After watching Eli Manning dissect a secondary that left receivers so open that he could have successfully performed the operation with a hatchet, I had a moment of enlightenment:
All quarterbacks fall along a continuum in how they achieve success.
For a change, I do not have any statistics to verify this theory. This is purely an observational analysis: more on why this is so in a moment.
In order to better understand this quarterbacking concept, I broke up the continuum into categories. As with all continuums, there are no obvious criteria separating adjacent categories. It is much like crossing over from Nebraska to Colorado on I-76. If not for the sign at the state line, you would not know you were in Colorado until the Rocky Mountains were in view.
The quarterback continuum:
Read and pass -> Read and buy time -> Buy time and react
Read And Pass
The strategy the Giants and Eli Manning in particular was employing in Cowboys Stadium on December 11th was painfully obvious. Eli was to read the defense and throw the ball to the appropriate target within the time given. I have seen top quarterbacks like Eli's brother Peyton and Tom Brady use the exact same strategy.
Those quarterbacks come to the line of scrimmage looking for pre-snap clues to assist them in deciphering the defensive alignment. Once Eli, Peyton, or Tom recognizes the pattern the opponent is employing, they throw the ball to the appropriate spot that is expected to be the relative weakness of the defense.
If the defense is able to produce pressure on the quarterback, Brady and the Manning's throw the ball to the appropriate open man, or safely throw the ball away. The result is generally either a positive play (a completion), or a play that results in no gain (an incompletion).
It is difficult to quantify the relative effectiveness of the quarterbacks because of a lack of information: ergo no statistics to support the hypothesis. For instance, Peyton Manning rarely moves from his pocket when passing. His accuracy is legendary. Despite this, Peyton still throws interceptions and gets sacked.
Here are four possible reasons:
1. The defense fooled him into throwing a pass into an unexpected coverage.
2. The defense forced him to throw earlier than what the pattern the receiver is running would normally warrant (due to pressure).
3. The receiver and the quarterback do not recognize the same options, resulting in miscommunication.
4. The game situation dictated the pass options (e.g., down by 4 points with less than 2:00 minutes remaining in the game).
Please recognize that all of the above could simultaneously exist. Also understand that there are no statistics to quantify any of these possibilities.
During New England's heyday, the Patriots defense would occasionally fool Peyton into throwing into coverage. Last season, the Cowboys' Sean Lee intercepted Peyton twice because of a combination of pressure, miscommunication with receivers, and disguising coverage.
Last Sunday against Washington, Eli Manning threw into coverage several times that resulted into interceptions. His last interception was the result of an apparent miscommunication with the receiver.
Quarterbacks on this end of the continuum rarely get sacked because they frequently throw the ball away quickly. Sacks still occur, however, because of the reasons listed above.
Read And Buy Time
Here is where quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, and Drew Brees fall on the continuum. Aaron, Drew, and Tony all come to the line of scrimmage looking for a key to decipher the defensive alignment. Unlike Tom, Eli and Peyton, however, this triumvirate will move in the pocket in the face of a rush to buy time for patterns to develop.
Because of the additional time, there is a greater opportunity for receivers to work downfield. Subsequently, more possibilities for big plays exist. Conversely, more negative plays can also occur (e.g., sacks).
Again, it is impossible to quantify the number of big plays because of the infinite variables that exist between teams. Tom Brady could have more big plays because of superior talent at receiver (as when Randy Moss was in New England). Romo could have fewer downfield passes because of an extremely porous offensive line.
All of the statistics are dependant upon the performance of the quarterback, whose performance is dependant upon the receivers, offensive line, defense, and so forth. As with all quarterbacks, when everything is in place, Super Bowl Championships are possible.
Buy Time And React
Similar to the afore mentioned quarterbacks, the passers in this category also go to the line of scrimmage reading the defense's intent. Unlike the Manning's, however, the quarterbacks on this end of the continuum are comfortable buying time when they are not sure of the defense, and add the dimension of gaining yards by running with the ball.
The quarterbacks that best exemplify this are Michael Vick and Tim Tebow.
(What, you expected a post without a mention of Tebow? Why do you think I brought up the Rocky Mountains earlier...foreshadowing!).
If Vick sees what he wants in a defense, he can deliver the ball to his receiver. If Michael does not have an open receiver, or he does not recognize what he wants from the defense, he can still create a positive play either by buying time and breaking down the defense before throwing the ball downfield, or by running the ball for a positive gain himself.
Vick is really a more refined or experienced version of Tebow. These quarterbacks can be electric, create huge game-changing plays, and carry a team to victory. This style can also backfire, however, as it minimizes a diversified attack and is reliant upon one individual above others on offense.
I would argue that defenses need to be able to defend different quarterbacks along the continuum in radically different ways. What works well against Tom Brady and Peyton Manning may be destroyed by Vick.
This is why I wonder if Rob Ryan will experience success against Vick this week. Designing a scheme that gets DeMarcus Ware into the backfield against either Manning or Tom Brady will either result in a play that gains nothing or a negative play. That same strategy against the Eagles may not be enough to get Vick down, and may in turn expose a leaky secondary to downfield passes and slow linebackers to catch Vick on the run.
Vick's kryptonite comes from defenses that get more than one man into the backfield and force Michael to run and ignore the weapons he has downfield, while the defense still has 7 or 8 guys in the secondary (think the Tampa-2 Bears and Giants). The key to defeating quarterbacks on Vick's end of the continuum relies on getting more than one player to get pressure from a 4-man pressure scheme without overloading one side (and therefore leaving another side of the field unprotected).
Rob loves his exotics. The true measure of a great coach is his ability to adapt. Are you up to the challenge, "Sugar Ray" Rob?