CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 2: Second string quarterback Jake Locker #10 of the Tennessee Titans looks for a receiver while on the run during the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium on October 2, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Titans defeated the Browns 31-13. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Continuing with the Charting Jake Locker series, today we'll dig into the distances and direction thrown by Locker. When charting Locker's throws, an important thing I wanted to understand was the distance the throws traveled. Just the yardage picked up doesn't tell the whole story. For example, on the 16th dropback by Locker in the New Orleans contest, he threw the ball 3 yards on a quick slant to Williams, who then took it another 51 yards. Later, on snap 22, he threw the ball 34 yards up the seam to Washington who then took it another 6 yards for a touchdown. On paper, the Williams play is more impressive from a Y/A standpoint, yet the throw to Washington was clearly more difficult.
Further, I wanted to break down direction thrown for Locker. Really, I wanted that to be a separate post, but I quickly realized that the two are too intertwined to break it up. When charting left, right, and middle, it was somewhat subjective. I essentially used a marker just a few paces outside of the tackle box as the area that distinguished L/R from middle.
As NTT pointed out in the initial open discussion, the NFL play by play distinguishes long and short throws based off of a 15 yard threshold. Those shorter than 15 yards are a "short" throw. Those longer are a "long" throw. Now, I didn't use the NFL play by play, but I think that by using this same criteria it will offer some consistency should you choose to compare Locker to some of his peers. Note, there is one throw that is 15 yards exactly...we'll consider that a "long" throw. The chart below shows how the data shook out.
*You'll notice that one throw is missing (66 attempts this year). That was the spike against New Orleans.
Such a small chart, yet there's so much to digest here. Let's begin with a fan favorite, the long ball.
Locker threw 12 balls 15 yards are further. That's not really telling the whole story, though. The kid liked cutting the ball loose, and for good reason, he was nearly as accurate throwing deep as he was short/intermediate. 42% vs. 54%. And, these throws weren't just marginally above the 15 yard threshold, either. Locker averaged a distance of 25 Y/A on each deep throw. In terms of actual production, Locker was putting up 15 Y/A on balls 15 yards or further.
Let's give some perspective on those numbers. When comparing distance the ball traveled, Locker's 12 deep throws actually travled more distance than all of his 53 deep balls combined 290 vs 306. Y/A on short throws was 6.75 yards (again, compared to 15 Y/A on the deep throws), but accuracy improved to 54%.
Here's an interesting note about his receivers YAC contributions: Locker's short throws only averaged a distance of 5.5 yards. 216 of his 358 yards came from YAC. That's good for 60% of his short throwing yardage. Alternatively, of the 184 yards Locker put up on deep throws, only 49 yards came from YAC (25%).
As expected, it's not all good news. It doesn't take a statistician to look at the chart and identify the glaring weaknesses when Locker is throwing anywhere but up the middle. Combined throws to the left and right came to 16/41 for 39%. On those 41 passes, he picked up 276 of his yards. 151 of those yards came after the catch. The Y/A isn't horrible (6.75 Y/A), but it's also a little skewed. A screen to Hawkins and a slant to Williams (mentioned above), both against New Orleans, accounted for 78 of those yards, despite a collective 3 yards traveled. Remove those, and you're looking at 5.07 Y/A.
Shifting the focus to the middle of the field, the story changes entirely. Across all distances, Locker was completing throws over the middle at a 75% clip. He accounted for 266 of his yards over the middle (49% of yardage), despite only 36% of his throws being attempted in this area of the field. Yards per attempt on throws over the middle was 11.
Putting it all together
So....we should only attempt deep passes over the middle with Jake, amirite?!? If only it were that simple. These poor numbers on throws to the outside are a real problem, and something that needs to be addressed quickly if Jake hopes to succeed at the NFL level. You've no doubt heard people say that coaches adapt to quarterbacks once they have tape to work off of, and will exploit their tendencies. If I'm a DC studying this tape, the game plan is pretty simple. I'm getting in Cover 3 and I'll let my corners play off the receivers to the outside. Flood the middle of the field with linebackers and safeties, and force Jake to nickel and dime you on the short throws to the outside.
The underlying problem appears to lie in Locker's footwork. Especially in the quick game, there appeared to be inconsistencies not only in his balance on throws to the outside, but also in getting square to the target. The good news is that mechanically, he doesn't need a total overhaul. In general, with a clean pocket and time (ie, not on throws that require quick rhythm), he can deliver the ball nicely. He struggles at times in the quick game to the outside, though, when it's a rhythm of 1 step, 2, step, plant back foot, throw.
These things can get fixed with reps, and I expect to see a marked improvement by this pre-season. Still, completing only 51% of passes is not good enough to be a starter at the professional level. On the bright side of things, the "fix" is easily identifiable; 42% completion percentage on short throws left or right. And, the throws over the middle tell you that the accuracy is there. That is, when he's throwing over the middle, feet are naturally perpendicular to the target. When he's squared, the accuracy is elite. No hyperbole. 75% is remarkably accurate. Locker showed flashes this year of being a special player. If the footwork and rhythm gets corrected, Locker is more than capable of making every NFL throw and projects to be a franchise QB type talent. Until then, he needs some time to season from the bench.