X’s and O’s with the Bros: On Brandon Weeden’s Batted Passes

by Cleveland Frowns on October 31, 2012

Welcome to the latest edition of X’s and O’s with the Bros by X’s and O’s editor @rodofdisaster. This feature represents a basic attempt to look deeper into the game of football, learn something about the X’s and O’s that make it go, and better appreciate the games within the game. It’s called “X’s and O’s with the Bros: because you don’t have to be a player, coach, or rocket surgeon to get something out of taking a closer look at a football play, so please enjoy the post and the discussion in the comments.

This week Rod focuses on Brandon Weeden’s recent trouble with batted balls at the line of scrimmage.

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Situation: 3rd Quarter, 12:59 left
Down/Distance: 1st & 10 on Browns’ 31
Score: 7-3 Browns

The Browns come out in ‘12’ personnel with 1 back, 2 TE and 2 WR. The formation is an “Ace” with twins (two WR to the left). The “Z” receiver (Little) motions across the formation to balance it. The Chargers are in a base 3-4 front with the safety down in the box. There is one deep safety. This usually indicates man-free coverage or 3-deep zone. The corners are playing soft so there should be some room to maneuver.

Here we see the play develop with three vertical routes to push the coverage deep. The defense looks to be in zone coverage (at least that’s what the linebackers seem to be playing). As the play develops, the defense will have three deep and three under with five rushing. It’s a five-step drop. This depth of drop typically will be paired with intermediate routes and crossing routes.

Watson breaks open across the middle and Weeden wants to get him the ball. As you can see, there’s going to be a lot of space in front of him to run after the catch. The defensive lineman (Liuget) is engaged with Greco, the left guard. Note that the pair is upright and Weeden has three options. He could throw to Watson in the first window (left most arrow) or the second window (right arrow). Lastly, he could try to throw over Greco (middle arrow) which is what he did resulting in a batted pass which fell incomplete.

DISCUSSION

Batted passes are becoming an increasing concern for the Browns. In the last four weeks, Weeden has had eight batted passes bringing his season total to 12 which is only two fewer than the 6’1” Colt McCoy had all of last year.

A look at other QBs in the NFL shows the following batted pass numbers:

Aaron Rodgers 3
Peyton Manning 4
Tom Brady 3
Alex Smith 4
Matt Ryan 3
Robert Griffin III 3
Matt Schaub 4
Ben Roethlisberger 4

One might predict that Drew Brees, at 6’0,” would throw the 8 batted passes that he has but that wouldn’t explain why the 5’11” Russell Wilson has only thrown four.

The PD’s Tom Reed tackled this issue about this a week and a half ago in a piece where he notes that:

[Pat] Shurmur believes batted passes are a shared responsibility among linemen, the quarterback and coaches. It’s making the right calls, throwing balls in proper lanes and finding ways to discourage defensive linemen from jumping or sticking up their hands.

Most people will agree that bad play design could result in a batted pass but I don’t see how that would be the case here. The receiver was open at the right time and there were two windows to throw through. Which leaves two factors: the line blocking and the quarterback.

As discussed in Reed’s piece, you will sometimes see offensive linemen cut block on quick passes with three step drops as we see here (arrows):

There’s a fine line between going low and being dirty and some offensive line coaches won’t teach this but the point is to get the defensive pass rusher’s hands down. Pass rushers are now taught to react to the 3-step drop by easing up, reading the quarterback’s eyes and timing a jump to bat the ball. Texans’ sensation J.J. Watt is making a name for himself doing just that. Linemen need to have a plan. Going low and getting the lineman’s hands (or body) down is one strategy. Another is to punish him for getting his hands up. He can’t protect his torso and his center of gravity has just been raised. That’s an invitation to a punch to the chest and a pancake block. A third strategy is to give him an inside or outside move to set up a window for the QB. On a 5-step drop, it’s a little hard to expect Greco to cut anybody. I think he does his job here although getting the lineman’s hands down would have been nice. Here’s an example of a three step drop where Mitchell Schwartz doesn’t get his opponent’s hands down. This too resulted in an incompletion and this time a near interception by a defensive lineman (much like a Tony Romo pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Giants end Jason Pierre Paul last Sunday afternoon).

The quarterback is the last piece to this equation. He has to understand his passing windows as well as timing his throw for the receiver running through defended zones. Ultimately, I think the batted ball we see here is really on Weeden. A pass through either window on either side of Greco gets the ball to a wide open Ben Watson.

Of course batted passes at best will stall an offense, and at worst lead to disaster like what almost happened twice last week against the Chargers. Brandon Weeden needs to tidy this bit of quarterbacking up as the yards are there for the taking.

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The complete “Xs and Os with the Bros” archive is available here.

  • Wiseoldredbeard

    Really interesting. Do the Browns regularly practice this technique in practice by having defenders jump? Is blocking balls something that is uncommon in college, and thus unlikely Weeden would have seen? I’m confused as to why Shurmur wouldn’t be spending a lot of time developing Weeden’s recognition of windows — seems like it would have a significant effect on his completion percentage and decrease turnover risk.

    Rod — on the pass to Watson that sailed over his head, was that a result of going through the middle window and going to high over the defender? I wonder if that happened before or after the play detailed above…

    • Believelander

      See, this is the counter point to the batted pass thing. The great post above definitely shows Weeden has responsibility in the batted ball thing, but also says the following:

      “A pass through either window on either side of Greco gets the ball to a wide open Ben Watson.”

      I guess since I can’t see how wide open Watson was on this play, I don’t know whether it’s true in this specific instance. But to do as Rod suggests would require him to throw the ball sooner or later – even if just a moment. Windows open and close in a heartbeat in the NFL. And receivers being jumbo jet hangar wide open doesn’t happen that often, so the QB doesn’t always get to pick the exact throwing lane he wants.

      Oddly, the quote from Shurmur is ultimately apt for this situation: the responsibility lies on the line, QB, and coaches, and it’s hard to extract solitary blame. I tended to point to line play because of what I saw in run blocking, which was opponents filling up our running lanes all season long.

      It will be interesting to see how fast Weeden can clean this up.

      • Warburton MacKinnon

        I will buy the QB and coaches,but not the line, there are some Dlineman I have watched who jump up and down on every play,even runs,some occasionaly bounce up and down on a play. Sometimes I would guess it’s an attempt to force an Olineman to take them down and get a holding or hands in the face call. Now as far as Weeden goes, if you include preaseason it’s been 11 games……..one would think that MIGHT be enough time to clear it up. Since it hasn’t been,gotta think Shurmer and the QB coach have dropped the ball on fixing it.

  • actovegin1armstrong

    Rod’o,
    In boxing the Xiphoid Process has my favorite target and I have a bunch of former O-Line friends who were taught to go for the same target whenever a D-Lineman, Linebacker, or whomever was rushing the QB would put his hands in the air.
    Should Weeden be waiting for that hit, or are the Browns’ O-Lineman slow to the punch?

    • rodofdisaster

      I think the linemen have to stay engaged and strike. It’s not up to Weeden to wait for them. That said, if he chooses a window to either side, he probably doesn’t have to worry about that.

      • Warburton MacKinnon

        Another thing about our Olineman..in fact about any Olineman,you see it in running plays on occasion, someone misses a block and the back gets hit behind the line and fumbles,but the oline is moving forward and never sees it,same kind of shit happens in pass blocking. The oline is looking upfield,they don’t always know what’s happening behind them;i.e. what,when and how the QB is throwing the ball,and they know the Dlinemen are trying to get them to miss a block. I’d say in the NFL 9 ot of 10 times if the oline does it’s job AND the QB does his job they never need worry about a batted pass. Also please tell me how if a QB makes a mistake the lineman are supposed to see whats behind them? Seems a heck of a tall order to have eyes in the back of your head,that even if you had would be covered by a helmet without eyeholes in the back. Just saying ya know…considering how little Weeden is sacked and such it doesn’t seem to me it’s the lines fault,usually when a pass is batted down.

  • actovegin1armstrong

    Also, Weeden is throwing about 175 passes a game.
    Do the “batted ball” stats look any better considering that fact?

    • vespo09

      I don’t know of a list of all batted passes for all the QBs, so I worked from the list above:

      QB, batted passes, attempts, % batted

      Aaron Rodgers 3, 297, 1.01%
      Peyton Manning 4, 257, 1.56%
      Tom Brady 3, 320, 0.94%
      Alex Smith 4, 209, 1.91%
      Matt Ryan 3, 265, 1.13%
      Robert Griffin III 3, 223, 1.35%
      Matt Schaub 4, 222, 1.80%
      Ben Roethlisberger 4, 268, 1.49%
      Brandon Weeden 12, 299, 4.01%

      Again, without a full list it’s hard to see exactly how everyone is doing. But at least based on the info above, Weeden’s numbers aren’t negatively skewed because he’s throwing more.

      • actovegin1armstrong

        Thank you vespo.
        I guess I could have figured that one out, but to quote Malibu Barbie, “Math is hard.”

      • Warburton MacKinnon

        Thanks for the stats.

  • Drumbiker

    Sorry, this is off topic, but is this Disqus thinggy the only way to register, or is there a plot to keep my status as a perpetual Lurker and infrequent Poster in tact? It just loads and loads and loads and loads and…well, you get it.

    • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

      disqus is a fussy service. i’d suggest logging in through a twitter link if you have one. that works fine for me.

      then you can also log in to disqus through twitter. it’s not perfect, but the disqus dashboard is a tool that can let you select a feed of commenters you most want to read. my 2c.

    • ClevelandFrowns

      Another thing that helps is to just click on your browser to stop loading. Everything you need should already be on the page.

    • Warburton MacKinnon

      I log in via google if that helps any.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    i stumbled on the best version of ashokan farewell i’ve ever heard a couple months ago. you cant not be moved when you hear this.

    i just now noticed that folkalley.com is a kent state thing… are any of you kent people in with this? what a fantastic quiet local resource.

    • Believelander

      It’s hard to get the shot angles perfect working with the tools, but, yeah, I’d say Weeden’s throwing motion and release point are, uh, decent.

      Brandon Weeden
      Tom Brady
      Peyton Manning

      There’s always room for improvement….I guess. So yeah, I’d suppose whatever issue his is, it’s something he or the coaches can train out of him and the offensive linemen.

      • rodofdisaster

        If I had to critique Weeden’s mechanics, I would say that the one thing that bothers me more than anything is that he tends to hold the ball low. That leads to an elongated throwing motion. That’s a problem under pressure because it does lead to fumbles. If he holds the ball up closer to shoulder height, it comes out quicker because there’s less of an arc that he has to complete to throw the ball. All in all, I would not say Weeden has horrible mechanics. They are (if nothing else) very reproducible. Luckily, he’s not under pressure as much as previous QBs so the mechanics don’t break down as much. His feet aren’t always smooth in the crossover but I’ve seen worse.

        • Petefranklin

          Thankfully he’s not under much pressure. I thought as immobile as he is he would have been KO’d a couple times by now. Things seem to be looking up so stay tough Cleveland you guys have gotten pounded this week.

        • Warburton MacKinnon

          Interesting..on another site someone argued with me about the batted passes and suggested with the low start they would fly straighter and quicker..less arc,straight path and all(from a pure physics point he’s probably right,but physics doesn’t factor in defenders jumping with raised arms.). My point of argument was that doesn’t matter when the ball never gets past the line. In any event it comes back to the 64,ooo$ dollar question,can this tendancy be fixed,are we stuck with it,do the current coaches make it become a habit or can it be fixed by different/better coaching?

          • ClevelandFrowns

            Good question and I will just add that I’m glad we have both a Warb and a WORB on this board.

          • Warburton MacKinnon

            Thanks,and I am glad you’re glad and that the statement is funny as hell.

          • Wiseoldredbeard

            Dude. Glad to be here!

          • actovegin1armstrong

            I mix up the two rather frequently.

          • http://twitter.com/cpmack Chris M

            That’s obviously a question for Mike Lombardi.

    • Warburton MacKinnon

      Awsome link Kanicki,thanks.

    • NeedsFoodBadly

      is ashokan farewell the music they play over and over again in the Ken Burns Civil War documentary?

      • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

        yeap.
        although the song was written by the violin player in that link in 1983. ashokan is his fiddle camp near woodstock, ny. burns heard it and liked it and married it with the sullivan ballou letter and it made for very memorable tv for sure.

      • actovegin1armstrong

        Odd coincidence, I was reading stuff all night, last night instead of sleeping, (big surprise) and for some odd reason I switched from my three favorites, Wodehouse, Adams and Rand.
        I was reading first hand accounts of Pickett’s charge and the rest of The Battle of Gettysburg”.
        Ashokan was playing in my head, because of the Burns doc.

        I came to one unexpected conclusion, I may not be the dummest guy in the history of the world.

        • ClevelandFrowns

          Wait. Rand?

          • actovegin1armstrong

            Of course that would surprise you, however both Wodehouse and Adams were considerably more erudite and clever.

            I meant Ayn Rand, not Rand McNally.

            I like her books and her thoughts on metaphysics, or rather the lack thereof.

            Not objectivism, however if you read her works they have a decidedly socialist bent.

            And more than that, Dagny Taggart is my dream woman, I have been in love with her since I was nine years old.
            I pull out my old library copy and read “Atlas Shrugged” about every other year, ever since I bought it for $2.00 at an old, decrepit school when I was a puppy.

            Well…. at least you have figured out that I am just a dum guy, most assuredly not capable of understanding what I read.

          • ClevelandFrowns

            So we’ve got to get you some new thoughts on metaphysics. I knew it had to be something serious. Step 1: If you could make up your own metaphysics, what would they be? Everything else flows from there and you’ll soon be cured of the Rand thing, I promise.

          • actovegin1armstrong

            I like that idea, but instead of making up my own metaphysics I shall follow that wise and learned philosopher W. C. Fields.
            “Everybody has got to believe in something and I believe I will have another beer.”

          • ClevelandFrowns

            It’s a start.

  • Warburton MacKinnon

    So would you say that this is more a Weeden problem,rather than a play calling,blocking problem? In the realm of blocked passes I tend to think it’s Weeden(not sure why his passes end up batted down so much,considering Colt,and way back when Kosar and his low sidearm throws that were not batted down),if though it is indeed Weeden,can good coaching change it? I hope it can be changed(granted I have no hope for the current crop of coaches fixing it we are already half a season in),or is this something we as fans have to accept as long as Weeden starts? These batted down passes are a part of why I think Colt would have won more games this season…No Colt is not the future,and Weedon might be the future..but you’d think they might have fixed it by now unless many of our coaches are as incompetant(or overly micro maneged and not allowed to DO their job by Shurmer)as I think they might be.

    • Warburton MacKinnon

      Have I mentioned Halloween is over and I should stop drinking and get some sleep.

  • GrandRapidsRustlers

    After a long bloody night in which I fought DISQUS and apparently won…I say great work Rod.

    Now is also a good time to thank the executive committee for passing on the Akron/Kent game as it would have made me physically ill to pick Kent. Next year Bowden. Next year.

    • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

      more’s the reason to get the wagon wheel classic on everyone’s plate. imho.

      [i thought the exec committee would take the opportunity of all-play to bring some MAC/ SunBelt/ MWC action to the masses; and also let the larger field try their hands bottom feeding with UTSAs, NMSTs, etc…]
      [the slavish devotion to populist decision making is surely a bold exhibit of the grossest base intransigence. #freekanicki]

      akron +19 isnt enough to get you onboard?

      • GrandRapidsRustlers

        I’m still trying to figure out if I should play all 4 games tonight in a celebration of the return of the MAC.

        Archer could break MAC records on Saturday which is why I want no part of that Akron game.

  • Henry Brown

    Doug Dieken said that Joe Thomas refuses to cut block, so as the leader of the O Line I doubt the others would either.

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