UFR: Jake Locker’s play against the Saints

So, how’d Jake Locker play against the Saints? There’s been a great deal of optimism around Titans’ fandom the past couple of days about Locker’s work in his relief appearance on Sunday, so I thought I’d do a play-by-play breakdown of how he fared.

The normal caveats apply: I’m doing this off TV footage, not all-22 film, and without exact knowledge of what play was called or what the progressions and reads were. Consider these analyses educated best guesses, not definitive declarations. Oh, and to provide a basis for comparison, I returned to my old QB grading scale, with an addition of (BA) for passes batted at the line.

So, what’d I see?

2-35-TEN 20 (11:13) J.Locker pass short left to L.Hawkins to TEN 29 for 9 yards (A.Franklin).
At 2&35, Locker obviously comes into the game in a very negative down and distance situation, and the Titans’ priority is likely to get what they can. I’m a little surprised they didn’t start out with the uber-predictable draw, but instead they flex CJ out and go empty. Hawkins runs a 5-yard stop route with the defender playing 10 yards off. Three man rush, five blockers. (CA)

3-26-TEN 29 (10:33) (Shotgun) J.Locker pass short middle to J.Ringer to TEN 40 for 11 yards (M.Wilson; M.Jenkins).
Four man rush this time, with LB Wilson coming off the slot, and Stewart easily fans out to pick him up. Locker’s kind of skittish, and eventually takes the dumpoff to Ringer, who leaked out of the backfield. No idea what’s going on downfield. (CA)

1-10-TEN 43 (8:48) J.Locker pass deep right to C.Stevens pushed ob at NO 26 for 31 yards (W.Herring).
The Saints crowd the LOS, but only rush four and Hall picks up the stunting DT. Locker makes a very nice pass that goes over the zone linebackers and hits Stevens pretty much in stride 20 yards downfield. (DO)

3-9-NO 25 (6:50) (Shotgun) J.Locker pass incomplete deep right to N.Washington (J.Greer) [J.Galette].
Titans go empty and the Saints zone blitz and try to overload the left. The OL’s MO in particular against zone blitzes is to drop and drop again, and by the time they settle and anchor they’re almost on top of Locker, which seems to short-circuit his decision-making process. He vacates the pocket and rolls right, throwing deep for Washington or CJ-the PBP says Washington, I’d guess CJ, but if it was intended for CJ, Washington breaks up what may have been an interception for Greer. No clue how to grade this, (.5 PR, .5 CA)?

1-10-TEN 29 (3:34) (Shotgun) J.Locker pass incomplete short left to D.Williams.
Wide receiver screen, and Locker underthrows it by a couple feet. Saints had a blitz on, so it was a great call, and if Roos hits a block the play probably gets at least 10 yards. (IN)
EDIT: Chris Palmer said at Thursday’s press conference Locker intentionally threw this ball into the turf. Right before the snap, S Jenkins bailed from the box to a deep safety position, changing the defensive look, and the corner played press instead of bailing out. Locker didn’t think the play could work, so he threw the ball away. I’m not sure if he could’ve changed the playcall, or if the WR screen to the 3-WR side opposite D-Will would’ve worked better. I think Locker still probably should’ve thrown this ball, but the (IN) grade on my part was inaccurate; good to hear he didn’t miss the throw.

2-10-TEN 29 (3:32) J.Locker pass incomplete short right to C.Stevens.
Bootleg, and the Saints have it sniffed out, as Harper is blitzing from the weakside and Stevens is covered. Nothing doing on this play, and Locker throws it away. Guessing I’ll give this a (PR) but really it’s a rock-paper-scissors win for Gregg Williams.

3-15-TEN 24 (3:27) (Shotgun) J.Locker pass short right to C.Johnson to TEN 36 for 12 yards (T.Porter; J.Galette).
One read and vacate. Locker feels the pocket not grow, so steps up and has a ton of space. CJ is roughly flanking him, a few yards to one side, and rather than keep it and take the hit, he lets CJ try to do make enough defenders miss. No idea what was downfield here, but giving up on throwing the ball past the sticks early is probably not the ideal move. (PR), I guess.

THIRD QUARTER
1-10-TEN 37 (13:35) J.Locker pass incomplete short left to N.Washington.
Washington lines up in the left slot and runs a quick out. He’s open, but Locker throws the ball too far. (IN)

2-10-TEN 37 (13:32) (Shotgun) J.Locker pass short left to L.Hawkins to NO 48 for 15 yards (M.Jenkins).
Hawkins lines up in the left slot and runs a three-yard in. Locker hits him, and Porter comes up very aggressively and misses the tackle. Low degree of difficulty throw, executed competently gets (CA).

2-6-NO 44 (12:10) (Shotgun) J.Locker pass incomplete short right to L.Hawkins.
Designed roll right after the fake to CJ. Hawk does not seem to be expecting the pass. If he turns out instead of in, this is a catch, but as is it’s off. Not a great pass in either event. (.5 CA, 5. IN)

3-6-NO 44 (12:05) (Shotgun) J.Locker pass incomplete deep left to D.Williams (P.Robinson).
CJ motions out to go empty again. They seem to be doing that a lot, and I suspect it’s to get the Saints to reveal their defense. Saints blitz, but it’s picked up. No receiver is particularly open, but Locker tries to hit Williams about 20-odd yards downfield. There’s an angle here, but Locker’s pass is underthrown and Robinson breaks it up. It’s marginally catchable, so (.5 CA, .5 IN).

1-10-TEN 22 (3:45) J.Locker pass incomplete short right to D.Williams (C.Jordan).
Williams does a nice job of getting an inside release on the DB for what looks like a streak route, but Locker’s pass is tipped at the line. (BA)

2-10-TEN 22 (3:43) (Shotgun) J.Locker left end pushed ob at TEN 34 for 12 yards (M.Jenkins).
Is this zone read or a pass with a run option? I’m going to go with zone read. Locker does a nice job to elude the tackle in the backfield and uses his legs to pick up a first down.

1-10-TEN 34 (3:11) J.Locker pass incomplete deep right to C.Stevens.
Only the second pass play with two backs in the game. Locker makes the playfake, sees LB Dunbar come in on a delayed blitz that CJ does a poor job of picking up, and airmails one over a covered Stevens. (.5 PR, .5 IN)

2-10-TEN 34 (3:06) (Shotgun) J.Locker pass incomplete short right to C.Johnson.
Nice job not to panic when the Saints bring a delayed linebacker blitz that doesn’t get picked up. Play is a screen to CJ that CJ’s not really ready to catch. Drop. A good job on a low degree of difficulty throw. (CA)

3-10-TEN 34 (3:00) (Shotgun) J.Locker pass short left to D.Williams to NO 12 for 54 yards (R.Harper).
The Saints bring a cover-0 blitz and Locker takes the quick pass to Damian Williams who spins and eludes a diving Robinson, who was playing well off. (CA)

1-6-NO 6 (2:27) J.Locker scrambles right end for 6 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Roll right, and Locker elects to take off right than try to fit in a pass for Graham. (SCR)

FOURTH QUARTER
2-10-TEN 20 (11:59) (Shotgun) J.Locker sacked at TEN 11 for -9 yards (W.Smith).
Locker feels the pocket shrink around him, and looks to vacate. Unfortunately, he scrambles right into Will Smith, and the pocket wasn’t shrinking in front. Bad decision to take off. (BR)

3-19-TEN 11 (11:17) (Shotgun) J.Locker pass incomplete deep left to N.Washington [W.Smith].
I don’t get the route combinations here. After about 3 seconds, Harris loses his block on Smith and only then does Locker look to vacate the pocket. He can’t elude Smith, so he’s forced to chuck one downfield and hope. This is what I want Locker to be doing on this play, but even so it’s not successful. (PR)

1-10-TEN 35 (6:53) (Shotgun) J.Locker pass short middle to D.Williams to TEN 43 for 8 yards (M.Jenkins; R.Harper).
Saints are now up 22-10. CJ motions out to create and empty look and Herring motions to betray man coverage. Locker throws a nice quick slant over the middle after D-Will gets a clean inside release from the right slot. (CA)

2-2-TEN 43 (6:34) (No Huddle, Shotgun) J.Locker scrambles up the middle to NO 40 for 17 yards (M.Jenkins).
Locker wants to throw a quick in to D-Will, but Jenkins is in good position and more importantly DT Rogers gets up and blocks the throw. Locker then apparently sees the middle of the field is wide open and commits to a scramble. Personally I’d have preferred that he step up and find Hawkins wide open to the left side, but it’s a nice run. (SCR)

1-10-NO 40 (6:05) (No Huddle, Shotgun) J.Locker pass deep middle to N.Washington for 40 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
The Saints are in what looks like man under, two deep coverage but they’re in 3-3-5 personnel against the Titans’ 3-WR set with S Harper blitzing. That leaves linebackers in man coverage on both Washington and Williams(!), and Locker picks Washington as the beneficiary of the Saints’ deeply questionable call.  Call this a massive RPS loss for Gregg Williams. (DO) for right read and accurate throw over distance, even though the window was not small.

1-10-TEN 35 (4:36) (Shotgun) J.Locker scrambles right end pushed ob at TEN 37 for 2 yards (J.Dunbar).
Protection is not great here, as Stewart is slow to fan out to pick up Galette’s delayed rush & Scott struggles to pick up LB Vilma even with Stewart’s initial help. Locker rightly vacates the pocket, then decides to pick up what he can and get out of bounds. No clue what was or wasn’t available downfield. (PR)

2-8-TEN 37 (4:28) (Shotgun) J.Locker pass short left to N.Washington pushed ob at NO 45 for 18 yards (M.Jenkins). P13
Shallow cross for Washington coming out of the right slot, and he makes Dunbar look silly. A good ball on a low degree of difficulty throw. I’ve probably been underrating his short ball accuracy, so I’ll be generous and give this a (DO).

1-10-NO 45 (4:21) (Shotgun) J.Locker pass incomplete short middle to D.Williams (J.Dunbar).
Tipped at line, not sure what was or wasn’t available downfield.

2-10-NO 45 (4:17) (Shotgun) J.Locker pass incomplete short left to D.Williams (P.Robinson).
Williams really gets jammed at the line by Robinson and struggles to get into his route. Locker’s eyes are locked on him the whole way and eventually throws for him. D-Will has to stop and jump for the ball, though, and the throw appears to be high and behind him. (IN)

3-10-NO 45 (4:12) (Shotgun) J.Locker pass short right to N.Washington to NO 36 for 9 yards (J.Greer; J.Vilma).
Five yard stop route, and Washington makes one guy miss but that’s not enough to get the first down. The playcall and reads are the things to question here. No issues with the throw. (CA)

1-10-NO 33 (3:24) (Shotgun) J.Locker pass incomplete to D.Williams (T.Porter) [T.Porter]. TEN-J.Locker was injured during the play. His return is Probable.
Saints blitz two DBs from the offensive right. A commenter on FO suggested Locker should be praised for standing in here before getting drilled by Porter, but I’m pretty sure Locker fails to identify Porter’s rush. That makes this a (BR).

3-1-NO 24 (2:36) J.Locker pass incomplete deep right to D.Williams.
Locker returns to the game after missing the prior play, and the Saints bring a six-man blitz with man-free (single-high safety). Locker makes a fine read, eschewed Washington on the quick out that if accurate would’ve gotten a first down, and Williams has a step on Greeer. Unfortunately, Locker misses the throw. Most message board complaints I’ve seen have been on the playcall, but if Locker makes a good throw, this is a touchdown. (IN)

1-10-TEN 20 (1:34) (Shotgun) J.Locker pass short right to L.Hawkins to TEN 45 for 25 yards (R.Harper).
Wide receiver screen. A very low degree of difficulty throw. (CA) The key block on the play is made by Cook, who eschews the linebacker to get the defensive back further downfield. Hawk outruns the backer and probably gets 10 extra yards. I feel like I’ve been very down on Cook, so I just wanted to highlight his good work here.

1-10-TEN 45 (1:10) (No Huddle, Shotgun) J.Locker pass short right to N.Washington to NO 45 for 10 yards (T.Porter).
Just another five yard stop route with the defense playing well off. Nice and easy. (CA)

2-10-NO 45 (:27) (No Huddle, Shotgun) J.Locker pass deep middle to N.Washington to NO 5 for 40 yards (J.Dunbar).
After a draw play that gains no yards and burns :21, it’s close to a redux of Washington’s previous 40-yard gain as the Saints out of a 3-3-5 run two-man coverage and end up with linebackers covering both Washington and Williams. Another massive coaching fail by Gregg Williams. When the All-22 goes up, I’ll be interested in seeing the timing of when Washington and Williams get separation. Washington’s the easier read and throw, but Williams may get out of bounds.

1-5-NO 5 (:07) J.Locker spiked the ball to stop the clock.
Awesome job by Nate Washington here managing to remain standing. If he goes down for injury, there’s an automatic 10 second runoff that would’ve ended the game. As is, neither Washington nor Lavelle Hawkins (looking at you here) is on the line of scrimmage, so there should’ve been an illegal formation penalty that knocks the Titans back to the 10 (but would not have ended the game).

2-5-NO 5 (:07) (Shotgun) J.Locker pass incomplete short left to M.Mariani (T.Porter).
Ah well. Knowing he wants to get a quick pass off, Locker identifies and locks on to Mariani in the left slot against Porter for the quick slant. Unfortunately, Porter gets his arm in and knocks the ball to the ground, AND Patrick Robinson, in coverage against Williams to the outside of Mariani, has fallen down and D-Will is wide open. I know why he locked on to Mariani quickly, & as noted above Williams had struggled w/ getting off Robinson at LOS earlier, but this is another missed TD. (.5 BR, .5 CA) as a compromise grade.

3-5-NO 5 (:05) (Shotgun) J.Locker sacked at NO 8 for -3 yards (J.Dunbar).
Final play of the game, and desperation time. Nothing seems to be available quickly, and Locker ends up having more confidence in his legs than he probably should. I think what he was doing was going to set his feet and throw for CJ, who had maybe the best shot at being open. One thing I didn’t see Locker do that I think would’ve worked here is throw somebody open. The only pass he completed where I’m not sure the player was open when he threw the ball was Stevens. Grade?  Uh, (BR) I guess.

Chart? Chart.

Opponent DO CA IN BR SCR PR BA
v.Saints 4 11 5.5 3.5 2 5 2

What does that mean? Excellent question.

I went back to the grading scale because I wanted to be able to compare it to Vince Young’s performance his rookie year, which has its own chart. Obviously, I’m not going to go back and re-grade all of Young’s throws even on the games I still have a copy of. If I have time, I’ll do one of Hasselbeck’s games for this year to provide a basis for comparison.

My general point of view is that CA is for run-of-the-mill, garden-variety throws. High numbers of CA are neither a positive or a negative indicator. What I’m more interested in is DO (good) versus IN + BR, which are different varieities of bad.  That’s 4 minus 9, which is… not particularly good, though we certainly saw a lot worse at times from VY.  SCR and PR exist in a sort of separate ancillary universe, as neither designation is particularly positive or negative in and of itself.  Scrambles can be good and bad, and the mere pressure metric doesn’t distinguish between bad protection (OL gets killed) and bad QB play (pocket statue, unnecessarily scrambling into sack). BA, for batted passes, is essentially a null grade; start caring if it’s a regular occurrence.

What’s your analysis then? I’m getting to that, but wanted to talk about the chart first.

I think a lot of Locker’s perceived value comes from a couple plays, namely three of the four I have graded as DO: the great touch pass to Stevens, and the two passes to Washington. In my analysis, I have to downgrade both of the big passes to Washington, as they came on virtually identical plays where the Titans had a tremendous schematic advantage. I graded Locker highly on both plays, but NFL offenses should be expected to win when they have two wide receivers who are in man coverage against linebackers.

The bad reads grade is higher than I would have expected from doing the analysis. Watching VY, there were a couple plays a game where it just seemed like he was completely confused by what the defense was doing. I did not get the same feeling once during this game.

The pressure grade is relatively big. As I noted, PR is relatively neutral, but my casual impression going in was that Locker was a one-read and vacate the pocket passer, and this grade does little to alleviate my concerns. That he only scrambled twice is a relatively encouraging sign; he could’ve simply taken off more often.

I did not overall have a major issue with Chris Palmer’s play-calling. There were a couple plays where the logic of what they were doing wasn’t apparent to me, but that shouldn’t be taken as me saying there was no logic. Maybe there was no logic, and maybe it just wasn’t apparent on-screen, or maybe they identified a Saints tendency I have no idea exists, or maybe one of the players just screwed up.

Another one of my big initial impressions does stand: I did not see Locker display any of what I consider particularly high-level NFL quarterback traits, in terms of real progression reading, manipulating defenders, or throwing players open. Possessing those traits is not a prerequisite to have a certain level of success in the NFL; I don’t recall seeing them from, say, Andy Dalton, and the Bengals are obviously happy with his play. I believe they are, however, necessary for high-level quarterback play, and want to see at least glimpses of them occasionally from Locker this year.

Should Locker start next Sunday against the Colts? Well, my guess is that he will because, at least in part, of Matt Hasselbeck’s injury status.

My biggest concern, and what I’m basically in deathly fear of, is Locker will have success as a one-read and vacate the pocket quarterback, and decide that having success as a one-read and vacate the pocket quarterback means he’s a good NFL player. We went through that experience five years ago, and it set back the franchise’s long-term development future and may well have cost us a Super Bowl in 2008. I don’t want Locker to play until he’s mentally at the point where he’s ready to display high-level quarterback skills, which I think he should be developing by the start of next year. I fully expect the Titans to start him the rest of this year, though, and I hope it works out.

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