Josh McCown vs Game Film: Week 9 vs Packers, part 2

Jonathan Daniel

Continuing our film breakdown of Josh McCown's performance against the Packers in Week 9 of last season.

If you've read part one of the Week 9 edition of Josh McCown vs. Game Film, you'll have seen from throw-by-throw chart that McCown did not have a great outing by any stretch against the Packers. Words are just words, though - they say seeing is believing, so here' some more plays that shows the highs and lows of McCown's performance against Green Bay.

C) Eyes on the prize

After two plays showing some of McCown's negatives, here's a play that shows some veteran coolness from McCown. The play starts with McCown being under almost instant pressure from the Packers' D

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The play's barely begun, but rookie tackle Jordan Mills has already let the Packers' rush linebacker get his hands on McCown.

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The linebacker actually grabs hold of enough of McCown that he swings the QB's upper body round - as you can see in the yellow circle, he's still got a hold of McCown and his turning him. McCown, however, never stops looking downfield, and just shrugs the defender's arm off of him.

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Despite being nearly sacked, McCown never loses focus, and immediately winds his arm back - even though Datone Jones is bullrushing left guard Matt Slauson towards him.

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I've circled McCown's knee here in yellow, which you'll see is bent outwards; while you can't tell from this still, watching the coaches film you can see this is caused by Slauson actually being pushed into McCown. However, as you can see from the other yellow circle, despite being almost sacked by a linebacker and having a guard bullrushed back into him, McCown's still able to get the ball off.

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Here's the more impressive part. For context, this is the first game that McCown started after Jay Cutler's injury. He had a bye-week to rep with the ones, but still, his rapport with his receivers wouldn't be at the level you'd expect Cutler's to be. In the yellow circle above, McCown is winding up to throw; Brandon Marshall is running a deep out at the ten-yard line - but that's not where McCown is throwing.

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Rather, McCown is throwing deep into the endzone. Marshall keeps his eyes solidly on the ball - I've marked out his line of sight with the beige line. Marshall sees that this ball isn't heading to where his current route is heading, so cuts up into the endzone.

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Marshall, keeping his eyes locked on the ball, uses his speed to get into position...

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... and leaps backwards, plucking the ball out of the air and landing in the endzone for a touchdown.

The reason I make special mention of this play is not only to point out Marshall's adaptability (and athleticism), but to show that McCown, despite coming off the bench, already trusts his receiver enough to make this throw, having faith that Marshall will adjust to the ball and change routes accordingly. The play also shows McCown's ability to keep diagnosing the play despite being mugged by one defender and having another crashing down the pocket. For a backup QB who only had two weeks to take starting reps in practice, it says a lot about McCown that he already felt he had enough chemistry to pull off this touchdown.

D) Decisions, decisions

And after that display of veteran poise from McCown, here's a bad play on several fronts - most notably for me, in decision making.

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This play sees Martellus Bennett running a crossing route, with Brandon Marshall running a trail route behind. Bennett is being tightly covered by nickel corner Micah Hyde, while Marshall is being covered by strong safety Morgan Burnett.

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As Burnett is a safety, who begins this play out of the box, it goes without saying that he's playing an off technique. With Marshall running a crossing route, it'd be hard for Burnett to cover Marshall tightly - and as you can see above in the blue circle, Marshall's got a few steps on Burnett. McCown, however, has chosen to throw to Bennett (the ball being circled in beige), despite how tightly Hyde is covering him. The pass will eventually fall incomplete.

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Here's the really poor part of the play - look at how clean that pocket is! McCown is about to throw, and there's no defenders anywhere near him. He has time to see how tightly Hyde is covering Bennett, and go through his progression - where he would have seen Marshall, running free from Burnett. The suspect decision making - especially when there's no pressure - would be bad enough; but it's worse than that.

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Despite the absence of pressure, McCown places the ball far too low, and too far in front, of Bennett to make this anything but a near-impossible catch, resulting in an incomplete pass. There are two possible issues here: the first, that McCown threw a terribly-placed ball, even though he had a clean pocket around him; or the second, that he was placing the ball where 'only his guy could get it' because of Hyde's tight coverage. The latter may well have been McCown's thought process; but if that is the case - that he knows he's throwing to a receiver who's too-tightly covered to be able to deliver a catchable ball - then it just further highlight's McCown's poor decision here, locking in on Bennett rather than going through his progression to find Marshall, despite his blockers giving him more than enough time to do so.

E) Two-minute trouble (twice!)

McCown showed poise under physical pressure from the defense on his touchdown pass, but one area where McCown didn't play well was under mental pressure - specifically, the mental pressure that comes from playing inside the two-minute warning. We saw that in McCown's failure to engineer a game-winning drive against the Redskins, and it shows up here in the two minutes before half time, though the Bears eventually got into field goal range thanks largely to a 20-yard scramble by McCown. Nonetheless, we begin this look at a two-minute warning with 1:27 left in the first half, with the clock ticking down, and the Bears in possession of two time outs.

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Most of McCown's targets are covered - not helped by Matt Forte falling over, as you can see in the middle of the screen - but Brandon Marshall is about to become 'uncovered', running towards the sideline. As the name of the game here is to preserve clock time where possible, this is where McCown looks to go with the ball.

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Covering Marshall is free safety M.D. Jennings. As with Morgan Burnett before, Jennings is playing off (as safeties naturally do), so Marshall's got an advantage if he's moving at speed. McCown, who you can see about to launch the ball, needs to hit Marshall in stride within the beige circle, and Marshall should be able to get out of bounds and stop the clock.

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Unfortunately, as you should be able to see from the photo above, McCown has thrown a floaty, loopy pass that's nowhere near far enough into the beige circle I identified in the previous screencap.

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By the time that long-arcing pass actually gets to Marshall, Jennings is almost on top of him - with Marshall having had to have stopped completely in order to rein in the ball.

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You can see from this angle, the ball was thrown entirely behind Marshall, who has to turn and reach back behind him to catch the ball. Now, instead of catching the ball in stride and running out of bounds, he has Jennings in position to tackle him.

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And of course, that's exactly what happened. If McCown fires this pass at Marshall and hits him in stride, the clock is stopped. Instead, the clock continues to tick away, and by the time the ball is next snapped, only 55 seconds remain on the clock.

In fact, let's take a look at what happens after that next snap:

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With time ticking down, McCown looks to Martellus Bennett running a flat route. A quick strike here and Bennett should have a little space to make a few positive yards while, most importantly, getting out of bounds to preserve those time outs.

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McCown, however, throws another loopy, floaty pass, as you can see from how high the ball is (in the yellow circle), and that Bennett is having to turn back for the ball.

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In fact, the ball is thrown so far behind him that he has to turn a full 180 degrees just to catch the ball! (For comparison on how a flat route should be thrown to/caught, see this video).

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Because Bennett had to turn around to catch the ball, he had to come to a standstill, allowing Jamari Lattimore to tackle him for no gain - and forcing the Bears to use one of their two remaining time outs.

F) Standing tall, throwing high

When your QB knows he's going to get hit, but still stands tall in the pocket to deliver the throw, it speaks very positively to his mentality. McCown displays that mentality here - but the following throw leaves something to be desired.

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McCown scans through his progression, and, doing so, can't help but notice two linebackers, A.J. Hawk and especially Brad Jones, coming free.

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Rather than rush or force a throw to Earl Bennett, who's covered by Mike Neal, McCown turns to his right and looks to throw downfield, despite Jones bearing down on him.

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Here's something I like even more than McCown not letting the ensuing hit phase him - he has two options to his right, a wide open (but shallower) Martellus Bennett, or a deeper Brandon Marshall.

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Though Bennett is by far the easier throw, McCown targets Marshall, which to me shows a winning mentality and, again, is indicative of keeping his mental poise in the face of physical pressure from the defense - you can see the ball is in the air on its way to Marshall as Jones reaches McCown.

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The issue here? The ball is sailing too high, again one of those floaty, loopy passes - passes which take longer to get to their targets.

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By the time the ball's dropped into Marshall's catching radius, he's practically already at the sideline, killing off any opportunity for YAC. Again, McCown should be commended for not letting an inevitable hit visibly phase him, but this trend for loopy passes is worrying - and as we continue to go through more of McCown's game film, if this emerges as a regular trend, it's something that could be a legitimate concern with his playing style.

G) A lucky escape

One of McCown's most notable stats over the period where he led the Bears' offense was his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 13-1. However, stats aren't all that they're cracked up to be - and to illustrate the point, here's a play that could easily have ended in a McCown interception.

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I'll preface this play by saying I understand McCown's logic; but to me, this play shows how even if the logic might be sound - as it theoretically was with the first play I broke down, with Tramon Williams' blitz - McCown needs to learn to adapt to what actually is happening in front of him.

McCown's target on this play is Martellus Bennett, who I've circled in yellow. The logic on this play is M.D. Jennings follows Earl Bennett, while Alshon Jeffery drags away Micah Hyde. This should then open up Martellus Bennett for the ball.

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So Jennings follows Earl Bennett, and Hyde follows Jeffery as McCown winds his arm back to throw. Martellus Bennett might now be free underneath - but here's something that I don't see how McCown missed: Tramon Williams is in perfect position to make a play on the ball, as I've circled in yellow. With McCown seeing this, I'm not sure why he didn't go on through his progression.

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As you may be able to see in the blue circle, Jeffery has a few steps on Hyde - though not by much, certainly. Still, the alternative to Jeffery was Martellus Bennett - and as you can see in the yellow circle, by the time the ball is in the air (circled in beige), Bennett really is no longer a viable option.

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In fact, by the time the pass gets to Bennett, Williams is now completely in front of him. To give a better angle:

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There's simply no way that Bennett is ending up with this ball - and if Williams had better hands, this would have been an interception. You can also see from this angle that though both he and Hyde had stopped running at this point, Jeffery definitely had a few steps on the rookie corner. The throw to Jeffery is a tough one, but this isn't like in play D) above, where McCown had a more-open option in Brandon Marshall - before the ball was thrown, it should have been clear to McCown that Williams was in position to make a play on the ball. Instead, McCown appeared locked in to the logic of the playbook - that if Jennings follows Earl Bennett, and Hyde follows Jeffery, then Martellus Bennett will be open - and disregarded what should have been a pretty obvious interception risk.

H) A shot at redemption

The following play was the final time that Marc Trestman called McCown's number in the game. The play comes on 3rd & 6 at the Bears' 39 yard, Chicago leading the Packers by just four points, with 5:46 left in the game and Green Bay still in possession of all its time outs. Convert here and the team has a chance to run out the clock; fail, and the Packers get the ball back with enough time to take the lead.

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Brandon Marshall runs a crossing route across the field. He has Casey Hayward in coverage, as I've marked out, but Marshall's speed will allow him to get separation. Once Morgan Burnett jumps down to cover Michael Bush out of the backfield, it means there are no real underneath defenders to prevent McCown hitting Marshall in stride.

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As you might be able to see in the beige circle, McCown has just released the ball, while Marshall has a ton of space to work with.

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And it's not just Marshall who has a ton of space to work with - as McCown dials back his arm to throw, he's being given a very clean pocket, and will have more than enough time to get off a pass before A.J. Hawk can reach him. In all, he has no excuse to throw a bad pass here, especially given the context of the score and time left in the game.

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Yet... McCown throws a pass that's both so low and so far behind where it should be that Marshall has to slide to the ground just to reel in the catch. There's simply no excusable reason for this pass to be so badly thrown, and a receiver with less presence of mind than Marshall - not every receiver's instincts would be to slide to try catch a ball this badly placed - would have seen the Bears punt and give the Packers over four minutes, with all three time outs remaining, to score a touchdown to win the game.

Conlcusion

I'm baffled how McCown could seemingly play as well as he did against the Redskins coming off the bench, and yet make so many poor throws despite having two full weeks taking starting reps at practise. This game also illustrates why I will always trust game film over stats - McCown still managed a very respectable passer rating of 90.7 for this game, yet left plays all over the field due to his ball placement, ball delivery and decision making, factors which the stats sheet don't take into account.

Frankly, I have a hard time reconciling the McCown we saw against the Redskins with the McCown who played this game, despite it ending in victory for the Bears. I'm not sure I'm the only one to have noticed it, too - after all, Trestman decided to go with a still-injured Jay Cutler over McCown for the next week's game against the Lions, a decision which many Bears fans believed was the cause of the resultant loss, but is a decision made all the more understandable once we get into the nitty gritty of this game. Still, McCown was eventually brought back on for the final throes of that game, completing six of nine passes for 62 yards and a touchdown. We won't look into that game - hardly seems worth analysing just nine passes - so for the next edition, we'll look at the Week 11 game against the Ravens, McCown's first home game as starting QB for Chicago.

In the interim, though, I'm still having a hard time getting a handle on just what kind of a QB Josh McCown is... so I've turned to someone more qualified to give insight into McCown than I. Come back later this week for some insights into Josh McCown as a quarterback from one of his former receiving targets!

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