There is a chance rookie quarterback Bryce Petty will be starting for the Jets on Sunday. We do not know how good of a chance there is. One thing we do know is the Jets never intended for Petty to start this year. Petty widely received the developmental tag when he was picked. Everybody said he needed to sit and learn for at least a year. I would like to talk about why that is. People say he did not play in a pro system, but what does that really mean? Why wouldn't he be ready to play in the pros? Let's discuss.
I think the best way to explain is to talk about the system he ran in college. Baylor had one of the most prolific offenses in college football when Petty took the snaps. It is a brilliantly designed offense. Part of the genius is how easy it makes life on the quarterback.
People hear about spread offenses in college all the time, but Baylor takes it to an extreme the way they stretch their receivers across the field. Look at how wide these guys line up.
The other day, I talked about some of the contributions Al Davis made to the modern passing game. The general idea was that Davis helped bring vertical passing into the mainstream. It forced defenses to cover more of the field. What is more difficult, using eleven guys to defend a small part of the field or using eleven to defend the entire field? In the offense Petty ran, Baylor used their formations to stretch the defense horizontally rather than vertically at the snap.
Things are more difficult to disguise when the defense is spread this far. Say you want to blitz from the slot.
The defender is so far away that he'll be much easier to see and pick up. Even if you don't pick him up, he is coming from such a long distance that it will take him a while to get to the quarterback. It sort of defeats the purpose of blitzing. He isn't going to get to the quarterback in time for the throw, and it takes a guy out of coverage.
If he was to move closer to the quarterback before the snap, he'd be giving away that he isn't in coverage. Petty could simply dump it to the slot receiver who he would see not covered.
This lack of ability to disguise gives allows the quarterback to see matchups before the snap. He can pick the matchup he wants to target and decide to go there by reading one defender before the ball is even snapped.
In this case, Petty has a receiver against a safety. A slower safety has to respect the speed of a wide receiver and play off. If the route is an out route, it is going to be an easy pitch and catch.
Baylor's offense was so well-designed that many of the plays were keyed off reading one defender.
On this particular play, Petty can hand the ball off, but the linebacker bites when he sees a potential handoff coming. Petty pulls it back and hits his man behind the defender for a touchdown.
In Petty's final season, Baylor had the most up tempo offense in college football with only 18 seconds between plays. Like the design, this limited the number of complex looks Baylor got. Sometimes you see defenses try and disguise fronts before the snap. A guy will line up somewhere to try and trick the offense into thinking they are doing something and then retreating to his actual spot before the ball is snapped. If the ball can be snapped at any point, a defender cannot disguise what he is doing. He needs to be in the correct spot because he might end up totally out of position with a snap imminent.
The tempo also forces the defense to live in more basic calls. There isn't enough time to relay instructions for complex defensive plays.
The ability is substitute is limited. This prevents the defense from using different personnel packages to show multiple looks. Defenders also get tired playing like this.
Petty did take some snaps from under center, but this was primarily a shotgun offense. There was not a whole lot of traditional dropping back in this offense. The objective was frequently to get the ball out quickly.
To keep the quarterback focused on attacking the defense, Baylor takes some of the protection calling duties from the quarterback and gives it to other players.
Oftentimes, the running back or tight end reads the defense and calls protection.
"We don't put too much pressure on quarterbacks to have to make reads and decipher defenses," said Kendal Briles, Baylor's passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach. "We allow them to be comfortable and know where the ball should go in coverage instead of having to read a lot of things before a play. They're not having to read a lot of things on the run."
Art Briles said the less a quarterback has to think, the faster he can play.
"I think we're a little unique in that we do that," he said. "We try to ease the load on the quarterback. I've always felt like that guy has enough stuff going on without trying to slow him down. I'd rather free him up and let him play fast. He's got a lot on him already."
What does this all mean?
So what is the bottom line with all of this information? Petty's college offense does make him a project. The splits and tempo limit the looks a defense can give up front. The reduced responsibilities making line calls have perhaps not given him a ton of experience looking at these fronts and adjusting protections.
We talked a bit about line calls the other day as they pertained to the center, Nick Mangold. The quarterback is typically the other key part of the equation.
Petty did not get a whole lot of looks like this where there were a bunch of guys standing around him near the line. Which of them is coming? Which are dropping back? Could somebody come from the secondary? The offensive line needs to know which guys to block. Setting the protection incorrectly could create a mismatch or a free runner. Petty's formations did not force him to see looks like this and those even more exotic. Baylor's offense seemed to even limit how much experience he even has setting protections against basic defenses.
Sure enough, in preseason Todd Bowles noted after a preseason game Petty's difficultly in his presnap protection setting.
Todd Bowles said Ryan Fitzpatrick played solidly tonight. Also said Petty struggled to identify the "mike" linebacker.— Darryl Slater (@DarrylSlater) August 14, 2015
Setting the protection correctly comes to some degree with film study and understanding tendencies, knowing what blitzers a defense is going to send out of a certain look. It also comes with experience. Petty did not see a ton of complex looks at Baylor in part because of his offense. When you see something a few times, you get the hang of it. Petty is not there yet.
This could be an issue should he be pressed into action. The thought of Petty and a rookie center if Nick Mangold is not healthy working in tandem to figure out Rex Ryan's fronts next week is terrifying.
The presnap reads Petty could make was based on the coverage the defense showed. His offense allowed him to frequently decipher what the defense was doing by keying on one player rather than scanning the field. Sometimes he could decide where to go with the ball before the snap. In the NFL, defenses are more complicated. It is more difficult to identify mismatches before the snap.
This is a play the Jets ran on Sunday. To win, the quarterback needed to scan the field and read the coverage.
Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker crossed each other in the hopes of creating traffic and a natural pick if the coverage was man to man. If it was zone, on the bottom, Kenbrell Thompkins was to go vertical take the corner with him while Jeremy Kerley was to run into the spot Thompkins ran the corner away from.
Petty seldom had to do something like this at Baylor, but NFL offenses cannot win on scheme alone. There are numerous more complicated passing concepts where reading a defense correctly is important. Petty does not have much experience with these.
In addition, while the Jets do incorporate shotgun sets into their offense, operating from under center is also important. Petty's lack of experience there makes it tough. As we discussed a few months back, here is why.
See if you can clear out a path in front of your television. Now take five steps back. Can you even pay attention to what is happening on the TV? Now imagine having to decipher what eleven different men are doing in that time frame. Imagine needing to figure out what combination is blitzing, the coverage underneath on a given play, and the coverage over the top. In addition, imagine needing to also remember the play your team is running and contextualize what the correct option is based on the things the eleven players are doing. And imagine at the very end of this that you need to be ready to throw to your first option or move to the next one.
And as a GGN Chalkboard post noted a few months back, many playbooks have passing plays designed on the quarterback dropping back a defined number of steps. These are timing routes built on getting the ball out at a very specific point. Passing windows in the NFL can open and close within a second. Dropbacks might not seem like a big deal, but technique is important. Without mastering it, any misstep can throw off the timing. This includes the quarterback stepping into and driving the ball to the receiver.
Baylor's offense famously does not have a playbook. It lacks the same level of precision. I think Petty's footwork struggles at times because his offensive system in college was less specific.
This is not to say Baylor has a bad offensive system. It is brilliant. It is not to say that any quarterback could run it. There are reads and throws Petty made wonderfully. That is why he is in the NFL. It is only to say the tools and skills required to succeed in Baylor's offense differ quite a bit with those in the offenses NFL teams run. The reason people say Petty needs to sit is so he can learn these new things on the practice field.
How likely is it he will pick things up? Nobody really has a good feel. Anybody who thinks they know is guessing. This is why he was a fourth round pick. An analogy I would use is this is like asking a great poet in one language to learn another language and become a great poet using it. There are some universal tools that give you hope in his ability, but he has to start learning something new with all kinds of unique nuances. Even a brilliant guy might not be suited for a specific new language.
With this in mind, I do hope either Ryan Fitzpatrick or Geno Smith is a go on Sunday. Petty would likely have a rough time playing in a game. He has a lot of things to learn on the practice field.