We have reached game day for the Cleveland Browns. We have reached the end of our quick 3 part series looking at Johnny Manziel and the value of the pocket. We first looked at how playing from the pocket influences and impacts the offensive line. Then we looked at how Manziel's use of his eyes inside the pocket, and escaping the pocket, can be huge for him.
Today's article will be full of diagrams, as opposed to a lot of words. This is not the be all end all but an example of why making plays from the pocket is important. We will use one specific play to use as an example. It is a very generic play to allow for simplicity of information:
The numbers represent where, at least based on this simple play, each route falls in a QBs progression. Each route of an offensive play is setup with this type of progression. QBs will start towards whoever is the primary route and progress through 2, 3, 4 and 5 (when applicable). If the first or second route is open, QBs don't turn to the other side of the field, they let it rip.
All offensive plays are setup to work together with all 11 players on the field. The offensive line sets their blocks based on the play, as we discussed in part one, and the route combinations are setup to help each other. The play is also setup to be made from the pocket in a specific time. Each route has a time/spot the ball should be delivered on, at a specific angle from the pocket:
So let's look at each route from the pocket and how when Manziel leaves the pocket (for this example we will have the QB escaping to his right) it impacts the angles of the throws as well as the defenders (using man coverage) involved in the play.
From the pocket, the QB throws outside the right tackle window with the defender generally shading for inside routes. Manziel needs to throw the ball just before the WR breaks, hitting him in stride just after his break. This throw is generally safe and can lead to yards after the catch. When the pocket moves:
With Manziel moving to his right, the route automatically goes longer and no longer is the ball delivered before a WR cuts. Now the defender sees the route the WR is running and can see both the WR and QB in his field of vision. Out of bounds becomes closer and other defenders, specifically the safeties can converge to this side of the field. Pass breakups, big hits on the WR or INTs are more likely.
As Manziel progresses from the first option to the second, his passing lane moves to in between the tackle and guard. The defender will be behind the WR as he makes his cut. Again the ball should be thrown just before the break so that the defender doesn't have time to adjust to the route. This also places the ball between the corner and safety with enough time for the WR to make a move or at least protect himself.
Much like Route #1, when Manziel rolls right here the defender now knows the cut that was made and, since he can see the QB and WR in the same plane of view, make a break to undercut the ball thrown. The delay also puts the WR close to additional defenders, specifically a deep safety. Defenders shade toward the direction the QB rolls and the longer the roll, the more crowded the secondary in that area becomes.
After progressing from the first and second routes, which generally would take about a second, Manziel would scan his eyes across the field as his tight end is working open. The throwing lane is more to the interior and the defender is generally an over the top safety or an underneath linebacker. We mark a safety defending here with a throw on a line in front. If a LB is underneath, Manziel would give some air to get the ball over him and before any safety help can come through.
Because it is the third in progression, the tight end has long since made his move. With the extended play roll to the right, he continues his route and might slightly move back to the QB. The safety now can undercut, most likely a pass breakup and not an INT, the pass while the TE is now in a more congested area with the #2 receiver also working toward this area, though on a deeper level.
Continuing to work across the field to the WR running the 9 route, Manziel can either loft it for him to run underneath or throw a rope for a back shoulder fade. Generally the corner is going to turn to run with the WR a bit in the trail position, allowing either of these throws to work. Generally the left tackle is dealing with a pass rusher trying to get upfield here, opening a passing lane to the interior.
Pretty much this route is now out of the play. While the receiver can start to work back to the QB, that side of the field is already crowded with two receivers and a tight end. The angle, distance and amount of defenders between the WR and QB all make the throw highly dangerous. That receiver has also already ran much of a 9 route and will be slow to react to come back to the QB anyways.
Manziel scans the field, finds no one open and hits his outlet, check down running back coming out of the backfield. Remember that for good QBs all 5 progressions take between 2 and 3 seconds before they throw the ball. Here the back leaks out with a linebacker playing a bit in space coming over to defend him. A good throw allows the back to make a move and get a few yards on the play as the last route.
Much like the #4 route, the #5 route is basically out of the picture with the escape to the right. Not only does that take him out of the play but it allows the linebacker to sink over to the middle of the field and takes away any easy outlet pass for a completion. Very few, if any, QBs will try to make a throw this far away and now Manziel is stuck trying to force the ball into tighter coverage, throw it away or make something with his feet. Not exactly what this play was setup to do.
While this is only one play with only man coverage, it is an example of why making plays from the pocket is vital to Johnny Manziel and the Cleveland Browns offensive success.
All three parts of this series fit together. If the line expects Manziel to take a 5 step drop but he only takes a 3 step or he backpedals, they are protecting the wrong areas. It also impacts the passing lanes, as shown in this play. If Manziel drops his eyes to the pass rush after his first read, something he did last week, and then escapes the pocket the progressions and angles are all thrown off.
The Browns may design plays to rollout Manziel or to move the pocket. Within those, the offensive line, his eyes, the progressions and the angles are all worked out to work together. When he escapes the pocket, instead of playing from it, everything else is thrown off. Like a finely tuned machine, the Browns offense needs to work together. Manziel trusting his blocking, keeping his eyes down field, staying in the pocket and working his progressions is a huge part of that for the passing game.