Taking the Timeline – Episode 1

Ben (@BGNatan), Charles (mcdraft2) and Colin (bonyromo) join me in discussing Cam Newton, Baylor and (mostly) Jared Goff. 

 

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Checking Up on Jameis Winston (Part 1 of 4)

There is no need to panic about Jameis Winston yet. No, the No.1 pick is not playing better than the No.2 pick Marcus Mariota, but he is playing about as well as should have been expected of him. Winston playing with high variance is normal. Young Winston is very similar to quarterbacks like Eli Manning and Joe Flacco, where there is a lot of up and down play, but the highs are absolutely incredible while the lows are pitiful. This style of play only works if the player’s highs outweigh the lows. For Winston, they do.

Winston is a brilliant quarterback and any refutation to that take is null. In just his second regular season game, Winston was calling shifts in the run game that should have lead to huge gains. That sort of maturity should come much later in a passer’s career. Winston is well ahead of where he should be in terms of deciphering and exposing a defense. Most quarterbacks Winston’s age can not hold safeties with their eyes or catch a linebacker out of position because he is one step too wide in his alignment, but because Winston is as savvy as he is, he does this consistently.

Calculated risks are a specialty of Winston’s. If he sees a desirable match up, such as a strong, aggressive receiver facing single coverage, he tends to bite on it. Take this play versus the Saints for example.

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Wide receiver Mike Evans is lined up to the bottom of the screen facing what looks to be Cover 6 disguised as Cover 1. Winston sees the lone safety lined up deep and decides to take advantage of the area that the safety is forced to cover. By staring at the receivers near the left hash, the safety has to stay put to seal off the seam. Evans now has single coverage near the boundary and Winston drops in a beautiful pass by throwing him open toward the boundary. The play was not ruled a catch because Evans failed to get two feet in despite plenty of room to do so, but that does not take away from Winston’s display.

Though, as has been a theme throughout Winston’s career, the young Buccaneer struggles more with what he sees than what he doesn’t see. Winston leaves no stone un-turned before the snap, but he likes to lock onto targets he believe will be open. While this works on most plays, sometimes the defense disguises something very well and takes away the seemingly open throw. Winston fails to look away in these situations. He is a stubborn passer, one who refuses to accept that he can not make the throw he said he was going to make. This has lead Winston to a fair share of regrettable throws.

Five games into the 2015 season, Winston has surrendered seven interceptions, four of which came in a single game versus the Panthers. The young Buc needs to show that he can play with control and keep possession of the ball well. Though New Orleans and Jacksonville failed to intercept Winston, those two defenses were the two defenses that Winston threw at the least (21 and 19 attempts, respectively). Winston has yet to have a game of more than 25 attempts without throwing an interception. The sample size is very small right now, sure, but it would be nice to see Winston prove early on that he can take care of the football for extended periods of time. With the run game seeming to gel together and Winston’s chemistry with his receivers is improving, Winston should be able to post a highly efficient, zero turnover game soon.

Speaking of chemistry, the Winston to Evans connection has come together to be much smoother than it was at the start of the season. Their route communication and deep pass connection has gotten much better, forcing defenses to respect it further and open up some room for rushing lanes. Below is a display of the fluidity the two have together on a back shoulder fade.

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Winston’s connection with Vincent Jackson, however, is more like Winston treating him like a safety valve. No matter if Winston is stuck in the pocket and must throw into double coverage or is on the move and needs to get the ball out somewhere, Jackson seems to be ready to save the play. Some of the explosive plays between the two truly have been outstanding throws from Winston, but Jackson himself has made a handful of strong plays as well.

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These are only a fraction of the impressive plays that Winston and Jackson have made together. Winston proved that he can shine when the chips are down on a given play and deliver the ball to a veteran play maker. Though, it is not the on-the-fly traits that are to be worried about with Winston, it is some of his in-the-pocket traits.

No, the issue is not that Winston has a fear of rushers in the pocket. In fact, he is very good at handling rushers and keeping himself clean. The issue is the fashion in which he moves his feet. Sure, Winston knows where his second or third read is on a play, but his feet do not follow his progressions well at all.

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Gross. He is all over the place. Winston’s scrambled movement made him plant his front foot far too wide of his target, altering the way his hips and torso rotate. Due to his foot alignment, Winston’s rotation is much stiffer and he can not control his weight as well, and that is what lead to the ball landing nowhere near the intended receiver. There have been instances where Winston’s timing and resetting looks fine, but he is often too preoccupied on moving his upper body when adjusting through his progressions. Being that he is a rookie and has shown brilliance in a number of other areas, I would not force him synchronize all of these things well just yet. It took him a year of play to tune up his mechanics in college, he may very well need that development year in the NFL as well.

Winston’s highs are unbelievable and his lows are near unbearable. Ideally, Winston will learn to limit how often he hits his low sooner rather than later, but it would be expected to see Winston play out of control a bit for at least his rookie season. Winston will learn what he is and is not capable of doing, then, in theory, we will see less of Winston’s low points. As a young quarterback, Winston’s play at his best is well worth his play at his worst. If there is any adjustment Winston will make later this season, it will be holding back from blatantly terrible throws. Winston will always be high variance, though, to some extent. If nothing else, Winston’s variance will be entertaining for the remainder of the year.

GIF Gallery – Jameis Winston (1 of 4)

Checking Up on Marcus Mariota (Part 1 of 4)

The start to the 2015 NFL season has been interesting, to say the least. New star players, holdouts, terrible game-deciding calls and, the weirdest of it all, Andy Dalton looks good throwing a football- this season has it all. With “new star players” in mind, Marcus Mariota has had quite the start to his rookie campaign. In his first game, Mariota threw for four touchdowns, joining Fran Tarkenton as one of the only two rookie quarterbacks to throw for four touchdowns on opening weekend. Mariota has thrown for eight touchdowns in the first four games, setting him on pace to beat Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson’s rookie passing touchdown record (26). Whether he will put himself in the record books again is uncertain, but Mariota has shown more than enough to put faith in him moving forward this season.

No matter how you dice it, the system that Mariota runs is critical to how much you are going to get out of him. The thing is, this is true of most players, especially rookie players. It is true that Mariota needs his role (#task #oriented), but it is also true that he has executed the offense he is in very well. To this point, he has only thrown two interceptions, one of which was a well placed throw that the receiver bobbled and gave to the defense. What’s most impressive is that this low interception number is not necessarily because he isn’t aggressive.

Tennessee’s offense throws short often by design. Whether it be quick slants, screens or RPOs (run-play options), the ball is coming out of Mariota’s hands fast. For the most part, Mariota has done well scanning the field pre-snap to find the open play and take it. This is what Mariota needs. He is a smart, twitchy player that can thrive by beating the defense with his mind and executing the play with swift precision. With these quick throws being the core of the offense, Mariota’s “open up” plays are typically intermediate/deep crossers, and he has not held back in throwing them.

At Oregon, Mariota had lapses where he did not seem sure of a throw and he would get gun shy. This still worked at the college level versus slower defensive backs, but in the NFL, waiting just a tad longer is the difference between touchdown and interception. Mariota has not shown that hesitancy much this year, even looking somewhat aggressive when plays did not ask him to get the ball out fast. It would be nice to see him drop back a bit more and stress teams vertically more than he does, but again, it’s tough to knock Mariota for his play style considering the results, to this point.

It is also likely that the simplification in play style does not last to this severity for his entire career. It may be because he is a young rookie. This approach worked recently with RG3, or at least it should have. RG3 had a wonderful rookie year because he had an offense tailored for him and that gave him confidence moving forward. That confidence was shattered by injuries and ignorant coaching staffs, but the blueprint is there. Mariota is going to stick prominently with what he is comfortable with for his first couple of years, then we will begin to see him open up the field more often.

Though, if Mariota wants to open things up more in his career, he needs to be able to scan the field better post-snap. Pre-snap, Mariota maps plays out very well, but defenses are going to throw disguises at him, or completely botch their coverage, and he needs to identify that and adjust. Take, for example, this throw versus the Browns.

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Pre-snap, Mariota sees that he will have one-on-one coverage on the boundary and he likes his teammate’s chance of winning that play. Mariota drops back and fires just as the route is about to break. The opposing cornerback stays glued to the receiver and defends the pass. Just underneath the pass Mariota actually threw, he had an open shallow crosser that would have easily gone for a handful of yards. The problem seems to be that Mariota doesn’t know the linebacker who dropped from the line of scrimmage has no idea there is a shallow crosser behind him until the receiver is past him. Thankfully, Mariota is right so often pre-snap that these occasions are not too common. That does not excuse him from developing a more natural feel after the snap in the future, but it gives him a cushion for now.

The factor that seems to nullify most of Mariota’s troubles is his accuracy. At Oregon, Mariota’s ball placement was a bit of a roller coaster, albeit his “on” moments were quite special. Mariota’s ball placement in the NFL thus far has been more consistent than it was in Eugene. Both in and out of the pocket, Mariota plays as in form as he can. If he is sticking in the pocket, he keeps his feet under him with every movement to keep a solid base. On the move, Mariota does his best to square his frame before throwing in order to more easily hit his man on the run. Mariota is always giving himself the best conditions to succeed.

Sometimes, Mariota’s natural talent puts him in the best conditions to win. Athleticism is Mariota’s best friend, even when he doesn’t necessarily intend for it to be. On sprint outs and boots, Mariota’s quick feet and athleticism maximize the play. He works to the top of the drop and then back up field with ease, meaning he is in position to make a good throw before most other quarterbacks would be on those types of plays.

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In this example, Mariota does not have to work back up field. He only has to drop and rollout, but he is doing so against a blitzing linebacker. Even with the linebacker’s immediate jump on the play, Mariota explodes out of his stance to the top of his drop, giving him plenty of room to get the ball out to the flats for a touchdown. Also, to bring up an earlier point, Mariota squares his frame on the move and puts the throw where it needs to be. Between his natural gifts and his ingrained drive for perfection, Mariota has a true gift in the way he is always creating the best environment to succeed.

There is still plenty of football left this season, but Mariota has a very strong case for offensive rookie of the year. If he keeps his current pace up, there is no doubt he will win the award. He is playing smart, poised and accurate, all of which are key ingredients to being an upper echelon quarterback. Mariota is not “upper echelon” yet, but he has all the makings to be and the start of his career has provided endless reasons to believe in him.

GIF Gallery – Marcus Mariota (Q1 of 2015 NFL season)

All-22 Shootouts: Tyrod Taylor vs Ryan Tannehill (Week 3)

Just a few months ago, anyone who suggested that Tyrod Taylor may be a better quarterback than Ryan Tannehill would have gotten laughed at. Now, as a whole, Tannehill is still the much better choice, but to suggest that Taylor has been better this year, especially last week, has merit. 

Neither the Bills or Dolphins offensive coordinator is particularly wonderful, though Buffalo’s Greg Roman has gotten off to a much hotter start than Miami’s Bill Lazor. Roman has done well creating passing lanes for Taylor and maximizing his full skill set, and that showed versus Miami. On the opposite sideline, Lazor did not do much to manufacture space for Tannehill to throw to. Coordinating aside, the passers themselves played an equal factor in this blow out.

Taylor has risen above his expectations for the season, thus far. He has thrived in this offense, taking advantage of what the defense gives him to do so. Taylor has been asked to move from the pocket a lot, whether it be some sort of option play or a play action roll out. This is the best way to maximize Taylor. He has the speed; taking advantage of Tyrod’s athleticism to force defenses to account for him creates extra space in coverage.

As much as Taylor’s athletic ability opens things up, some of Roman’s play designs create plenty of room on their own. So long as Taylor recognizes the defense, the pass can typically turn into an easy completion.

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Take this red zone play, for example. Taylor motions his receiver from right to left and the defensive back follows, indicating man coverage (Buffalo used shifts often to try to expose the coverage). The already moving receiver shoots out to the flat at the snap of the ball while the tight end on that side of the formation runs a sort of corner route to cut off the defensive back chasing the motioned receiver. This downfield “rub” forces the defensive back to take an adjustment step or two, giving just enough space for the motioned receiver to pick up a solid gain.

Plays like this, as well as crossing routes, were staples of Roman’s offense against Miami. Many of these plays required some sort of play action to catch the defense slipping. Due to the success of the Bills rushing attack, Miami’s linebackers were constantly cheating up to play the run. With Miami giving Taylor the space he needed to work the field, he was able to pick apart the Miami defense.

Roman and Taylor picked on Miami’s linebackers all day. Short outs, crossing routes, shoots out of the backfield- you name it, Buffalo was calling it to abuse Miami’s linebackers. The most glaring example of linebacker manipulation came in the second quarter.

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Here, the Bills ran double tight end crossing routes- the cornerstone to everyone’s offense in Madden 07. Miami’s right linebacker doesn’t realize that it is a double cross, so he stays under the tight end crossing from left to right. The tight end crossing from right to left gets a free run over the middle of the field. What’s concerning from Taylor is that this play was executed marvelously by everyone but him. Taylor needs to fire this ball as soon as he sees the right linebacker move to the left. Getting this ball out quickly to the tight end would have given him plenty of room to run with only one immediate defender to beat. Alas, Taylor is still susceptible to shooting himself in the foot, even with his other developments.

Tannehill played in complete opposite fashion of Taylor. Throughout the game, Tannehill threw the ball with precision all over the field, but some of his decisions were questionable. Contrary to his normal style of play, Tannehill forced the ball down field a lot versus Buffalo. While this should typically be encouraged, Tannehill was forcing these throws into coverage and was intercepted on one of such attempts. That particular play seemed to be more of a miscommunication than a patently poor decision, to be fair. Nonetheless, Tannehill was far more reckless than usual on throws beyond 15 yards. Despite the over-zealousness, Tannehill threw with efficiency for most of the game.

Ten yard outs/hooks and crossing routes of all depths were Tannehill’s go-to in trying to dice Buffalo’s defense. Overall, Tannehill lead his receivers for extra yards and put the ball where only his men could get, if necessary. His best throw of the night, a touchdown to Rishard Matthews, was a crossing route placed with perfection around defenders.

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Although, Tannehill’s accuracy was almost a shame because of his struggles with getting the ball out. Tannehill was holding the ball too long, not to mention he was doing so against one of the best defensive fronts in football. By the time he decided to throw, a defender would be in his face to shut down the play, one way or another.

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The unnecessary pause in releasing this ball allows the edge defender to notice that Tannehill is throwing the ball that way, stop and swat the ball away. Had Tannehill gotten to the top of his drop and snapped out of it to complete the throw, Miami almost certainly moves up the field on this play. Tannehill could have even turned to the crosser underneath for a much easier throw, though he did not do that either.

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Again, Tannehill does not throw the short crosser. Tannehill had plenty of room to make a quick throw, but he opts to drop his eyes and sprint away from the oncoming defender. With none of the routes being on the side that Tannehill bailed out to, the play was wasted, whereas it could have gone for at least a short gain.

The two quarterbacks played vastly different on their Sunday matchup. One, Taylor, executed his offense well despite accuracy some troubles with getting the ball where it needed to be, while Tannehill made a handful of poor decisions but threw exceptionally well when he made the correct decision. At the end of the fourth quarter, it was Taylor’s style of taking what the defense gives up that prevailed and put up a stunning 41 points. Tannehill is typically more impressive than this and Taylor may not be able to sustain this quality of play, but it is tough to argue that Taylor was not the better quarterback last weekend.