New Grantland: Better with Age: How 37 year-old Peyton Manning (and his Broncos offense) got better than ever

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Even though the actual plays in Manning’s current Denver playbook are largely the same ones he used in Indianapolis, the emphasis has shifted this season. With the Colts, a large percentage of Manning’s throws went to “vertical stem” routes, where receivers ran straight down the field before breaking inside, outside, to the post, to the corner, or curling up. Those throws are still heavily present in Denver — and no one has thrown a prettier fade pass this season than Manning; the above record-breaker to Julius Thomas is just one example — but a big chunk of Manning’s completions this season came on routes designed to be thrown short. The goal on such plays is to throw short and let Denver’s receivers run long, particularly with the “Drag” or shallow cross series.

 

denver-drag-playbook-fe

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: What Really Went Wrong with RG3 This Season?

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Griffin’s footwork not only hurt his reads, it hurt his accuracy. “Body position is absolutely critical,” Redskins quarterback coach Matt LaFleur recently told ESPN’s John Keim. “If you don’t have good body position, your balance is off and your accuracy will be off. It’s absolutely critical you get your body in correct position to make the correct throw.” LaFleur added that, for Griffin, this season has “been a constant work in progress.”

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Sid Gillman, and the Mysterious Art of Quarterbacking

It’s now up over at Grantland:

No position is more scrutinized — How tall is he? How far can he throw? Who is he dating? — and nowhere in football is greatness valued or debated more, but exactly how young, promising quarterbacks become Tom Brady and Peyton Manning remains something of a mystery. The results are apparent, but most are unversed in the actual process. Manning, Brady, and Rodgers are great because they’ve taken the raw materials of the position — an understanding of defenses, of why receivers get open and how to find them — and transformed them into muscle memory they can use to fluidly perform, every time. Greatness isn’t something quarterbacks stumble upon. It’s something that becomes ingrained into their very constitution.

[...]

Now, let’s say the quarterback’s first read isn’t open. How does he know when to move to the next receiver? The idea of finding a secondary receiver leaves some quarterbacks looking like they just lost their wallet. For others, like Brady or Manning, it looks easy, and it’s because it’s not only their brains telling them when to look.

“His feet are telling him when to move to no. 2 and no. 3,” current San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh said to a room full of quarterback coaches back when he was coaching at the University of San Diego. “One-two-three-four-five-plant — throw it. If it’s not there, first hitch is to the [second read], and then the second hitch is to [third read].”

brady1

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Tim Tebow’s Last Chance

I watched Tim Tebow play before I had any idea who he was. I occasionally feel oddly fortunate for that fact, as very few people can say the same. Since at least the time he was a freshman at Florida, his reputation — really, his mythos — has preceded him: from heavily hyped Florida recruit to Heisman winner to on-campus living legend, and then to shocking first round draft pick to fan (and Skip Bayless favorite) to New York Jets sideshow, it’s become effectively impossible to watch Tebow play without also seeing the incredible amount of hype and baggage that follows him. This talented but flawed quarterback — born to Christian missionary parents in the Philippines, raised in Florida and, for a time, the face of football’s spread offense and read-option revolutions — has come to embody alternatively the dreams and nightmares of so many football fans.

Simpler times

Simpler times

In 2013 one therefore can’t simply “put on tape of Tim Tebow” and evaluate him as a player. Instead, in what may be his one truly great skill, any attempt to evaluate Tim inevitably results in something else: you end up also evaluating yourself, whether you realize it or not. Include me in this, too.

But in 2005, on the recommendation of one of my coaching buddies, I taped a game Tebow played in, without knowing who he was. As high school football has gotten more successful — and commercial — there’s been a rise in featured “matchup” games set up by promoters and marketed to fans as well as TV networks. This game, between Hoover High School of Alabama, and Nease High School in Florida, was a made-for-TV concoction designed to pit the most high profile team in Alabama against the most high profile high school quarterback in Florida — and maybe the country. My friend recommended taping it fundamentally because of the offenses: Hoover, under then coach Rush Probst, was a “client” of now-Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin’s “System” and had ridden it to several Alabama state titles in recent years. Nease, meanwhile, had exploded into one of the most explosive teams in the country using a kind of hybrid spread offense which combined zone reads with downfield passing to average close to 50 points a game. (While one might wonder how much you can learn from watching a high school game, remember that this was 2005 and we’re still talking about both of those offensive systems today.)

When I began watching the game two things became clear very quickly: Hoover was the far superior team at essentially every position, but the Tebow kid was basically carrying his team. Nease lost convingly, 50-29, but Tebow racked up over 422 yards of offense, including 398 through the air, and could’ve had 500 yards if his receivers would’ve avoided some costly drops. I don’t much care for recruiting, but Tebow — about whom I knew nothing before I began watching — jumped out at me to the point where I took some scouting notes on him, notes which I recently dug up:

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New Grantland: Are Alex Smith and Andy Reid a Good Match in Kansas City?

It’s now up:

But there are lingering questions about both Smith and Reid. I’ll let others address whether the Chiefs overpaid for Smith, but I’m still not so sure that the fit is as good as it would seem. As is West Coast offense tradition, when Reid’s offense was at its best, it was as much about throwing vertically — with deep passes to Terrell Owens or DeSean Jackson breaking open a game — as it was about short passes underneath. Smith has never been known for his ability to throw the ball down the field. And of course, one of the biggest knocks on Reid in Philadelphia was that he would never stick with the run; much of Smith’s success in San Francisco came when supported by Harbaugh’s deep commitment to a power running game.

This is the specter that hangs over this trade and the marriage of Smith and Reid: the specter of, well, Jim Harbaugh (scary thought).

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: The Development of Geno Smith

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Everyone points to the spectacular plays, but it’s making the system’s simple, routine plays that puts Smith in elite company. As Tom Brady is fond of saying, good quarterbacking is often as much about minimizing mistakes and making good plays as it is making great ones. “It really goes down to making routine plays,” West Virginia offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said after the Mountaineers’ 800 yards of offense against Baylor. “You lose sight of that because everything in your mind goes to great plays.” Dawson’s description may sound bizarre, but true excellence is typically banal. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning each mastered the simple things to the point that they could perform them repeatedly, whenever called upon, no matter the situation. Being a quarterback is maybe most of all about making the difficult look routine and, at the college level, Smith is doing just that.

Read the whole thing.

New Grantland: Back to School: How Mike Shanahan Is Using RG3′s College Offense With the Redskins

It’s now up on Grantland:

Coaching is about putting players in positions to succeed. Griffin’s potential is nearly limitless, but as a rookie playing his first game, he’s not Tom Brady just yet, and asking him to throw 40 or 50 traditional drop-back passes was not going to give Washington its best chance to win. Shanahan has clearly gone into this year with an open mind — something many otherwise excellent pro coaches don’t do often enough — and he’s blended his tried-and-true West Coast/zone-blocking offense with some of the best andsimplest principles Griffin executed so well at Baylor.

Read the whole thing.

Quarterbacking the Steve Spurrier Way

I’ve been going through the Smart Football home archives, and I found this old gem: Quarterbacking the Steve Spurrier Way, back from Spurrier’s Florida days (this is from the mid-1990s), where the Ol’ Ball Coach, with some assistance from a slightly mulleted Shane Matthews, demonstrates proper quarterbacking fundamentals. What Steve shows doesn’t feature the latest technology in quarterback mechanics, but the video is exactly right when it says that — for that era, at least — when you’re talking quarterbacks, you’re talking Steve Spurrier. Part 1 of the video is below and Part 2 can be found after the jump.

The video (including in Part 2) doesn’t really cover the schemes Steve used to use back then, but that is something I discuss in The Essential Smart Football, among other topics.

Update: Part 2 is now up, and it can be viewed after the jump. (Apologies for some of the technical difficulties in the quality of the video; it’s obviously from a pretty old VHS tape.)

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New Grantland: Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III: The Future Is Now — The stars are aligning for a generation of great NFL quarterbacks

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Ever since the rise of the T-formation and the modern notion of the quarterback as passer and team leader, young QBs have received varying amounts of training for the position. If his father was a coach — like Elway’s was — or if he happened to live in Granada Hills, California, he might learn the sophisticated skills necessary to continue developing. But if not, it was unlikely that he’d ever receive that sort of necessary coaching. The long history of quarterback draft busts has taught us that athletic ability alone does not make a quarterback. A great quarterback is instead one of sport’s oddest confections: He is the athlete whose success depends as much on his brain as on his body. One can’t help but wonder how many would-be great quarterbacks never had the chance to develop because no one taught them the intricacies of the position; like some football equivalent of Gray’s Elegy, who knows how many mute inglorious Mannings remain forever obscure to history.

In recent years, however, the situation has changed. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are harbingers of an approaching age of quarterbacks who are both better athletes and better trained at a young age than ever before. In a decade or so, the debates about a player like Tim Tebow — that NFL teams must choose between quarterbacks who are passers and quarterbacks who are athletes — will seem quaint and ridiculous. Nowadays, coaches at the lower levels put their best, smartest, most charismatic kids at quarterback and develop them. The new age we’re entering will be something of a Hunger Games for young quarterbacks: By the time they reach the NFL draft, they will be among the best, most talented, brightest, and best-trained candidates we’ve ever seen. Instead of asking ourselves what traits we prefer, we’ll be asking why we ever thought we had to choose.

Read the whole thing here.

New Grantland: Tim Tebow and the Jets

You can find it over at Grantland:

This is exactly the role Tebow should have had in the NFL from day one. Former Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels famously traded up to draft Tebow in the first round, an exceedingly high spot for a player that is, and remains, a work in progress. Although it was preposterous when so-called scouts and experts claimed that Tebow should have been converted into a tight end or halfback (he will succeed or fail as a quarterback, the position he has played his entire life), it also was apparent that he needed to make significant progress in a variety of areas to be an effective NFL quarterback. Despite the tenor of the debates, in the NFL player evaluation is less about black-and-whites than it is about shades of grey and the interplay of two factors: roles and value.

Read the whole thing. This was originally intended to be a quick piece but it kind of ballooned out (the subject will do it to you). I do think it’s important to this story that Rex Ryan has been around football for a long time — and his Dad obviously even longer — so the calculus of the quarterback-as-run-threat is not lost on him. But of course Tebow’s long term success will be driven by his ability to read defenses and locate receivers more quickly than he has been able to so far.