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Takeaways from Davis Webb’s rocky performance vs. Browns

NFL: Cleveland Browns at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Consternation has been high in the greater New York City area since Davis Webb’s performance last Thursday night in the New York Giants’ 2018 preseason opener. The second-year quarterback completed just 9-of-22 passes for 70 yards, a completion percentage of just 40.9, and a meager 3.2 yards per attempt. Now to be fair there are times when the box score does not tell the full story, and reviewing the film illuminates how the quarterback actually performed better than the numbers indicate.

Unfortunately, this does not seem to be one of those times.

Webb’s struggles were varied, from his reads, to his timing to his execution. Let’s work through some of the illustrative plays from Thursday night, building to one play at the end that perhaps Webb should look to build upon when the Giants next take the field.

Webb took over late in the first quarter of a 7-3 game, and quickly found himself in a 3rd and long situation, facing a third and 11 on the Giants’ own 40-yard line. The offense puts Webb (No. 5) in the shotgun using 11 offensive personnel, with three receivers to the left and a single receiver split to the right. Running back Wayne Gallman (No. 22) stands to the right of Webb in the backfield. The Cleveland Browns utilize a 4-2-5 nickel package on the defensive side of the ball and they show a soft Tampa-2 coverage pre-snap.

New York runs a Sticks concept, with the three wide receivers all running curl patterns right a the first down marker. The tight end chips the defensive end and releases to the left flat, while Gallman immediately runs a quick out pattern. Against this coverage, the receiver to watch is Sterling Shepard (No. 87) running a curl pattern right over the middle of the field, in front of the defender dropping into the intermediate zone between the two-high safeties:

Watch as Webb looks at Shepard, who is open in the middle of the field, before coming to Gallman in the flat ... and delivering high:

Based on this coverage scheme and route design, Shepard is open in the middle of the field for a first down. Normally I am fully on board with a quarterback checking the ball down and taking care of the football, but here Webb has a shot to make a throw in the middle of the field to move the chains. Instead, he looks to check this down and misses the throw high.

We’ll come back to this design ... and missing throws high, in a minute.

In the second quarter the Giants faced a second and 8 in Cleveland territory, at the Browns’ 41-yard line. Webb aligns under center and the offense uses 12 offensive personnel, with two tight ends in a wing to the right and two receivers in a slot to the left. Cleveland shows pressure here, putting 10 defenders within five yards of the line of scrimmage and aligning eight defenders in the box. Webb executes his play-action fake and, to be clear, he has pressure in his face due to Cleveland’s blitz. But it is the decision here that merits discussion:

As he comes out of the fake, there is an opportunity to hit the shallow dig route from slot receiver Roger Lewis (No. 18) in the middle of the field. Because of the blitz from the Browns, the middle of the field is open because the linebackers have vacated that area of the field to attack the pocket. If Webb hangs in the pocket for a split second and makes an anticipation throw here, there is a chance to complete this for a first down. Instead, Webb tries to buy time by sliding to the left before attempting to hit Lewis late in the play, and the pass is well short of the target. It is understandable, and human nature even, for a quarterback in the pocket to try and slide or move to avoid contact and pressure, but on this occasion Webb had the chance to make a strong, anticipation throw. Instead, he tries to buy time, making the situation worse in the pocket and making the throw more difficult, and he can’t get the pass on target.

The first play we looked at saw Webb missing high. This was a theme of the night. Midway through the second quarter the Giants started a drive with Webb trying to throw a Bang-8 route working off play-action, and he misses the throw high:

It is hard to tell whether this pass is tipped or not at the line of scrimmage, which might contribute to the placement of the throw being off, but either way this throw is off target. Two plays later, the Giants managed to move the chains, despite Webb making another high throw:

Looking at all three of these high throws, it is hard to pin-point the possible culprit for the poor placement on each of these, but what does seem to be present is an inconsistency in the release point. On the first overthrow to Gallman, the first play that was broken down, Webb’s release was very high, more of an over-the-top release. On the next two, Webb’s release point seems to be lower, closer to his helmet. Perhaps it is this inconsistency which is leading to inconsistent ball placement on these throws.

Webb’s forte coming out of college was the deep ball. As outlined on Big Blue View and other places, his ability to make bucket throws in the vertical passing game was his calling card. Unfortunately, Webb misses a golden opportunity for a big play in the vertical passing game early in the second quarter:

Here the Giants runs a slot-fade concept, with a smoke route on the outside to work as a decoy to draw in the secondary. Russell Shepard (No. 8) gets separation down toward the left sideline on his slot-fade route, and Webb just ... misses this throw. I often quote “Top Gun” in pieces. I’m a middle-aged man, after all. This play reminds me of a moment in that movie when Jester tells Maverick after an exercise that “... that was some of the best flying I’ve seen yet. Right up to the part where you got killed.” Everything Webb does on this play is right, from the read to how he uses his eyes to freeze the free safety. He just misses the throw. As my first college offensive coordinator told me once: “That’s your game. And when you can’t execute your game, what are we gonna do with you?”

Many people point to the Giants’ final drive of the first have as more evidence of Webb’s struggles, where he missed Kalif Raymond on another deep route near the goal-line on what could have been a touchdown, and then failed to lead Shepard toward the sideline on the next play knowing the Giants lacked a timeout to stop the clock. However, for me it was the drive right before that drive that was emblematic of Webb’s night.

On first down the Giants run a Flat-7 Smash concept to the right side:

This is a standard route concept that consists of a corner route from the tight end and a flat route from the running back. The route design creates a “high-low” over the cornerback to that side of the field, and the rule of thumb for the quarterback is to “throw the corner.” If the CB squats on the flat, you throw the corner route over his head. If he drops, you throw to the flat.

Here, the CB drops under the corner route, but Webb tries to throw it anyway:

Rather than taking the easy throw and picking up some yardage, Webb (perhaps because he is pressing at this point) tries the risky throw and now the offense faces second and 10, rather than perhaps a second and 6. It’s time to quote another movie, “The Replacements.” In that movie Shane Falco (portrayed by Keanu Reeves) talks about fears on the football field. He mentions quicksand, describing it as a situation where you are making mistakes and you keep trying to fight back, but all you are doing is making the situation worse.

Webb is fighting quicksand at this point.

On second down Webb has another chance for an easy throw, as the Browns bring a blitz from the slot cornerback. Rather than throw the easy hitch route (the hot route) to the slot receiver Webb moves off that and tries to throw a post route to Lewis:

He misses the throw high.

Now the Giants face a third and 10, and we can come back to the first play of the night. The Giants run another Sticks concept, with curl routes breaking at the first down marker. This time, Webb does try to hit the route over the middle, the one he passed up on the previous example.

He misses the throw high:

Again, the release point seems lower than what we expect from Webb, perhaps leading to the poor placement. His release point is definitely something to watch going forward.

I’m a big fan of silver linings, and looking at this game there are perhaps two. First, it was the initial preseason game. There is a lot of football left to be played before the real games start. Second, we can revisit the Davis Webb 2.0 piece, and look at what Webb has been working on with quarterback guru Tony Racioppi. One of the things Webb worked on this off-season was pocket movement, specifically the ability to move and slide in the pocket and still make throws on time. That’s why this play from Webb on Thursday night serves as the other bit of silver lining:

Here, Webb slides to his right in the pocket before making a much more accurate throw on this checkdown to Gallman. It isn’t the most impressive throw in NFL history, and it was not the most impressive throw made by a quarterback during Thursday night’s game, but it is a sign of Webb’s off-season work paying off. On a night when we are looking for silver linings, we will take it.

Everyone should approach a game with a gameplan, so here is mine for Friday night. I will be watching for two things from Webb: Consistency with his release point, and decision-making. Improvement in those areas will perhaps ease some of the consternation that has been felt the past few days. However, if Webb still struggles in those areas, then perhaps even silver linings will fail to ease the anxiousness.