Welcome to Week 5 of TDG's Football Seminar. For those of you just joining us, we are reading Chris B. Brown's The Art of Smart Football. This week we looked at three chapters: Five Stories About the Spread, The Quarterback Curve, and Total Package:"Packaged Plays" are Changing the Way We Think About Offense.
The theme for this week is a familiar one around TDG of late-what does it mean to be a good quarterback? Mitch Leidner's struggles over the last year, Phil Nelson before him, and MarQueis Gray before him, have convinced a fair amount of the Gopher commentariat that Minnesota has a problem developing quarterbacks. It's fair then to wonder: What do good quarterbacks actually do? What sets them apart from merely average quarterbacks?
The Quarterback Curve
A fact frequently forgotten is that this wonderful rant was directed at Peyton Manning. Manning had a horrible game, including throwing four interceptions. We tend to forget this for two reasons. 1. The rant is just amazing on its own and 2. Peyton Manning has been extremely good since then.
The quarterback is the most scrutinized position in football and its not particularly close. Whether or not that scrutiny is fair is an open question, but without fail after every loss blame will be laid at the quarterback's feet. Partially this is due to the fact that quarterbacking is hard. In the NFL, there are at most 20 quarterbacks that are actually NFL caliber. Given that there are 32 teams and most have three quarterbacks, that should give college fans pause about the quality of their quarterback.
For a long time in football history, this scrutiny was not justified because the quarterback was not the focal point of the offense. Most of the time, a pass play was a functional trick play, taking advantage of a single isolated defender. Nowadays, some teams could go entire games without running the football. The recognition of the possibilities of the passing game was part of the evolution of offense to attack defenses that keyed on the run. Sid Gillman, known as the father of the passing game, was one of the first to be credited with noticing that since football is played on a rectangle there are geometric truths to be exploited.
Today, most passing trees are designed to stretch a defense horizontally and vertically. Provided the Quarterback gets adequate protection, his job is to in some way cycle between these routes to find an open receiver. There are two categories of read, if-then and progression. In an if-then read, a quarterback looks at a specific defender and based on their movement throws to a receiver. The if-then read is simple and most quarterbacks start out with if-then. Some quarterbacks never move past them.
At higher levels of football, if-then reads become more untenable because of defensive sophistication. At the beginning of the zone blitz era, defenses created many turnovers by exploiting quarterback reads. Partially in response, quarterbacking moved on to progression reads. In a progression read, a quarterback cycles through all of the routes to find the open man. The quarterback should not be looking at a specific defender, but rather at areas of open field for throwing lanes. If he finds one that is open, then he throws to it.
Package plays have become en vogue of late with their ability to combine runs and multiple routes from the same play. When done well and at high tempo, an offense can run the same play repeatedly and have the box score record totally different results. However, as we know from this series, packaged plays are not new. Indeed, utilizing route trees, quarterbacks have been running a prototypical package plays for decades. Today, even teams that are not using explicit package plays will run different coverage beaters on each side of the field. The Quarterback's job then becomes to read half the field and make the correct decision.
Quarterbacks are generally taught to use their feet to determine where to throw. Their first read is called a 'rhythm' read and should be thrown when his last step hits the ground. In a package play with a run option and a bubble screen, the rhythm read would be immediately after the QB pulled the ball back. Most quarterbacks at the college level will be able to hit this open man. Distinguishing between good and bad QBs comes when the first read is covered. Good quarterbacks are able to seamlessly transition to their next read by using their feet. When they move in the pocket, they are moving to determine whether another read has become open.
Much of their timing comes from endless practice, what Brown refers to as the banality of perfection. At the college level, Quarterbacks do not have the luxury of constant drilling with receivers. For that matter, defenses like Quarters coverage are dominant at the college level because few college QBs can throw back shoulder consistently. Nonetheless, the essential trait that permeates all levels of quarterback play is whether the quarterback makes the players around him better. At the end of the day, that is all that matters to determining skill level.
Reading for Next Week
We only have one reading for next week: A Defense to Match