Those who watched Brady Cook last season could see that his strength as a quarterback lay within his legs. While a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder certainly hindered his passing abilities, it was very clear from the jump that Brady cooked when he was on the move.
The first game against Louisiana Tech gave viewers an appetizer of what Cook could do on the ground, as his 61 rushing yards and a rushing score excited and electrified. However, the main course wasn’t served until the end of the regular season, when Cook racked up a combined 315 rushing yards against Tennessee, New Mexico State and Arkansas. His 585 rushing yards on the season were the most by a Mizzou QB since James Franklin almost hit 1,000 in 2011.
Out of those last three regular season games, it was the Arkansas game that saw Cook truly go hog wild on the ground. His 138 rushing yards were the most by a Mizzou QB in a single game since…also James Franklin in 2011.
Despite the flashes of brilliance on the ground, however, it never felt like Cook was consistently let loose as a runner. Most of his chunk gains came from scrambles, plays where Cook only ran because he needed to. While there were certainly a handful of designed runs/rollouts called throughout the season, it felt like too much weight was put on Cook’s shoulders as a pocket passer too often. Especially considering how beat up the offensive line was and how much Mizzou’s receivers struggled creating separation, keeping Cook confined in the pocket didn’t feel like the best situation to put him in.
While Cook isn’t guaranteed to be the starting QB in 2023 – head coach Eli Drinkwitz said that Cook is merely the “incumbent” amidst an open competition between him, Jake Garcia and Sam Horn – last season’s lack of legs from a potential starting QB was noticeable, so noticeable that Rock M’s own Jaden Lewis wrote something about it in his first ever article for the site. He wasted no time bringing this topic to light!
Knowing all of that, the main question we want to answer here is this: What can new OC Kirby Moore do to further foster Cook’s rushing abilities?
For a potential idea, let’s look at the development of current New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, who found himself in a similar situation before the 2022 NFL season as Cook does now. Coming out of Duke in 2019, Jones was a souped up version of the runners (not the passers) Andrew Luck and Trevor Lawrence were in college: a big quarterback who wasn’t necessarily a miss-making electric factory, but one who could pick up meaningful yards on the ground when needed to and occasionally broke off a huge run.
When Jones made his first start as a rookie against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019, a pair of touchdown scampers (including the game-winner) gave Giants fans like myself a refreshing taste of above-average quarterback mobility. This is no shot at Eli Manning; he’s a childhood hero of mine and one of the most widely respected athletes in New York sports history. It was just nice to see a Giants quarterback not look completely terrified every time they tucked and ran.
However, porous coaching concealed Jones’ elite mobility over the next couple of seasons. Like Cook, Jones showed flashes of rushing prowess, but designed QB runs/rollouts were never really part of the playbook, so the flashes were never consistently displayed. In 2020, for example, Jones reached a top speed of 21.23 miles per hour via Next Gen Stats on an 80-yard run; that’s tied with Justin Fields for the fastest a QB has ever been clocked by NGS since 2018. Unfortunately, that was the infamous play where Jones tripped and fell over a ghost against the Eagles, a perfect encapsulation of the Giants under Pat Shurmur and Joe Judge (other than running a QB sneak on third-and-nine).
This past season, however, saw the Giants put together a decent season offensively, one that felt a lot better than it actually was considering how appalling the unit had been since Jones’ arrival in 2019. The G-Men sported one of the most dangerous rushing attacks in the league with Jones and running back Saquon Barkley that helped lead New York to their first playoff victory in over a decade.
One main driver behind this success was Jones’ mobility being unleashed for the first time in his career. Under new head coach Brian Daboll and new offensive coordinator Brian Kafka, Jones was running with the football more than he ever had with the Giants.
While getting Jones on the move worked well, it didn’t necessarily mean him being the ball-carrier more often. It just meant making him a threat to carry the ball more often. This meant more designed QB runs, play-action and shorter throws.
The change in philosophy was Daboll and Kafka designing an offense around the personnel they had, which included…
- A porous offensive line outside of All-Pro left tackle Andrew Thomas
- A pass-catching room that struggled to create consistent separation one-on-one (and also experienced catastrophically bad injury luck)
- An awesome running back
- A mobile quarterback
Because of this, a large part of Jones’ throws and runs centered around the three aforementioned offensive concepts: designed QB runs, play-action and shorter passes. The goal was to make Jones’ life as easy as possible while using the threat of running to open up easy 5-10 yard gains through the air.
The results played out accordingly. After ranking 24th and 15th in play-action passing attempts in his first two full seasons in the league, Jones ranked 7th in 2022. Out of 33 qualified QBs, only Matt Ryan had a lower intended air yards per attempt than Jones (6.4), and as a result, Jones had the highest on-target percentage (81) and one of the lowest bad throw percentages (12.2) in the league. Jones wasn’t slinging it like most of the top QBs were, but small chunk gains through the air became a lot easier and more frequent for New York.
On the ground, Jones was prolific, as he ranked fifth in rushing yards amongst quarterbacks. He also had the highest success rate on runs amongst signal-callers according to PFF; whenever Jones tucked and ran, good things usually happened. With Jones let loose and Barkley looking like his old self again, the Giants had a dangerous QB-RB rushing duo for the first time...ever.
Let’s now relate this to Cook. While Mizzou’s coaching last season wasn’t nearly as bad as New York’s during the first three seasons of Jones’ career, Cook’s rushing abilities didn’t feel maximized, just like Jones from 2019-21.
For example, Cook lined up in the shotgun a lot last season. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing for an above-average running QB – Brad Smith lined up in the shotgun all the time – but QBs like Smith would be executing designed runs out of that alignment. Cook, on the other hand, would frequently be passing out of the shotgun. As stated earlier, for a guy with an injured throwing shoulder, a decimated offensive line and a receiver group who struggled getting open, this wasn’t the most optimal use of what Mizzou had personnel-wise.
Cook now enters a season where he’ll likely have more opportunities to get out in space with new guidance in the former Fresno State OC. Moore didn’t call many designed runs/rollouts for QB Jake Haener last season, but that was in large part due to Haener’s lack of above-average mobility. Moore also stated how he plans to mold his offense around the personnel he’s given, just like Daboll and Kafka did last season for the Giants.
As an example of how Daboll and Kafka utilized Jones’ legs (and how Cook can be used this season), let’s take a look at a go-to play for the Giants on early downs and short-yardage situations: play-action rollouts. Since defenses had to respect Barkley in the backfield, any semblance of a handoff often caught the defense’s attention. When Jones would keep the ball and roll out, Jones’ gravity as a runner made it a difficult choice for defenders as to who to commit to. Because of the multiple rushing threats the Giants presented, Jones often found open receivers in the flat for easy chunk gains, both from under center and in the shotgun.
And when there wasn’t anyone open, Jones would usually just pick up yards himself.
Combined with a healthy dose of other designed runs and smart scrambles, Danny Dimes started making some serious money on the ground (and in real life, too, as Jones signed a four-year, $160 million contract this past offseason with $92 million guaranteed. That’s almost a billion dimes!).
Now, if you read my earlier column about plays Moore called at Fresno State that would look great with Mizzou’s personnel, this all might seem a little contradictory to the sentiment I laid out then. If Moore is set to bring an injection of offensive creativity, why would something dinking and dunking be the way to go? After all, the main reason the Giants ran that kind of offense is because they were constricted personnel-wise; they had to make starters out of backups and practice squad players. If Daboll and Kafka were calling the shots for an offense with more prolific pass-catchers and a sturdier offensive line, the ball would’ve likely been pushed downfield a lot more.
The reasons for this suggestion are the same reasons Daboll and Kafka likely had when installing this kind of offense in New York. The goal here is to make Cook’s life as easy as possible while using the threat of running to pick up easy 5-10 yard gains.
These short throws and runs, for example, could simply serve as warm-ups to get Cook into an early groove. Think of a basketball player warming up their jumper before a game; we’ll use Stephen Curry as an example. He doesn’t immediately start shooting threes; he starts closer to the basket, then works his way backwards. That way, when he starts shooting threes, he’s already warmed up. He’s seen the ball go in a lot, which builds up rhythm and confidence.
The same can be applied to Cook in a football sense. This play below was called a handful of times throughout last season; run fake to one side and get a wide receiver streaking in the opposite flat for an easy, stress-free and rhythm-building chunk gain.
Not only would Cook have some weight lifted off of his shoulders and get into a groove easier, there’d be several other beneficiaries here. Picture YAC wizard Luther Burden getting more chances to frolic in the open field, or the speedy Mookie Cooper zooming for easy first-down yardage. Difficult matchups against high-caliber defensive lines? Neutralize potential disadvantages in the trenches by immediately getting the ball in space, whether it be in Cook’s hands or a receiver on the move.
This isn’t me suggesting that Moore should turn Cook into a military academy quarterback, or that he’s the second coming of (college) Johnny Manziel. This is simply me seeing a positive parallel between a quarterback I watch every Saturday and a quarterback I watch every Sunday.
Just like Jones, Cook has serious wheels; the incumbent Mizzou QB runs like Forrest Gump (in a good way). Wicked fast, no wasted movement, efficient use of his arms and legs, and straight ahead like he’s on train tracks. And what did the fictional Alabama football team do in Forrest Gump? They got Forrest the ball and let him run! And just like Jones last season, Cook has a new play caller in town, one that’ll hopefully have all of us saying “run, Brady, run!” a whole lot more.