Scared. That’s how most will characterize Blaine Gabbert’s performance from the pocket on Monday Night Football. It’s how I see it.
It’s hard not to see it this way after watching several of Gabbert’s rookie performances. When the rookie throws the ball, even from a reasonably clean pocket, he doesn’t follow through by shifting his weight forward. Instead he’s veering away from the direction of the defensive pressure and never really placing full weight on his front foot.
A lot of writers on Twitter that I know say they saw this before with Gabbert at Missouri. I studied numerous games of Gabbert’s and while I observed a quarterback that would sometimes break the pocket too quickly against the blitz, I never saw this leaning tower of throwing form that he’s displayed this year. Against Nevada and Illinois I watched Gabbert throw the ball down field and play aggressive football.
What Gabbert is doing in Jacksonville is scary and disheartening and I have to agree with Jon Gruden that the idea of teaching a quarterback to step into pressure doesn’t really jibe. You either have courage or you don’t with the exception that it is possible to lose courage and regain it. This is what I’m hoping we will see from Gabbert.
However, in Gabbert’s defense I will say that I watched Matt Ryan lose his balance while in the act of throwing against the Texans Sunday afternoon. Ryan ruined his own pass attempt because he anticipated pressure coming from his right side and veered so far to his left while delivering the ball that he lost his balance while following through and the Texans defender wasn’t even within a yard of the Falcons’ quarterback. This is not the only instance I’ve seen this from him, either.
Matty Ice might be Ryan’s nickname, but one of the significant reasons Atlanta’s starting quarterback will struggle to become “the next” big-time quarterback is the fact he perceives pressure in every game and overreacts to elude it. To Ryan’s credit, he has more often than not shown the tendency to stand tough in the pocket and deliver a pass he knows he can make if he takes the hit. However, he also creates a lot of his own negative plays because he lacks the dimension of pocket presence to navigate tight spaces as effectively as Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, or Peyton Manning.
Gabbert’s offensive line is a turnstile of players, the receivers are young and making as many mistakes with routes as the quarterback delivering the ball to them, and the Jaguars coaching staff seems content with using a short passing game. There’s even a conspiracy theorist portion in the deep recesses of my imagination that wonders if Gabbert has been playing with a knee injury and that brace to his left knee that he uses to plant isn’t actually a precaution. I’d like it to be a valid explanation as to why Gabbert is leaning to one side as he delivers the ball, but I can’t buy it.
I also want to believe that Jack Del Rio undermined Gabbert’s confidence by making him wear a knee brace. By citing the injuries to Carson Palmer and Tom Brady as a reason to wear a brace on a healthy knee, isn’t Del Rio undermining a young player’s confidence? It’s like telling a six-year-old new to swimming that he needs to watch out for the sharks in the pool.
I’d like to believe that train of thought, but I can’t go that far, either.
The only things I can count on are facts: Gabbert is the youngest quarterback in the league. His surrounding talent is Maurice Jones Drew and little else. There are a lot of quality starting quarterbacks that endured tough rookie seasons:
|Last Name||First Name||Year||Team||G||Comp||Att||Pct||Pyds||PTds||INT||Ryds||Ratt||RTds|
I didn’t include the likes of Johnny Unitas, Bob Waterfield, Norm Van Brocklin, and several other great passers from the older era. However, I think you can see that there are some horrific seasons on this list – Gabbert isn’t alone.
Unfortunately, stats can’t cover up Gabbert’s behavior throwing the ball in the face of pressure. He may always perceive pressure too soon – Matt Ryan and Mike Vick do – but these fade away throws are a new issue. I’d be more skeptical if I had seen this behavior before, but I think it’s worth having an open mind heading into next year to see if there was more to this issue than meets the eye.
At the very least, these issues make Blaine Gabbert one of the more compelling young players to monitor as an evaluator. There will be valuable lessons to learn either way Gabbert’s career plays out.