Thrown too early or thrown too late? See below.
Some plays are like Rorschach inkblots because there’s no definitive answer to why they unfold the way they do. This new series examines plays that have more than one viable explanation and may be too difficult to draw a single conclusion. The fun part is that you have a voice in it.
RSP Rorschach No.3: Cornell QB Jeff Mathews
This is 3rd-and-14 pass with 6:25 in the first quarter. The Cornell offense is in a 10 personnel shotgun set at the 24 with the ball at the right hash versus a 3-3-5 defensive look from Princeton. The offense faces a five-man blitz – three defenders coming from the left and two up the middle. The defensive end over right tackle is dropping to the right flat.
Princeton plays an aggressive defense that varies looks (nickel, 3-3-5, 2-4-6, and 3-4 looks) and blitz types all day. There is lots of A-gap pressure, layered blitzes to the same gap with two defenders coming in waves, and lineman dropping into coverage as slot defenders fire off the edge.
It’s the kind of pressure that forces a quarterback to play decisive football, which leads to the question about this pass attempt. Mathews drops from the shotgun looking to the middle, sets his feet, and throws the ball up the seam from the 29 to the slot-right receiver up the seam tot he end zone.
The quarterback over throws the receiver by four yards. The commentator tells the audience during the replay that Mathews was too early with his throw because of the pressure forcing the quarterback to rush the throw.
But is the commentator correct? Could Mathews have waited too long and been forced to lob the ball into a spot that could have been avoided with an earlier release?
There’s no doubt that Mathews throws the ball with air under it but there’s no real arc. It looks more like the trajectory of a fade route where the quarterback expects the receiver to high-point the ball.
It’s good touch for a fade but that is not what this play calls for. While the throw being “long” is often an indication that the throw was too early, this is an intermediate-range pass.
Look at Mathews’ drop and it appears that he waits a tick late before making the decision to throw the ball. If the throws the ball in rhythm, the quarterback would have released the ball earlier and thrown the ball on a line to the inside of the receiver.
Instead, the quarterback waits a tick and lofts the ball so it clears the safety, who otherwise might not have been in range if quarterback threw the ball the moment his back foot hit the ground at the conclusion of the drop. The question is which theory do you buy?
Throw the ball earlier and with velocity on a line drive trajectory and the pass threads the needle of the secondary inside the five and the receiver trots into the end zone? Or, as the commentator noted, the pass rush forced a rushed throw and it arrived too early?
As always, you may comment below if you have a different take.