whole other issue. He’s reading like he’s Peyton Manning and throwing it like he’s Brock Osweiller.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 24: Josh Allen #17 of the Buffalo Bills holds the ball during the first quarter of an NFL game against the Denver Broncos at New Era Field on November 24, 2019 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

Usually these things happen in reverse and young quarterbacks have the physical tools but can’t read defenses. In this case it seems to be the opposite. His mind is recognizing things faster than his body can respond and because of that, his footwork goes out the window.

Despite a growing reputation as a scrambler, Josh Allen does a really good job of keeping his eyes up when he gets out of the pocket. Because of his supreme arm strength, it doesn’t matter which direction he’s rolling to or scrambling to. He can throw to just about any spot on the field – across his body, deep, short, it doesn’t matter. If you’re open, he’ll find you. He shows good patience allowing defenders to flow and stays calm when outside the pocket.

He definitely can put a little too much heat on some throws but that doesn’t mean he isn’t able to take some velocity off and drop balls over linebackers or let receivers run under throws. It’s something he’ll continue to have to work on but from year 1 to year 2, he’s improved his touch throws a lot.

Allen does a good job of getting through his reads and understanding the framework of the defense. He’s rarely confused and makes really solid decisions. Here you can see him key the flat defender and look at the quick out to Beasley before going to the corner behind. This is really supposed to be a rub route to the flat to Cole Beasley here by the Bills with the receiver that’s on the line of scrimmage working to rub his defender and prevent him from chasing to the flats. Instead, though, the Texans switch and the outside corner comes to crash on the flat which leaves the corner route open with a ton of leverage on the inside defender and no safety help. Allen recognizes the defensive framework, who to read, and delivers a strike.

These kinds of reads pop up over and over again when watching Josh Allen. You can see one of his best anticipation throws right here. On the snap, he turns and is watching the safety and overhang defender to check for a rotate. As soon as he sees the overhang defender come up on the sit route, he delivers an anticipation throw to the dig in the cleared zone.

Little nuances like this play against the Texans shows that Allen is really dialed in mentally which is super encouraging. Out of empty, teams often like to blitz with the inside slot defender since they’re stacked close to the line and there’s no extra protector to help out. That’s just what Allen is looking for. As the ball is snapped he gives a quick peak over to the slot corner to see if he’s blitzing and if he can throw hot to that side. When he sees the corner run in coverage, he comes off it and back to the slant on the other side.

He’s got all the mental tools, we know he has the arm, so why is he missing throws and what are the issues holding Josh Allen back? To put it bluntly, his lower body mechanics are really bad. He is so inconsistent with his footwork it’s almost impressive. His base tends to be really wide, he struggles to line up his legs and feet with his throws which prevents hip rotation and accuracy, his drop is almost never synched up to routes which forces him to bounce in the pocket and cause vertical accuracy issues, and whenever his footwork is rushed or when he’s trying to get the ball out fast, his base crumbles.

You can see here he’s mentally processing everything and his eyes are moving through his progression, but his feet are staying. He’s finding the right route but he’s not ready to throw it.

His biggest issue is not lining up his feet to receivers. When you aren’t lined up to throw, it makes it incredibly difficult to have consistent accuracy. You can see here how he’s aimed directly down the middle of the field and trying to throw to his right. It’s tough to get any hip rotation and sound lower body mechanics from this position. You’re off balance with no platform to make the throw from. As a result, the ball sails high.

You can see again how he’s misaligning his feet and stepping horizontally instead of at his receiver. His feet are pointed towards the sideline and he can’t get his hips into the throw and the ball goes into the ground. He has the arm talent to make these throws but without a consistent base, it’s hard to have good ball placement from a down to down basis.

This especially crops up when he’s running RPOs or quick throws. On most quick passing schemes he does a backpedal drop which usually results in him being off balance. He’s falling away from throws, can’t plant with his back foot, and ends up being more inaccurate than not.

When you have no platform to push off and deliver form, you’re relying all on your arm to make the throw as your body is trying to compensate for the momentum and mechanics of your throw. Balls will end up high, low, or behind receivers a ton on these quick throws.

It’s all about the feet and the feet aren’t matching the routes or where he’s throwing. The few times he does a pure dropback, he throws on time, with anticipation and looks really good.

The problem is that’s the exception and not the rule. 90% of the time he does a skip drop where he’s sitting and waiting for receivers to get open or is in the middle of hopping when receivers are coming open. It’s just not good football and not playing within the system and is equal parts to blame on Brian Daboll the OC. You can see that by the top of these drops almost all the time receivers aren’t even looking and Allen has to wait or come off his read. Combined with Allen wanting to see stuff open instead of throwing with anticipation and it’s a recipe for poor mechanics and mistimed throws.

He can also be a little quick to bail from pockets and makes very large moves when he is in the pocket. There isn’t much subtly. He doesn’t need to be Tom Brady with small side steps and movements, but it does get a little wild sometimes and he moves himself into pressure when he is perfectly safe inside the pocket which causes him to miss throws or run into sacks.

Josh Allen is far from a polished quarterback but there is reason to be optimistic in Buffalo. He’s making good decisions and mentally is clearly capable of being a top quarterback in the NFL. The mechanical issues and footwork are a huge concern and if they don’t get fixed, he’ll never be a consistently accurate quarterback. With offseason work and time dedicated to targeting and fixing his wide base, pointing his toe, and syncing his drops with route concepts, you could see a quick turnaround for Josh Allen. We know he’s there mentally and has more than enough arm talent to succeed. Once he puts it all together we may be looking at a quarterback that runs the AFC East for the next 10 years.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

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NFL Film Breakdown: From LA to Indy – What to Expect From the Rivers & Reich Reunion

After 15 years with the Chargers, Phillip Rivers is an Indianapolis Colt and he reunites with Frank Reich who worked with the quarterback as the offensive coordinator with the Chargers in 2014 and 2015. Rivers might not be the quarterback he was five years ago but he is certainly still capable of being a top 10 quarterback in the NFL. His deep ball and arm strength have taken a hit but for most of his career he’s relied on anticipation throws, quick rhythm passes, big receivers that allow him to place the ball accurately on backshoulders, and using his running backs in the pass game. In fact, Rivers targeted running backs 177 times and on 29.6% of passes last year in LA. In comparison, the Colts targeted running backs just 91 times or 17.7% of passes. This isn’t a one year anomaly either. Even when Reich was the OC with the Chargers in 2015, Rivers targeted running backs 25.6% of the time. The Colts rely heavily on their running backs in their dynamic run game as I previously covered but they lacked a true receiving threat out of the backfield with Nyheim Hines being their lead guy with 44 receptions for 320 yards. Part of that is due to the scheme and personnel of the Colts versus that of the Chargers, but it’s still a big disparity between the two systems and their personnel. There are a couple ways where Rivers aligns perfectly with what the Colts do but also a few of these types of misalignments. We’ll take a closer look here at what Rivers’ strengths are and how he might fit into the passing game designed by Frank Reich.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

https://twitter.com/espn/status/1240004441048092672

Reich definitely tailors his offenses to the personnel he has. When with Rivers in 2015, he designed a lot of short, rhythm passing that emphasized getting the ball out fast and into the hands of receivers and playmakers. This fits Rivers’ quick decision making style and his penchant for throwing to running backs. Lots of shallows, slants, hooks, and flares by the RB and TEs keep the chains moving and allowed for the Chargers best weapons like Antonio Gates, Keenan Allen, and Danny Woodhead to get the ball in their hands.

Now, 4 years later, Rivers likes to throw a lot of those same routes to a similar cast in Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Austin Ekeler. Despite interim OC Shane Steichen not having the most polished and cohesive offensive system after inheriting what Ken Whisenhunt had started during the 2019 season, Rivers was still able to find his comfort zone and rely on his most trusted receivers.

These short rhythm and anticipation throws have been what Rivers has lived off of these last couple seasons. He shows incredible touch and anticipation on deep outs, corners, curls, and backshoulders. And to be honest, he kind of has to. His ball has definitely lost some zip and seems to hang in the air for what feels like an eternity on some throws. Because he can’t push it quite as much anymore, he relies on trusting his receivers to be in the right place and often he’s starting his throwing motion before they even get to their break – something that can take years of reps to develop.

These chemistry throws might take a little while to develop with the Colts’ receivers but here he is again throwing the ball to where his receiver will be before they’ve broken out of their route. The ball is 10 yards downfield by the time the receiver even turns around. These throws are incredibly hard to defend when the quarterback and receiver are on the same page.

While River does do a great job of throwing with anticipation to outbreaking routes, he doesn’t really do it with in breaking routes or based off of defender keys and this is where he can leave plays on the field or where his diminishing arm strength can cost him. Rivers doesn’t read the linebacker in man coverage which opens up a window for the dig behind it. The receiver has leverage but he struggles to get enough on the ball to get it up and down fast enough which allows time for the safety to react for the interception.

Here instead of working from the dig to the post which is wide open after the LB doesn’t drop underneath it, he wants to immediately check down to his running back who falls on the play and ends up getting in trouble and sacked.

Here he doesn’t read the linebacker again as the dig is opening up with space in the middle zone of the field. These are throws he makes consistently and with ease to the outside, but he struggles to do the same anticipatory throws off linebackers in the intermediate passing game.

Part of the reason for this is his penchant for using running backs in the passing game. While they can be lethal and great mismatches, sometimes there is an overreliance and he skips over reads to immediately check down to his running backs.

If he doesn’t love it immediately, he goes to the checkdown. There really isn’t anything between his first and second read. It’s his rhythm throw or anticipatory throw and then immediately the checkdown to a running back or underneath route. Here he looks right at a dig coming open in zone and passes it up to throw the flat route by the running back.

Involving your running backs in the pass game isn’t the worst way to run the offense and Rivers had a career high in yards with Reich in 2015 running that very style of offense. When you can get a mismatch and you have guys like Danny Woohead, Darren Sproles, Austin Ekeler, or LaDainian Tomlinson it can make your offense go. It opens up windows for everyone else and creates yards after catch and open space opportunities with natural ball carriers in the open field. The Chargers this year largely used their running backs as immediate release options where they’re part of the initial designed play versus having them check release for blitzes or help in pass pro before releasing. When your running backs are some of your best players, it’s a great way to get them involved and Rivers does it super well with good touch and decisiveness.

You can compare that now to the very different way that the Colts used their running backs this last year. Now that may change as Rivers arrives and Reich adapts what they’re doing, but the Colts running backs were largely last resort outlets on check releases or used in the screen game. Extremely rarely would the Chargers ever keep their backs in for pass protection because of Rivers penchant for throwing to them and exploiting those mismatches on linebackers and you can see how the Colts differ by running different route types and chipping defensive ends.

They do have immediate releases in the playbook and I’d expect them to use it a lot more with Rivers. Nyheim Hines definitely seems like the guy to get it to with surprising speed but the Colts now have a pretty crowded backfield with Jonathan Taylor drafted out of Wisconsin and added to the mix of Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines.

The Colts ran a lot more intermediate passing than the Chargers did which isn’t entirely Rivers’ forte. Until they drafted Michael Pittman who physically is very similar to Mike Williams in LA – the Colts largest receiver was 6’2” Zach Pascal. The intermediate and play-action / deep game was a lot more effective with the speedier, smaller guys that the Colts have and the shorter, possession, anticipation throws fit the skills of the Chargers receivers who were larger and had more range. The Chargers only attempted 90 play-action shots but on those rivers completed 74% of his passes and had a 113.2 QB rating so expect the Colts to utilize their strong run game to play-action and open up intermediate and deep windows that Rivers can take advantage of despite his previous avoidance of them.

Based on the way things have shifted from when Reich was with Rivers in San Diego to his time in Indianapolis now, he clearly tweaks and adjusts his offense to fit the quarterback he has behind center. Noted by Reich this offseason was that they needed to get more chunk plays off play-action and emphasize concepts and plays where there are higher-percentage throws. Rivers absolutely helps with both of those and can keep the ball moving underneath with his love of running backs out of the backfield, rhythm throws on slants and curls, and some intermediate anticipation throws that can develop on play-action like deep crossers and comebacks. I’m not sure he’ll be able to use TY Hilton’s speed to it’s fullest capabilities and I worry a bit about the deep ball but with such a strong run game and Rivers knowledge and experience and Reich’s ability to tweak the system to match personnel, the Colts may be just fine attacking underneath and in intermediate zones off play-action to sustain the offense instead of having big explosive plays and long touchdowns. Rivers isn’t the quarterback he used to be, but he absolutely should raise the level of play in Indianapolis and give the Colts a chance to win the AFC South.

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NFL Film Breakdown: Is Derek Carr a Game Manager or Does he Have Untapped Potential?

Since Jon Gruden has come back to the Raiders for his second stint as the head coach, Derek Carr’s completion percentage has shot up 8% where he’s now completing 70% of his passes. Questions have popped up about whether he’s the right fit for Gruden’s offense or if the Raiders will soon move on from the quarterback. While Carr may have some issues, it’s also important to understand the context within which he’s playing. Often criticized for his lack of shots downfield, Carr is actually one of the most accurate deep throwers in the NFL. Since 2016, Carr is the 3rd most accurate in deep passes for targets 20+ yards downfield. Throwing the deep ball isn’t so much the issue as is the frequency with which he throws it. As his career has gone on, his intended air yards has steadily decreased year after year. But is this by design and a manifestation of the personnel and scheme or is Carr simply not a gambler and more comfortable managing the game through checkdowns?

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

USATSI

Gruden’s offense emphasizes ball control, a strong run game, high percentage throws, and getting positive yardage on every play with the occasional shot downfield. Derek Carr executes the underneath game incredibly well. He reads quickly and efficiently and can make accurate throws. It’s not the most exciting, but it is effective. The Raiders ranked 7th in the league in time of possession and when you have a defense that isn’t complete, holding onto the ball minimizes the possessions of the opponent and gives you a better chance to win.

These rhythm and short and intermediate throws are where Carr is at his best. He can drive the ball, shows good understanding of zone space, and can read decisively and efficiently. He understands how to move defenders with his eyes and where that will open up space on his next read. He is especially good at throwing short posts or post sits into zone coverage. He’s patient enough to let defenders flow away from the area he needs to throw to and has the arm strength and touch to fit the ball into tight windows. You see his eyes manipulate safeties to open up areas and he very rarely throws his receivers into trouble – throwing back hip to slow them down or making them settle into a hole.

These are the main things that Carr was asked to do in the Raiders offense this last year. That being said, he did have some issues.

If you’re going to roll with the possession passing, you’ve got to be accurate. Short passes obviously help that cause and lead to Carr’s 70.4% completion percentage in 2019. However, while the Raiders receivers definitely struggled with drops throughout the year, Carr was also inconsistent with his ball placement underneath at times which prevented yards after catch potential.

He has a big issue with pointing his toe and leaving his leg on his throwing motion which limits his hip rotation and ends up causing him to throw behind receivers. Whether it’s a slant or a quick out, these kinds of throws pop up a few times a game and when you’re throwing to running backs or trying to push an offense that needs yards after catch, that’s a big issue. Without bringing his hips all the way around and using his leg to follow through, he gets a lot of horizontal inaccuracy. From a mechanics standpoint, you want to point your toe where the receiver will be and fight to get your hips pointed in that same direction after your follow through. This allows you to generate consistent power and accuracy that stems from your lower body and leads to more consistent throws.

When faced with pressure, Carr often quickly goes straight from his deep read to a checkdown in the flats or underneath instead of progressively going through his intermediate routes down to his outlets. As we talked about earlier, he can throw the deep ball perfectly fine, he just doesn’t throw it often. Instead of going from the post to the curl here, he moves directly to the flare by the running back for a loss of yardage.

Here he misses the dig in the middle of the field once pressure starts to get near him and throws the checkdown underneath. These passes might steadily move the ball but it’s really hard to march down the field 5 yards at a time in the NFL. The Broncos here are running cover 4. As the linebacker responsible for the flat leaves with the running back, that opens a huge space for the dig over the middle. Carr is experiencing a collapsing pocket but there’s a lack of anticipation here which happens frequently when he’s under duress.

Here the Jaguars bring a ton of pressure which means you have man coverage outside. As soon as pressure appears, Carr immediately dumps the ball off to his running back for a loss of yards. If he read the linebacker running to cover the running back and climbed the pocket, he would have seen his receiver wide open on the crosser.

So, he has some faults with anticipation when under pressure but from a pure passing standpoint he has the tools. His mechanics are largely clean aside from his occasional lack of follow through. His base can get a little tight and he can get jittery and bouncy in the pocket but it largely doesn’t impact his deep ball accuracy. He shows really good touch on balls down the field and lets receivers use their already established leverage. He puts good arc on the ball so it’s easier to track, and allows for yards after the catch.

All-in-all, Derek Carr is running what Gruden is asking of him and running it well. The Raiders controlled the ball, were in a number of close games, and were competitive late into the year. Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow emerged as legitimate weapons and Josh Jacobs was an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate. Now throw in the addition of Henry Ruggs and some true speed on that offense and the Raiders are going to have the most talented skill positions that Carr has had to date. Carr can push the ball downfield and I fully expect to see more shots with the talent the Raiders have. It’s time to open things up in Vegas. Gruden likes to dial it up a couple times a game, and now the personnel match the look of a more explosive and exciting offense that’s ready to challenge for a playoff spot in 2020.

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NFL Film Breakdown: Why Jared Goff and the Rams Will Be Just Fine

Jared Goff and the Rams’ 2019 season didn’t go as planned. Interception numbers went up, touchdown throws went down, and the Rams missed the playoffs after playing in the Super Bowl in 2018. While the scrutiny has been on Jared Goff after signing his $134 million contract, the Rams’ offensive line went from being ranked 5th in the NFL in 2018 to dropping all the way to 31st in 2019 according to PFF (Linsey, 2019). getting rid of the ball faster and running more play-action in 2019, Goff and the Rams still experienced pressure at a rate of 4% higher than 2018 (Linsey, 2019). While he has some issues locking onto receivers, getting follow through with his back leg, and dipping his shoulders at times, it’s hard to be mad at a guy who’s experiencing pressure by the time he’s at the top of his drop. Throw in the fact that pressure is the absolute worst thing that can happen in a McVay offense with lots of longer developing routes on shallow crosses and deep shots downfield off play-action and you’ve got recipe for a disappointing season.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

That being said, when Goff has a clean pocket, he is rated as the 6th best QB in the league over the last three years and that’s exactly what the film showed. Goff’s mechanics are some of the best in the league. He is incredibly consistent in his base, footwork, and throwing motion. His feet stay wide, he moves with subtly and quickness in the pocket, can stand strong and take hits, and shows good mobility throwing on the run. Part of Goff’s tendency to lock on or struggle was that he just flat out didn’t have time to read anything other than the first thing he saw because pressure was there so fast.

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Despite a lackluster 2019, Goff can 100% get the job done and be worth the huge contract he signed. Let’s take a look at what exactly Goff is bringing to the table and what went wrong for the Rams in 2019.

As mentioned before, Goff is one of the best in the league in a clean pocket. He shows excellent mechanics, throws with anticipation, and is worth every penny of $134 million. Here on play-action he keeps a perfect base with his feet just outside of shoulders, throws with anticipation before the receiver is even out of their break, brings his leg all the way through, and delivers a dart 25 yards downfield and on the sideline.

Here again he shows great anticipation and mechanics as he begins his throwing motion before the receiver has cleared the linebacker. He understands where the hole in the zone will be, keeps a good base on his hitch steps and brings his leg through on the throw. The Rams are exploiting the weaknesses of cover 2 here and McVay schemes it up so that the middle linebacker is pulled up on the spot route by Gurley leaving the window open on the second level for Cooper Kupp. The opposite slot is running a post behind it so if that is covered and the safety comes down on Kupp, you now have a ton of field to work with on the flat post behind it.

Goff can dice defenses up out of a clean pocket. His arm talent and ball placement is exceptional when he has nobody is at his feet. You can see him earhole a defender that’s trailing in coverage in the first gif and fit the ball into the window between the corner and safety in the next one.

He moves subtly in the pocket to keep his feet and base underneath him while avoiding pressure, constantly keeps his eyes downfield, and looks like a top tier quarterback.

On play-action and rollouts he shows touch and accuracy – dropping it over linebackers and in front of safeties or driving the ball on crossers. His eyes stay downfield, he’s mobile, and understands the flow and position of defenses.

The issue is that sometimes this pressure is so quick and immediate out of his drop or run fake on play-action, Goff only has time to read one thing. This can lead to some rushed mechanics where he doesn’t follow through, has shoulder lean, or can lead to poor decision making where he doesn’t have time to verify where defenders are – resulting in miscommunication with receivers, bad interceptions, or inaccurate balls.

It can be hard to blame him when his back is turned to the defense on a run fake and when he turns around he has pressure in his face and immediately has to locate and diagnose a defense. This is why McVay’s system is so reliant on an offensive line. It’s not just the building off of outside zone that helps it go, they also need to give extended time to the quarterback on play-action since his back is turned to the defense for the first second of the play. A lot of times Goff simply doesn’t have time to execute the scheme which is why you saw his numbers dip and the success of the Rams go with it.

That being said there are clearly times where he isn’t seeing the field the same way his receivers are even in clean pockets. He can expect a back-shoulder, throw a ball skinny when the receiver is running flat, or throw to a window the receiver isn’t ready for. These aren’t mechanical inaccuracies, they’re conceptual and scheme issues where he and the receiver aren’t on the same page.

Goff’s mechanics are largely clean but he can have issues with shoulder lean when he drives balls. Ideally, when completing the throwing motion, you want your hips and shoulders parallel with the ground. When you tilt or lean it can cause balls to sail on you because you’re now releasing at a higher apex point and you’re less consistent from throw to throw.

The same thing happens when he leaves his leg on the follow through. It prevents full hip rotation and reduces the power of the throw which makes his throws less accurate and in some cases prevents scoring plays. In the play here if this ball is a little further out with more air, it’s a walk-in touchdown. Instead, Goff leaves his back leg and doesn’t complete his follow through on the throwing motion and the ball is short. This issue crops up from time to time and generally just reduces his power and velocity on the throw causing balls to be late or inaccurate and disallowing potential yards after the catch.

Despite the occasional issues with his follow through and shoulder lean, Goff is one of the most mechanically clean quarterbacks that I’ve seen. His base is always solid, he has an efficient throwing motion, generally good hip rotation, can put touch on the ball, and understands defensive vulnerabilities. His mobility in the pocket is also a huge strength of his. Almost any quarterback would struggle with the 31st ranked offensive line in the league and Goff is no exception. The Rams offense is predicated on running the ball and having time to let routes develop on play-action. Without those two things, things are going to be a struggle. It’s clear to me that Goff is not the problem in LA. If that offensive line can just get back to average, the Rams will look like a completely different team. With an NFC West division that is now chock full of talent and elite teams, the Rams will need that line to step up. If they do, there’s no reason that Goff and those skill positions can’t make another run at a Super Bowl.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on YouTube for video breakdowns and Instagram@weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

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References

Linsey, B. (2019, December 31). Ranking all 32 NFL offensive lines following the 2019 regular season. Retrieved from Pro Football Focus: https://www.pff.com/news/nfl-offensive-line-rankings-following-2019-regular-season

NFL Film Breakdown: Minshew Mania

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Minshew Mania swept Duval after Nick Foles went down early in week 1 of the 2019 season. His penchant for late game heroics led them to a 6-7 record with him as the starter and gave Jacksonville hope for the future. His 3,271 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions gave the Jaguar offense a spark it has been missing for some years. His ability to move in the pocket, extend plays, and create something out of nothing single-handedly kept the Jaguars in games last year. His personality rallied his teammates around him and gave the front office confidence to ship out Nick Foles to the Bears and wait to draft a backup until the 6th round in 2020 NFL Draft. While the flashes Gardner Minshew showed were certainly enticing, he also had a number of moments where he looked exactly like a 6th round rookie quarterback. While he has enough arm strength to be successful, he has some mechanical issues with his footwork which cause him to be inaccurate, he struggles with anticipation throws, and without tying in his hips and feet, he really struggles with ball placement and power.

AP Photo / Stephen B. Morton

There’s no denying Minshew’s ability to create. Despite a tendency to bail from clean pockets at times, he is absolutely transcendent at manipulating the pocking, finding areas to escape from, and keeping his eyes downfield to find open receivers. He has surprising lower body strength and is able to evade tackles, understands how to maneuver to allow his linemen to get back onto blocks, and has the arm talent to make accurate throws even when he has pressure in his face or at his feet.

To play quarterback consistently in the NFL though, he also has to be able to thrive within the pocket. In his rookie year, consistency was not something that he had – at least mechanically. He would vary wildly from play-to-play in his base and footwork, hip rotation, and follow through. One play he’s standing strong in the pocket with all his cleats in the ground and the next, he’s hopping around, double clutching, and falling away on throws when nobody is near him.

The frustrating thing is that he can absolutely tie everything together since you actually see him do it multiple times a game. Below he stands strong in a collapsing pocket, keeps all his cleats in the ground, has full hip rotation, and throws a good ball to the back of the endzone for a touchdown.

Here he makes a quick decision, has a good drop (although with some heel click which we will talk about later) and throws an absolute dime. He brings his leg all the way through, has good follow through, points his toe, and puts it right on his receiver.

He shows he is capable and can read the leverage of the defender quickly, take good drops, keep a base just outside of his shoulders, and deliver nice balls like he does here to the back shoulder away from the defender.

Then you have plays like the one below where he takes a double step and throws the ball wide and into the dirt. If he’s throwing this ball based on his pre-snap read, that extra step is just wasted movement and delays his release. This kind of issue crops up over and over.

Here’s another double jab with his foot. This is a much more catchable ball this time but he still leaves his leg on the follow through which forces the ball to lack power and to end up on the back hip on the receiver, making the catch more difficult than necessary and preventing any potential run after the catch.

There’s no way to know what they’re telling him in the QB room but he routinely does these skip drops which cause him to be off balance on the throw and lead to inaccuracy and a lack of power. Here you can see how off balance he is on what should be an easy and routine throw directly in front of him 10 yards away. It lacks power and allows the defender to close on the ball and pop it into the air. He leaves his back foot as he throws, is falling away to his left, and can’t generate enough spin on the ball as a result.

Here you can see him double clutch on the ball. He knows he’s throwing it and yet there is hesitation. This gives the defense time to react to the throw and throws off his mechanics as he leaves his leg on the follow through. Without bringing his leg which allows for full hip rotation, he loses accuracy and power and the ball is way higher than it needs to be. If he put this ball right on the receiver in stride, it has the chance to be a touchdown. Instead you’re opening up your guy to a big hit.

On his hitch step, he also has a tendency for heel click to happen. Heel click is when your feet come together as you climb the pocket. Ideally you want to keep your feet spread to create a solid base. When they come together, you get a vertical bounce as a quarterback. This vertical movement up and down adds one more variable for you arm to compensate for. Now you have vertical movement up or down as you’re attempting to throw. It’s not the end of the world but will make you way less consistent from throw to throw. Compare this to his last clip where he leaves his leg. This time, he does a really good job of following through and bringing his leg on this throw though which is why he’s able to generate enough power to squeeze it into the receiver.

As mentioned before, he is almost always incredibly toesy. This does the same thing as heel clicks do. It creates a vertical bounce in your platform and also prevents you from digging your cleats in the ground and generating power to translate to your hips and subsequently your arm. When you hop on your toes, you’re going to struggle with proper hip rotation and will have to compensate for any vertical movement you’re experiencing. That is exactly what you see here. It’s possible he thinks that the receiver should be bouncing to the outside and is leading him that way, but there is a defender hanging there waiting for exactly that. Either Minshew threw to the wrong spot or he was inaccurate. Neither are ideal obviously.

Here’s a combination of Minshew being toesy and throwing in that extra foot jab on his drop which causes him to air mail a walk-in touchdown in the flats.

Is it all doom and gloom? Absolutely not. For the most part he makes decisive reads and is able to deliver catchable balls. His receivers and the scheme did him no favors as there were multiple issues with communication and bad play-calling without built in man-beaters nor audibles and hot routes for Minshew to take advantage of.

The raw talent and ability to move and create inside and outside of the pocket is maybe even the best in the league aside from Patrick Mahomes. He keeps his eyes downfield and it feels like he’s at home when everything is going wrong.

If Minshew can polish up the mechanical issues, there’s no doubt that he gives juice to the locker room in Jacksonville. The team believes in him and with a new weapon in Laviska Shenault to pair with DJ Chark, the issues of miscommunication, drops, and lack of ability to defeat man coverage may disappear. Once the game slows down and things click for Minshew, he can absolutely be a franchise quarterback. He is, after-all, a 6th round rookie quarterback who was never expected to start 13 games this year. He’s a gunslinger, cultural icon in Jacksonville, and made the Jaguars fun to watch again.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

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