Thursday, June 5, 2008

An Idiot's Guide to Quarterbacks

With all the comparisons and debates out there about the better quarterback and the most effective at various aspects of the position, I decided I'd make a guide to the variations of quarterback play, how they fit certain systems, why it's futile to compare them, and to give a coach's insight as to the "whys."

Small hands are a big red flag with quarterbacks.

Not in any way. You don't need big hands to throw the ball or to hold on to it. The same people that were criticizing Culpepper for small hands coming out of college were the same people trying to figure out how to stop him from constantly scoring on them. If your hands are big enough to grip the ball, they are big enough to play quarterback.

A big arm is a must at the pro level.

Another false ideology. There are many intangibles that go into a successful pro quarterback, but a big strong arm is not one of them. Sure, it helps and can be quite a luxury. However, there have been plenty of pro quarterbacks, even Hall of Fame inductees, who do not have and never had a big arm. Throwing 70 yards while on your knee is not something you'll ever need to do in the NFL. In fact, it's extremely rare you'll ever have to sling it 50 yards in the air while on two feet. On average, the longest deep throws go about 30-40 yards before hitting the receiver.

This guy is good.

The Wonderlic shows how good a
quarterback will be.

Nope. It's just a way for teams to get somewhat of a gauge on how quick a quarterback can make decisions. Like a wide receiver and their 40 times, it doesn't measure their ability to simply play their position. It's not like a quarterback stands behind his line and has to repeatedly answer questions in a timely fashion. He has to make his reads, which comes down to how well he knows his system and football.

Mobile quarterbacks are more than scrambling quarterbacks.

Most mobile quarterback aren't the running quarterbacks who cross the L.O.S. and gain yards. Some of the more mobile quarterbacks are mobile enough to escape the pressure when it's getting on them and use that mobility to buy some extra time for their receiver to get open. Mobile and "able to gain lots of yards on the ground" are different abilities. In order to gain yards on the ground, you need some level of escapability from tacklers, not just the ability to scramble around. There are quarterbacks with both attributes (able to escape from the pocket and buy time and able to escape tacklers for lots of forward progress), but they still are two different skills.

Most mobile quarterbacks also use that mobility to run towards the line, but not beyond it. Such motions will draw corners and safeties out of position to stop the quarterback from gaining yards, enabling the quarterback to fire a completion to one of the receivers who are now open.

Pocket Passers

A pocket passer, in the sense of it, is a quarterback of any arm strength, accuracy or intangible skill set who prefers to make his throws from within the pocket provided by the offensive line.

The true test of a pocket passer is their willingness to throw the ball knowing they will take a whooping for it. Many quarterbacks, even good ones like Brady or Peyton Manning, are willing to throw and take the hit, but begin to struggle as this goes on during the game. It's the reason why they run the types of offenses that they do: ones that focus on quick releases, quick decision making, and precise (no-option) route running. Some quarterbacks, however, are not phased by this aspect, but struggle in other areas. Again, no quarterback is perfect--all skill sets have a downside and all quarterbacks have faults.

While pocket passers generally share the same basic skill sets (like sensing the rush rather than seeing the rush which would cause them to divert their eyes from their targets), there are many varieties of pocket passer. The term "pocket passer" is in no way a way to describe what a quarterback can do, but rather simply how they go about doing it.

What makes good quarterbacks good?

There are several factors to take in when judging how well a quarterback will do at the pro level. Many of them are better at one intangible than the other, and few do everything to perfection, which creates many types of quarterbacking styles.
  • Accuracy is the most important. It's not just pure accuracy, but instead, it's being able to place the ball where only the receiver can make a play. You have to be able to anticipate the route and know the system to do this effectively.
  • Decision making with a defender bearing down on the quarterback is a plus. This is an amazing feature that some quarterbacks who are really good still lack. This is why quarterbacks like Tom Brady, who lack this feature and can be rattled after being hit around, are used in systems which keep a quarterback releasing the ball in a timely manner with many timed patterns and few option routes. A guy like Carson Palmer, for comparison's sake, who is capable of taking hits and not loosing his accuracy or touch, can play in systems that utilize option routes, progressions and fewer designated-receiver plays. As with everything else, it comes down to the quarterback's skill set matching what he needs to do in that system.
  • Basic decision making is a factor. How consistently can they deviate from the design of the play to make a play? Some quarterbacks throw many more interceptions because they are too risky of a decision maker rather than a poor decision maker. It still comes down to how well they see the field and anticipate the defense. If you have a quarterback who struggles with good decision making, you obviously want to ask him to make fewer decisions--thus use more short patterns, timed patterns and designated receiver plays. If you have a risky decision maker known for coming up big, you obviously want to keep him in a scheme that limits his decision making, but doesn't restrict him from taking some risks and making the big plays.
  • Pre-snap and post-snap adjustments are beneficial. I'm not just talking about pointing out blitzers and calling audibles at the line. I'm talking about being able to see what the defense is doing before they do it and anticipating it for your throw. It's not an exact science, and as with all quarterback traits, some do it better, some do it worse, and some can't do it at all. It all comes down to how that quarterback will be relied on to do this in his system. If your quarterback is no good at this, you don't want to scheme your offense around post-snap route adjustments. Instead, you stick with more conventional methods.
Quarterbacking is much more than arm strength.

quarterbacks are quarterbacks who wouldn't play well in any other system.

No quarterback would play well in every system. Every quarterback has different skill sets and are better at some abilities than others. Again, it's about tailoring your scheme to the player in an effort to maximize what he can do best and to minimize the exposure of his faults as a quarterback. You don't see Peyton Manning being asked to run roll outs or throw to lots of streak routes for a reason.

Which is all of course, why any argument of Quarterback A is better than Quarterback B is basically futile. You can say Quarterback A is better at this, or Quarterback B is better at that, but as for who's better as a quarterback, it comes down to what system they are playing in, what they are asked to do and how well their skill sets fit the role they'd be asked to fill as a quarterback.

No two quarterbacks are exactly a like. Some may play similarly and have similar qualities, but no two of them have the same skill set or would be as effective in the same scheme as the other. Comparing them is like comparing an apple to an orange. They are both a fruit (quarterback in this case) but that is where the similarities end.


Anonymous,  November 26, 2008 at 6:02 PM  

Your analysis of the Patriots Offense is inaccurate.

The Patriots offense is a spread offense, it relies heavily on sight adjustments and option routes -- not timing. This is why guys like Wes Welker, Troy Brown, and Deion Branch have been such a good fit for their team. None of these guys are precise route runners. But they are smart. For example, on any given play Brady will make a sight adjustment based on what he thinks the defense will do. If a LB is blitzing, Brady will direct the receiver to the now un-occupied zone. That's why defenses are constantly beaten by what appears to be little more than 5-7 yard routes. They aren't based on timing at all. They are based on Brady's ability to direct traffic, and move the Defense with his eyes.

Also teams that constantly go 5-wide leave their QB open punishment. Buddy Ryan called it the "chuck n duck" for a reason. You need to have a QB that isn't afraid of getting hit and will continue to throw.

Anonymous,  May 12, 2009 at 4:57 PM  

Tom Brady is still a system QB, no matter what anyone says. He was exposed in the Super Bowl two years ago and will be pounded on all next season.

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Contact the Undrafted Free Agent

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