The best throw from rookie quarterback Jarrett Stidham in his debut performance last Thursday night was an incompletion.
That probably sounds a bit crazy. After all, the Auburn University product walked away from his first live NFL action having completed 14 of 24 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown. However, the focus of preseason action is on the tools and the execution, and not necessarily the bottom-line production. So beyond what Stidham posted in the box score, how did he execute the offense?
Stidham was poised throughout the night, was decisive with his reads, and on a few occasions he flashed the arm talent that made him a very intriguing quarterback prospect. Bernd Buchmasser has a wonderful piece up this week that breaks down some of Stidham’s better plays from the game against the Detroit Lions, and that is well worth your time. In that article Buchmasser highlights two throws that have many people excited: A deep completion to Jakobi Meyers that illustrates both velocity and ball placement in the vertical passing game, and a throw to Braxton Berrios under pressure that exemplifies how Stidham fared under pressure.
Now for my favorite play from Stidham: An incompletion.
The rookie quarterback got a chance to run a two-minute drill near the end of the half, and while the drive ended with a missed field goal Stidham had the Patriots in position to score. With just over a minute remaining in the first half the Patriots aligned for a 2nd and 10 play on the Lions’ 20-yard line, and Stidham (#4) set up in the shotgun. The Patriots use 11 offensive personnel, with Meyers (#16) and tight end Ryan Izzo (#85) on the left and receivers Maurice Harris (#82) and Berrios (#14) in a slot formation to the right.
The first thing that stands out on this play is the offense uses short motion, as Meyers starts out wide to the left and comes in motion towards the formation. The defensive back across from Meyers trails him, rather than simply shuffling in a few steps. That gives Stidham a pre-snap indication that man coverage is in play.
Let’s start with the defense and work from there through the play. Right before the snap this is how Detroit lines up:
Stidham sees a two-high safety look. Pair that with the reaction by the cornerback to the motion, and he has a pretty good clue that the Lions are in a Cover 2 Man Under scheme.
Here is what the Patriots dial up:
On the backside of this play Harris runs an out pattern while Berrios runs a Juke route underneath, eventually working across the field. To the playside the Patriots run Meyers and Izzo on a two-receiver combination with Meyers running a 10-yard dig and Izzo working vertically up the seam. This is often called a Dagger concept. The running back runs a wheel out of the backfield.
Here’s what that play looks like against this coverage scheme:
If the Lions indeed stay in a Cover 2 Man Under scheme here, that seam route to Izzo will be a very good opportunity for a big play in the passing game. That route will split the safeties in the middle of the field, and Izzo will be isolated against a linebacker in man coverage. Stidham just needs to make sure that the safety to that side does not break on that throw, and drifts towards either the dig or the wheel route.
After taking his drop and climbing the pocket well in response to edge pressure, here is the broadcast angle view when Stidham releases this throw:
As you can see, Meyers looks to be breaking open on his dig route underneath the seam from Izzo. The safety is not in this picture frame. Did Stidham force this throw? As we can see from a step later, Stidham makes the right read with perfect anticipation:
The ball is in flight, and as you see now the safety drove down on the in cut from Meyers, leaving Izzo isolated one-on-one with the linebacker. Stidham saw this unfold and pulled the trigger on the anticipation throw to Izzo. Had Stidham waited to fully confirm the safety’s reaction, it is likely Izzo runs out of real estate.
Here’s the full play:
The throw from Stidham is in a perfect spot, upfield and over the defender in a spot where Izzo can make a play on the football. The TE cannot reel in the throw and the pass falls harmlessly to the turf, but this is a perfect read and throw from the young QB.
Here’s another look at the placement:
Preseason games are about execution from the players. For rookies, especially rookie QBs, you want to see that the game is not too fast for them. Are they decisive with their reads and decisions? Are they making anticipation throws? Are they adjusting to the pressure in the pocket well and handling the rotations in the secondary? On the night of his debut, Stidham answered all these questions in the positive. Obviously this is very early, but Patriots fans should be pleased with what they saw from their new quarterback.