The traits that scouts look for in a quarterback include decision making, arm talent, and many others. Memphis Tigers signal caller Paxton Lynch exhibits many of these, and Mark Schofield shows us why his ball placement is encouraging for his future NFL team.
Ball placement goes beyond simply the accuracy of a quarterback on a particular throw. Placement of a football on a play provides an insight into the thought process of a quarterback. Where the passer decides to put the football provides a window into his understanding of the scheme, the coverage, the situation, and the relative positioning of every teammate and defender on the field. This is an area where Memphis Tigers quarterback Paxton Lynch demonstrates great feel for the game, and as a result this is our first long count situation of the season. Welcome to the first On Three, Paxton Lynch: Ball Placement. A special hat-tip to Trevor Sikkema’s “Three and Out” series is needed.
In Memphis’ Sept. 24 game against Cincinnati, the Tigers faced a 2nd and 10 on the Bearcats’ 23-yard line. Lynch stands in the shotgun and the offense has 12 personnel in the game, with slot formation on the right and two tight ends to the left, one on the line and the other in a wing alignment. The defense lines up in its base 4-3 with the strongside linebacker down on the line of scrimmage over the dual-TE look. The secondary lines up in Cover 1, with the free safety shaded to the twins side of the field and one cornerback in press alignment to the outside, and the slot cornerback using off man technique:
The QB first looks toward the middle of the field to read the coverage, but does not check the free safety, like we might expect, but instead checks the movement of the linebacker shaded to the slot side of the field. This is Lynch’s read on this play. Given the pre-snap alignment of the slot cornerback, the slot WR – Tevin Jones (#87) – should be able to establish inside leverage on his slant route fairly easily, making this an easy throw. But if the linebacker slides to the outside at all, he will come under the throwing lane on this play. On this snap, however, the LB slides to his right, and away from the slot receiver. This keeps the throwing lane open, and after reading this Lynch shifts his focus to the right – and his target:
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The throw is placed perfectly. Jones never breaks stride, and the placement of the pass leads him further up the field for the first down. From this replay angle, we can see how Lynch checks the LB first, sees that the throwing lane is clear, and then puts the football in a spot where the receiver can simply stay at full speed and pick up yardage after the catch:
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Also, note how Lynch generates torque in his upper body by using his off arm to pull his chest and frame through the throw. This is a great example of a QB generating power using more than just arm strength.
Here is the first of two examples from Memphis’ Oct. 17 upset victory over Mississippi. With under a minute remaining in the first half, the Tigers face a 1st and 10 on the Ole Miss 6-yard line. The Tigers have a three-point lead, and all three timeouts remaining. Lynch stands in the shotgun with 12 offensive personnel on the field, with a pro alignment to each side of the formation. Mississippi has its 4-2-5 nickel defense in the game, and they show Cover 1 before the snap:
Prior to the snap Mose Frazier (#5) comes in jet motion from the left, and when the play begins Lynch fakes the jet sweep to his WR before rolling to his left, where he has three routes to choose from:
Alan Cross (#40) is the playside tight end, and he blocks down for a moment before releasing to the flat. Daniel Montiel (#80), the backside TE, runs a crossing route over the middle, while Anthony Miller (#3) runs another crossing route starting from near the right sideline.
Lynch carries out the fake, and his first read is Cross in the flat. But the defense has done a good job of exchanging responsibilities on this play, and both the linebacker and CB to that side of the field are in position to take away Cross’s flat route. Lynch then moves his eyes to his second read, the crossing route from the backside TE. But the free safety has jumped this route, with the strong safety lurking beneath it. Pressure is starting to loom, but the QB has enough time – as well as the presence of mind – to find his third option, which is Miller coming from the backside on his crosser:
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Lynch places this throw perfectly. It looks like a low throw, but he puts the football where Miller is the only player on the field in position to make a play on the ball. This pass will be either caught for a touchdown, or an incompletion, and if Miller cannot secure the reception, the Tigers have three more downs and over 30 seconds left in the half to score. But if Lynch tries to throw a perfect pass, there is a chance the free safety can make a play on the ball, or another negative result occurs. By placing the football low, Lynch increases the odds of a successful play from an offensive perspective. Miller rewards the decision with a fine effort and catch, and Memphis enjoys a 10-point lead at the break as a result.
Lynch demonstrates tremendous feel for and understanding of the game and the gameflow on throws along the sideline. On these passes he shows an awareness of the defensive scheme as well as an appreciation for the situation the offense faces. Later in the Mississippi game, Memphis faces a 3rd and 8 in its own territory. The Tigers empty the backfield with 11 personnel, putting Cross in a wing to the left with a receiver outside of him. Three offensive players set to the right, with running back Sam Craft (#11) in a wing to the right. The defense lines up with its 4-2-5 nickel package, with some adjustments. The Rebels walk defensive end Channing Ward (#11) to the outside of Craft, and put linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche (#4) down on the left edge of the offense.
Phil Mayhue (#89) is the receiver to the left, and he releases vertically. Both Cross and Craft help in pass protection before releasing and running short circle routes. Frazier and Miller both run deep comeback routes, with their cuts taking them toward the sideline after their vertical stems.
At the snap Lynch opens left to read Mayhue first, to check if he can throw a back shoulder route to the outside for the first down. But Nkemdiche drops off the line of scrimmage, and with the LB underneath and CB Carlos Davis (#23) maintaining depth, this route is not an option. Lynch then wheels to the right side of the field, where Miller is an option. On this side of the field both the slot cornerback and the field corner are using inside leverage:
Lynch sees this, and puts the football in a perfect place for Miller to convert the third down:
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Again, this throw is low and leads the receiver away from the coverage. With cornerback Kendarius Webster (#15) maintaining inside positioning over the receiver, any throw toward the inside puts the CB in good position to make a play on the football. But by leading Miller to the outside, and putting the throw low, Lynch ensures that the only way Webster makes a play on the ball is by coming through the receiver. But Miller’s separation makes that an impossibility, as he slides to the turf for the catch and another first down.
Lynch’s ball placement on these three throws illustrates that he is a quarterback who comprehends the moment, the situation and his surroundings, and puts those pieces of information together to decide where best to place the football for his receivers to succeed. Sometimes this means placing the ball where a WR can best gain yardage after the catch, sometimes it means putting the ball where only the receiver can catch it to minimize the big mistake. But in each of these instances Lynch puts his receivers – and his team – in a position to succeed.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.