Pro Football Focus

WSU football: Analyzing Luke Falk passing chart from DB perspective

PULLMAN -- Pro Football Focus has analyzed and ranked five returning Pac-12 quarterbacks via passing charts (attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns, interceptions, passer rating). As a former defensive back at Washington State, here's what Luke Falk's chart tells me.

First of all, it must be noted that Pro Football Focus ranks Falk at the No. 2 QB in the Pac-12 behind UW’s Jake Browning. As much as I enjoyed pouring over PFF's charts, to me Falk’s numbers are far more consistent across the board.  He threw more touchdowns per attempt, with fewer interceptions (despite attempting 276 more passes) and he simply won more games.

Based on Falk's chart (pictured above) I don’t see how he isn’t sitting comfortably atop of this PFF ranking, but I can live with it.

As far as the chart itself, these are some intimidating numbers from a defender's point of view. What strikes me the most are Falk’s passing numbers from 0-9 yards.  In the 0-9 yard range, Falk threw 16 touchdowns to zero interceptions with 220 attempts in the middle of the field.

Another interesting measure to look at is the balanced amount of throws to the left, vs. throws to the right. In that same 0-9 yard range, Falk threw 22 passes to the left and 23 to the right.  I can tell you from experience, that is a nightmare for linebackers and safeties.

WSU loves to run crossing routes, mesh plays, and option routes where receivers squat in spaces between zone coverages. When you have a QB who throws zero interceptions in that 0-9 range for an entire season, you have to find ways to disrupt that consistency as a defense.

But once defenses attempt to cut off the short game, Falk hits you deep. From the 10-19 and 20-plus yard range, Falk threw 17 touchdowns to 7 interceptions. Again, most of his attempts were in the middle of the field (63 of 111). Needless to say, Falk is pretty good at finding open receivers regardless of their location on the field.

Pro Football Focus also states, “Falk’s 78.7 adjusted completion percentage ranks No. 1 among all returning FBS quarterbacks. Additionally, Falk’s 69.1 accuracy percentage under pressure also ranks No. 1 among returning FBS quarterbacks. Falk completed 50 of 99 passes under pressure in 2015 with six touchdowns and zero interceptions.” 

To me, that pressure statistic shows the true danger in trying to defend Falk.  As many Coug fans commented on the CF.C message boards last year, the biggest worry about Falk last season came when he would hold on to the ball for too long. It seemed as if his internal clock wasn’t really ticking and he never really panicked when he should have. But then you look at what happened in so many of those situations you understand that Falk was keeping his cool for a reason, such as the game-winning TD throw at UCLA.

As a defensive back who lined up against Falk almost every day in practice last season, I know what it’s like to get picked apart by Falk and the Air Raid offense. Just when you think you know where Falk is going to throw the ball, he makes a last-second head move and hits an open man. The Air Raid is very tough to cover as a defensive back, but when you have a quarterback who can make decisions the way Falk does, it makes things extremely frustrating for defensive players and coaches.

To me, a QB that can make such accurate throws while under pressure, and throw so few interceptions, is just as dangerous as a dual threat QB who can extend plays with his legs. We all saw what Marcus Mariota during his Pac-12 career, and I believe Falk has a similar impact when he’s in the game.  But he has to stay in the game.  Falk hit the turf a few too many times last year, and he needs to throw it away more and eliminate as many of those hits this year as he can.

As to what this chart doesn't show, there are really only two strategies from my perspective at attempting to stop the Air Raid: bring the house and play man-to-man, or drop eight defenders and mix up zone coverages. Ideally you want to rattle the quarterback with pressure and then get in his head after he throws a few interceptions.  But this is no secret, it is exactly what WSU faced week in and week out last season.

When you have a guy like Falk facing these types of defenses, you have to bring your "A" game no matter what strategy is employed because as the chart indicates, Falk is a dangerous man under pressure -- and he knows how to find open receivers.

To read the PFF story, CLICK HERE.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Skyler Cracraft spent the past two seasons at Washington State as a defensive back, walking on in 2014. His younger brother River is a star wideout entering his senior season. Skyler also hails from Trabuco Canyon, Calif., but prepped at Tesoro High unlike his brother (Santa Margarita High) where he posted 67 tackles with five interceptions in his senior season. Skyler is in Pullman covering the Cougs for CF.C this season. 

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