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When Joe Flacco bombed in the season opener and Jets fans demanded a quarterback change, head coach Robert Saleh defended Flacco by saying, “When he had a clean pocket, he was very, very efficient.”
Wow, coach, how many clean pockets do you see in the NFL?
When Indianapolis coach Frank Reich was fired Monday, some blame was assigned to the Colts’ offensive line, but the truth is this: Reich wrote his own termination notice when he endorsed the off-season trade for Matt Ryan.
Flacco and Ryan are two middling names on a long list of faded, immobile relics. At the top are Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, whose aging is cover-your-eyes painful. They personify the demise this season of the pocket passer, replaced by the dynamic dual-threat quarterback.
How do we know? Trust your eyes. Sunday afternoon, Patrick Mahomes threw for 446 yards but, when the Chiefs needed rescuing in the late fourth quarter, he did it with his legs – a 14-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion, both scrambles. Tua Tagovailoa, Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts have delivered similarly.
But the most compelling example came Monday night: In one corner, representing the old guard — New Orleans’ Andy Dalton. In the other corner, symbolizing a new era — Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson.
35-Year-Old Dalton’s Been In The NFL Since 2011
From the pocket, Dalton operated a predictable, yesteryear attack. Anytime the Ravens’ defense needed a big play, their blitzers knew where to find him. Baltimore sacked Dalton four times, hit him seven times, pressured him 12 times.
The Ravens’ offense rushed for 188 yards, almost half of it on zone-reads by Jackson. His coaches give him a read option on the inside zone, pin-and-pull sweep, shotgun trap, nearly all their running plays. And when he pulls the handoff, he runs like Barry Sanders.
Lamar has entire categories of offense on his wristband that don’t exist in the Saints’ playbook. To take an early lead, he ran a play that looked like a QB power sweep. But at the last moment, TE Isaiah Likely bolted from the pack of blockers downfield to catch a perfect 27-yard floater from Jackson.
However, if you don’t believe your eyes, here are a few stats among the many available….
In the current EPA (Expected Points Added) QB table, Jimmy Garoppolo is ranked 7th, Brady 16th overall. But when these pocket passers are under pressure, they fall to the bottom-4 among 34 QBs ranked. In other words, against pressure, their likely outcome is a sack or throwaway. By contrast, the Saints blitzed Lamar six times in the first half Monday night and he beat all six for positive plays.
The other valuable stat is QBR. Unlike the NFL QB rating, which measures only passing, QBR factors in designed runs, scrambling, sacks taken, all the dimensions of quarterback play.
Heading Into Week 10, The Top Six In QBR Are All Dual-Threats:
1. Tua Tagovailoa
2. Patrick Mahomes
3. Josh Allen
4. Geno Smith
5. Lamar Jackson
6. Jalen Hurts
The league’s three best pocket passers – Derek Carr, Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow—are clustered between No. 10 and 14 in QBR.
Below them are these familiar names, all pocket passers:
16. Tom Brady
18. Kirk Cousins
19. Andy Dalton
22. Jimmy Garoppolo
23. Matthew Stafford
24. Matt Ryan
25. Ryan Tannehill
27. Aaron Rodgers
At No. 28 is a former dual-threat who has lost his explosion and now lumbers somewhere between the pocket and an imitation of his former self – Russell Wilson.
The future? Research top prospects in the quarterback-rich draft class of 2023. Virtually all of them are dual-threat.