Mark Schofield’s latest RSP NFL Lens entry is an examination of Cleveland quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s throw/no-throw decisions and why his offensive system will be a factor.
“You know, when you get old in life things get taken from you. I mean that’s…part of life. But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff. You find out life’s this game of inches. So is football. Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small — I mean one-half a step too late, or too early, and you don’t quite make it. One-half second too slow, too fast, you don’t quite catch it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second.”
-Al Pacino as Tony D’Amato in Any Given Sunday
There is such a fine line between success and failure in the game of football. Particularly at the quarterback position. Every read, throw, step and decision must be made at the exact right moment, and every single half-step matters. That is often most apparent on the “throw/no-throw” decisions that quarterbacks often face in the pocket. These two decisions by new Cleveland Browns quarterback Tyrod Taylor illustrate this concept, and it’s something that we must study about every incoming quarterback prospect.
This first play comes from Taylor’s game in Week 4 of the 2017 season, where the Buffalo Bills were visiting the Atlanta Falcons. Holding a four-point lead the Bills offense aligned for a 3rd and 3 midway through the third quarter, with the football on the Bills’ 18-yard line. Buffalo aligned with three receivers to the right side of the formation, before sending one across the formation to the left, giving the Bills a 2×2 alignment at the snap:
As you can see, a defensive back trails the motion receiver across the formation. This tells Taylor that the secondary is in a man coverage scheme. At the snap, look at the positioning of that defender across from Zay Jones:
The corner is giving Jones about eight yards of cushion. On this play, Jones is running an out pattern, and that is where Taylor looks immediately after the snap. Taylor has an opportunity to hit this out route. Here is what he sees just before Jones makes his cut:
But Taylor…comes off of this and then briefly checks the two routes in the middle of the field. Those are covered, so the quarterback tucks the football and picks up the first down with his legs:
This brings us to the idea of “box score scouting.” Derided in some circles is the idea that simply looking at statistics, or the “box score,” can tell you everything you need to know about a game or a player. Now, not to dwell too far into the “film versus metrics” debate as the simple answer is that both do matter, this is one of those plays that in my mind is a good result, but perhaps an example of what not to do. Taylor makes a positive play here and converts the first down, showing good elusiveness, play-strength and athleticism along the way.
As a quarterback, these are the types of throws you need to make. Taylor has that out route to Jones if he stands in there and makes a strong, anticipation throw as Jones comes into his break. But, Taylor gives up on that route, checks his next two reads, and is forced to make something happen with his legs.
Here is an even more glaring example.
Back in Week 2, the Bills had one final drive to try and steal a game against the Carolina Panthers. With just 53 seconds remaining, the Bills face a 1st and 20 in Panthers’ territory following an offensive pass interference penalty. They have two timeouts remaining, so the middle of the field remains a viable option for them. They align with a 2×2 formation, Taylor in the shotgun and LeSean McCoy shaded to the right of his QB in the backfield. Carolina shows a two-deep look in the secondary:
Buffalo runs a Z-spot concept to the right, with a corner/spot/swing combination:
Let’s look at what Taylor sees as he hits the last step in his drop:
Taylor begins this play looking to the right side all the way. At a bare minimum, McCoy is open in the flat. But if you look at the spot route and the corner route, both of these are finding space against the Carolina Tampa 2 look:
But Taylor…doesn’t pull the trigger. He looks backside at the go/out combination to the left and then starts to climb the pocket in response to late edge pressure. Even at this point, he has options downfield:
All three routes in the spot combination are open. However, as with the previous play, Taylor tucks this, managing to pick up four yards:
The Bills would lose this game. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second.
In my opinion, Taylor was miscast in a West Coast passing system this past season, and I am of the belief that a more downfield passing game fits his skill set better. If that is what Cleveland looks to run this season, then I would be cautiously optimistic about what to expect from him in 2018. But with the margin for error on every play so slim, regardless of how Cleveland’s offense is structured, Taylor will need to do a better job of fighting for those inches come this fall.
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