There have been times this season when the lack of velocity on Mac's throws has left me concerned. I decided to look at some tape to see if my concern was justified.
What did I see? When Mac throws off balance/ off timing he still is able to be accurate, but sometimes struggles to generate as much velocity on the ball as he needs. Luckily this won't be a trait that stops him from being a good (or better) QB if he improves in some other areas. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, for example, are able to throw accurately and with velocity downfield because they nearly always throw from a balanced stance that lets them use their hips to drive the ball, even when they are under pressure. They are able to do this because of their ability to make subtle movements in the pocket and reset their feet in order to utilize something close to their ideal throwing motion. Mac will need to develop a similar ability to ensure his arm strength isn't a major weakness in his game.
Let’s look at some of the things Mac did well and not so well in Sunday’s game, and how it influenced his throwing velocity:
- at :23 he gets some nice velocity on a throw after side stepping a blitzer and setting his feet.
- at 1:36 he has to rush his delivery on throw to Agholor so it gets there on time. His footwork/timing is just a bit off on his drop after the play action and as a result the velocity ok but not great.
- at 1:45 we see a similar play but to Harry. Agains, Mac ends up throwing with his momentum going away from the line of scrimmage (just barely) even though no one is near him. Not terrible and totally fixable with time and work.
- at 2:13 he short-arms it to Smith for the TD. No problem. He seems to be accurate with this motion and it is a touch pass- no velocity needed. In this situation it works.
- at 2:26 he throws to Agholor again on the same sideline comeback as above. This time a blitzing DB gets close and he short-arms it again. This time it is a problem. He doesn't get enough on the ball and it is nearly picked. With better footwork here he can generate space and/or reset his feet so he can drive the ball and get it there a split second earlier.
Learning from Brady
Compare Mac's reaction to pressure on this last throw to Brady''s reaction on this TD to Brian Tyms (the only TD of his career?) at 2:24:
As soon as Brady turns out of his drop, he feels the pressure and drives off his right foot to generate space away from pressure, and also shift his momentum toward the line of scrimmage. As a result he is able to step into his throw and drop in an absolute beauty. Driving off that back foot to generate space and immediately resetting his feet is something we’ve seen Brady do countless times. We have taken this thing of beauty for granted. Mac does something similar on the first play I describe above (:23 in the first vid) when he is able to see all the action in front of him. Great throw, and great movement by a rookie QB. But reacting similarly in a play action situation as (when your back is to the defense) is just harder to do. Mac isn’t there yet.
Learning from Manning
While we often see Brady drive off that plant foot to move to an open spot in the pocket and resetting his feet with a technique reminiscent of a baseball crow-hop, Manning tends to shuffle his feet then do a little stationary two-footed hop to reset. You could say that he just picks his feet up off the ground and puts them back down where they belong. Brady’s approach, I think, generates more space. Manning’s is a bit quicker. They both work. Look at the 1st play in this vid:
Or at 1:34 in this vid:
On this one he isn’t facing pressure, but he pumps fakes, sees he has a man open, then resets his feet unbelievably fast to throw a perfect deep ball. It’s spooky good.
Of course all good NFL QB’s do this sort of thing on a regular basis, but Brady and Manning are the true masters. Guys like Kurt Warner, Matt Ryan, or even David Carr are excellent pocket passers, but they don’t have the otherworldly movement skills and footwork that lets them consistently find the time and space to throw with clean technique when they are under pressure. The result is more sacks, more balls that float and more INTs. Other great QBs have different approaches: Russell Wilson relies on escaping pressure altogether. Drew Brees relied more on natural arm talent (at least when he was younger) that let him throw from a variety of positions. Rodgers and Mahomes rely on both escapability and arm talent.
Based on his gifts (or lack thereof) Mac Jones clearly needs to follow the Manning and Brady route if he wants to approach greatness. His pocket awareness has been good in terms of feeling pressure, and he moves well in the pocket for a rookie. But he needs to reach another level if he wants to prevent his lack of elite arm strength from being a shortcoming. Yes, I know, he might be able to increase his arm strength a little with the right training, but he will never sling it like Pat Mahomes. Technique and awareness is what can bring him to the promised land. He needs to study footage of Manning and Brady and others to see how they get it done, and develop his own style. On the weak throw to Agholor that was almost picked (2:26 in the 1st vid) either the Brady style leg drive/ crow-hop away from pressure or the Manning style stationary hop to reset his feet would have helped him generate more velocity.
The footwork part gets better with practice. We know how Mac approaches the game, so we know this part will improve by next season, if not sooner. He will get the play action footwork dialed in.
The awareness/reaction/movement part is trickier. It’s not something a QB has time to think about. It’s much harder to practice reacting to pressure than it is to practice footwork (although that latter will improve the former). Is it an innate talent? Perhaps to some degree. I tend to think it comes from the most focused and obsessive QB's internalizing a concept that then becomes an automatic behavior. This focussed obsession we witnessed with Brady and Manning is a greater gift for a QB than Marino’s arm or Vick’s legs. Let’s hope Mac has more of that gift than most.