Tuesday, October 14, 2014

QB Corner: Jake Locker vs Andy Dalton (Week 3)

Welcome to the 2014 NFL season! My plan for QB Corner (#QBCorner) this year is to first review film of the starters I examined in 2013, starting with the ones that struggled. Nobody is replacing Andrew Luck in Indy; that may not be true of a guy like Jake Locker. After doing so, I'll turn my attention to what second-year starters are left (Manuel - gone, Glennon - maybe gone).

The first game I chose was a Week 3 Titans @ Bengals contest which allowed me to watch two QBs, Jake Locker and Andy Dalton. Andy is clearly outplaying Jake this year, with a 7.99 ANYPA that would be elite over a full season; Drew Brees only hit 7.51 last year. Locker, not so much: 5.21 ANYPA is worse than last year and the result of declines in almost all passing stats. Oh, and he's still an injury risk. Locker was the last QB whose 2013 film I looked at, and it wasn't pretty. I wrote concluding:

There are just too many things to fix... With his injury history, I can't justify the Titans investing further in their young QB

I don't mean to be harsh; I know I could never play the position. But it seemed clear from the film that Locker couldn't either. So I started watching this film against the Bengals, a game that would end in a Cincy blowout, looking for ways that Locker was throwing the game away.

And you know, what? It surprised me. I originally wasn't even going to use this film, because performance, playcalling, and tactics by both teams changes when the score gets out of hand (the game would end 33-7). But the more I watched the film, the more I realized that the score was a by-product of some really fluky stuff. I'll explain through the post below.

Andy Dalton also had a tough go at QB Corner the first time:

I watched the tape of these passes multiple times and each time felt uneasy... [he is] unable to overcome inconsistent fundamentals... I don't believe him to be a long-term solution at QB

Again, the scoring being what it was, I expected Andy to hit this thing out of the park and justify his 9-digit valuation. His film wasn't as surprising, but that's not necessarily a good thing.

Locker 1. Not a pass, Locker is making a pre-snap line call. I'm not sure if this is real or not, since teams often script their first series. But if it is, it shows more freedom in the offense. Then again, the stretch run was stuffed.

Locker 2. He makes another pre-snap adjustment, but looks like he misses a corner blitz from his left. He reads left to right, but since the receiver on the left isn't hot, the corner is on him in a hurry. Remember - usually it's a good idea to throw in the direction of a blitz. Stepping up in the pocket, Locker avoids a sack and then takes of for the sideline in the vacated area the blitzer came from and gets a huge running gain. With everybody covered on the left side, this was a fantastic play.

Locker 3. Locker shows off his ability to progress through reads - he starts deep right (covered), realizing there's only one deep safety, moves to deep left (also covered), thinks about taking off, and then checks to a cross in the middle. In frame 3, he has the RB in the flat and the crosser open, but is smart to try to get more against a pressing defense. The throw is a little high, but is caught.

Locker 4. Reading two receivers on the left, steps into a collapsing pocket and delivers a strike to the post. He's walloped after the pass (frame 4) but it is well placed and results in 10 YAC.

Locker 5. Holds the safety with his eyesgets rid of the ball quickly with a zone blitz coming. The ball is an adequately thrown hitch but his guy fell down. The Titans would go on to miss a chip shot field goal (get ready for a theme)

Dalton 1. Under center for his first pass, the rush gets the quickly after a 5 step drop. Dalton has to rush, lofts it to AJ Green on a comeback, and is pummeled shortly after (frame 3). Green makes a ridiculous catch against pretty good coverage  (frame 2).

Dalton 2. Good recognition of soft coverage on both receivers on the left (frame 1); often teams will have the inside corner play closer to the line to prevent quick passes like this. Easy pitch and catch.

Dalton 3. Titans try press coverage this time, and AJ Green beats it easily. Good recognition by Dalton to loft it to Green and get pass interference (frame 3). His footwork is a little loose in frame 1, but remember he's taking a shot, he wants this ball to go high and drift to the sideline where only Green can catch it.

Dalton 4. Good mechanics and great placement of the ball on 3rd/2, but better coverage deflects the ball.

Locker 6. Play/action roll to the right. The Titans used this concept a lot last year to take advantage of Locker's athleticism. He executes a good ball show in frame 1 but could lean more into the body of the RB. This throw is okay but his tight end has to jump and reach to get it and the result was little YAC. Like last year, the Titans had no deep stuff out of this action and the linebackers weren't incredibly fooled.

Locker 7. Good job stepping into the throw despite edge pressure from a blitz. Last year's Titans did not react well to edge rushers and Locker himself was erratic when pressured, so this is a good idea. I like how much forward he steps - a lot of guys with his athleticism try to escape and end up in more trouble. He really guns the pass, but it's high and behind.

Dalton 5. Good recognition of a five man blitz with A.J. Green inexplicably left one-on-one as the Titans decide to double-team the TE. An easy slant finds its mark for a big gain.

Dalton 6. Green is again left on an island and again easily beats the corner. He is actually slowing down in frame 2 because the ball is underthrown, and is still about 1.5 yards behind the corner. With help in the middle, why are you allowing Green to run past you?? Dalton's mechanics are fine - he told ESPN NFL preview that he was really working on keeping his front shoulder in line with his target and the opening his shoulder led to a lot of picks on deep balls last year. Exactly what I've been saying! All told, this ball is better underthrown than over, though you'd hope that they'd have a bit better chemistry by now.

On their next play, the Bengals scored a TD like this:

I have no idea what the Tennessee DB is doing. Two hand touch? You finally get a shot at the QB in the open field, and that's the best you can do?

Locker 8. This is also a good throw against soft coverage, with the slot receiver pushing one DB deep. Mechanics are good, but the throw is high and little behind. The catch is still easy, but little things like this matter in terms of YAC. The receiver should have been tackled immediately but instead sidesteps his way to a 1st down.

Locker 9. Recognizes a 6-man robber (one safety) blitz with man underneath. The hot route is a slot out that's thrown accurate and on-time but knocked away by a closing DB.

Locker 10. Reading right the whole way, Locker stares down his receiver for several seconds with his arm cocked to throw. After pumping once, he finally throws right to the DB who easily jumped the route. If caught, this is likely a pick 6. Locker is very, very fortunate on this throw.

The next play, a 43 yard FG, the Titans did this:

That's 2 missed FGs for those scoring at home

Cincy's next position consisted entirely of runs before a punt that landed on the one:

Locker 11. After two runs that go nowhere, the drop back on 3rd/9. Reads right, then middle/left, back to the right. He briefly has a receiver open in frame 3, but understands that on 3rd and 9, a 4 yard dump-off isn't getting them anywhere. He smartly drifts to his right away from pressure (doesn't want to take a safety) but curiously tucks the ball in frame 4. He barely escapes the end zone - why not look for something deeper.

The Titans, of course, have to punt:

Fooled ya! Holding in the end zone leads to a safety on the punt. For those still counting: the Titans have 2 blown field goals and a safety on special teams against Cincinnati's punt to the 1 yard line.

Dalton 7. Read mid right, I think he has both the TE and the slot receiver open up the seam (frame 1). Notice the separation that the receiver on the numbers has on the DB and the fact that two linebackers are peeking into the backfield rather than covering the TE. Dalton alternates between checking down to Gio Bernard on the sideline and taking a shot downfield. Finally deciding. Dalton doesn't reset and chucks it 5 feet over Bernard's head. $115mm doesn't buy what it used to.

Dalton 8. Reading deep left, Dalton checks to Sanu on a cross. Despite adequate mechanics and stepping into the throw, the ball is both behind and high and actually hits the DB in the face before popping up and getting snagged by Sanu. How much of Dalton's contract is guaranteed? Both QBs have a dropped interception now.

Locker 12. A 53 yard punt has the Titans on the 12 and Locker dropping all the way back to the end zone. I like how he climbs the pocket (frames 1-2) and steps into the throw (3). The ball hits his receiver in the hands (frames 4&7), but he's unable to hold on. Instead, it pops into the air and is picked (frames 5&6). This is not on Locker - he had to gun the throw on 3rd down to beat good coverage.

Dalton 9. There's not much to diagram mechanically, Dalton just lobs it up to Green who gets PI in the end zone.

Locker 13. Reads deep left before coming to the TE in the middle. I like that he's looking deeper and trying to make plays. I also like his climbing the pocket in frames 1&2. The throw is a little behind and high (not sure what the route was, a post or a sit in the zone), but caught anyway. Last year's Jake Locker would not have taken a shot like this over the middle.

Locker 14. Reading right, Locker doesn't like what's there and takes off for a huge gain up the middle. The line is doing a decent job against 4-man rush, something they struggled with in 2013. Nice play to get the Titans near field goal range right before halftime.

Locker 15. Cincy blitzes 6 in an obvious passing scenario. The Titans have a switch and go on the left but Locker has to let go early to avoid the sack.

On 4th down, the punter lands a beautiful kick just short of the goal line...

Where, the gunner, sitting right on the goal line, just watches as it bounces and rolls into the end zone. I've used the players' shadows to extrapolate the ball's position over the ground in frame 2 - it's a good 3 yards away. In frame 4, the gunner is jogging, in frame 5, he's slowing up, and in frame 6, he can only be signalling touchback. What the hey!?

Dalton 10. 49 seconds left, ball on the 20, 19 point lead, the Bengals should do something safe like a screen to Bernard. In frame 1, the Titans are completely fooled by the screen with Bernard coming open fairly easily and good blocking downfield. There's some pressure (frame 4), but nothing overt. Dalton decides to shot-put the ball behind and high over Bernard's head, where it is easily picked off by a linebacker 5 yards away from Bernard who shouldn't have even been in the play. WHAT THE HEY??

Locker 16. Locker now has a chance to cut this thing to a 2-score game before half. A good completion to Delanie Walker over the middle is offset by a penalty. Locker is reading right, doesn't like it, pats the ball (frame 2) before barely escaping a would-be sack (frame 3). He does escape to his left and rears to throw downfield (frame 6), getting off an unbalanced, against-the-grain throw (frame 7) before getting pummeled (frame 8). The ball goes to the end zone where it is easily picked off. He couldn't have thrown it better to the Bengals defender if he tried. His own guys were nowhere near the ball! WHAT THE HEY??!?

Here's the end zone cam for good measure:


That was an ugly 1st half marred by mistakes and hapless special teams play. The Bengals are dominating the scoreboard, which changes how the teams treat the second half. But if you add the 2 made field goals and subtract the safety, the lead is only 17-6, or a two-possession game. Both QBs have thrown awful passes, with Locker getting an unlucky bounce on his first pick. Let's hope for some better football in the 2nd half:

Dalton 11. Dalton takes a deep shot to a well-covered Green. With two DBs trailing one of the league's best receivers (frame 1), why not take a shot? Still, I like his keeping his front shoulder on-target and finishing the throw high (frame 2). The ball is well-placed and was not under threat of a pick (thank goodness).

Looking to make something happen for the Titans on special teams. Anything really:

The Titans' return man lets the ball bounces at the 38, where it's over 10 yards away from the Cincy gunners and only about 5 yards away from him. He then watches it roll all the way to the 25 for an additional 13 yards of field position and a 65 yard punt.

Locker 17. After his special teams put them in a tough spot, the ground game gets Tennessee into Cincy territory. Locker is trying to hit the TE up the seam, something he did not attempt at all in the 2013 film I analyzed. he has to rush this with a blitzer off the edge and admittedly, this is probably the toughest throw a QB has to make - you need to throw over the LB, lead your guy, but avoid the safety. This ball is thrown about a yard over Delanie Walker's head. Really good QBs find a way to make LBs pay in coverage on throws like this.

Locker 18. The first frame doesn't show it well (stupid computer can't record video at a high enough definition) but the left defensive end has the right tackle beat almost immediately by slapping away his hands. Locker needs to sense pressure like this earlier, especially when it's so blatant. He pats and pumps, but doesn't throw, even though he ha a RB in front of him that would get them into FG range (assuming they still trust the kicker). Instead, he takes a sack.

Dalton 12. You didn't think you'd get away without seeing another clip of the Tennessee special teams, did you?

Punting from the Cincy 44, the Titans' punter Brett Kern sends this one into the end zone. Again, pinning guys inside the 10 ain't easy, but that's why you get paid 6 figure to play in the NFL. If the Titans need someone to send the ball 24 yards downfield (the net from this punt), I'm available.

Dalton 12. Bubble screen to the slot receiver. You can see by the way the receiver is holding his hands where the ball should be, kind of like a catcher in baseball. I drew a nice strike zone in frame 1 to illustrate. Now look where the ball ends up in relation to the zone in frame 2. Of course, this ball is easily catchable, but that's not the point - on short stuff like this, Dalton needs to be spot on. Throwing in front of the receiver reduces the chance of a drop and helps him turn upfield. None of that mattered because in frame 3, the Titans safety took an absolutely horrid route to the ball, allowing one receiver to screen two defenders and the ball carrier to sprint along the sideline for a near TD.

Dalton 13. This is how easy Dalton has it. Half of his targets are to A.J. Green, who works the cornerback beautifully on this slant. Notice how the corner is unable to get hands on Green in frame 1 and how much separation Green has gotten by frame 2. A few running plays later and Cincy is in the end zone for a 26-0 lead.

Locker 19. Good netural feet while reading left, moves right and checks quickly to the RB, good stuff. I don't mean that Locker should become captain checkdown, but that the Tennessee RBs are good in space, they've said publicly how important backs should be to this passing offense, and with Locker's inability to consistently handle pressure, I don't mind him checking when the defense gives him opportunities.

Locker 20. Cincy sends 5 and the hot read is on the left. Locker is a tall guy, he should be able to get this out. Instead, he retreats to his right with no clear plan and is sacked. Locker's inability to handle pressure is...frustrating.

Locker 21. ESPN's NFL Preview magazine includes an illuminating conversation with Patrick Peterson on the nuances of corner. One thing that's brought up is which side of the field passes are going to. You should try it - next time you watch a game, try to guess who the ball is going to. In this instance, I would not have guessed the receiver at the top of the screen. NFL teams are loathe to pass to the far sideline from the near hash as the ball has to travel that much further. Locker lines up his feet well, and keeps his shoulder closed to the route. The shoulder pointing down indicates a shorter throw. He anticipates the route well and the ball is placed on-time on a 10-yard out - this is a very, very difficult, especially from the near hash. It doesn't pick up the first, but getting to 3rd/1 from 2nd/13 is pretty impressive.

Locker 22. Opportunistic checkdown with nobody in the middle is successful for 13 yards.

Locker 23. Locker had a throw almost exactly like this in the Rams game I analyzed and he threw to the wrong side of the field. This time he looks off the safety to his left and passes right. But his hips are down the field and he airmails the throw over his open receiver's head.

Locker 24. Good mechanics and location on a comeback to the right that's dropped.

Locker 25. Good form despite a collapsing pocket. Can't really step into it, but still puts nice touch on a seam route to the backup TE, who drops it.

I think this will do it. a four score game in the 4th period isn't very instructive anymore, as the Cincy defense has already changed to defend against deep routes. I can't resist the urge to post one last image from Tennessee's very special teams.

Yup, that's a 35 yard punt from his own 40 to the Cincy 25. That's putting it nicely. Since football actually measures punts from the line of scrimmage, it's a 23 yard punt from the Cincy 48. I understand Kern is probably fed up with punts for touchbacks, but this isn't helpful either.


Andy Dalton

  1. Very good throwing to A.J. Green. This is a bit tongue-in-cheek. Andy Dalton gets to play with one of the 5 best receivers alive, and a huge part of his production is A.J. Green beating the pants off coverage. At the same time, Dalton understands when Green will be open, knows to get him the ball, and make quick, decisive throws to make that happen. 
  2. Improved mechanics. Dalton's work improving his footwork and shoulder orientation showed as he was generally more consistent stepping into throws with correct weight shift and arm action. He showed nice touch on some deep balls.
  3. Aggressiveness. Dalton was good about taking shots downfield when situation presented themselves. This shows an understanding of coverages and of the Cincy offense.


  1. Inaccuracy despite improved mechanics. For some reason, despite improved mechanics, Dalton still is not accurate on short to intermediate throws. I'm picking nits on some of them, but that interception was really, really bad, and he should have had another to go with it. I like the way this offense is looking downfield, but he's not yet a good enough downfield passer to justify misses in the short passing game. 

Jake Locker

  1. Read progressions. I hate the term "one-read QB." It's inaccurate. You don't become an NFL starter as a one-read QB - it's impossible. These guys all watch an immense amount of film and become familiar with very advanced coverages like Saban/Belichek's Rip/Liz. They know where their primary, secondary, and tertiary reads are and understand how different defensive alignments point them in different directions. The problem is, it's very difficult to execute those reads under duress when you can't see the field as cleanly as you do on film. Sometimes, QBs get hung up waiting for their first read to get open, and can't progress through their reads fast enough. To counter this, a lot of coordinators will make things easier on their quarterback by having the QB read only one side of the field, or have a primary read and a checkdown (this is what the 49ers do with Kaepernick). Locker showed in this game that he has grown a lot in getting through his reads - take a look at passes 3 and 11.
  2. Holding safeties with his eyes. This is related to the first point - mastering the reading process allows you to spend precious time early in the snap to manipulate safeties. Passes 5, 13, and 23 showed Locker's ability to hold safeties to one side of the field before going another direction with the throw.
  3. Throwing to the middle of the field. A lot of coordinators avoid this with young players for a simple reason - the sideline can't pick you off; linebackers and safeties lurking between the hashes can. It's clear that Locker is more comfortable throwing to the middle and has some good rapport with Delanie Walker (passes 3, 4 and 13).
  4. Climbing the pocket. Locker showed good ability at hanging in the pocket (4) and stepping up rather than retreating (12, 13).
  5. Pre-snap ID of defense and direction. It feels like Locker has a bit better command of the offense and what they want to accomplish.


  1. Not a good passer out of the pocket. You would think with his athleticism, Tennessee would be interested in moving Locker around. The sample size is small, but Locker is a disaster outside the pocket (look at 11 and 16). He just doesn't have that ability that guys like Russell Wilson have to dance around, sensing defenders and linemen and still keeping their eyes downfield.
  2. Pocket presence. First, I want to note the improvement. On some plays Locker, identified pressure (5) and got rid of the ball quickly (15). On others, he had no sense as to when he had run out of time (18) or where to move in the pocket (20). His sack rate is too high at 7.4%.
  3. Accuracy. His mechanics aren't horrible, but Locker consistently threw behind and high (6, 7, 13, 23). Problems arose mostly on longer passes. It seems from the way that he's gunning it that he is trying to throw very hard on each pass, kind of muscling the ball through rather than trusting his timing and anticipation to deliver the ball. I don't know exactly how to describe it, but there's a difference between QBs that handle the ball like a baseball and QBs that handle it like a shot put. Tim Tebow is perhaps the best example of the latter - he just doesn't look comfortable with the ball. Compare this with the way Peyton throws - he never really looks like he throws that hard and really, he doesn't - but the balls still get to their spots on time. I wrote about how nice a throw it was, but look at throw 21 and how big his step is and how coiled his upper body is. This slows down his release and can cause some inconsistency on deep passes. 
  4. Stares down receivers. Locker can still get stuck on his first reads (10, 18). 
This was a weird, weird game. Cincy won in a blowout, but the two QB's performances were more similar than the score would indicate. The biggest difference seemed to be 1) A.J. Green and 2) Tennessee's special teams. Seriously. Special teams swung big parts of this game. But back to the signal callers - it's clear that both have improved, and that their teams need them. Tennessee isn't going anywhere with Charlie Whitehurst. But it's still hard to envision a long-term future for either of these guys as starters in the league. They each have major flaws that will be hard to fix in practice and film study. There is so much turnover and change in this league that even with all the improvement they've shown, that these two have to grow up, fast, to hold on to their jobs. Good news for both is that they each should have the rest of the season to prove their mettle and both have some solid supporting pieces around them. I wish nothing for the best with these guys and sincerely hope they prove me wrong. 

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