Mark Schofield breaks down the skill and craft of anticipation for quarterbacks, using NFL signal-callers Carson Wentz and Marcus Mariota’s recent tape as examples.
I have something to declare at the outset of this piece, dear reader.
Growing up, I was a bit of what you might consider a nerd.
Now honestly, that might not come as a surprise for those that follow me on Twitter or who follow my work. On any given day you might find me diving into historical references at the outset of an episode of The QB Scho Show with Michael J. Kist on Bleeding Green Radio. Or you might find me breaking down cities in Skyrim with Matt Waldman.
By the way, that day was Wednesday, October 2, 2019, when I did exactly that on two different shows.
But growing up I loved to read. I still do, of course, but with the frenetic pace of football coverage, the time is not always there to dive into books as much as I once did. As a kid, however, I would read anything I could get my hands on, including books about playing the quarterback position.
One that I relied heavily upon as a kid learning the quarterback position—and still do as an adult analyzing the quarterback position—is “The Art of Quarterbacking” by former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson.
Anderson’s book is a fascinating study of playing QB, and he dives into everything from mechanics, to throwing route concepts, to his streak of 20 straight completions during the 1982 season when he walks readers through every single play, including the 21st, when he underthrew a route and the streak ended.
As a young passer, one of the parts of the book that I loved was the images. Anderson took to the field with some help and illustrated how to throw passing patterns. While I did not realize it at the time, this was my first exposure to the idea of anticipation as a quarterback.
Take, for example, this image of Anderson describing how to throw a “quick out” pattern:
As you can see the receiver (#90) is just starting is break, and Anderson (#14) is getting the ball out.
Here is another example, this time with Anderson throwing the deeper out pattern:
Again, the receiver (#92) is making his break and has yet to see the quarterback, but the ball is already out of Anderson’s hand.
Why does this matter? Because anticipation is such a critical trait to display at the quarterback position, and it can be the true trump card for a quarterback and wide receiver when looking to beat coverage downfield.
When the ball comes out of the quarterback’s hand on time, before the break, it makes it virtually impossible for the defensive back to make a play on the football. Anticipation turns tight coverage into separation.
Anticipation turns short completions into big gains with yardage after the catch. Anticipation is a true trump card.
On Thursday night of Week 3 against the Green Bay Packers, Carson Wentz was extremely efficient in the short and intermediate areas of the field. Anticipation played a big role in this.
Here is an example. On this first-quarter play, Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles face a 3rd and 3 on their own 32-yard line. They line up with Wentz (#11) in the shotgun and trips to the left. Philadelphia runs a passing concept sometimes termed Double China-7, and Wentz wants to hit tight end Zach Ertz (#86) on this corner route:
Ertz has a defender playing him in man coverage, giving the tight end some cushion and using outside leverage. The tight end does not run the world’s best corner route, but thanks to the timing and anticipation from Wentz, the defender cannot close in time:
Anticipation is a trump card.
Marcus Mariota has endured an up-and-down start to his career and enters the final year of his rookie contract with some uncertainty about his future with the Tennessee Titans. Every once in a while he puts together a performance that has people believing in him again, such as a game last year against the Dallas Cowboys that forced me to write about the potential breakthrough on these very pages.
The Titans quarterback had another such game last week against the Atlanta Falcons, completing 18 of 27 passes for 227 yards and three touchdowns. One of those touchdowns was the best example of an anticipation throw I have seen in a long time.
Mariota (#8) aligns in the shotgun and will throw an out pattern to the left side of the field, targeting Corey Davis (#84):
As the QB retreats into the shotgun, he starts to feel pressure off the left edge. So the quarterback speeds up his process. Look at the state of play when Mariota lets go of the throw:
Davis has yet to get into his break, and the ball is coming out of Mariota’s hand. In fact, the receiver takes a few more steps upfield before making his break. The coverage from the defender is extremely tight, but thanks to the anticipation from Mariota, the pass cannot be defended:
That gives Davis a chance to secure the reception, break the tackle (that yardage after the catch factor) and get into the end zone with a touchdown.
Anticipation as a trump card.
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