Xs & Os: A Rapid Recovery

Doug Farrar explains how a veteran quarterback can go from looking so bad to so good, so quickly....

Browns team president Mike Holmgren has a long and interesting history with current starting quarterback Seneca Wallace. Selected in the fourth round of the 2003 draft by the Seahawks when Holmgren was in charge of most personnel matters, Wallace came out of Iowa State as a running quarterback with a limited palette. Over the next few seasons, Wallace learned at the feet of Holmgren (the league's most talented and exacting quarterback teacher), backed up Matt Hasselbeck, and proved to be surprisingly effective when asked to replace Hasselbeck in 2008 and 2009 due to Hasselbeck's injuries. When Holmgren took over the Browns franchise, it was no surprise that he brought Wallace into the fold. Jake Delhomme's injured ankle meant that Wallace would once again replace a high-dollar starter; this time for the Browns against the Kansas City Chiefs. Two plays stood out to me: the interception Wallace threw in the second quarter, and the touchdown pass he responded with on the very next drive.

The pick came with 10:11 left in the first half, and this seemed more a matter of bad mechanics than bad decision-making. The Seneca Wallace I saw in Seattle was not a quarterback who could afford to make off-balance throws – as long as he was either safe in the pocket or rolling out (where he's probably at his best), things were going to be okay. But he's not a quarterback like Philip Rivers or Jay Cutler, who can consistently make great throws out of ugly stances.

On the play, the Chiefs lined up in a two-deep man under look with cornerback Brandon Flowers (24) on Brian Robiskie (80). The second important aspect of the interception was how well Flowers played Robiskie at first, and then shifted his attention to receiver Chansi Stuckey (83), who ran a short sideline route out of the slot. Flowers handed Robiskie off to the safety, eyed Wallace all the way, and jumped the route for the touchdown. This is a staple route combination for any offense – using a wideout to clear a tight cornerback for a shorter slot receiver's gain – but it's rendered null and void when the cornerback in question can read the play as well as Flowers does in this case. He's one of the up-and-coming young defenders in the NFL, and this play proved that to be true.

But if you watch the play again, it's clear that Wallace's throw is odd. After a dropback and a quick fake upfield, he sort of sidearms the ball to Stuckey, and aside from a short headfake, he's telegraphing the short route all the way. He appears to be off balance on the throw, didn't throw the ball where Stuckey was, and presented an easy opportunity for Flowers. Honestly, Flowers doesn't need the help – he's good enough as is.

As ugly as that play was, Wallace's 65-yard touchdown pass to Josh Cribbs on Cleveland's next drive was just as sweet. Here's where you got to see Wallace's primary asset from college – that great deep ball – combined with the touch and arc he developed with a lot of hard work over time. Early in his career, everything Wallace threw was on a rope; and while that's fine in theory, it doesn't mean much when the requirement is for a quarterback to align with a deep receiver on a timing route and avoid tipped passes at the line.

On this play, the Chiefs brought their safeties on tighter to match the situation, and it was a nice bit of strategy to send Cribbs deep out of an offset-I formation. The Chiefs were reading run – Flowers had basically conceded it on the defensive left side – and the Browns had just Cribbs as a wide receiver. The play itself wasn't anything spectacular in design; it was just Cribbs using his speed deep to beat cornerback Brandon Carr, and trucking the ball into the end zone after Wallace's pinpoint deep throw. Wallace used a little play action to sell the run a bit more and get the defense to bite.

I like Wallace as a quarterback; I think he's one of the best backups in the NFL, and his specific skill set provides a marked contrast to most NFL starters. Whether Delhomme is healthy or not, what I would like to see from the Browns with Wallace is more dynamism in the option game. Between Wallace and Cribbs, this team has potentially devastating personnel for all manner of "gimmick" plays, and with an unexciting offense to date, it isn't as if they have anything to lose.


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