Note: The posts of 2012 Draft Prospects this month are brief examples of plays that highlight specific skills and/or deficiencies of a player. They are not meant to draw overall conclusions of that player’s pro potential. For a thorough analysis of these prospects – and over 150 others – purchase the 2012 Rookie Scouting Portfolio, available through a link at this site on April, 1.
Yesterday, I featured a play where Robert Griffin III reacts poorly to pressure. Today, Andrew Luck gets the same treatment. However, I believe there’s a difference between the types of mistakes that I showed with Griffin and the two I’ll show today with Luck. Griffin’s opponent tipped its hand before the snap and the Baylor quarterback missed a relatively easy read. In contrast, Luck’s opponent uses a more complex scheme and hides it before the snap like a stone-faced killer. Luck still makes mistakes, but the errors are against a more advanced concept with stronger execution.
With 7:00 in the first quarter, Luck and the Cardinals come to the line on 1st and 10 in a 1×3 receiver, 10-personnel shotgun set versus Oregon’s 3-3-5.
On this play, Oregon’s 3-3-5 defense has a slot DB on the near side slot receiver, the outside corners in man coverage on the flanker and split end, and the strong side linebacker over the tight end who is in a two-point stance at the line. What a quarterback should be gauging before the snap is whether one of the safeties creeps towards the line. If the free safety cheats towards the line, there’s a possibility that the the weak side linebacker or middle linebacker is planning to blitz. Since the weak side linebacker is at the line already, any forward movement from the free safety would be one of the primary things the quarterback should be watching.
Another possibility to watch is the strong safety. If he moves towards the line before the snap, this could indicate the slot defensive back is blitzing from the near side of the field and that gives the strong safety responsibility for the middle receiver on the trips side. A third possibility is that the strong side linebacker blitzes and the middle linebacker slides to that side to cover the tight end in the slot.
Unfortunately, the television broadcast does not maintain this All-22 shot throughout the play and we don’t see if one of the safeties move forward. However it is pretty clear that the strong safety doesn’t move at all. Even as the camera angle tightens it only narrows a modest amount, and the strong safety would only need to cheat forward a yard to get into the frame. He doesn’t.
This lack of movement is great discipline from the Oregon defense. There are no obvious tells for Luck to read from this vantage point. When the Stanford QB calls for the ball, it’s clear he doesn’t even realize the blitz is coming from the strong side until late in the play.
The fact that Luck reads the weak side linebacker as the blitzing defender before the snap gives Oregon’s defense a huge advantage. Not just because Luck thought he was going to throw into the blitz, but discovers the linebacker is covering his hot route, but the Stanford offensive line adjusted its pass protection to the wrong side. Now the Cardinals running back is the only protection off the strong side edge with two Ducks defenders screaming through.
By the time Luck turns to the other side of the field, he’s in the weeds.
Although the running back picks up the strong side linebacker, Luck still has the unblocked defensive back streaking from the slot and as a bonus, the strong side defensive end crosses the face of the left tackle and gets pressure up the middle. At this point, Luck neither has the open space to hit the tight end near the 50 nor the room to step into a pass directed at the other two trips receivers down field. He has three options: run, take the sack, or throw the ball away.
Instead of getting the ball off, Luck gets the crown of the slot defensive back’s helmet to his chin and the ball flies skywards.
If not for a great play by his offensive lineman to knocked the ball loose from the defensive tackle’s grasp, this is an interception.
Shuffling the Deck
Two plays later, Luck and the Cardinals come to the line in a 2×2 receiver, 10-personnel shotgun set on 3rd and 9 with 6:00 in the first quarter.
At this point, it’s easy for the quarterback to still think this is a blitz off the strong side with the possibility of more coming from the other side of the line. The strong side blitz is accounted for and he’s also expecting the DE in a two-point stance to come from the weak side. Luck is likely thinking this is a five- or six-man blitz with six or seven in coverage. Either way, Luck is thinking there’s going to be an open receiver on the weak side (left) of the field.
However, Oregon may look like it’s blitzing 5-6 men, but this is a zone blitz concept that blitzes three and drops eight.
The defensive end in the two-point stance drops deep as do the two strong side defenders at the line to get into a tight zone around the tight end on the wing. When Luck takes the snap, he’s immediately looking to the weak side.
As Luck begins his drop he looks to the right and sees the tight end working up the seam with a linebacker dropping in zone. He turns his head to the left just as the tight end delivers a shot to the linebacker off balance. When Luck doesn’t seeing anything to that weak side, his internal clock warns him that pressure is getting close.
What happens next is an indication that Luck either forgot that two defenders dropped into the zone around the tight end or he never saw it. I think it’s likely that Luck never saw it. When the quarterback slides away from the pressure and delivers the ball to the right flat, the linebacker jumps the route for the interception.
The defender turns up the left sideline, nearly scoring if not for Luck tackling him at the Stanford 20.
These aren’t easy defenses to read but they are the types of schemes Luck – and the rest of this rookie class – will have to face in the NFL. What will determine Luck’s success against complex defenses isn’t whether or not he’s fooled – because he’ll get fooled time and time again in the NFL – but whether he can stay mentally and emotionally in the game and not make careless mistakes against more vanilla schemes after some of these tougher plays trip him up.
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