Josh Freeman: Ok, I get it now. My feet need to move with my eyes, my front hip needs to stay pointed at my target, and I can't let my waist get parallel to the line of scrimmage... but it's scary in there, man. You got these 300+ pound linemen bearing down, speedy linebackers coming around the edge, and my offensive line ain't world-beaters. There's just no time to sit there and get your feet right. Sometimes you just got to feel it.
The Good Father (TGF): I hear ya, Josh. Quarterbacking ain't easy. Never was meant to be. But the best quarterbacks in the league consistently get their feet under them to direct their throws...
Josh: But their playing with time to throw! Those pockets are clean, father.
TGF: What about, say, Peyton Manning? He is the best passer this year by far and his line is riddled with injuries.
Josh: Whoa, whoa, I'll just stop you there. I've seen that Peyton dude. Seems pretty chill but let's just say, between you and me, that fool ain't no young buck, ya know what I mean? No way he gets his feet around. He can barely get lined up without tripping!
TGF: Well let's take a look at how Peyton does it:
Following are from the Broncos' 2013 Week 5 win at the Cowboys
TGF: Starting basic. 3rd and 4, Peyton has Eric Decker coming on a square route to the inside over the middle. Decker is running behind tight end phenom Julius Thomas who is simultaneously picking the corner and also drawing the attention of the linebacker in coverage. "Pick" plays, where one receiver runs right past another and screening the defender for a split second, are legal if they are a natural part of the receiver's route. Anyway, Peyton's read is the circled linebacker - since he is committing to the TE, Peyton will go inside to Decker. Notice how his feet are pointed at both receivers making this 10 yard throw easy. 1st down, Broncos.
Josh: Man, that is too easy. He has like two yards between him and the rush! And Decker is wide open. I mean wide. I could make that pass left-handed. So could Michael Vick.
TGF: Let's increase the degree of difficulty:
TGF: This ball went 50 yards in the air down the left sideline, complete on a go route to Decker - how 'bout them apples?
Josh: Man, you know I've been missing my mom's apple pie.
TGF: Look how Peyton's feet are lined down the middle and to the left just a shade, following his eyes. The blue line I drew through his hips is almost perfectly perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. See how the orange stripe on his uniform faces the target? It allows him to activate the core muscles on his left side to bring his shoulders down and through the throw, generating extra power. Being aligned like this allows Peyton to transfer his weight and energy from his back foot to the front without wasting energy or motion sideways, away from the receiver.
This posture also allows him to bring his arm up high, his hand over the ball, and his elbow close to his helmet right over his shoulder. This gives him additional control over the football as his index finger will rotate down and through the ball rather than letting the ball spin away with his finger underneath it. We'll get to arm position in a bit.
Josh: But look at that pocket. There's not a soul near him. The Cowboys best bring some pressure.
TGF: Good point. Let's look at what happens when the pocket gets dicier and the secondary has less ground to cover.
TGF: Here is Peyton throwing a quick out to Decker while a defensive lineman is about to barrel into him. A 5-man blitz makes a messy pocket and you can barely see Peyton's front foot, which I've circled. Again, his feet and eyes are both pointed in the direction of the receiver. Notice how close he is to the line of scrimmage, only about 3.5 yards out. That means it was a very short drop and therefore he had little time to get his body right. But he did it.
Now look at Decker. The corner has inside leverage so the throw must go to Decker's outside shoulder; anywhere else and it's incomplete. And though this goes down in the box score as a 1 yard scoring pass, because it goes to the sideline, the ball actually travels about 20 yards in the air. Peyton has about a 1 foot window to fit a 20 yard pass into - and he does it because his feet help his arm out.
Josh: They should have run the ball anyway.
TGF: Here is Peyton in a similar bind: 2nd and goal from the 8.5 yard line. Good thing he has Julius Thomas on his team. Thomas is lined up as the Z receiver to the right and basically already has the cornerback crapping his pants. Good thing there is a safety over on that side standing right on the goal line.
TGF: The Cowboys' left end gets a great jump at the snap: he is a blur, but he is also speed rushing up the field. While this is great instinct by the defender, Peyton knows the end's speed will take him too far upfield if he stays up in the pocket. To do this, he'll have to make a very quick throw.
TGF: The read is the safety. As I mentioned earlier, most cornerbacks can't cover Thomas, especially playing when "off" coverage (not jamming him), and Thomas already has him beat on a simple slant. Alas, the Cowboys don't have a big corner to take away plays like this so they will rely on the safety to get there before anything bad happens.
Now notice Peyton: the play is happening so fast that CBS hasn't even turned the the play clock off yet, but Peyton already has his right foot back and hips pointing at the target. In less than a second, Manning is ready to throw.
Josh: There's gotta be an issue with that clock. I've seen Peyton move. He basically doesn't.
TGF: Think what you'd like, but here we are again: the game clock is still stuck at 5:28 and Peyton has taken a shuffle step back, all the while keeping his feet pointed at the target. In the previous frame, his front foot was on the 10 yard line; now it's 2 feet behind.
The corner still hasn't realized how burned he is: he is still in soft coverage and is giving Thomas the middle, trusting that his speed will allow him to break up the slant and the safety will get his back. Advice to the league: your speed/safety is not going to matter against Julius Thomas.
TGF: Bad news for the corner: the safety has no idea what's happening and is moving to cover Thomas deep. Why are both DBs trying to cover deep? Julius basically has this wide open area between the linebacker, safety, and corner, that no one is interested in covering. Still, this pass needs to be exactly on-target or Julius won't be able to use his momentum to get in the end zone. Don't believe me? See the 1:50 mark of this video: that pass was not far enough in front of Dyson, and that one foot difference helped decide a Super Bowl.
Peyton knows that. Look at how his feet are pointed not at Thomas, but at where the pass will eventually go.
Josh: Looks mighty iffy to me. His hips are pointed right at that safety!
TGF: True, but the safety has only started to figure out that the pass is coming and it is already more the halfway there.
TGF: And the throw is right on the money. Look at how Thomas is leaning towards the goal line, giving him momentum against the late safety, enough momentum to score.
Josh: I thought Bill Barnwell said that momentum doesn't exist?
TGF: In physics, it does. I've tied it together in a nice GIF for you:
TGF: The throwing window is a little bigger because of bad defense, but Thomas doesn't score there if the throw isn't money. By getting his feet pointed so early, Peyton helps his line out, too. They know he's going to step up and throw fast, so if they can just push the defenders upfield, rushers won't have time to work back inside. Look at that left end that got such a good jump: even if he didn't fall down his momentum would have taken him too far behind the QB.
Josh: C'mon, if I had a receiver like Julius Thomas, I'd be throwing bullets, too.
TGF: Ok. Here is Peyton at the goal line again...
Josh: Why are the Broncos always at the goal line? Let's see some of my goal-line highlights!
TGF: ...And this time he is working with Wes Welker. This is the Wes Welker that is 5'9", 185 lbs. In Tampa, you were working with 6'5", 230 lb. Vincent Jackson and in Minnesota you had 6'0" 195 lb. Greg Jennings. Welker is going to run a beauty of a route. The Broncos had scored several touchdowns in the preceding weeks on quick outs to Welker. This time, he fakes the out, spins, and runs back to the middle. The defender has watched his tape, and so is playing with outside leverage. Still, the throw needs to be on-time and on-target. Again, look how Peyton's feet are pointed inside, right where the ball needs to be. He has taken a 5-yard drop this time and still has his feet right.
TGF: Here is another route by Welker. It's a simple "dig" or "post" where he fakes to the outside to get separation and then works back inside. Wes isn't a leaper, so he needs to get open with separation and he has it on this play. Look at Peyton's eyes and hips: right down the field. He's not looking at Welker. He's looking at where he wants the ball to go and what the coverage is like in that area.
Josh: Not looking at your guy? Sounds like he's throwing it on a prayer.
TGF: Josh, prayer is part of it, but only a part.
TGF: Remember where Peyton's feet where pointed? Not at his receiver that was at the numbers. They were pointed down the right hash, which is exactly where this ball ends up. Great route, great throw, great play.
Josh: Man, you know we never ran any of those sweet routes in Tampa. Coach Schiano always said that route tree was for the tree-huggers - we always ran macho man iso's. Coach Schiano wasn't really one for offensive innovation.
TGF: Here the Dallas linebacker plays Thomas closer on the seam route and the safety is over on that route giving Demaryius Thomas one-on-one coverage with the corner on the left side. Peyton's feet are pointed to that sideline, but not down the field as you'd expect.
Josh: I knew it! Even Peyton can't beat that coverage.
TGF: The coverage is very good. Peyton sees, however, that the DB has his backed turned and is playing with inside leverage. He is trying to prevent Demaryius from turning inside, but is giving up the sideline. Peyton realizes this and adjusts the throw. He wants to put some air on it and also play it left, towards the sideline. So he opens his hips and at the end of his motion, his shoulder are pointed t the sideline where he wants the ball. See how Demaryius is peeking into the backfield while sprinting down? He knows what's coming.
TGF: That's Demaryius coming down with a jump ball on a 20 yard pass that the corner never saw.
Josh: But I threw a pick on a back shoulder throw by opening my hips to much!
TGF: Right. When you open your hips, the ball sails to the left following your momentum. In this case, since he's throwing back-shoulder to the left, that's the right trajectory. When you tried to throw to the right side of the field and opened your hips, the ball traveled left into coverage.
Josh: So you're saying you have to throw differently depending on which side of the field you're going to?
TGF: I think you're getting the hang of this.
TGF: Here is another ISO. Demaryius is running another "Go" "Iso" route against a cornerback who's playing with inside leverage. Demaryius again is looking at Peyton and again they will go back shoulder.
TGF: Here is an ISO route in the Broncos' next game against the Colts. Peyton didn't have a clean pocket for most of this game, but when it was clean, he took advantage of it by getting his feet lined and stepping into the throw. The safety has the impossible task of choosing to cover either Julius Thomas or Decker on the sideline. Thomas has clearly beaten the linebacker so the safety correctly chooses to help on the inside receiver. That leaves Decker in tight coverage on the sideline. You can't see them pretty well but this is another throw where the coverage is smothering the receiver and Peyton has to throw his guy open. He does so on this play and it went for 37 yards on yet another isolation route.
Josh: Fine. Peyton is a saint.
TGF: Don't get surly on me, Josh. All quarterbacks are precious to me; I just want you to see how the position should be played. But all quarterbacks are also flawed. Even the great Peyton, when he doesn't get his feet right, does not have enough talent to throw complete.
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