Sidecar Falcon

The Pocket Passer Is Dying. Long Live the Mobile Quarterback.

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Tom Brady and Drew Brees both lost on the playoffs’ opening weekend, while a new generation of dual-threat passers takes up their mantle

The New England Patriots lost. Then the New Orleans Saints lost.

Tom Brady and Drew Brees both went down during the opening weekend of the NFL playoffs in what felt like a generational reckoning. But the shift the league witnessed this weekend was as much about how Brady and Brees play as it was about their age. Pocket passers are becoming a dying breed.

Brady, 42, has won six Super Bowls and Brees, 40, owns the league’s most meaningful all-time passing records. For nearly two decades, they have dominated the league in a specific way, turning each and every performance into a didactic display of how to play the quarterback position in its classical form. They took quick drop backs, scanned the field and stepped in to deliver passes with pinpoint accuracy, over and over, until they became arguably the two best to ever do it.

Now the NFL has a new group of quarterbacks—208 games this season included at least one starting quarterback 27 years old or younger, the most in a season ever—and their emergence isn’t just striking because of their youth. It’s because of how they play the position completely unlike Brady and Brees.

Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson can’t be bothered to play quarterback the way it’s taught on instructional videos. That’s because they can do even more. They dash out of the pocket to create time for big throws. They put themselves on the line to run for first downs.

Where Brady and Brees were incomparably traditional, their younger counterparts are so flamboyant that they throw off their back foot more times in one game than Brady or Brees might have in their entire careers. These divergent styles are so jarringly different it’s like looking at a piano and wondering if Frederic Chopin and Elton John were really playing the same instrument.

“It’s becoming a lot harder to guard those guys because now you’re not just talking about mobile quarterbacks,” said Seahawks All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner, who has to guard one in practice every day named Russell Wilson. “You’re talking about guys who are mobile and can throw the ball.”

Quarterbacks have changed games with their legs for as long as this sport has existed. Fran Tarkenton turned scrambling into an art, Randall Cunningham’s speed turned running into a science and others named John Elway and Steve Young turned it into Super Bowls. Then Michael Vick came along and ran like nobody had ever seen. Brett Favre scurried around football fields as if he had accidentally sat on molten lava before launching off-balance, eye-popping throws.

But for decades, these quarterbacks’ successes and abilities came with the caveat that they were outliers. For the most part, they didn’t operate in offenses that were built around this skill and their mobile feats were often the product of their own sheer creativity. And because they were seen as such aberrations, teams still prized the quarterbacks who stood like statues in the pocket the way they were supposed to.

The modern NFL is finally beginning to look different. The exceptions are becoming the rule.

Last season, quarterbacks broke the single-season record for most rushing yards by quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era. This season, quarterbacks broke the single-season record for most rushing touchdowns. Jackson, the Ravens star who turns 23 years old this week, set the single-season quarterback rushing record this year when he ran for 1,206 yards. Over the last two seasons, quarterbacks have accounted for 13.9% of the league’s rushing attempts—the highest rate ever.

What’s also clear is that this is the future. The top-five running quarterbacks this year—Jackson, Kyler Murray, Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson and Gardner Minshew—all entered the league in the last three years. Jackson is the presumptive MVP and Murray was the last No. 1 pick in the draft.

It’s a strange paradigm for the new age of football. Teams, more than ever, rely more on throwing the ball and less on running it. But, oddly enough, those same shifts have led teams to value the throwers who can run.

NFL offenses have grown more efficient in large part because of concepts, from the spread to the read option, that were once effectively banished as collegiate gimmicks. Those schemes rely on challenging defenses in every dimension possible—and when a quarterback is a threat to run at any given moment, defenses suddenly have to account for one more player.

These changing tides are clear as the playoffs begin, and not just because Brady and Brees lost. It’s because of the quarterbacks who won.

In Houston, Deshaun Watson’s legs carried the Texans to an exhilarating comeback against the Buffalo Bills. Watson, with Houston down 16-0, put his team on the board when he ran for a 20-yard touchdown, carrying two defenders for about 5 yards to get into the end zone. On the next play, when the Texans went for a 2-point conversion, Watson secured it with his legs.

Later, in overtime, he managed to top even that when he somehow shook off a couple defenders, broke free and completed a jaw-dropping pass. “He got himself out of some major jams,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said afterward.

Although the Bills lost that game, Buffalo fans can envision a football renaissance because of quarterback Josh Allen’s mobility. On the game’s opening drive, he bolted for a 42-yard scamper. Two plays later, Allen caught a touchdown pass.

The next day, Russell Wilson, 31 years old, wasn’t just Seattle’s leading passer in a win over the Philadelphia Eagles. He was their leading rusher, too, including an 18-yard scamper on third-and-15. On other key plays, like Watson, Wilson’s mobility allowed him to extend plays in order to throw it.

“It makes it kind of impossible to guard him,” Wagner said.

In total, five of the eight longest runs this weekend were by quarterbacks.

And those performances came before Mahomes and Jackson—the reigning MVP and this year’s likely one in large part because of their dual-threat skills—take the field in the divisional round next weekend.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-pocket-passer-is-dying-long-live-the-mobile-quarterback-11578318795

 

Here are my personal thoughts on this article. The pocket passer is never going away. It will need to evolve. Defensive athletes become increasingly faster, you're going to need to counteract that will either faster players or faster thinking players. With regards to football it is my opinion that it is easier to find athletic ability than intelligence. QBs are going to be forced to be able to mobile enough to extend plays, or diagnose the defense a lot quicker pre-snap. This is why scheme is super important in the NFL, and why Brady and Brees are so dominant despite their lack of mobility. The can diagnose plays quickly and have a scheme that is potent. Finding this combination is rare. As you get closer to the intellect side, you have players like Manning who was basically Professor X in a Colts uniform. All that being said, mobility is starting to become just as important. You see the playoffs this year and it is packed with mobile QBs (Wilson, Allen, Watson, Mahomes). Then you have Lamar Jackson who I feel is a running QB, and he is absolutely dangerous. A lot of their success is their ability to extend plays when the scheme breaks down. The further you go in each direction, I think you're going to start finding a merger of different areas/positions of football. On the extreme you have a Manning type that was a merger of QB/OC and in Jackson's case a merger between QB/RB. Both are play makers, and both can be game changers in their own unique way.

 

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Just now, Sir Joe™ said:

I remember hearing about all this with Vick. 

Then with Cam. 

Then with RGIII. 

Then with Kaepernick. 

Meanwhile Brady can't make a fist with all those rings. 

 

Vick did it in a completely different era when those style of QB’s weren’t common at all. Vick was ahead of football’s time when defenses were a lot more vicious and could make any hit they want unlike today. College football in the SEC wasn’t ready for Cam Newton yet. This style of play is becoming more and more common now in 2019-2020 plus you must take into account the rules have changed for defenses today which gives running/dual threat QB’s a lot more room to run and dissect defenses. Imagine how Vick would be in this current era of the NFL.

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20 minutes ago, Sidecar Falcon said:

Here are my personal thoughts on this article. The pocket passer is never going away. It will need to evolve. 

Agree completely.  But I have a couple things to add...

1)  Mobile = / = running qb.  You aren't saying this but I think people get it confused.

2)  These qb's tend to take a lot more abuse than traditional pocket passers, so their careers will be shortened compared to their counterparts.

3)  As you mentioned evolving, so will NFL defenses.  We already are seeing LBs flying around like RBs in Deion Jones.  DLinemen are getting faster, Safeties are getting faster, at the end of the day NFL defenses will catch up, they always do, and will force these guys to be passers first.

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5 minutes ago, Sir Joe™ said:

I remember hearing about all this with Vick. 

Then with Cam. 

Then with RGIII. 

Then with Kaepernick. 

Meanwhile Brady can't make a fist with all those rings. 

 

 

2 minutes ago, mqg96 said:

Vick did it in a completely different era when those style of QB’s weren’t common at all. Vick was ahead of football’s time when defenses were a lot more vicious and could make any hit they want unlike today. College football in the SEC wasn’t ready for Cam Newton yet. This style of play is becoming more and more common now in 2019-2020 plus you must take into account the rules have changed for defenses today which gives running/dual threat QB’s a lot more room to run and dissect defenses. Imagine how Vick would be in this current era of the NFL.

I think Wilson and Mahomes are the future.   Running backs rarely last for years (AP, Gore and a few others are exceptions)  while pocket passers are playing til they are 40.

Those guys can be both.  They scramble around when they need to - take off with shiftiness and speed when they need to - know how to get down and out of the play to prevent a lot of hits.   They can throw the ball a mile accurately and they are super shifty.   They aren't too big - which is actually an advantage in a lot of ways.

Lamar Jackson is doing great this year because they built the system around him - but he's got to play more like Wilson and Mahomes to make it last long enough to make a solid career out of it.   But Harbaugh is smart - he'll get him moving in the right direction.   In the meantime, he's young, strong, fast and smart - he'll kill defenses for a few years. 

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4 minutes ago, athell said:

Agree completely.  But I have a couple things to add...

1)  Mobile = / = running qb.  You aren't saying this but I think people get it confused.

2)  These qb's tend to take a lot more abuse than traditional pocket passers, so their careers will be shortened compared to their counterparts.

3)  As you mentioned evolving, so will NFL defenses.  We already are seeing LBs flying around like RBs in Deion Jones.  DLinemen are getting faster, Safeties are getting faster, at the end of the day NFL defenses will catch up, they always do, and will force these guys to be passers first.

Agreed. We had this discussion a few weeks ago. I think mobility will still be key but I don't think every QB will be Jackson level of ability. I think we'll see smaller QBs like Wilson, Mayfield, and Murray become more prevalent.

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Just now, Sidecar Falcon said:

Agreed. We had this discussion a few weeks ago. I think mobility will still be key but I don't think every QB will be Jackson level of ability. I think we'll see smaller QBs like Wilson, Mayfield, and Murray become more prevalent.

Yea, the 6'6" mountain main prototype really isn't a thing anymore.  Really shouldn't have been after Brees and Russ but people love their traditions!

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Posted (edited)

We hear this every time some young, healthy stud comes out and blows up the league for a season or two. Fact remains, no one can take the requisite punishment over the long haul. Cam Newton is about as perfect a physical specimen (in terms of dealing with the brutality) as you could design and even he hasn't been himself since ~26. 

Edited by Borat

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Heard this too many times. There will always be a place in football for pocket passers and mobile QB's. The NFL is really good at adjusting to the new trends which is why you have to stay ahead of the curve. You know teams will study the Ravens offense in the off-season and comeback with ways to stop it. We saw the same thing with Mike Vick back in the day. Teams like the Giants figured out ways to completely shut him down. The same thing with our 2016 offense. I am sure teams studied our offense and were ready with new ways to defend it. It is why it is so hard to have back to back MVP performances for a QB. Teams are always adjusting and if you are not, you will not last in the NFL.

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23 minutes ago, athell said:

Yea, the 6'6" mountain main prototype really isn't a thing anymore.  Really shouldn't have been after Brees and Russ but people love their traditions!

Don't forget Flutie!

Buffalo made a mistake keeping Rob Johnson over him. 

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Let’s see a mobile QB win a SB first before we talk about this. Even then, pocket passers would have dominated this past decade. If we’re being real, the article uses somewhat bad examples considering both Brees and Brady are old af right now. I have nothing against mobile QBs, Mahomes is my favorite QB right now, but if you think pocket passers can’t still win you games, then you’re badly mistaken. 

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The pocket passer isn't dying out. Plenty of QBs with mobility are still mostly pocket passers.

 

Mahomes is more of a pocket passer, he just has the legs to extend plays and can get a few yards with them if need to.

Watson will pick you apart from the pocket as well if he doesn't face plenty of pressure behind his bad o-line. He only uses his legs when he has to most of the time.

 

Same goes for Rodgers.

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3 minutes ago, DawnOfThemBirds said:

 

The pocket passer isn't dying out. Plenty of QBs with mobility are still mostly pocket passers.

 

Mahomes is more of a pocket passer, he just has the legs to extend plays and can get a few yards with them if need to.

Watson will pick you apart from the pocket as well if he doesn't face plenty of pressure behind his bad o-line. He only uses his legs when he has to most of the time.

 

Same goes for Rodgers.

The bottom line is this, and it will never change: A QB who has mobility as well as being a great passer is ALWAYS going to have an advantage over QB's who aren't mobile. Period. Common Sense 101. The more mobile QB's may not last as long, but longevity is not what this argument is about.

Pocket Passers have no choice but to rely on their WR's, blocking backs and OL to give them enough time to make a pass. When they don't get the time, they're going to get sacked, make a bad throw, etc. while the mobile QB has the ability to make something happen even if everybody else on the offense screws up. Give me a QB who can move, every single time.

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Its not JUST about running the ball from the quarterback position. Its about being able to THROW and run.  That's what gives the defense problems. I don't care how much defenses adjust to running quarterbacks, you can't take BOTH away.  The dual threat has been kept out of the NFL because that's not what the NFL wanted to do.  Now that they have seen the success,  its here to stay. 

Like the article said, they run the same offenses as the colleges.  Nick Saban changed his whole way of building a offense after he saw Watson destroy one of his vaunted defenses ( headed by Kirby Smart).  He goes out and gets Jalen Hurts and Tua and wins a national championship ( against Kirby) while Kirby who should have learned, is losing championships with Jake Fromm...

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13 minutes ago, Atlantafan21 said:

Let’s see a mobile QB win a SB first before we talk about this. Even then, pocket passers would have dominated this past decade. If we’re being real, the article uses somewhat bad examples considering both Brees and Brady are old af right now. I have nothing against mobile QBs, Mahomes is my favorite QB right now, but if you think pocket passers can’t still win you games, then you’re badly mistaken. 

Could have sworn Russell Wilson has a championship...

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1 hour ago, Sir Joe™ said:

I remember hearing about all this with Vick. 

Then with Cam. 

Then with RGIII. 

Then with Kaepernick. 

Meanwhile Brady can't make a fist with all those rings. 

 

The problem with all those you mentioned for mobile QB's is none of them had a brain. I think we are seeing a group of smarter mobile QB's coming up now. I always wonder what a player with Peyton Manning's brain and Michael Vick's physical abilities could do. 

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Just now, Spts1 said:

Could have sworn Russell Wilson has a championship...

My bad, meant to add “other than Wilson” after my statement. Outside of him, every other winner has been a pocket passer depending on ur stance on Rodgers. 

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5 minutes ago, PokerSteve said:

The bottom line is this, and it will never change: A QB who has mobility as well as being a great passer is ALWAYS going to have an advantage over QB's who aren't mobile. Period. Common Sense 101. The more mobile QB's may not last as long, but longevity is not what this argument is about.

Pocket Passers have no choice but to rely on their WR's, blocking backs and OL to give them enough time to make a pass. When they don't get the time, they're going to get sacked, make a bad throw, etc. while the mobile QB has the ability to make something happen even if everybody else on the offense screws up. Give me a QB who can move, every single time.

Which is why you hear constant chatter about Brady or a Jake Fromm not having receivers.  Heck, make a play yourself...

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Posted (edited)

4 minutes ago, Atlantafan21 said:

My bad, meant to add “other than Wilson” after my statement. Outside of him, every other winner has been a pocket passer depending on ur stance on Rodgers. 

Elway, Young, Staubach,  Rodgers...

Edited by Spts1

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