Recently, I have been thinking a lot about Jake Locker and Ken Whisenhunt. How will Locker fit what the Whiz wants to do? I went back and looked at a couple of things--a few Chargers games, some old Cardinals games, some articles from Bolts from the Blue, all of Locker's attempts in 2013, and some situational statistics among other things. While what happens in 2014 is anyone's guess, I feel like after observing a few things, I do have somewhat of a better grasp.
I feel like a decent way to quickly sum up Whisenhunt's offense is to mention these two things--pre-snap reads, and quickness. While Palmer and Loggains took a more vertical approach with Locker, Whisenhunt will likely take more of a horizontal approach when it comes to spreading the defense out. There will be short options available, and it will just be a matter of being able to read the defense and find the correct options. I've noticed a lot of dig routes, and overall a lot of crossing action. Another thing that I seemed to notice is Whiz's use of stacking receivers up. This forces defensive backs to make a decision, and it helps when it comes to having your receivers have a free release, which will be great for a smaller guy like Kendall Wright. The same goes for Justin Hunter, who struggles when it comes to beating press coverage.
After seeing some of the routes that are staples in a Whisenhunt offense, I feel a little better about Locker's ability to fit. He is good on short throws, if for no other reason, because of the fact that he is able to put so much heat on these quick throws, giving defensive backs less time to react.
I read this article that went over a few plays from a Chargers game last year, and followed along on NFL Game Rewind to see it in live action. Anyone that has a subscription should definitely do the same at some point. Here are two plays mentioned in the article that have routes that I think will be right up Locker's alley:
Locker's 2013 play
I definitely felt like Locker improved last year. That being said, I disagree with the notion that he was "lights out" when he was 100% healthy. Like I said, he was solid on a lot of the shorter throws. His pocket presence was also improved. There were many times where I saw him keep his eyes up and buy time when he was facing pressure and his first option was not there. One thing that really concerned me in 2012 was the fact that he was seeing ghosts sometimes. I thought he improved a lot in this area which is a big step for him, and hopefully this continues. All of that being said, I came across something that has me pretty concerned--Locker's ball placement on deep throws.There is no doubt that he has the arm strength to make all of these throws, but his accuracy absolutely must improve on throws that are 20+ yards. While Whisenhunt's horizontal approach is an effective one, there still needs to be a vertical threat, and to do that, Locker must work on his ball placement on these deep throws. In the San Diego game, he was 2/11 on throws that were 15+ yards, according to Grantland. I took a couple throws from his 2013 games to highlight this problem (stick with me because I've never had to do something like this before with gifs).
After watching Locker's throws from 2013, I wanted to see if I could find some numbers on his deep attempts. I found some interesting charts from November 23 (after Locker's season had already ended).
It turns out that Locker had the highest deep pass rate. For explanation on this statistic, see the gray circle on the bottom right. So while Locker had a ton of deep attempts, how successful was he?
Of course, the numbers match what was on the field. While he was first in deep attempts, he was 26th in deep pass accuracy. While naturally, more deep attempts will mean more incompletions on deep throws, there should not be this dramatic of a drop. We should see a drop from the red area to the gray area. If he could at least complete around the league average and hit on about 40% of his deep passes, we could see a true emergence with him. For now, this is a very concerning aspect of his game to me. Luckily, with Whisenhunt's offense, there won't be as much of an emphasis on the vertical game as there was with Palmer and Loggains. He still needs to hit on these throws though when presented with the opportunity, and he has at times in the past. 3 examples are Hunter's dropped TD against SD, which was a better throw than the game winner, a deep ball to Washington against Houston and Hunter's TD against the Jets. These are just the examples I could find without having to make more gifs myself. There are a number of other examples-- hitting on a corner route to Delanie Walker against San Francisco comes to mind. That being said, he is going to need to do it consistently, and eliminate some of the misses above. All quarterbacks miss easy throws from time to time, and before someone posts it in the comments, yes, Tom Brady has had trouble with this part of his game as well. However, Locker has the tools to drastically improve in this area, and if he can, he can take another big step when it comes to becoming the franchise quarterback that we so badly need.
I'd say that ball placement on deep throws is now my biggest concern for Locker. This time last year, I would have said pocket presence, but he took a big step in that regard, so that gives me confidence he can do the same with this problem. Overall, I feel better about Locker's fit in Whisenhunt's offense, though. I think he is better out of the shotgun, and a lot of the quick routes will fit not only where he excels, but where our top two receivers excel as well. I think Kendall Wright could be in for an even bigger year than last. There is a lot to be excited about, and I am ready to see it in action this summer.