Like any good researcher, Mark Schofield despises a small sample size. Unfortunately, prospect evaluation is almost always too early, or without all the information necessary. Thus, we have our series: On Two, in which Inside The Pylon examines two plays from a quarterback that address traits that scouts are talking about.
At the heart of the every draft evaluation lies a projection. Regardless of position, when an evaluator places a prospect under the microscope and examines their traits, the goal is to connect how those traits project to the professional level. This is critical at the quarterback position, especially when trying to unpack whether a player coming from a spread system has the ability to move into a different offensive structure and whether their traits translate to the NFL game.
Something that does not always come through on tape is the ability to take instruction and improve on past performance. We are not present for the Sunday or Monday film sessions and we are not privy to their grading sheets, so we lack the full context. There are rare occasions, however, when an offense runs a play multiple times in a game and the QB handles each play in a different manner. These instances allow us to glean how the quarterback is able – or not – to quickly consume advice and adjust his performance. Here are two such plays from Memphis QB Paxton Lynch against Bowling Green that illustrate his ability to learn from a mistake quickly and make a defense pay.
Facing 2nd and 5 on the Falcons’ 38-yard line, Lynch stands in the shotgun with 11 offensive personnel in the game for the Tigers. A single receiver is split to the right while the offense has a trips look to the left, with the tight end in a wing alignment. Bowling Green has their 4-2-5 defense on the field, and they show Cover 3 before the snap, with both cornerbacks in zone alignment, and the strong safety cheated down into the box, perhaps an indication of Cover 3 Buzz coverage:
The Falcons indeed run Cover 3 Buzz here, dropping the strong safety down into an underneath hook zone. Memphis has Lynch meet the running back at the mesh point, before dropping back to throw. To the trips side of the field, the TE helps with pass protection while the two wide receivers run a curl / seam combination, with the outside receiver running the shorter route. On the backside, the WR runs a deep curl pattern:
After executing the mesh, Lynch opens to his left to scan the curl / seam combination. In this coverage scheme, both the cornerbacks drop vertically at the snap, and the free safety stays in the middle of the field. Focus on the lay of the land at the moment Lynch hits the last step of his drop:
The curl route is wide open right at the first down marker. In addition, the seam route is clearing the underneath coverage, and is breaking open too. On the backside of the play, the other deep curl route is open but this is a much tighter throwing window, with the underneath defender sinking below the route and the CB over the top. Having opened to his left, you would expect Lynch to quickly throw to the curl or the seam route, both of which are open. If for some reason he has already turned to the backside, then the ball needs to come out quickly, before the cornerback has time to break on the curl route:
[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/LynchTransitionVideo1.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/LynchTransitionStill2.jpg”]
However, the ball never comes out. Lynch hits his drop and waits, and is eventually sacked. He had his choice of receivers, particularly to the left side of the field with the curl / seam combination both coming open for him quickly in the play, but for some reason he pulls off that side of the field quickly, coming to the route on the right. Then he holds onto the ball, letting the coverage converge on the curl route – and the defensive line to converge on him.
Since context matters, we do not know the exact progression read structure here, but given the route design and the fact that Lynch opens to his left first, we can surmise that his progression began to the trips side of the field. At this moment we do not know why he pulled off the two routes so quickly, but given a play later in the game you can bet he received some colorful instructions from the coaches when he got back to the sideline after this sack.
Midway through the second quarter Memphis faces a 3rd and 9 deep in their own territory. Lynch stands in the shotgun with 11 offensive personnel on the field, in dual slot formations with the TE in the slot to the left. The Falcons have their 4-2-5 nickel defense showing Cover 2, with both cornerbacks in off man coverage and two safeties deep:
Bowling Green rolls their coverage at the snap to Cover 6, using a hard corner and Cover 2 look to the wide side of the field, and dropping into a Cover 4 look to Lynch’s right, with the linebacker rotating to the flat and the cornerback dropping into the outside quarter zone:
This time, Lynch does not hesitate. The QB hits the final stop of his drop and throws to the seam route, hitting the receiver perfectly behind the underneath defenders, and in front of the cornerback and safety to that side of the field:
[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/LynchTransitionVideo2.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/LynchTransitionStill6.jpg”]
This is flawless execution and an excellent read from the quarterback. As he hits the final step of his drop the ball starts coming out, and he drops in the throw perfectly for the WR to pick up additional yardage after the catch. From this replay angle, you can also see how he freezes the safeties in the middle of the field with his eyes, before delivering the seam route:
[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/LynchTransitionVideo3.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/LynchTransitionStill7.jpg”]
What impresses me on this play isn’t just the aggressive throw, the placement of the pass, the ability to manipulate the safeties with his eyes, and the quick mental processing, but also the improved decision-making and the evidence that he is quickly absorbing information from the coaches and putting that information into action. Lynch misses on this design earlier in the game, hesitates in the pocket, does not pull the trigger, and gets sacked as a result. When facing the same route structure later in the game, Lynch looks like a completely different quarterback. He is decisive in the pocket, manipulates the defenders, makes the right decision with the football, and throws a perfect pass on the seam route.
Seeing this play, and the juxtaposition between the first and the second, I’m left with the understanding that this quarterback will be coachable, and that he can take information from his coaches not just from week to week, but from drive to drive, and implement the advised course of action. Given that Lynch now faces his second big transition as a quarterback (he ran a Wing-T offense in high school) this is additional evidence that he can make the move to a different offensive system. He has already moved from a Wing-T system to a spread-based offense, and while there are moments when you can see the old Wing-T quarterback in action, he’s demonstrated the ability to grow into a more complex system while at Memphis. That first transition, plus what we see on these two plays, is further evidence in support of his ability to make the second transition of his career, from playing on Saturdays to playing on Sundays.