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Film Room: Introducting Shawn Robinson, Part Two—The Arm

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A look at the Mizzou quarterback’s success in the TCU passing attack.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Texas Christian Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

In the last Film Room installment we looked at Shawn Robinson’s considerable ability as a runner. In this piece we will look at positive aspects Robinson brings as a passer.

First let’s discuss a few of the finer points of quarterbacking in the modern passing offense.

Throwing in Rhythm

If you’ve ever quarterbacked a backyard football team your approach was probably something like this: take a few steps back then bounce around a bit while surveying a field of receivers that are running around like the proverbial headless chicken. You choose a guy you like. You chuck it at him.

This helter-skelter approach is fun, but not at all similar to what coaches ask of their quarterbacks in a modern passing attack.

Perhaps the key feature of a modern passing game is the ryhthmic correspondence between the linear throwing points of the quarterback drop and the routes within a particular play’s design. Let’s begin with the quarterback’s drop.

During the drop we can identify the points at which a quarterback will be ready to deliver the ball. Take the five-step drop. A right-handed quarterback takes five steps, beginning with his right foot. His fifth step is on the right foot; he is now in position to step at the target with his left foot and deliver the ball.

5-step drop

(Keep in mind that in shotgun the snap replaces the first two steps. A shotgun quarterback would take only three steps on a five-step drop.)

If at this point the quartberback chooses not to throw he hitches up—right foot-left foot—and is again in position to step and deliver. We can call this point five-plus-one-hitch, or 5+1.

5+1 drop

Another hitch puts him in position to throw again: 5+2.

Pass plays are designed to have receivers prepared to catch the ball at each of these three points in the quarterback’s drop. The receiver who is the first read comes out of his break as the quarterback hits his fifth step. The second as the QB hitches the first time. The third at 5+2.

As the QB takes his second hitch, the protection is most likely breaking down. The quarterback begins to escape the pocket. The timing having been disrupted, the receivers break off their routes and find open spaces according to certain rules that have been established: deeper receivers run deeper, shallow receivers find space underneath or come back to the QB.

Thus every aspect of the play—the movements of the QB and receivers—is choreographed in minute detail. When the play is executed properly, it runs according to an easy rhythm evident in the quarterback’s footwork: the ball comes out smoothly on his fifth step, or 5+1, or 5+2, no extra steps or shuffling. This is the ideal.

Below I’ve gathered some plays and organized them according to the success of the rhythmic pattern: passes that are thrown on rhythm, passes where the rhythm is disrupted, and passes that require improvisation.

In this installment we focus on successful plays that illustrate Robinson’s ability to complete passes in each of these situations.

First rhythm throws. Robinson’s footwork is not perfect in some of these—you’ll notice a slight hitch on some throws that should come out as soon as his back foot hits the ground. But, generally speaking, these are passes thrown on decent rhythm.

Rhythm Throws

Dig

Tight view

Playaction Slant

Tight view

Seam Read

Tight view

Fade for TD

This is a three step drop—one step from shotgun. Robinson gets the ball out quickly—important because he has only eleven yards of vertical space with which to work—and places the ball perfectly, keeping the ball where only his receiver can get it.

Throws Under Pressure

Throwing in rhythm is ideal, but not always possible, especially when the quarterback is under pressure, or the timing of a receiver’s route is interrupted. Therefore a quarterback must be able to throw accurately when the rhythm cannot be perfect.

These are some examples where Robinson does just that.

Dig

Here the rhythm is actually perfect. Robinson hits the Dig on 5+1, but must stand in as he is hit by a rusher.

Slant

This is a three-step drop (one-step out of shotgun). Robinson has to hang on to the ball a beat to allow the Slant to hit the window, and fades away from the throw as he’s being hit.

Skinny Post

This Skinny Post route is supposed to be thrown on five-step timing but Robinson is forced to get it out quicker than he’d like. Nevertheless he puts it on the money.

Again, the 5+1 rhythm here is good, but the pressure forces less-than-ideal mechanics as Robinson fades away from the target.

RPO Slant

Robinson is forced to re-gather his feet to avoid throwing into a leaping defender.

On this next example Robinson’s mechanics are poor—he opens up well past his target and fades back as he throws. This is not due to pressure or poor timing on the receiver’s part. This is a flaw, yes, but I’ve included it here because I like the ball he throws, keeping the receiver in the hole between the low corner and the hash safety who is screaming over the top of the route.

(We’ll look at more flaws in Robinson’s mechanics in the next installment of Film Room.)

Improvising

This is a nice throw on the run, but I question whether Robinson needed to leave the pocket. I will say that, while many dual threat quarterbacks (and some “single-threat” QBs as well) make a habit of scrambling without cause, Robinson is generally good at sitting in when his protection is holding up. This is an exception to that rule but, nevertheless, a good throw.

This is a great play on 3-10, as Robinson flips the ball out to his receiver while under great distress.

Staying with the Progression

As I said above, Robinson does not make a habit of leaving the pocket unnecessarily. These are some examples of him staying in the pocket and finding the third or fourth receiver in his progression.

Notice the footwork. You’d like to see a quarterback snap his body in the direction of his next target at each point in his progression. This movement should be quick, getting his base prepared to make a throw before the decision to throw is made.

We can see Robinson snap his body to the third target particularly well in the tight shot.

And here we see him make the same snap of the hips and feet twice before he finds his open man.

This is a great example of keeping the play alive while escaping. Robinson hitches twice, then throws as he begins his escape from the pocket.

Going Deep

Having seen little to no film of Robinson before this research, I was surprised by his ability to throw and complete the deep ball. He’s no Drew Lock (but I didn’t have to tell you that). Nevertheless, when asked, he is able to get the ball down the field with accuracy.

In each of these examples the ball travels between 45 and 55 vertical yards.

This is an incompletion, but you have to appreciate Robinson’s ball placement here. He keeps the ball outside, away from the defender and gives his receiver a great chance at a reception. The 5+1 rhythm is great as well.

Conclusion

I noticed a trend as I was putting this piece together. Go back and survey these plays: the great majority of Robinson’s successful passes came on in-breaking routes. In the next installment we’ll look at weaknesses in Robinson’s passing game, and will notice that he is generally less successful on out-breaking routes.

Should Robinson win the starting job next season we can monitor whether Drinkwitz structures the offense to Robinson’s strength by primarily giving him in-breaking choices. We will also see if Drink’s coaching can help Robinson improve on out-breaking cuts.