When we think about how a pass play in football succeeds, the most important aspect is timing. Many factors play into a pass play ending up as near perfect as it can get.
The pass must be thrown on time. The quarterback must anticipate an opening on time. The receiver must locate the ball on time, and the receiver must attack the ball on time.
In the NFL, if you don’t consistently display good timing, you’re not going to be a quality player. That’s as simple as it gets, and quarterbacks especially need to have a high level of acumen. (making quick decisions) For as physically and mentally demanding as the other positions of the sport are, the quarterback spot in comparison has a laundry list of tasks that need to be accomplished to look the part of a quarterback.
Quarterbacks must recognize defensive alignments pre-snap and post snap. They must recognize if they’re up against man coverage, zone coverage, Cover 1, Cover 3, a blitz, a disguised blitz, a zone blitz, the list goes on. Then, they must recognize the receiver routes, play with poise in the pocket (with or without pressure), throw into open or tight windows, and go through their progressions.
It’s a position that is almost impossible to be near flawless at, which is why we commend guys like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Drew Brees for doing what they do at a consistently high level. These quarterbacks are phenomenal because of how they’re able to process and respond to different situations on time.
Oftentimes it’s how quickly you throw the ball that gives you the edge over the defense.
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is noted for his quick throwing motion. Casual fans tend not to look at how quarterbacks get to the results, instead favoring viewpoints such as touchdowns, interceptions, passer rating, wins, and situational play. But if we look at what gets to the results, we can find how easy or difficult it was to get to said result.
A quick throwing motion is just one way to make it that much easier to get a positive pass play to work.
Of course, Marcus Mariota isn’t the only quarterback with a quick throwing motion. Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino was famous for his quick release, and in the 21st century, guys like Peyton Manning, Tony Romo and Philip Rivers have also been noted for their quick releases. Even younger quarterbacks like Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota have these quick throwing motions.
Obviously, the longer the distance of the pass, the longer the throwing motion required to make the pass (and vice versa). But guys like Marino, Manning, Romo and Rivers have been the exceptions to this rule. These guys were/are able to ensure their passes get released as soon as possible while also being able to generate enough juice on the pass to travel the necessary distance to hit the receiver.
This allows for rocket passes without the pesky windup. In other words, via Football University:
So, to illustrate why a quicker throwing motion is an important ability to have, let’s take a look at a couple of examples from seasons past where it greatly enhanced the following plays.
First up is Tony Romo’s touchdown throw to tight end Gavin Escobar back in Week 7 of the 2014 season against the New York Giants. I consider this game to the be the finest Romo has ever played (seriously, go watch it!), and this was arguably his best throw of the day.
Here, Escobar (in motion) is running a skinny post route to the end zone, stemming against the defensive back to get inside leverage. Once Romo notices Escobar is leading the race against the defensive back by a hair, that’s when he knows he’s got his target.
What makes an attempt here tricky is Romo also has to fit the ball against the high safety, who is watching Romo all the way. This is where a quicker throwing motion comes in handy. If you’re releasing this pass at the speed of a player like Tim Tebow, chances are it’s going to be picked off.
But Romo’s release is insanely quick, eliminating any chance the high safety has at making a play on the ball. And not only that.....
...but the pass itself is thrown beautifully. Romo places the football into a spot where only Escobar can make a play on it, delivering on time with a rocket fast throwing motion.
Using another example, let’s look at future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning’s performance in the 2013 AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots. While his skill set got weaker as his career went on, Manning was able to play at a high level post surgery because of his intelligence and ability to adjust his skill set.
On this play, Demaryius Thomas is running a simple post route. Unlike Romo’s highlighted throw from above, this time the concern for Manning is getting the throw to Thomas on time without the defensive back covering Thomas getting a fingertip on the ball.
Now, if Manning releases the ball with a longer windup, it’ll result in a late, behind throw that will most likely be intercepted. But because of Manning’s acumen, and because his release is fast, he manages to fit the ball into a small window perfectly.
With two examples shown, let’s get to the man of the hour, Marcus Mariota.
Mariota has yet to have the resume of Tony Romo or Peyton Manning, but that’s because he’s played three years in the league. What he does share with both quarterbacks is the laser rocket quick throwing motion.
For Mariota’s turn, let’s look at his Week 15, 2017 performance at San Francisco.
From this angle, the highlighted play looks like busted coverage, a fluke touchdown if you will. How could the linebacker let Rishard Matthews get open so easily? But if we look at this play from a different angle, we can find that there’s more to it than the naked eye can initially process.
So, to help understand why Matthews was able to get so open, I’ve exercised the liberty of capturing the play shot by shot.
First, notice that Mariota’s eyes look outside left. drawing linebacker #50’s attention as well as linebacker #56. Based on how they’re watching Mariota, the linebackers are expecting Matthews to run a corner route and look to undercut it.
That’s exactly what Mariota wanted them to do. His right foot is dragging, but watch how his left foot is positioned; It’s clear that he’s baiting the linebackers with his eyes and footwork to catch them off guard.
#56 sits under what he believes to be a corner route, and #50 does the same. At this point, both of Mariota’s feet are contorted to the spot he wants to throw the ball. As you may have guessed, where Mariota wants to throw the ball is not the same area the linebackers think Mariota is throwing the ball to.
Taking advantage of the linebackers with his eyes, Mariota throws above and to the right of #50. He’s off guard, and #56, expecting easy pickings, is certainly off guard.
The result of the play goes in Tennessee’s favor for a touchdown. Let’s take a look at a GIF of the full play.
As he’s about to throw the ball, Mariota has all the momentum on his side; He’s already thrown the linebackers off guard with the positioning of his eyes and footwork, now it’s up to his timing to finish the play off. With a longer release, #50 has more time to catch up to the pass and break it up or pick it off.
But Mariota’s lightning quick release destroys any chance #50 has at doing so. He fits this in perfectly to Matthews for a touchdown that’s far more impressive than the broadcast angle would have you believe.
These lightning quick releases aren’t necessarily crucial for every quarterback. A guy like Cam Newton can fit balls into all sorts of windows because of the insane power he creates with his arm, and as long as he has enough juice his timing is on point. But for a guy like Mariota who doesn’t have the arm strength of a guy like Matthew Stafford, this offsets that deficiency and in turn gives Mariota a dangerous tool he can use to further exploit defenses.
If you’re going to train your quarterback to develop his timing, perhaps teaching him to utilize a quicker throwing motion should do the trick.