The NFL’s best passers have a common trait, among others: intuitiveness. They know when to go against the grain of whatever they have been trained to believe is “right” in order to take advantage of specific situations.
This is Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. He is faced with a 3rd-and-5 situation inside Baylor’s 35-yard line; the Sooners are up with a comfortable two touchdown lead near the end of the third quarter. Baylor’s defense has stacked the box and jammed the boundary receiver to the right side of the formation, yet Oklahoma’s slot receiver to the right side (No.3) is given a generous cushion. Not only is there a vertical cushion, but the nickel cornerback is set up to the inside of the receiver.
Lucky for Mayfield, Oklahoma called for a quick out from the slot receiver, making this an easy first down. Except Mayfield didn’t throw it.
Counterargument numero uno would be that Mayfield saw the 1-on-1 jam on the outside and liked his chances. In fact, Mayfield is more than likely coached to take these throws. Anyone who follows my work knows that I love a quarterback who rolls the dice, but there is absolutely no reason to here. Oklahoma already has a 14-point lead and does not need to risk explosive plays when easier ones are almost literally gift wrapped, especially when you are approaching the red zone.
Secondly, there is the concern that the nickel corner is baiting the quarterback into the throw. While that is a valid caution in most every other out route read, it is not in this case. The cornerback is six or seven yards off the ball and lined up about a step inside. That is a lot of ground to make up. If the quarterback does not have the arm talent to hit the out route before a defensive back makes up that much ground, then he is just not a good quarterback. Sorry.
Last and most absurd, there is the question about what the reaction would be if the pass was completed. Simple answer: no different. Results are not sustainable, as they are left up to variables and random chance, to some degree. Process, on the other hand, is absolutely sustainable and better processes more often render better results. Mayfield’s process on this play was too linear. He failed to identify and expose a clear flaw in the defense because he fell back on what he is used to doing in similar, though not identical, situations.
It is no coincidence that Cam Newton, Tony Romo and Tom Brady all dominate the quick out game and are simultaneously among the best handful of NFL quarterbacks. Good quarterbacks see the matchup and expose it; they are essentially free yards to be had. Take what the defense gives you.