NFL Quarterback Rundown: Week 9
Tom Savage Is Who We Thought He Was
The Houston Texans are back to square one. With Deshaun Watson having torn his ACL, head coach Bill O’Brien was forced to revert to his original starting quarterback: Tom Savage. Savage started and played the first half of Week 1, but was pulled for Watson at halftime. In his one half of play, Savage was a disaster, hence his benching. Savage was not much better in his return to action this past week.
Luck guided Savage through Indianapolis. Throughout the game, particularly in the first half, Savage was trying desperately to throw an interception. He continued to force throws into tight windows to receivers who were blanketed. It felt like a Colts defender was getting a hand on every other pass Savage threw.
Part of the problem was Savage was struggling to read the field. His pre-snap reads were often faulty, leading to hesitation and panic. Savage made a habit of locking onto his receivers out of hope that they would break open. The problem was once he started doing that, the defense keyed in on it and shut down most of what he was trying to do.
Savage missed a matchup pre-snap in the clip above. To the right side, the cornerback is playing tight man coverage. That should indicate to Savage that running back Lamar Miller will get solo coverage versus a linebacker on his wheel route. Had Savage looked that way and led Miller towards the sideline, the Texans had an easy conversion. Savage did not even look that way. Instead, Savage immediately turned to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and stared him down the whole way through. A deep safety for the Colts sprinted down as soon as Savage wound up to throw, allowing him to get there in time to help break up the pass.
This was a theme all day for Savage. He continued to lock onto his players and leave others wide open. Savage was hardly on time or accurate, either. On one play, Savage threw late and high to Hopkins over the middle of the field and got him crushed by a deep safety. That is inexcusable for a fourth-year veteran.
To provide a silver lining, Savage finally scored his first NFL touchdown. He heaved a deep pass to the left side of the end zone and Hopkins came down with it in double coverage. It was not a sexy play on Savage’s part, but at least he is not a scoreless fourth-year vet anymore. Touchdown or not, though, Savage still is who he is, and will not be enough to save Houston’s season.
Dak Prescott is under-appreciated. Despite being a rookie phenom a year ago, the spotlight has already turned away from Prescott. The rise of Carson Wentz and Jared Goff has led to Prescott being pushed to the side. On some level it makes sense because the jumps in development Wentz and Goff took were exponential. Prescott’s development has been less noticeable, though, so it is not seen as compelling to the national narrative. That is doing a disservice to the best young quarterback in the league.
As a rookie, the biggest knock on Prescott’s game was his conservatism. Prescott tended to be safe with the ball and ensured the Cowboys stayed on the field. He was not exactly Alex Smith, but he was not one to test many difficult windows or take shots down the field. This year is different. Prescott is confident and willing to make difficult throws. He understands that in order to unlock the offense, he has the be that type of quarterback.
There is no chance Prescott tries this throw last season. A previous iteration of Prescott would have thrown the ball away, checked down, or run for a short gain. Not this Prescott. Deep in his own territory on 3rd-and-15, Prescott decides to throw to Dez Bryant in between a sea of Kansas City Chiefs defenders. Had the throw been an inch or two higher, the ball could have been tipped up for an interception, but any lower and it could have been undercut. The throw had to be right where it was. Prescott’s confidence did not waver. He stood strong in the pocket and delivered a strike to save what became a touchdown drive.
Prescott’s primary asset remains his intelligence. Young quarterbacks rarely show the pre-snap prowess Prescott does. Furthermore, not many quarterbacks around the league make as many valuable checks and audibles as Prescott. Prescott has a keen sense for what the defense is showing him pre-snap and knows how to counter it more times than not.
Prescott makes a check at the line here. Prior to the snap, Prescott saw something in the coverage he liked, so he makes two separate route combination calls to each side of the formation. Prescott initially opens to the strong side, but he knows how the coverage will work to the back side. Once he realizes nothing is open on the strong side, Prescott turns and fires to Bryant on a back-side post route. Prescott did not hesitate throwing back-side because he knew the route would be open versus the coverage Kansas City was showing.
Later in the game, Prescott made another fantastic play due to his understanding of the game. This time, however, it was his post-snap awareness on display.
Bryant is lined up as the lone wide receiver to the left side of the formation. He is running a fade route, which perfectly plays to his skill set as a 50/50-ball winner. To the right, wide receiver Cole Beasley is running a slant route out of the slot. Upon the snap, Prescott is looking first to throw the fade. Prescott notices the safety floating up to double Bryant, so he turns to Beasley without missing a beat. Upon turning to Beasley, Prescott sees a linebacker pedaling backwards to undercut the slant route. A cornerback is also trailing Beasley from behind.
For Prescott, that is no problem. Prescott soaks up all the information in a split-second and decides to loft the ball toward the back of the end zone. In doing so, Prescott keeps the ball away from both the cornerback and the linebacker. Being able to adjust on the fly all throughout that play without appearing even a little flustered is simply amazing.
Prescott is playing a style of football young quarterbacks do not play. His level of understanding and adaptability, especially for his age, is rare. There is no reason to believe this is the peak for Prescott, either. For Prescott to be this far ahead and already prove he can make significant improvements is horrifying for the other 31 teams. Once the older quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Drew Brees phase out, Prescott will be crowned as one of the best in the league.
Jared Goff Continues to Look Improved
Jared Goff’s revival has been fascinating. After a disastrous rookie season, new head coach Sean McVay has completely revamped the offense and put Goff in position to succeed. McVay has created more open throws and simple reads for Goff, and Goff has taken to them well. Goff looks like a confident and accurate NFL quarterback, neither of which he was last season.
McVay’s play calling can be credited for boosting Goff’s confidence. Part of quarterbacking is knowing which routes should be open so that the quarterback can throw the route without hesitating. When a quarterback has to think for an extra tick, it can derail a play. McVay consistently creates situations where the quarterback can be sure of what is happening.
Yankee is a common passing concept in McVay’s offense: one receiver runs a deep post and another receiver runs a deep crossing route from the other side of the formation. The idea is to put the deep safety and play side cornerback in a bind. The two defenders have to communicate who is picking up which route. In this example, the cornerback sits at the intermediate level to cut off the crossing route. The deep safety, Landon Collins, does not read this correctly and begins to also play the crosser. Collins then realizes he has to take the post, but by then it is too late. Goff knows Sammy Watkins can outrun Collins at this point. Goff rips a pass right into Watkins’ hands and the first-year Ram struts into the end zone.
That throw would not have been open in the Rams’ offense last season, and Goff would not have hit it even if it was. McVay providing the quarterback simple, yet effective throwing options such as that one is great for Goff’s development. Goff is developing in his own right, though. While he still has strides to make, Goff looks more comfortable in the pocket this year.
The New York Giants try to frazzle Goff by dropping eight players into coverage. Rather than panic, Goff observers the field from left to right while remaining calm. Goff feels the pocket crumbling and steps up. Along the way, Goff finds tight end Tyler Higbee in the front of the end zone and fires a quick strike to him. The throw is fit in between two zone defenders and put in a spot where only Higbee has a shot at it. There is not a chance Goff would have made this play last season.
Goff should continue to get better. McVay is giving him a perfect environment for a young quarterback to grow in. Assuming the offense can remain stockpiled with talent, offensive success like this should be the norm in Los Angeles for years to come.