The analysis of Adam Weber

Through three games of the 2009 season there has been much conversation on the effectiveness, accuracy, growth and overall ability of Adam Weber.  The arm-chair quarterbacks fall on a very wide spectrum that ranges from bench the bum to all problems are because of someone/thing else (OL, playcalling, lack of run game, etc.) he is one of the best in the Big Ten so shut up.

In full disclosure I lean towards the right end of that spectrum (and by right I mean correct :) ), that he is a very good quarterback.  I believe he gives us the best chance to win and I think he is underrated around the Big Ten and underappreciated by his own fan base.  But he is not flawless, there are areas where he needs to improve. 

I watched Weber intensely during the Cal game.  I looked for some of the things he is criticized for and I watched for the things he does well.  Every single pass play I charted the following...

  • Who was his first option?
  • Was that option open and did he throw him the ball?
  • If not who did he look to as his second option?
  • Was he open and did he throw him the ball?
  • Notes: bad throw, good throw, play with only one option, protection breakdown, etc

I believe there are three very common criticisms of Weber and there are two common excuses used in his defense.  Based on the knowledge I gleaned from Saturday, his overall resume and some analysis done by an independent source; here is my analysis.

Common Criticism #1 - Weber is inaccurate

I hear this one fairly often and it is the easiest to debunk.  Usually when I hear this argument used against Weber I tune out the rest of whatever else I hear because it stems either from complete ignorance or a set of standards that is so high it can only be achieved by the best QBs you see on Sunday afternoons. 

FACT: Weber is currently the school's all time leader in completion percentage.  His freshman season is the 9th best single season for completion % and his sophomore year was 2nd best in school history (1st in Big Ten). 

In general the more you pass and the more one dimensional you are with your target the lower you can expect the percentage to be.  If Weber only looks at one guy and throws a LOT one should expect his completion numbers to be down.  In fact they are very high numbers.  He is an accurate passer and to say otherwise is foolish.

Common Criticism #2 - Weber has not improved

While the first criticism was easy to debunk, the second is yet to be determined.  There is no doubt in my mind that he improved from his freshman season to his sophomore season.  Just looking at interceptions alone it is pretty clear that he took dramatic steps in his QB development. 

2007 2008
Attempts 449 410
Comp 258 255
Comp % 57.5% 62.2%
INTs 19 8
INT % 4.2% 2.0%

 

His freshman season was full of ill-advised passes and interceptions at inopportune times, there is absolutely no doubt that he was a major (read primary) factor in the Florida Atlantic loss (6 picks) and the Northwestern loss (2 4th quarter picks).  But in 2008 he greatly improved as a quarterback.

His progression from Sophomore to Junior season is yet to be determined but through three games no improvement can be measured.  His interception % is back up near his freshman level but they really are different interceptions.  I have a theory about good picks and bad picks.  2007 saw terrible passes at the worst possible times, these were usually bad picks.  Interceptions like the one he had at Syracuse are good picks (at least NOT bad picks).  That situation was 3rd and long, he had a man in single coverage going towards the sideline, it was a bad throw and it was picked off 25 yards downfield.  Basically it was a short punt at a time in the game that was not critical.  The Cal picks were mixed.  The first one was really bad because of the timing and his decision to throw it rather than take the sack.  After that they were down 2 scores and he really had to start forcing, this lead to a couple more picks.

So I believe there is no doubt he improved from what was a pretty bad freshman season.  I don't know that we have seen the Soph --> Junior improvement that many of us were hoping for.  If he learned to throw the ball away or even take a sack rather than throw it up for grabs that would be a step in the right direction.

Common Critisism #3 - Weber only throws to one guy

This is the big one and this is exactly what I was looking at during the Cal game. The problem is just watching him look at Decker then throw to Decker is not inherently a bad thing.  The perception that he is forcing balls to him on each and every throw is only true because most of the time that's who he should be throwing the ball to.

You need to ask yourself two questions...

  • "IF the primary target is open (regardless of receiver), do you want the ball thrown to him?"  The answer is clearly yes.
  • "Who should the the first option on the majority of passes thrown?"  Clearly the answer better be Decker. 

Not every single play, but he is our best player and only when looking to exploit something specific should someone else be the first read.  Decker is a potential All-American and is capable of getting himself open most of the time.  So... Decker is primary target, he is good enough to usually be open, he should get the ball. The second TD drive is a perfect example of this.  Weber dropped back, looked at Decker, Decker was wide open so the ball was thrown to him for six.

To say that teams are going to start keying on Decker is silly, because teams have been game-planning and keying on Decker ever game already.  It's not like they looked at the Syracuse film and noticed a new trend.  Yes, Weber absolutely stares at his first option and usually that person is Decker.  But that alone is not a bad thing nor is it reason to criticize.  If Decker is the primary target and he is open, he should get the ball.  I don't care if that happens 35 times in a game, if he is open throw him the ball.

I think this was a bigger issue last year and he has been better in 2009.  Last year more balls were forced to a covered Decker.  This year there have not been as many forced throws and as I watched the game on Saturday Weber did check off to a second receiver more than you would probably think.  The first touchdown is a great example.  Weber dropped back, looked at his first option but was rushed, he rolled out looking for Hayo in the back of the endzone but he was covered, Weber then found Decker down the sideline for the TD.

Here were my rough numbers from the Cal game, through the first interception (after that we were down 14 and I went down to the field to get some pictures). 

 

Primary Target
Times Open Threw to
Threw to 2nd option
Notes
Decker 9 6 7 2 2 other receptions where Decker was secondary
Green 5 3 4 forced on on a quick slant that was covered and defensed
Stoudermire 3 2 3 forced the finesse pass over Syd'Quan for incomplete
Hayo 2 1 0 2 both times threw to Decker for 23 and 26 yds
TE 3 2 2 2 screens to Tow-Arnett and one sack while looking at Lair
RB by design 3 3 3 screen passes, 2 to Hoese and 1 to Bennett that was dropped
Totals 25 17 19 4

 

So on 25 recorded pass attempts the primary target was open 17 times and 18 times the ball was thrown his way.  I have four recorded instances of looking the primary off and finding a secondary target, those plays netted 54 total yards and a TD.  This is not an exhaustive research project but it gives you a pretty good flavor of what happened in the passing game.

Even in the Syracuse game, where Weber was horribly inaccurate.  His receivers were usually open, he just threw it behind them or at their feet.  A rare inaccurate game, but my point here is that his first look was open and he made the right reads; just terrible throws.

Excuse Generator #1 - it is the offensive line's fault

The key interception that effectively ended our chances against Cal was less about a poor throw or forcing it to Decker; it was about getting rid of the ball when a blitzing linebacker came through untouched to Weber.  Also, it is very difficult to look off your first option to your second when you rarely have that much time. 

With that said, this is a flimsy excuse.  Certainly the OL needs to do a better job of protecting and giving Weber as much time as possible.  When he has time, he finds open receivers.  But the one area of Weber's game that really needs to improve is his unwillingness to throw the ball away.  The interception referenced above, should have been thrown away.  If that wasn't an option, then just take the sack.  Throwing it as you are falling backward into an area anywhere near a defender rarely has a good result.  Throw the ball away.  If you aren't getting protection on that play, get rid of the ball and live to have a shot on the next down. 

In this regard he is very much like Brett Favre.  He feels like every single play has to be made.  This is the area of growth I most want to see from him.  Throw the ball away and live to see the next play.  The next couple interceptions were not that big of a deal.  Once they were down two scores and the clock was ticking then you have to try and force things.  This resulted in a couple more picks.  The first one was the one that killed us and he absolutely should have taken the sack or thrown it away.

Excuse Generator #2 - we have no run game

This is also true.  We have no run game and it usually allows defenses to key on the pass rush.  This is more on play-calling and game-planning than anything else.  Run some screens, draws, misdirection, roll Weber out, whatever you need to do to keep defenses honest.  Or when we are able to get something going on the ground, stick with it until the opponent stops it.  This gets the offense in a rhythm and gets the D on their heels.  The Syracuse game was a great example of having a running game working and abandoning it way too early.

This is a weak excuse for those defending Weber and is really an indictment on the coaching staff. 

In Summation - Here is my view of Adam Weber.

He is a great leader, he is very accurate, he a smart quarterback (remember the audible on 3rd and 3 that gained 17 yards to Decker?), when given time he makes plays happen and he is an above average athlete with his legs.  I don't have a problem with him throwing to Decker nine out of 10 times if he is open.  My one and only criticism of our starting QB is that he rarely (never) throws the ball away and that is the biggest growth step I want to see him take.  

Yes, he does throw to Decker a lot.  But as I outlined above he should be throwing to Decker a lot when he is open and I'll even be forgiving if he forces a couple balls to Decker each game.  It should also be noted that during the second half of all three games he has made some pretty key throws to Brandon Green and Troy Stoudermire and don't forget the catch by Nick Tow-Arnett in the Air Force game.

MarQueis Gray is very talented and is a great athlete.  I want to see him on the field and I look forward to him under center in the future.  But I will take the 2 year resume of Adam Weber over the potential of a freshman who is bound to make more mistakes in a year where we have a solid team going up against a difficult schedule.  This in my mind has become a classic case of the back-up QB being the most popular guy in town.

Ultimately it comes down to expectations.  Don't expect Adam Weber to be Colt McCoy or Peyton Manning.  But as a QB he is probably the best ever wear a Gopher uniform, one of the top 3 QBs in the Big Ten and I will argue that he is one of the 20 best quarterbacks at the D1 level.  This is the statement that may very well get parsed over and ripped the most, but look at the numbers.  One may argue that his numbers are great because he has Decker, but one could also argue that Decker's numbers are great because of Adam Weber.  The truth is they work well together.  Adam Weber is far from perfect, but he easily gives us the best chance to win right now.

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