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Jake Locker - Projecting an Enigmatic Quarterback with a Limited Sample Size - Accuracy

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This will be the second post in a four part series that analyzes Jake Locker.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Continuing with the Locker Series (Part I here), today we'll take a look at accuracy.  That's generally a fairly broad term, especially when used to make sweeping judgements.  A common opinion of Locker, particularly from a national perspective, is that he's a quarterback with accuracy issues.  I think the answer to questions about his accuracy is far more complicated than a simple yes or no answer.

As we get further into this series, we'll get into "The Details" (basically nuances of the QB position beyond Accuracy and Physical Skills), with it's own sets of subcategories.  And, really, accuracy could easily fall within that subset as well, especially given how married certain attributes are with accuracy.

For this post, I wanted to show where Jake shines, and where he struggles from an accuracy standpoint.  Within the context of this post, I'm more interested in the types of throws that are better than others, and what tendencies arise in these situations.  After reviewing every throw, I came to a somewhat simple criteria in which Jake appears to thrive:

1.  First read is clearly open.

2.  Read is not muddy, and he trusts it.

3.  It's not a short-intermediate throw across the middle.  In particular, it's not a crossing route.

There are throws that buck these trends, but, in general, these rules seem to hold up fairly consistently.  There's obviously some overlap here.  Certainly the third rule exists mostly to highlight issues that arise from throws across the middle, which are generally caused by the first two rules.  Let's get into some examples, and this should all make a little more sense.

Intermediate Throws - Outside

These throws were a big part of Jake's success early on in the season.  They adhere to these rules the best.  Outbreaking routes are the easiest to understand because the read often just involves one player.  Many times it's not all that specific either.

When the primary is just the outside receiver breaking towards the sideline, things like understanding coverages and having to be concerned about multiple risks (blitzing/protections excepted) don't matter.  The QB just needs to understand if he can fit the ball in where the defender isn't.

The qualifier here, though is that every QB can't make these throws.  Jake's big arm affords him larger windows than other QBs.  Whereas this may be one of the more dangerous throws for QBs with weaker arms, this is arguably the safest for Jake.  You can see this on display in the plays below.  All of these are big, chain moving plays, but none of them present much risk.

Sdg_-_deep_out_washington

Bunch formation here clarifies read some.  Post snap verification is clear.  Trusts the throw, and gets the ball out before Washington is out of his route.

Sdg_-_sail_route_walker

Flag route from Walker here.  At the snap he has outside leverage on his defender.  Jake trusts he can drop it in underneath the safety, and places a perfect ball.

Hou_-_deep_out_washington

Similar to the first play, receiver is working from a close split.  Jake knows Nate can break open based on leverage.  Ball is out before Nate is out of his break.

Nyj_-_go_route_williams

Williams is in man coverage on the outside.  Single high look.  Jake verifies post snap that Williams has a clean release and drops in a great throw on the fade.

On these types of throws, there's a good number more I could have included.  Jake shined on these routes.  It's worth noting though, that all these plays share a common defensive theme.  Defender is playing with inside leverage.  It's not as simple as - well, then we should just call those plays.  The defense has to cooperate.

Deep Ball - Outside and Middle of the FIeld

I'm more accepting of Jake's deep ball than others.  Pro Football Focus, for example, give him a fairly low rating for throws over 30 yards.  When the QB only attempts 10 of those throws, and there are at least 3 that could have been caught with better technique (Hunter - Go Route Jets, Hunter - Post SD, Britt Go Route Texans), it becomes easy to see how subjectivity could influence ratings.  Interestingly, the two throws that I thought made the most sense to review happened back to back at the end of the San Diego game.

Sdg_-_deep_post_williams

Overthrow here by Jake, but if you're going to miss it's obviously best to miss in a spot where no one will get the ball.  Rare are the times where Jake misses a deep ball short.  His throws almost never have the tendency to flutter.

Sdg_-_go_route_hunter

One play later, Jake gets the distance right.  Great coverage here, too.  Just perfect execution.  Ball thrown away from safety, and Hunter does a wonderful job shielding the defender and catching the ball for a touchdown.

I'd categorize deep balls (over 20 yards) and outside intermediate throws the same way.  They are plays where the there's enough time and enough space to have the read somewhat easily clarified.  It's a little bit counterintuitive, but Jake's skill set can actually make these types of plays less risky than shorter, quick hitting plays in the middle of the field.

Short and Intermediate Throws - Middle of the Field

This is where things suffer a little more for Jake.  He's show the ability to make these throws.  But, back to the rules, he's got to trust the read.  It's also worth noting that the "first read open" rule also applies when he doesn't get off this read.  If the read is initially not open, and he's waiting on a window or can't throw in rhythm, things tend to suffer.

I believe these issues stem from a couple of reasons, though it's worth noting that I'm speculating.

1.  The guy is still learning the game.  Throws to the middle of the field require a little bit higher understanding.  And, that's not a shot at the guy.  Pattern recognition takes time.  Drawing a coverage on a white board and knowing how to attack it is one thing.  Diagnosing those patterns in under 3 seconds with conviction, well, that's another.  While many like to put time frames on developmental things, the reality is that we drafted Jake full well knowing that he was a work in progress, having basically only run 2 years of a standard offense in his entire HS/College career.  That he doesn't have a comfort level with these things does not mean that he can't or won't eventually learn them.

2.  The previous staff made it abundantly clear pre-season that Jake didn't need to carry the team.  They more or less wanted a game manager, and appeared to place quite a bit of emphasis on minimizing turn overs.  That no doubt had an influence on Jake's play.  To what extent is unclear.

Whatever the reasons, let's take a look at a handful of plays to better demonstrate what's happening in the middle of the field on these passing plays.

Stl_-_wright_slant

This is a good one to start off with, if only to show that Locker is more than capable of making these throws.  It's not so much the pattern itself as it is trusting a read, which often times also means throwing in rhythm.  Great ball placement here that allows for solid YAC.

Sf_-_crossing_route_williams

Again, good throw.  Williams runs a drag route.  It's the first read the whole way.  Sees it.  Trusts it.  Ball is placed accurately.

Sf_-_slant_-_wright_-_placement

Read here starts outside.  It's covered.  He takes the read inside to Wright who's running a crossing pattern and has broken open.  First read is covered.  Doesn't seem to trust the second read with conviction.  Ball is poorly placed.

Jax_-_wright_drag

Read starts outside to the right.  Locker doesn't like it, so he works back inside.  Delivers a ball to Wright that is poorly placed and leads to an incompletion.  First read covered.  Seems to trust the second read, but doesn't set feet.

Hou_-_britt_snag

Britt runs a spot route here.  He's the primary read the whole way.  Initially, there's maybe a small window here, but the ball has to come out immediately.  Locker sticks with the read, still cuts it loose, and almost turns the ball over.  First read is covered.  Doesn't trust the read.  Issues arise.

Stl_-_wright_dig_route

Hard to tell who the primary is here, but it appears that Wright is the second read.  Pocket is really clean.  Locker has plenty of time to settle in and let Wright cross the field on this dig route.  Instead, he hurries things, and places the ball where Wright can't catch the pass.  I'd say this is mostly a case of not trusting the read.  Especially in the cases of crossing routes, Locker appears uncomfortable fitting the ball over one player and underneath another, despite showing the ability to make these kinds of throws on other vertical patterns.

Sf_-_curl_walker

First read appears to be to the top of the screen on the out route.  This throw is taken away.  The read is forced back to Walker inside.  He's covered the whole way.  Locker stays on the read too long despite this coverage.  Had he continued to cycle reads he would have found Wright open on the curl.

Many may note that most of these throws came in his last three games.  This is true.  Through his first three games, Locker only threw 14 passes up the middle compared to 72 outside.  In the other two full games he played (SF/STL), 17 passes up the middle and 46 outside.  Hard to know how much of this was play calling (or some cross over from the "Fitz" offense) and how much was defensive game planning.  From my point of view, it appeared that corners seemed more apt to route receivers inside.  Note in the play above the boundary (top of screen) corner.  Opens hips to field, and doesn't turn back on the QB.  This technique makes the outside throw far more difficult, and risky.

Whatever the reasons for the change in pass distribution, Jake's issues throwing in - what I could call - clutter, remain a real problem that will have to be overcome.

Short Throws Outside

This is the final area of throws to review.  Unlike the previous sets, this group is far less consistent in terms of generating tendencies.  However, as we look at these closer, most of the throws tend to fall in line with the rules outlined in this post.  This is a good thing in that it shows that if the game eventually comes to Jake in its entirety, that all these throws can be made with consistency.

Hou_-_quick_out_wright

This throw highlights Jake's capability.  Even though he has to hesitate to a second window, it appears that he trusts the read the whole way.  A low risk throw to the front pylon is made, and Wright does the rest.

Nyj_-_stick_route_washington

Walker and Washington both run curl routes here.  The initial read is to Walker.  He's covered, which takes Jake to Washington.  The ball comes out and misses Nate wide right.  I'd say this one is less a case of not trusting the read, and more an issue with not getting in sync mechanically.  A distinction without difference, I suppose.  The end result is all that matters.  (As an aside, I do see the protection is imperfect.  However, the ball still manages to get out on time, albeit inaccurately.)

Stl_-_nate_slant

Nate is the primary here on the slant.  Very similar to the throw to Wright.  The distinction is that the throw to Wright is off a 5 step play action drop.  This is a 3 step drop.  Those extra few steps allowed Jake to throw in rhythm to an open space on the throw to Wright.  However, on this play, the initial read is not open.  He should wait and allow Washington to get to the second window.  Instead, he tries to fit the ball in behind him, which results in an incompletion.

So, a lot to digest here.  While I've gotten into some of my opinions on the subject, I'll save larger conclusions for the final post.

One quick note, though, that I intend to get into more in that final post - Fans that take an all or nothing approach, more or less dealing in developmental absolutes, certainly won't be satisfied with the idea that Jake is still a work in progress.  I think many would posture that a QB heading into year 4 should have a firm grip on many of these things by now.   Reality is that these things are inconsequential so long as Jake can be productive, as he continues the maturation process.

In the next post, we'll look at "The Details" of the QB position, which is a poorly worded way of saying the things that don't fall under physical attributes and accuracy.

Previously in Projecting Jake Locker: Physical Tools