Quarterback Techniques Part II (Not Safe for Work)

Aaron Rodgers is the total package and a standard setter when it comes to the arm quality of a quarterback. Photo by Elvis Kennedy. Not to be confused with Malcolm Gaye

Warning: This blog post isn’t for the corporate mindset. It’s safe to read at work except for the first link you come across. However, if you’re the kind of idiot (and I use the term affectionately – we all act like idiots from time to time. It’s part of the human condition) that feels the need to share everything with co-workers because you think you know their sense of humor better than you actually do, then it’s not safe for work. In fact, if you’re that kind of idiot don’t read this post until you get home.

If you get canned it’s because your listening skills suck.

Another point I need to mention is that I respect women and their intellectual contributions in the workplace. The analogies below are based on idiots I’ve seen who possessed the mindset that hiring an attractive woman meant they had a license to harass and I’m not going to describe some of the women portrayed here in PC terms. Women that use their physical assets to the hilt don’t get a free pass. If you’re a woman that panders to the lowest common instinct of men and then wants these same men to respect you for your loftiest aspirations, you’re an idiot. The same goes for female bosses who want to be the “executrix” with her younger male employees.

Get it? Got it? Good.

Say what you want about Jeff George, but he "arm-whipped," a lot of NFL teams. He had to be packin' with that mullet and chest hair.

The point of this preface is that big-armed quarterback prospects and hot women have a lot in common. Some are the total package, but I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the bimbos. Moreover, I’m talking about the razor sharp, but insecure, manipulative human beings that get what they want at the cost of what’s best for everyone around them.

Just like anyone else, quality NFL organizations see a big arm on a quarterback prospect and take note. It’s no different than being a heterosexual male interviewing job candidates and one of them is a hot woman who stuffed her ample, hourglass shape into a blouse and skirt that she had no business wearing in a professional environment. He’s going to notice. He could have the outwardly chaste and friendly demeanor of a priest – and he could be a priest for that matter – and he’s going to be thinking about what’s (barely) underneath what she’s wearing. Once again, it’s part of the human condition.

But the less competent NFL management teams take it a step further. Whether it’s an attractive man or woman tempting a manager with his or her (ahem) assets or it’s a strong-armed quarterback, once that misguided decision maker chooses this kind of quarterback  the roles reverse. Owners, general managers, and even some coaches begin to act like a woman who has an intense orgasm for the first time. They become more patient with mistakes that they shouldn’t. They put up with poor practice habits. They overlook lazy technique.

These teams get “arm-whipped [Not safe for work (start at 5:27)]. 

In contrast, a quality NFL organization has more restraint. Sure, they will still look at a big-armed prospect. They will even have that orgasmic, OOOOOOHHH!!! that Eddie Murphy is talking about. It’s hard not to when you see the kind of arm that can defy the laws of good defense. But they’ve been to the carnival and they know what can happen if they take the big arm and damn the consequences.

They learned their lessons most figure out be it with the high school cheerleader in the tight sweater, the college coed in the Daisy Dukes, or that night where a lot more is lost than anticipated to that sweet-talking dancer at the strip club. These organizations don’t maximize a particular physical asset while minimizing deficiencies that can effectively ruin their offense and undermine the coaching staff’s leadership.

A quarterback with a great arm is a dangerous player. Brett Favre, John Elway, Aaron Rodgers, and now, Cam Newton are great examples. However what an organization must be able to discern is whether that danger is to them or their opponent. It certainly cut both ways for Jeff George. Sometimes it’s too difficult to tell right away – just look at Jay Cutler. And sometimes the organization can turn a total package into an organization-killer.

The quality of a quarterback’s arm can spell the difference between a player capable of operating an NFL offense as designed and a play maker capable of making game-changing plays when a play breaks down. The criteria below is how I gauge arm strength. Just understand that some great quarterbacks have great arms, but a great arm doesn’t make a great quarterback – ask Joe Montana and Peyton Manning.

Ball Velocity

Velocity from the pocket: An  NFL quarterback needs to have a baseline amount of velocity on throws that he makes from the pocket. A quarterback should be able to place this ball 15-25 yards down field at the right spot, on a line drive, and on-time when releasing from either hash mark. On-time placement is also a sign of good anticipation, which is a criteria I use for accuracy. The best routes to gauge velocity are the 15-yard out, the 15-yard dig route (or square-in), and the skinny post in the range of 15-25 yards. These routes should give you a solid indication of a player’s ability to generate velocity on a throw. If a player can drive the ball with velocity from the pocket on these types of routes, he has the minimum arm strength needed to run an NFL offense.

Velocity on the move: One of the things that separates a play making NFL quarterback with star potential from a game manager is how effectively he can drive the ball on the move or throwing from an off-balanced position. When a play breaks down, a quarterback who is capable of fleeing from pressure and hitting receivers quickly and accurately at distances of 15 yards from the opposite hash, and 25 yards or greater from the near hash, has a good chance of turning the tables on a good scheme from the defense. The greater the player’s ability to throw with distance and velocity on the move, the less likely opposing defenses can take chances with pressuring the quarterback without giving up a big play. Some of the best quarterbacks in the league lack this physical skill, but they more than compensate with other talents. However, this is probably the most prized quality of arm strength I want to see.

Distance:  How far a quarterback can throw the ball is the most overrated component of a passer’s skill set. Most former NFL quarterbacks and coaches say that a quarterback only needs to be able to throw the ball 40 yards down field to have an NFL-caliber deep arm. Certainly it can help to have a quarterback who can throw the ball with accuracy 50-60 yards, however accurate deep passes are just as much about timing as the distance a quarterback can throw the football. Coming out of college, Kerry Collins had a much stronger arm than Drew Brees. Although Brees has increased his arm strength through methodical weight training, the former Purdue star was always a much more accurate deep passer and it had everything to do with timing.

NFL Standard Setters (Velocity)

Velocity from the pocket – At least 90 percent of the league’s starters: I don’t think you need a standard setter in this category. Most starting quarterbacks in the NFL can drive the ball with velocity when releasing from a good stance in a clean pocket. It’s a minimum requirement to even earn an NFL job.

Velocity on the move – Ben Roethlisberger,  Jay Cutler, Cam Newton, Matt Stafford, and Aaron Rodgers: These five quarterbacks have some of the strongest arms in the NFL and it shows when they are flushed from the pocket and forced to make a “stick throw” in tight coverage. In most cases, a defense has successfully painted a quarterback into a corner when they force the passer outside the pocket, limit his rushing lanes, and the only open receiver is at least 15-25 yards down field.  However, these quarterbacks have arm strength to complete these passes that require such a small margin of error that it’s generally best to throw the ball away.  Watch Cutler from this week’s Monday night game and you can see how frequently he completed off balance throws to keep the Bears competitive in this game. Cam Newton’s jump throw from the pocket to Steve Smith in tight coverage that resulted in a touchdown was a dangerous throw, but an excellent display of this skill with a touch of arrogance sometimes required from a good NFL quarterback. 


There is a huge difference between accuracy in college football and the NFL. The typical accurate pass in the college game often has a margin of error that can be measured in feet. That margin of error is often inches in the pros. In the NFL, quarterbacks are expected to make throws that place the ball in a tight space where only the receiver has a chance to make the catch. This is called “throwing the receiver open.” I gauge accuracy based on ranges of distance. Although I think a better way would be to gauge accuracy by range of distance and route type:

Short range accuracy (5-14 yards): These routes generally include swing passes, screen passes, quick slants, short outs, crosses, hooks, curls, and end zone routes such as corner fades and short posts.  Just from the route listings you can see that each of these passes require a different amount of touch, velocity, anticipation, and depending on the coverage, placement. The longer the distance, the more anticipation required to throw the ball accurately.

Short range accuracy on the move: The planned routes generally include short outs, drag routes, comebacks, and crosses. However, this category also includes improvised routes when a play breaks down.

Intermediate accuracy (15-35 yards): Routes in this range of distance generally require both a lot of velocity on the ball and good timing with the receiver. These patterns include posts, skinny posts, corner routes,  deep outs, deep comebacks, sideline routes, dig routes, corner fades, deep slants, deep crosses, sideline fades, seams, and deep curls.

Intermediate accuracy on the move: The most common routes in this range where you’re going to see a quarterback throw the ball on the move to a receiver are off play action boots: posts, deep crosses, seams, streaks, and deep comebacks. Otherwise, you’re looking at streaks, crosses or comebacks thrown on a broken play. 

Deep accuracy (36 yards +):  These passes require anticipation and the lack of anticipation is generally the biggest reason why quarterbacks are not accurate in the deep passing game. The greatest issue I see with quarterbacks in the deep passing game is to wait too long to release a deep pass and one of two things happen: a) The quarterback’s pass is underthrown and the receiver has to slow down or turn back to the football, which allows the defensive coverage back into the play. b) The quarterback tries to drive the ball to compensate for his late release and he significantly overthrows the pas. Rarely do I see quarterbacks release the ball too early. The most common routes are the deep post, deep streaks, deep corner routes, and routes requiring double moves.

Deep accuracy on the move: The most frequent instance you’ll see a deep route thrown on the move is on a designed roll out that is generally preceded by play action. However, there are rare occasions where a quarterback finds a receiver behind the safeties after he’s flushed from the pocket.

Short Accuracy – Drew Brees and Matt Hasselbeck: Both quarterbacks are adept at operating a short passing game from the pocket as well as on the move. Their decisiveness, anticipation, and placement of the football are reasons why they are successful executing an passing game that frequently compensated for problems with the ground game. They are very crisp with their drops and ball action to freeze a defense and create just enough space to complete a throw. Both quarterbacks also show short accuracy on the move to either side of the field. One of the more underrated aspects to the late Steve McNair’s game was his accuracy on the move. He was highly accurate moving to his right or his left. In fact, I think he would have been an excellent west coast quarterback at the height of his career because he had great accuracy on the move. It might have saved him from some of the punishment he took.

Intermediate Accuracy – Kurt Warner and Aaron Rodgers: The Packers quarterback does an excellent job of delivering the ball in the range of 15-35 yards. He demonstrates the accuracy to hit receivers on the perimeter or between the hash marks whether he’s in the pocket, sliding away from pressure, or on the run. He’s especially adept at sliding in one direction and throwing just slightly across the grain to an open receiver in the middle of the field.  Warner is obviously done, but he set the standard on the difficult intermediate routes such as the dig and the skinny post. He was one of the best quarterbacks in the league during his tenure with the Rams because of his ability to hit these routes on-time and in tight windows.

Deep Accuracy – Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady: All three of these quarterbacks have great anticipation to release the ball early enough after their initial drop so that they give a receiver a chance to run under the ball rather than wait for it and allow the defender into the play. They all understand how to vary the arc of their deep passes depending on the target, location of the throw, and the type of coverage. For instance, Randy Moss had the type of speed that Brady could throw a long, high arcing ball that covered more distance and allowed Moss to use both his height, ball tracking, and speed to his advantage. In contrast, Peyton Manning will throw more of a line drive to a receiver like Austin Collie, who lacks great long speed, but is excellent at getting on top of a defender early in a vertical route. Brees might have the best anticipation of any deep ball thrower in the league. His consistent ability to release the ball early affords him the opportunity to deliver passes in the 40-45 yard range that often go for longer plays after the catch.

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