What shows up on the stat sheet isn’t necessarily reflective of what happens on the film. Mark Schofield looks at the perils of box score scouting, digging into the film on interceptions thrown by Jared Goff and Paxton Lynch to show how each QB did his job.
When a quarterback throws an interception it often is seen as a red flag during his evaluation. But dig a little deeper, and often there is more than meets the eye. (Author Note: My son recently discovered Transformers and I’ve been watching Rescue Bots at a very high rate this holiday season). These two interceptions, one from Jared Goff and the other from Paxton Lynch, are another data point on their potential for success at the next level.
Happy Feet or Controlled Patience?
Goff’s worst game in 2015, from a statistical standpoint, was California’s 30-24 loss to Utah on Oct. 10. The junior threw five interceptions in the contest and recorded his lowest single-game QB rating, 106.7. On California’s first offensive possession, Goff threw an interception on a 3rd and 5 play just outside the Utah red zone.
Here is that play, presented without context:
Some of the issues that stand out to me are the decision and the footwork.
Let’s look at each component individually, starting with the pre-snap information available to the quarterback. This is what Goff sees before the play:
California sends out 11 offensive personnel, with a trips alignment left, featuring tight end Stephen Anderson (#89) as the inside receiver, standing just inside the hashmark. On the right side, the Golden Bears have a single receiver split to the top of the numbers, as well as a running back standing to the right of Goff.
Looking at the defense, Utah has a 4-2-5 nickel package on the field, showing Cover 2 in the secondary. The outside cornerbacks are in press alignment, while the nickel corner is in off man position over the middle trips receiver, looking into the offensive backfield. All of these are primary indicators to the quarterback that the Utes will play zone.
But there are two hints that not all is as it seems: the free safety, Marcus Williams (#20) is he deeper than his counterpart, with his feet pointing toward the middle of the field. If he were to stay in two-deep coverage, he would need to drop straight back at the snap. But his stance is an indication he will drop to the middle of the field, giving Utah a single-high safety coverage, maybe Cover 3 or Cover 1 – with both outside CBs in press alignment, either is possible.
Meanwhile, the weakside inside linebacker Jared Norris (#41) is closer to the line of scrimmage than normal. He looks like a WR in a two-point stance. This is an indication to Goff that the blitz might be coming on this play. Milliseconds later, the picture becomes clearer for Goff:
Williams is now moving toward the deep middle of the field, with the other safety moving toward the trips receivers, and the nickel cornerback, Justin Thomas, no longer peering into the offensive backfield. Thomas is instead staring at the middle trips receiver. Up front, Norris up on the line, in full blitz posture. At this point Goff can be confident that Utah is running Cover 1 in the secondary and blitzing at least one linebacker.
Here is what California’s offensive coordinator has called on the play:
The trips side sets up a bubble screen, and on the opposite side to the single receiver, Kenny Lawler (#4), runs a quick slant while running back Khalfani Muhammad (#29) runs a swing route. The running back appears to have no pass protection responsibility, immediately releasing to the outside without checking for blitzers.
Goff has five blockers on the play. The Utes have four down linemen, one linebacker in blitz posture and another linebacker yet to show his hand. There is a chance the offense does not have enough blockers to counter the number of rushers, meaning Goff is responsible for getting the ball out quickly:
Both Norris and fellow LB Gionni Paul (#13) blitz, joining three of the down linemen in attacking the pocket. The fourth down lineman, DE Hunter Dimick (#49), drops into coverage, trailing the running back Muhammad. The offense has five defenders to block the five rushers, but there is a twist:
The line seems to use rip protection here, a man/slide blocking scheme where the linemen block to their right. Each lineman backpedals and “catches” the incoming rusher. At the snap right tackle Steven Moore (#64) opens to his right expecting to block Hunter, but as the DE drops Moore is left without an assignment, so he helps to the inside on Norris. But with the line sliding to the right, this means that the left tackle has shifted to the inside, leaving the right DE unblocked.
Goff anticipates this, and as he hits his drop he shuffles a bit to the right, away from the unblocked defender. But there is another reason for this: With the football on the right hashmark he is reading this play to the right side of the field – not only because this is a shorter throw – but with Williams dropping to the deep middle, he expects to have two receivers working against one playside corner. The defensive end dropping into man coverage on the running back give Goff a favorable matchup on the slant route – but he needs to wait for Hunter to clear the throwing lane:
Goff’s footwork has been an issue and the quarterback can sometimes look to be in flight mode. On this play, we’ve reviewed what Goff was thinking and processing. His extra few steps on his drop are away from pressure, buying him time for the underneath DE to clear the throwing lane. This is Goff using footwork to find the space to deliver a throw, much like a boxer stepping away from his opponent to create room for a right hook. On this play, Goff delivers a textbook right hook:
The pass arrives with pin-point accuracy. Unfortunately, Lawler cannot secure the reception and Williams is there to snag the football after the lucky bounce. Despite the interception, Goff did everything correctly and delivered a catchable ball to his receiver.
Placing the Hot Read with Precision
Memphis scored an impressive regular-season victory over then-13th ranked Ole Miss in October. Quarterback Paxton Lynch completed 39 of 53 passes for 384 yards and three touchdowns for the Tigers, but threw this second quarter interception with the Tigers trailing 14-7:
Ball placement decision-making stand out when first viewing this play.
The Tigers face 2nd and 8 with 8:24 left in the second quarter, with the football on the left hashmark at the Ole Miss 38-yard line. Lynch is alone in the shotgun as the offense empties the backfield using an 11 package. They align using slot formation to the right, with receiver Tevin Jones (#87) on the outside and freshman wideout Jae’Lon Oglesby (#19) inside. On the left the Tigers utilize a bunch, with tight end Daniel Montiel (#80) on the line of scrimmage joined by running back Jarvis Cooper (#25) and receiver Mose Frazier (#5):
The defense puts a 4-2-5 personnel on the field and use a four-man front, with linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche (#4) lining up in a two-point stance in a wide 9 alignment, well outside the left tackle. Linebacker Terry Caldwell (#21) has begun to shift to his right, inching toward the bunch look. In the secondary the defense shows Cover 2 with both safeties 13 yards deep, splitting the field in half. The cornerback over Jones is in press alignment, while Carlos Davis (#23) lines up in off man technique over the bunch formation.
Ole Miss defends Oglesby in the slot with two defenders. Defensive end Marquis Haynes (#27) slides to the outside, aligning in press alignment over Oglesby, while nickel corner Mike Hilton (#38) stands nearly six yards deep, across from the freshman. Perhaps the defense is going to double team the receiver?
Both Haynes and Hilton align with inside leverage alignment over Oglesby. This should be a red flag to Lynch – something is about to happen. Before the snap, the picture comes into focus:
Just before the snap, Haynes hops to his right, toward the middle of the field. He is blitzing, and Hilton will pick up Oglesby in man coverage. Here are the routes that Oglesby and the rest of the Tigers use:
Memphis has set up a quick screen to Frazier on the left, with Montiel and Cooper positioned to block for the receiver. On the right, the offense has both Oglesby and Jones run slant patterns. With the backfield empty and all five receivers otherwise engaged, the five man protection scheme for the line leaves the blitzing defender, Haynes, unblocked. The right tackle has a defensive end on his outside shoulder, leaving Haynes with a free path to Lynch. It’s on the quarterback to make the hot read and throw to Oglesby before the blitz gets home:
Lynch receives the snap from center and immediately opens to his right, in the direction of the slot WR, knowing the blitz is coming from the slot and understanding he needs to get the football out quickly. He also sees the positioning of Hilton, who began the play with inside shade over Oglesby and has yet to move off this spot. This is by design. The defense wants to take away an easy throw to the slot on the hot read, and force the offense to make a more difficult throw to the outside. Because Oglesby is running a slant route, Lynch just needs to place this football in a position where the receiver can make a play away from the defender:
The quarterback does exactly that, placing the football toward the back shoulder of Oglesby, away from Hilton. This means that if the defender is to make a play on the football, he’ll need to work through the body of the wide receiver. Or, he can benefit from a fortuitous carom, which is what happens here.
The result is the same in the box score on both plays – an interception. Both plays illustrate the deep understand Goff and Lynch have for their offensive structure and scheme. On Goff’s interception, his footwork is on display as he extends the play just enough, buying separation from the edge rusher while waiting for the underneath defender to clear the throwing lane. The California QB then executes a precision pass that sadly goes for an interception.
Meanwhile Lynch shows the mental processing to execute the hot read immediately after the snap, and then places the throw in perfect position, away from the NB with inside leverage. This is not an errant throw behind the receiver, but rather a conscious decision to put the football in the best spot to complete the play. Regretfully, the play goes for an interception. But despite what the box score reads, both these plays tell me a number of things about these signal-callers, and all of them are good.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
All video and images courtesy .