Matt Waldman’s RSP contributor Mark Schofield studies the manipulation techniques of NFL quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Matthew Stafford.
Manipulation is one of those traits in quarterback evaluation that is easier to spot than others. We all know the classic example: A quarterback freezes a free safety in the middle of the field with his eyes and then throws a vertical route deep along the sideline for a huge gain.
Color analysts point it out during the broadcast, with flowery language such as “look at him stare the safety down,” and then people like me bring it to the attention of the world throughout the next week or so on Twitter, in articles, and on radio shows or podcasts.
But that manipulation does not matter. That free safety was never going to make a play on that throw. Even if the quarterback immediately looked at that vertical route, that defender was not covering enough ground in enough time to disrupt that play.
That manipulation does not matter.
The kind of manipulation that does is the kind we are going to look at today, with examples from Matthew Stafford and Deshaun Watson. Moving an underneath defender to create a throwing lane. Getting a cornerback to shift his weight with a pump fake. Moving a half-field safety before throwing a vertical route up the numbers. When you can get a defender out of position in those moments, you are showing manipulation that matters.
First, Matthew Stafford against Washington. You’ll see him move defenders at all levels of the field, and defenders that are actually in a position to make plays on the football:
And now, Deshaun Watson, who is perhaps at his best when he wants to throw a slant route to the inside receiver out of a trips formation, and he needs to move a linebacker to do so:
When you think of manipulation from quarterbacks, this is what you should think of.
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