Three quarterbacks were selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft and all three saw action on Sunday. While Johnny Manziel was catching a pass on a gadget play, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles both saw significant time under center. Bridgewater entered the Vikings game in the second quarter after a season-ending injury to Matt Cassel, while Bortles took the helm for the Jaguars in their second half to replace chronically ineffective Chad Henne. We reviewed the film from both games to get a sense of how they fared in their NFL debuts.
Chosen third overall, Bortles generated much excitement with his successful pre-season. However, our initial thought upon witnessing his first NFL regular-season throw was, “What the #$&@ happened to his mechanics?” Bortles looked like a different player on Sunday than he did in August and the change was not for the better. It is hard to understand what the Jaguars quarterbacks coach, Frank Scelfo, is teaching ‒ or why he is teaching it. To explore this further, we compared film from Bortles’ pre-draft workouts for NFL scouts with footage of his Sunday debut for Jacksonville.
First, a March 19 video of Bortles making a throw on his pro day:
(Video courtesy UCF/CFFSports)
Next, his first regular-season throw as a Jaguar:
(Video courtesy NFL Game Rewind)
Did you catch the difference? Perhaps photos of the two throws will help:
Both images are taken at the point of release. Do you notice the difference now? Look at the quarterback’s left arm. On his pro day the appendage is in perfect position. His left hand is up and his left forearm is perpendicular to the ground. Against the Colts Sunday, he drops his left arm down like a teenager hand-signaling for a left turn during a driving test. This is not a matter of aesthetics. A right-handed quarterback relies on his left arm and shoulder to generate torque in the upper body for a strong throw. The action of the left arm and shoulder help pull the body through the throw. With his left arm down, Bortles cannot generate as much torque and his throws lose some zip. As we will see, in the NFL, zip matters.
Good Reads/Bad Throws
Indianapolis did not make things easy for the rookie, as their defense threw a number of different coverage schemes at him and often rolled their secondary just before the snap. Bortles did a very good job on many of these plays to make good reads and identify the open receiver quickly. However, on several occasions missed throws undermined those good reads.
On this play, Jacksonville faces a 3rd and 17 near midfield. The Colts have a sub package on the field with three down linemen, two linebackers and six defensive backs. At the snap, Indianapolis is dropping into what looks like Tampa 2 coverage.
Jacksonville runs four deep curl routes, two to each side. The Colts defense, however, runs quarters coverage deep with a Tampa 2 look underneath. Here is what that looks like:
The one linebacker who was dropping deep at the snap is now 20 yards downfield in a line with four defensive backs. Underneath, the second linebacker has dropped into the traditional Tampa 2 linebacker zone. Bortles does a good job of recognizing the coverage scheme and trying to hit one of the inner curl routes bracketing that second linebacker in his zone. However, the throw is late and not strong enough.
The pass is behind the target and the throw hangs in the air, allowing the safety to come up and make a play on the ball. A stronger pass might have led to a completion. Remember, in the NFL, zip matters.
The second play finds the Jaguars with a 1st and 10 just outside the red zone. They have Bortles in the shotgun using 11 personnel. The Colts are in their nickel package showing Cover 2 pre-snap, which they roll to Cover 1 just before the play. Bortles recognizes the coverage and tries to get the ball to Cecil Shorts outside on a go route, the correct read on this play against Cover 1.
Bortles has a chance to make a big play here, but the throw is not good enough. The route from the tight end holds the free safety in the middle of the field, opening up Shorts along the sideline. Shorts is open, but the pass is underthrown and Greg Toler is able to knock it down. Bortles again does a good job in recognizing the coverage and making the right read, but he needs to finish each play with a stronger and more accurate throw. These are throws Bortles made in college but failed to make on Sunday.
Bortles was touted as a very good athlete leading up to the draft and on several plays against the Colts he demonstrated his physical abilities. On the first of two plays we will highlight, Jacksonville has a 2nd and 3 with their 11 personnel on the field. They run a simple read option with Bortles faking the handoff to running back Denard Robinson and reading the defensive end. The defensive end crashes down inside on the run fake and Bortles keeps the ball around left end, racing up the field for a 20-yard gain.
Bortles ran the read option while at the University of Central Florida and Jacksonville can use his athletic ability in spots like this to pick up big yards on the ground.
The rookie also showed what he can do when protection breaks down. On another 2nd and 3 play, Bortles is in the pistol formation and the Jaguars attempt a play-action pass as he rolls to the left. The Colts blitz from that side, and after the fake Bortles turns to find two defenders on him instantly.
Bortles stops on a dime and reverses field, using sheer speed to create separation from the two defenders. He then has the vision to find an open receiver downfield and delivers a nice touch pass for a big gain. His combination of speed, athleticism, and vision gives Jacksonville big play potential.
Finally, we here at Inside The Pylon love a good fake spike play, especially when it goes for a touchdown.
Late in the game, with the outcome already decided, Bortles has the Jaguars driving. He brings the offense to the line of scrimmage looking ready to spike the ball and stop the clock. Instead, he fakes the spike and hits Shorts on a quick slant for a touchdown. This score results from a crafty play by the rookie.
Some of Bortles’s struggles against the Colts can be attributed to the nerves associated with his first NFL live action. However, Jacksonville has named him the starter this Sunday, so he will have a full week of preparation before he takes the field in San Diego. A stronger performance against the Chargers will ease concerns over just how flawed his mechanics have become.
As noted above, Teddy Bridgewater was called upon for his first regular season action after an injury to starter Matt Cassel midway through the first half. Now that Cassel has been placed on injured reserve, the Vikings are Bridgewater’s team, for better or for worse. How did the rookie fare against the Saints?
As with Bortles earlier, we highlight Bridgewater’s first NFL throw, though for a slightly different reason. On this 2nd-and-17 play, the offense has the ball on the left hash mark. New Orleans gets a bit of interior pressure and bodies are at Bridgewater’s feet preventing him from stepping into a throw.
The rookie makes this throw off of his back foot, targeting an out route to the right sideline. The throw needs to cover a great deal of real estate, but Bridgewater gets enough on the ball and puts it in the perfect spot where only his receiver can make a play. This throw is all about arm strength. Notice how the quarterback torques his left arm to provide leverage and balance; it comes up and then whips around, generating a strong shoulder turn.
Like Bortles, the Minnesota rookie makes a number of smart reads based on the defense. Two plays in particular are impressive, both against Cover 2 coverage. On the first, the Vikings face a 3rd and 7 situation with 11 personnel on the field and Bridgewater in the shotgun. The Saints are in their nickel package, showing Cover 2 pre-snap. The safety fakes a Cover 1 move before the hike and the defense stays in Cover 2 for the play.
Minnesota runs three deep routes with two underneath routes. All three deep routes are covered well, so Bridgewater quickly checks the ball down to Matt Asiata. The running back picks up the first down and a whole lot more, gaining 41 yards on the reception.
Also against Cover 2, Bridgewater is able to make a big throw downfield. Here, the Vikings have their two receivers in the slot against the New Orleans Cover 2 and they run a perfect route against the coverage:
Both slot receivers run deep routes. The inside receiver, Greg Jennings, breaks his route off first, heading towards the sideline as the outside receiver continues deep. The outside receiver’s route holds the safety in place, allowing Jennings to find that vulnerable channel deep outside in a Cover 2 scheme. Bridgewater gets the ball to Jennings, who hauls it in for a 21-yard gain.
While Bridgewater showed ability in delivering the ball down the field, the rookie did seem to miss a few short or checkdown throws against the Saints. Here is one example, with Minnesota facing a 3rd and 7 near midfield late in the first half. The Vikings have their quarterback in the shotgun with dual running backs. Bridgewater has the speedy receiver Jerick McKinnon to his left and tries to get him the ball on a swing route.
Bridgewater makes a poor throw and the pass falls to the turf. With a better throw, McKinnon would have had a chance to make the defensive back miss and get the first down or more.
Rookie vs. Rookie
The film provided us with a chance to evaluate the two rookies running nearly the same exact play, a simple out/slant combination. This is a basic route concept instilled early in the pre-season, with an inside receiver running an out route and an outside receiver running a slant.
First, the Vikings and Bridgewater bring tight end Kyle Rudolph in motion from left to right. After the snap, Rudolph runs an out route while the outside receiver runs a slant.
The tight end is open and Bridgewater gets him the ball quickly off of a three-step drop.
In Jacksonville, Bortles is in the shotgun with Shorts split wide to the right. The Jaguars use the out/slant concept, but with the running back on the out route to the sideline. Bortles takes the snap and uses a one-step drop before his throw.
The rookie delivers a nice pass to Shorts on the slant route for a decent gain.
The end zone views provide a good comparative look at their deliveries.
Each quarterback makes the right read and delivers a good throw. Bridgewater, however, just looks crisper. A big part of this is his mechanics, as Bortles’ left arm again looks to slow down his throwing motion. Bridgewater’s mechanics are very sound on this play in comparison.
Bridgewater and Bortles are both very talented quarterbacks with bright futures in the NFL. Fans of both teams can be confident that these two players can lead the offense and make big plays both in the passing game and with their feet. On this first Sunday, however, Bridgewater looked like the more polished passer. Only time and experience will tell the full story.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.