Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden: Less Tarrantino, More Gump

Forrest Gump doesn’t inspire people to think "great quarterbacking," but 18 years wiser, I’m beginning to think every passer needs some Gump. Brandon Weeden against Baylor shows why. Photo by Loren Javier.

Jason Bailey of Flavorpill wrote a piece this month in Atlantic Online that bemoans the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences selection of Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction for its Best Picture award in 1994. He characterizes the choice as one of the worst decisions in the history of the Academy Awards. I love Pulp Fiction, it’s a stylish and cooler story than Forrest Gump. But calling the decision a slam dunk injustice is foolish.

Pulp Fiction’s fragmented plot line, hip soundtrack, sparkling dialogue, and self-ware winks and nods to the audience elevates a specific genre of film making to postmodern art. Forrest Gump is a simple story of a tall tale. However, a great theme of Forrest Gump is that in life, wisdom trumps intelligence. Everything Gump accomplishes in life comes from a common sense deeply ingrained by his momma’s lessons and what I would call a genetic capacity for profound wisdom.

Many of you probably won’t agree with me about what I see in Gump, but I don’t blame you. We live in an a highly intellectualized society that values the bells and whistles of technique, theory, and gamesmanship over common sense, simplicity, and unadorned truth. The fact that an Internet writer from this generation would see Pulp Fiction as the vastly superior movie to Forrest Gump comes as no surprise.

Its symptomatic of how we value intellect over wisdom. Think I’m wrong? Atomic weapons, “quality time” parenting, and complex financial instruments like derivatives say otherwise. Now if you want to bemoan the fact that The Shawshank Redemption was the other movie that lost to Forrest Gump, I’m with you. But that’s another movie rant for another time.

My thoughts on western society’s perpetual undervaluation of wisdom has to do with what I see on college campuses every day. Students are there to learn intellectual tools and that’s mostly what professors are there to teach. Wisdom is left to the parents or the lessons that come with life mistakes – mistakes that we hopefully emerge with our career life – or actual life – intact.

Good luck with that.

College football quarterbacking is often a microcosm of our society favoring intellect over wisdom. In theory, if a quarterback demonstrates a high level of physical and technical skill, he’ll mature and learn better decision-making as he develops. Really? In the NFL where the bullets fly faster, harder, and from unexpected angles?

Yeah, good luck with that, too. For every Brett Favre, Terry Bradshaw, and John Elway there are several dozen Trent Edwards, Kyle Bollers, and David Carrs. Still, you can show a player a good decision but you can’t make them execute it. Or in the case of the players contrasted above, you can teach them where the line between aggression and foolhardy lies, but you can’t teach them to walk it.

Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden is one of several hopeful, future pro quarterbacks next in line for the the NFL’s cleaver. Weeden, like many of his peers has the knowledge of his offense and good-to-great, physical and technical skill. However Weeden is reckless. Even at 28, a venerable age by college quarterbacking standards, he needs a heavy dose of Gump.

Knowledge Is Good, Wisdom Is Better

This example of Weeden’s decision-making comes from the 2011 Oklahoma State-Baylor game. Weeden and the Cowboys offense comes to the line in a 30-personnel, 1×1 receiver set versus a Baylor 4-3 on 1st and 10 at the Cowboys 27 with 8:34 in the first quarter in a scoreless game.

This 30-personnel set is called "the diamond." It’s a good running set because the formation is balance with the two backs flanking the QB and the variety of runs an offense can use.

Baylor is expecting a running play and you can tell by the safety on the near side of the field creeping within eight yards of the line of scrimmage near the official. Yet just in case, the corners are playing 6-8 yards off the receivers so they can watch the play develop in front of them in case its a play action pass. And this hedge is correct, the call is a play action pass.

The safety moving towards the line and getting even with the corner before the snap reveals to the quarterback that the corner has single coverage with the receiver in the near side flat. This will be Weeden’s first look.

Weeden executes a play fake from the Pistol, dipping his shoulders with a very slight extension of his hands towards the I-back and then drops with a quick hop. He turns immediately to the right flat to deliver a pass to the WR circled above in yellow. But one of two things happen to stop Weeden’s throw: The WR doesn’t run the correct route or Weeden forgot the route Blackmon was suppose to run. I believe Blackmon did not run the correct route adjustment based on what the pre-snap coverage reveals at the line.

Weeden expects Blackmon to run a route that breaks back to him based on the pre-snap location of the safety and corner. This still was taken a split-second after Weeden pats the ball to begin his release.

Weeden’s habit of patting the football before he begins his release is a minor flaw that can tip off a safety and help him break on a pass. However, this isn’t the issue I’m highlighting on this play. The problem is where the quarterback chooses to throw the football.

Weeden is correct to expect his receiver Justin Blackmon to begin is break towards the numbers at 8-9 yards based on the location of the safety. This break would give Weeden a sound location to place the ball where both the safety and cornerback cannot attack the football and Blackmon gains at least seven yards on first down.This is a great gain on first down play, but Blackmon continues running down field as if he’s going to execute a deeper breaking hook, a deep out, a sideline fade or a post. Watch how Weeden brings the ball up and where his feet are pointed compared to the location of Blackmon in the next frame.

Blackmon is just beginning to turn his head inside to begin a break when Weeden begins his release. The timing seems correct, but if Blackmon were running the correct route he would have been midway through his turn.

While I’m not great at drawing straight lines on a paint program, the frame above reveals that the trajectory of Weeden’s pass is intended to reach Blackmon 6-7 yards down field. Blackmon hasn’t really done anything to indicate a break and I think this slight turn of his head is actually the receiver seeing the safety reading the QB and realizing the ball might be on its way sooner than he thought.

Weeden brings the ball down as Blackmon finally begins to turn. At this point, the safety and corner have already reacted to the potential throw and Weeden will have to look elsewhere.

The positive thing about this play is that Weeden realizes he has the time to bring the ball down and scan the field. Because there are only two receivers split from the formation and the only receivers in the middle are the backs running shallow routes, Weeden knows that if he doesn’t see anything right away underneath that his next option is to the far side of the field.

As seen above nothing develops underneath. The RB at the line of scrimmage has an LB over top in zone and another in the middle of the field capable of breaking back to defend his area.

The defensive ends are making their way up field towards Weeden and the quarterback senses this pressure fast enough to know that he has little time to make a decision. The difference between the quarterback’s turn to the left and him releasing the football below is a very fast click and stop of my remote.

Weeden’s reaction time between turning left and throwing the ball is in my opinion too quick for him to discern what he saw. The result of the throw supports my contention.

Weeden delivers the ball to his receiver in the left flat from the opposite hash. However, the quarterback turns so fast to the left that he has no time to check if his receiver in the left flat is even open. The Oklahoma State quarterback tries to gun the ball from the opposite hash to his receiver Anderson at the numbers of the left flat.

If following the ball like this camera angle does, it’s evident as soon as the ball crossed the opposite hash that this was a bad decision.

The CB comes over the top of Anderson to jump the route, tip the pass, and nearly intercept the high throw.

Its understandable that Weeden thinks that with his strong arm and quick release that he can squeeze the ball into tight spots, but there are some indicators he needs to know better so he sees the line that separates guts from foolishness.

Weeden’s decision may demonstrate that he understands where the routes break on the field and reveal a good internal clock about the time he has left in the pocket to make a throw, but he forgets that he needs to look and see where he’s throwing the ball before letting it go. Seeing the field requires the wisdom of split-second analysis. Weeden lacks this skill on this play.

The position of the cornerback on this route and the fact it was an opposite field throw should indicate to Weeden this is not a wise decision. The presence of the safety over top to potentially collect the rebound of a tipped pass is another.

Weeden also places this pass high and this gives the cornerback an opportunity to tip the pass. If Weeden doesn’t have time to place the ball low so only the receiver has a shot to catch the ball, he shouldn’t throw it. Otherwise, he’s making the classic, pick-six throw to the opposite side of the field that always reminds me of a Bears game on Monday Night Football over 20 years ago where I first learned the lesson. I still remember Coach Mike Ditka screaming at one of Mike Tomczak, Jim Harbaugh, or Peter Tom Willis (it didn’t make a difference at this stage of their careers) for helping the opponent score.

It would have been best for Weeden to take a step outside the hash and throw the ball away or intentionally overthrow either receiver in the area. A 2nd and 10 in a scoreless game from their opponents’ 27 is much better than then next play being a 1st and 10, 1st and goal, or extra point attempt for Baylor’s offense or special teams. There are times to be daring, but as an older, wiser Jim Harbaugh teaches coaches about quarterback play, the No.1 job of a quarterback is to make good decisions.

This one play isn’t the death knell of Brandon Weeden’s potential. He’s a strong-armed passer with a quick release and he’s capable of making tough plays under pressure. However, the poor execution of the play above is not unique to Weeden or that of many of the quarterback prospects coming from the college game. They need to develop enough wisdom to keep pace with their skills. Those who do become veteran NFL starters. Those who don’t see a career death as gruesome as one from a Tarrantino flick.

Next: Rueben Randle illustrates why the smallest techniques can make a big difference. Also, why “simple is often best” as Brandon Weeden goes for the difficult, and a play from his Texas A&M game hat once again shows more Tarrantino than Gump.

For more analysis like this at every skill position, purchase the Rookie Scouting Portfolio.  Pre-order the 2012 RSP and buy past RSPs (2006-2011) here.


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