Some plays are like Rorschach inkblots because there’s no definitive answer to why they unfold the way they do. This 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.
Rorschach No.4 Devin Funchess
Michigan Wolverine Devin Funchess was a tight end last year, but the team has determined that the offense would be better off using him as a full-time wide receiver. I have a lot more to watch of Funchess, but this 3rd-and-17 deep pass attempt with 5:17 in the first quarter begs the question: What is the most important reason why this was an incomplete pass?
Is it the product of a bad throw, a good play by the safety, or poor receiving technique — and if it’s the last one, what is the root cause? You’re going to vote after I show you the play.
Funchess is the outside receiver in this twin alignment that’s inside the numbers of the right flat at the 40 of Penn State. The receiver works up the flat to begin this play and he earns a step of separation as the quarterback rolls right.
As the quarterback releases the ball, Funchess does a good job getting his body ahead of the cornerback – this tactic shields the defender and controls the pace of the vertical route. Get early separation and establish strong position on a defender and a receiver doesn’t need great deep speed to win the ball.
But as we know, this play doesn’t end with a catch. Watch the clip and consider the possible reasons:
Reason No.1: The Timing and Trajectory of The Pass
When Funchess turns his head inside to locate the target, the trajectory of the pass is a step behind the receiver’s pace. Is it the primary reason for the incomplete pass?
A well-timed throw that arrives ahead of Funchess so he can run under it and extend his arms without turning his body inside at a 45-degree angle would have made this play a lot easier. A more accurate pass would reward the receiver for his initial separation and not force him to contend with the safety and cornerback converging on the target. However, is this aspect of the play the most important to its overall failure?
We watch receivers make plays on less than perfect throws every game. A tall, powerful athlete, Funchess will be expected to make plays on these types of targets if he wants to earn his keep as a professional.
Reason No.2: The Closing Safety
Another argument is that regardless of the location of the throw, the safety had influence on the outcome of the play. The range of the defensive back was good enough to get into Funchess’ line of sight and distract the receiver.
At the same time, safety never gets close enough to make contact with the ball and he’s coming across the field at an angle that trails Funchess rather than over the top. How much influence could he have with that last-second reach while Funchess is extending his arms to the target?
Reason No.3: Funchess’ Catch Technique
The third angle of this play makes a good visual argument that Funchess could have caught the ball if his hands were closer together when he extended them to the ball.
It’s difficult to make a play when the receiver attempts a basket-style catch and there’s a two-foot hole in the middle of the basket. However, one has to ask if this is a consistent error in Funchess’ technique or the product the less than accurate pass or something else?
Reason No.4: Funchess Fails to Break Inside/Track The Pass
Watch the live version of the play again and then the replays after it and note whether you think Funchess had time to make a break inside on the ball.
Pause the play at 1:08 note that Funchess has more than a step on the corner and there’s a few steps of space to the inside with the safety closing. Pause the tape again at 1:09 and Funchess is fading to the outside as the ball arrives. An argument could be made that Funchess saw the flash of the safety and instinctively veered away from the target and created a more difficult situation.
If Funchess attacks the target with a break further inside rather than a fade to avoid potential contact, he might have had more time to extend his arms with better technique and make the reception with the ball arriving closer to his body. He also creates an opportunity for contact from the safety before the ball arrives.
Which of these four options is the most important reason why this play failed? Certainly you could say “all of the above,” but what if you’re a coach and have an opportunity to correct one of these issues long-term? Which one of these issues could be corrected that has the most impact on the player and outcome of future deep passes?
Would it be the quarterback’s location of the deep ball? A compelling argument for this issue is that it’s the primary reason there rest of the issues unfolded as they did. However, the vertical game is always a lower percentage part of offensive football.
The safety’s influence on the receiver’s hand-eye coordination could be something a coach works on with a receiver with drills. A good receiver has to contend with this kind of distraction routinely. However, was this really an influence on the play?
Funchess certainly could have done a better job of getting his hands aligned on the play. Technically, he still had a chance to make the catch despite all the negatives that unfolded on this target. But would you be wasting time trying to get a player to correct a “technique flaw” on a play that might have produced a false negative? Would Funchess have a big hole in his basket if the pass were on target?
And what about Funchess’ position? He had room to attack the ball rather than fade from the coverage and it appears it limited his range to extend for the ball with good hand placement. Yet, how much of this was misjudging the trajectory of the target and how much of it was Funchess’ shying from contact? Did he truly have the opportunity to veer inside and break on the ball?
These are the thoughts I have with this play. I know how I’d vote (and I’ll share my answer in Friday’s Reads Listens Views, but I want to know your thoughts.
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