When does an overreaction to pressure become a chronic problem with a quarterback’s game? Waldman explores this issue while noting a pivotal play involving QB Mitch Trubisky from a one-point game between North Carolina and Florida State with 0:14 left.
How a quarterback reacts to pressure is a thorny issue. Publishing analysis that shows a quarterback responding negatively to the potential of pressure conjures images of Blaine Gabbert’s disastrous tenure with the Jaguars.
As many of you long-time RSP readers know, I missed on Gabbert. One of the biggest reasons was his negative reactions to pressure.
The tough part about learning from one’s past evaluation experiences is that good quarterbacking has so many components that combinations of skills that can create a good passer make it difficult to generate a one-size-fits-all template. If I compensate for Gabbert’s behavior and become too heavy-handed, I’ll be issuing fatal flaws to quarterbacks who will succeed despite having this problem.
Few think about Cam Newton and Matt Ryan responding negatively to pressure, but it happens more often than expected. Late in the 2014 season and during the 2015 preseason, Ryan overreacted to pressure and failed to set his feet on selected targets, often short-hopping or sailing throws. Ryan’s behavior was enough of a concern that it was the tipping point for Atlanta to trade for Andy Levitre and pick up free agents late in the summer that dramatically turned around the Falcons’ offensive fortunes.
Last Sunday, Chris Spielman commented on Newton’s lack of footwork in the pocket and how Newton couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn when he didn’t throw from an established platform. Spielman raised this point after Newton wildly missed a short pass over the middle in the red zone because he rushed his process. Newton perceived the threat of pressure that did not arrive.
Derek Carr’s overreactions to pressure were common enough at Fresno State that he nearly failed my pass/fail criteria with this issue. It was a significant reason why I rated him lower than many of his skills otherwise dictated. Carr has overcome these issues—at least to the point that it would be odd to label him as anything less than a promising starter with greater potential for growth.
I’ve studied two Mitch Trubisky’s games in depth: Virginia Tech’s drubbing of North Carolina—Trubisky’s worst statistical performance—and North Carolina’s last-second comeback against Florida State—one of Trubisky’s best box score outings.
Both contests featured plays where Trubisky delivered poor targets because he reacted to the potential of a defender hitting him during the act of releasing the ball. Let me be clear, I know Trubisky will take a hit to get the ball out of his hands to an open receiver. He is not scared of getting hit.
He is not scared of getting hit, he’s sometimes too conscious imminent contact and tries to protect his body during the act of throwing the ball. It’s a small but important distinction. Unfortunately, it often yields the same result: weak and/or inaccurate passes.
This target with 0:14 left is a stunning example.
Is this behavior a product of line play? Is it a temporary issue or a chronic problem that will be difficult for him to change? Even if it’s a difficult change, will it matter if he’s part of a good team with a strong line?
When it comes to Trubisky, I don’t have a definitive view. Not yet. The issue is a concern at this point of my evaluation because I haven’t seen Trubisky deliver the ball with consistent accuracy and velocity down the field.
I’ve seen him deliver a go route to a receiver in stride on a 38-yard throw from pitch-to-catch from the same side of the field, a 31-yard completion. Otherwise, I’ve seen intermediate and deep targets thrown with a high trajectory, a lack of velocity, and an arrival point that forces the receiver to give up his separation on the defender to make a play on the ball.
When it comes to targets within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage or the pitch-point of his release, I like what I’ve seen with Trubisky, especially moving to his left. His skill at maneuvering the pocket also has positives. But it’s the ability to deliver a strong, accurate throw in the face of pressure that defines playmakers—even if the average rate of success for NFL quarterbacks is much lower than the overall average completion percentage.
But it’s the ability to deliver a strong, accurate throw in the face of pressure that defines playmakers—even if the average rate of success for NFL quarterbacks is much lower than the overall average completion percentage. Those who succeed aren’t consistently lessening the odds by their own hand.
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