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Mike Glennon vs Game Film: Week 11 - improvement or illusion?

After three straight weeks of glaring regression in all significant areas of quarterback play, Mike Glennon bounced back with his best performance to date. Has Glennon turned the corner, or is it still too early to order your #8 jersey? We turn to the game film to find out.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last week it appears I may have over-stated the decline of Mike Glennon. In my defense, there was three straight weeks of clear regression in all major areas, culminating in his worst game as a pro against Miami. Yes, I projected on the trend - three weeks of seeing Glennon playing progressively worse & worse made me a massive seller of Glennon's stock, as I made clear in last week's article.

So, of course Glennon had to go out and have his best game yet the following week. Harumph.

Still, it far from sold me on Glennon. Again, and I cannot stress this enough: his best game came after three straight weeks of progressively bad performances. Three games suggests a trend; one game could be a blip, especially against the second worst pass rush in the entire NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. Well, we shall see how he fares the rest of the year - he won't play as poor a pass rush again this season.

But stats aside, we're here to focus on the actual game film. Let me get this out the way: while we did see some improvement in his anticipation on some plays (though the same play-killing hesitancy on others), and he showed some better pocket awareness against the Falcons, his basic fundamentals - especially ball placement - is really, really lacking. That didn't change against Atlanta. I'll set my stall out near the end of this piece, but have included a bunch of plays to show exactly how Glennon's ball placement is bad - and why it's such an important rudimentary skill to have down pat. First, though, as always, here's the dropback-by-dropback breakdown of last week:

Attempt Down & Distance Result Notes
1 1st & 10 14 to Jackson (4 YAC) Pass thrown behind, prevented considerable YAC
2 3rd & 3 Thrown away Instead of stepping up into the pocket, scrambles for no reason, preventing him seeing wide-open Tiquan Underwood in middle of field
3 1st & 10 5 to Crabtree (6 YAC) Sold play-fake well, made right choice in hitting checkdown here rather than taking a riskier throw
4 1st & 10 Thrown away Didn't have a lot of options here so throwing the ball away was the right choice
5 3rd & 5 6 to Leonard (6 YAC)* I'll leave this play for you to judge when I explain what it looks like should be happening - see A below
6 1st & 10 3 to Leonard (0 YAC) Glennon settles for checkdown though Underwood was open on deeper curl. No real pressure, though Glennon does at least move well in the pocket on this play
7 1st & 10 Incomplete to Wright On a play of difficult reads, Glennon does manage to find best possible option. Pass was completable but would have required a much better ball than Glennon threw, though he was under pressure
8 3rd & 3 0 to Jackson (0 YAC)* Good response to pressure by Glennon, setting up outside the pocket rather than scrambling - but his hesitation kills the chance to convert. See B below
9 1st & 10 47 to Jackson (6 YAC) Not a great ball by Glennon but he does what needs to be done - get it inside Jackson's 'strike zone' and let him make the play on the ball
10 2nd & 9 10 to Rainey (15 YAC) Running back screen, brought back due to holding by Larsen
11 1st & 10 17 to Jackson (0 YAC)* This is a mixed bag. On the one hand, terrible placement, thrown so low & far behind Jackson he needs to slide in order to catch it, despite there being no pressure on Glennon. On the other, Glennon does show good anticipation in making the throw. You be the judge - see C below
12 2nd & 11 Incomplete to Jackson I have no problem with taking the shot at the endzone, as the route selection by Sullivan was pretty terrible. Still, ball needs to be thrown where only Jackson can get it - Jackson has to commit OPI to prevent a potential interception
13 3rd & 16 7 to Leonard (4 YAC) Ordinarily I'd point out that there were two deeper open targets. But in the circumstances, I'm gonna commend Glennon's situational awareness here, taking a surer target to get the ball in field goal range
14 2nd & 10 20 to Underwood (5 YAC) Sander's already gone through this play at length, so read that - though I'm not sure if it's as significant a play as Sander suggests
15 1st & 10 9 to Jackson (5 YAC)* Questionable situational awareness, less than a minute to go & trying to drive down the field - see D below
16 2nd & 1 7 to Jackson (3 YAC) While another throw to the middle of the field (which requires a timeout by the Bucs), Glennon didn't have another option on this play
17 1st & 10 Sacked None of his receivers get open at all, Glennon scrambles (justifiably) but it makes it easier for Cliff Matthews to get off Joseph's block and sack him. Just really good coverage by the defense, though there is an illegal contact flag against the defense due to Sean Weatherspoon holding Wright
18 1st & 10 13 to Wright (7 YAC) Found the open man, good placement allowed YAC
19 1st & 10 Scramble for 4 There's no real pressure here, but with under 15 seconds to go and no time outs, scrambling out of bounds was the right choice so good situational awareness here
20 2nd & 6 5 to Leonard (9 YAC) Running back screen
21 2nd & 8 Incomplete to Underwood All kinds of DPI by the defender. Glennon put in a bad spot, every receiver pretty much covered
22 2nd & 7 53 to Jackson (0 YAC) As with previous deep throw, not a great ball but in Jackson's 'strike box'
23 1st & Goal, from the 4 4 to Rainey (2 YAC), touchdown* See E below
24 1st & Goal, from the 10 3 to Lorig (4 YAC)* See E below
25 3rd & Goal, from the 3 3 to Jackson (0 YAC), touchdown Probably best jump-ball Glennon's thrown all year
26 3rd & 3 Sacked Glennon doesn't seem to have any idea what to do with himself in the pocket, spends way too long hesitating between scrambling or throwing, goes to scramble, steps back, goes to scramble somewhere else, gives D time to work loose and sack him
27 1st & 10 5 to Jackson (1 YAC)
28 2nd & 8 10 to Jackson (2 YAC) Ball thrown low and behind, Jackson has to skid to halt to catch it, killing off any real YAC
29 3rd & 14 Sacked Has Tim Wright open on a crossing route across the field, but instead appears to go into panic mode because there's a brief flash of white jersey, even though Zuttah immediately recovers & blocks the DT

Here, I'll let you see what I saw on six plays so that you can make your own decisions on what they do or don't mean about Glennon.

A) The Traditional Mesh

On 3rd & 5, Mike Sullivan calls for what is effectively the quintessential Leach-Mumme mesh play. It's the corner stone of the Air Raid offense, it's the only play in the Air Raid that the quarterback has permission to check into no matter what the personnel or formation, and by Hal Mumme's own account, over 50% of the touchdowns scored in offenses he's coached have come on this play. In other words, it's nothing exotic - it's a play that's part of pretty much every offense's playbook at most levels of football, and it should look something like this:



I've drawn in (crudely) the order of the reads in the traditional mesh - a corner route (which in this case Underwood runs with a stutter-fake inside), then a swing out the backfield underneath, and then the mesh in the middle.

However, pretty much as soon as the ball is snapped, Glennon throws straight to Leonard out of the backfield:



Now, here's where it's open to interpretation. According to the traditional mesh, the first read is always the corner route. Glennon, however, never checks the corner route, but goes straight to Leonard. Notice, though, what is going to happen between Underwood and the corner covering him:



As Leonard catches the ball, Underwood stutter-fakes inside as if breaking to a post, turning the corner inside...



Before cutting back to the outside, getting open with separation from the corner.

Now, in the above photo, you can see that a linebacker has closed in on Leonard, a few yards short of the first down. Through second effort, Leonard is able to make it just past the marker and gets the team a fresh set of downs.

Here is where the difficulty comes in. If this is a traditional mesh play, then Glennon showed poor patience for plays to develop, going for a quick checkdown - which only made enough yardage for the first down on Leonard's efforts - rather than to the deeper receiver who would have been open for a certain first down. Moreover, look back at the screencaps - there is never any pressure on Glennon, so he had no reason to go for the checkdown immediately.

And yet... is it a traditional mesh? The routes are, certainly, but the fact is we have no way of knowing what order Glennon has been coached to make his reads. It's entirely possible that Sullivan has decided to make the swing out the backfield the first read on the mesh, in which case on this play Glennon showed quick diagnosis and decisiveness on the play, and actually does place the ball well on this play, allowing Leonard to make the YAC.

The same play can be used as evidence in two very different takes on Glennon. Sadly, without knowing what the Bucs' playbook has as the order of reads, there's simply no way of telling which take is correct.

B) The Mesh Variation

Another third down pass play, this time third-and-three, and another mesh concept, although a slight variation, as shown below:



Here, it's the actual mesh routes that Glennon will be targeting. The Falcons seem to be playing something of a convoluted disguised man defense - for example, the high safety in the above photo actually seems to be playing a (very!) off man coverage on Vincent Jackson, at the bottom of the screen cap. Go figure.

As part of the disguise, while six of the seven defenders in coverage do appear to be playing a very disguised man coverage, the middle linebacker does just seem to sit in a zone in the middle, almost as if spying the QB. The upshot is that the two mesh receivers, Jackson and Chris Owusu, both cross into what would be this middle zone:



Now, unlike the previous play, Glennon actually is under pressure here, and all credit to the kid, he handles it well. He shuffles outside the pocket, but rather than going for a full-on scramble, he sets his feet roughly where I've drawn a yellow line, and looks at the mesh.



The middle linebacker bumps into Owusu, which uncovers Jackson underneath. Jackson's now got a lot of green field outside of him. All that Glennon needs to do here is lead the receiver into the catch by throwing it roughly along the yellow line I've drawn in here, allowing the receiver to turn up and make the YAC to get the first down (with the marker circled in dark blue).



Glennon, however, does not lead his receiver into the catch. Instead, he throws the ball later than he needs to, and throws it at, rather than in front of, Jackson. This causes the receiver to not only slow down pretty much to a halt, but also turn his body round to face the quarterback.



Now Jackson has turned to face Glennon, and after catching the ball, instead of being in-stride and heading towards all the open green towards the sideline, continues to rotate in the direction he's already turning - back infield, as marked by the yellow line. And, as you can see by the light blue circles, right into three free defenders.



As you can imagine, the play goes nowhere, with Jackson brought down for no gain, bringing up a field goal.

Again, this seems to me indicative of the poor ball placement that has increasingly been a hallmark of Glennon's play. Then again, it's third down. There's every chance that Glennon might be coached to make sure the ball gets in the receiver's hands - even if it means killing off the chance of making YAC - rather than perhaps over-throwing Jackson and potentially having one of the defenders dive for a pick, killing off the chance of a field goal. This is another play where you cannot be sure what the coaches have told Glennon to do - I leave it to you to judge.

On a side note, though, Jamon Meredith is flagged for Illegal Use of Hands, so the play would have come back if Jackson had made the first down. Still, that's besides the point. This is a play where Glennon does a good job of feeling pressure in the pocket and setting up outside, but the actual pass, in particular the ball placement, can be interpreted in one of two ways. How would you grade out Glennon on this play?

C) The Deep Cross

The following play is one of the more frustrating ones, as it combines something really good with something that, to me, is really bad. Again, though, I'll present the play as-is for you to judge.



Jackson is running a deep cross on this play. The above screen cap is taken just as the ball is thrown. The corner in the light blue circle is looking at Glennon, with his back to Jackson. He initially doesn't know what route Jackson is running (Jackson's route looks at first like a streak down the sideline), so when Glennon throws the ball, the defender backs out towards the sideline, an error that takes him out of the play. Jackson is crossing into a big patch of field. This is the type of throw that Sander referred to as a 'big boy' throw - remember, this screen cap is just after the ball has thrown, so before Jackson has broken his route. Good anticipation by Glennon, full marks for the kid here.



The ball is about to reach Jackson in the above picture. As I've circled in yellow, he has a huge amount of open field in front of him. As long as Jackson can outpace William Moore, in the light blue circle, then there's some serious YAC to be made on this play, right? Here's what the catch looks like:



There is, sadly, no opportunity to make any YAC, as the ball is delivered behind where Jackson is going to be, and, much worse, at about knee-height. Jackson has to slide to make the catch. What's worse, though, is that corner who made the mistake when Glennon threw the ball. Now, the receiver is always going to have the advantage over the corner in knowing exactly when the break is going to come, so Jackson would still have been in front of the corner had the defender not assumed Glennon was throwing to Jackson on a streak.

As long as the ball was in front of Jackson, then there's no interception risk. Had the corner not mis-judged Jackson's route, though, then he would absolutely have been in position to dive in front of Jackson and make a play on the ball. Remember that the first screen cap is taken just after the ball is thrown; Glennon didn't know that the corner had mis-judged Jackson's route. You'll also notice that Glennon is under no defensive pressure whatsoever. So, again, I ask you all - how do you grade Glennon on this play? He absolutely showed a marked improvement in anticipation on this play, but the placement not only killed off easy YAC, but had the corner not jumped, would have been at real risk of a pick. How do you grade him here?

D) The Two-Minute Drill

Now I'm going to actually start off praising Glennon. His composure for the most part impressive, showing poise and maturity, and he succeeded in putting the team in field goal range after getting the ball with just under a minute to go. The team has only two timeouts, and especially at the end, Glennon did his bit in preserving the game clock, scrambling out of bounds to get four yards while killing the clock. Still, there is a head scratcher on the very first play of the drive.



In the above screen cap, Glennon's just completed a pass to Jackson, who is brought down shortly after this catch. The problem is that time is running down, and there was never going to be a realistic chance that Jackson can make it out of bounds. Meanwhile, Brian Leonard is wide open, and his route is taking him towards the sideline. He should have quite comfortably made good yardage on the play, and been in position to get out of bounds.

Still, this could speak more to the simple fact that Glennon is a rookie, and maybe hasn't yet developed the situational awareness to look first for routes that can get out of bounds that preserve the clock. Had Glennon thrown to Leonard, it would have saved several seconds off the clock that might have gotten the team closer - Lindell would end up shanking the field goal - but it shouldn't detract from an otherwise impressive drive from the quarterback.

E) The Flat Route

The final aspect we'll look at are two passes by Glennon that followed on from each other, though on different drives. Both plays sees the same route - a flat - being run out of the backfield, and both see Glennon make what I consider to be the same mistake - though again, I invite you to tell me how you would grade Glennon on these.

The first play is Bobby Rainey's receiving touchdown. It might appear to be nitpicking for nitpicking's sake to point out an arguable mistake on a touchdown, but it becomes relevant in the second route we'll look at.



I've marked out in yellow Rainey's flat route (though it's a little flatter than Rainey actually runs it). Though, in a rarity, Zuttah is beaten on this play, Glennon's about to throw the ball before the DT gets anywhere near him, so he's not under pressure. Flat routes are a staple route, easy to complete for the QB and, if thrown to the ideal place, coming with very little interception risk. The correct placement on a flat route should be upfield (i.e. 'underneath'), but in front, of the receiver. This allows the receiver to catch the ball away from any defenders without breaking stride. I've drawn where Glennon should be throwing the ball in relation to the flat I've scrawled in. Rainey would then be able to turn up field and cross the goal line for his third touchdown of the game.

Here's where Rainey catches the ball:



Instead of in front and upfield of Rainey, the ball is thrown behind, causing the receiver to have to turn around to catch the ball, slowing him down. As with Vincent Jackson in play (B) above, Rainey has to really follow his momentum to turn back in field in order to make positive yardage. No harm no foul though, right? A touchdown is a touchdown.

The very next throw Glennon makes is on the following drive. After handing off to Rainey for four straight plays, a pass is dialled up. Glennon throws to the same route, this time run by Erik Lorig:



Again, Glennon should be throwing upfield and in front of Lorig, to enable him to catch the ball in stride and turn up along the white line - and as you can see, he would have had a real chance at a touchdown.



Instead, Glennon again throws the ball behind Lorig, causing him to slow down and have to turn back to the QB to catch the ball.



Unlike on the previous play, there's a Falcons defender ready to take down Lorig. Thankfully, Lorig stiff-arms the defender and is able to make some positive yardage on the play, but if not for his stiff-arm, Lorig would have been taken down for a loss of one.

Yes, the ball placement didn't hinder Rainey going in for a touchdown, due to two clear-out slants by the receivers freeing up a nice patch of field for Rainey to work in. But the team shouldn't resort to having to put in clear-out routes if they want to put in a flat route - it's an easy throw for a quarterback, but Glennon's placement, in my eyes, turned a very basic route into one that is nowhere near as effective as it should be - and caused a potential touchdown, depending on how fast Lorig could have put on the burners, to a potential loss of yardage, if not for Lorig's presence of mind to stiff-arm the defender. Still, that's only what I see on these plays - how do you grade out Glennon here?


The point in this is not to unnecessarily knock Glennon, who did have his best game yet. The point is to offer a warning: do not be sold on results when the underlying fundamentals are as poor as I believe Glennon's are. Success with a shoddy foundation is never, ever sustainable - it's a lesson that I, and many others in this fanbase, learnt from the previous guy. 2010 blinded us to the underlying poor fundamentals - they showed up in successive seasons. Likewise, Glennon's production last Sunday was undeniably great, but the fundamentals underneath show the same all cracks. It's purely not sustainable.

I know that in an article earlier this week, Sander used a play to show Glennon making 'big boy' throws, saying it's the kind of throw Alex Smith would never make, and using it as evidence that Glennon can be more than a game manager. Well, I'm not sure I necessarily agree with that (for one thing, the 2011 NFC Divisional playoff game - gotta give Smith a little credit for that). But even then, the pass, which was definitely a good one, also looked to be just a medium-depth timing route. It just adds to the stance I've taken pretty much throughout this season on Glennon - he has potential as a starting QB in a west coast offense, where these kind of timing routes are prevalent (though the obvious deterioration in Glennon's ball placement makes me less certain about this than I have previously been.)

Here's where I'm softening my stance, though; we have no idea what level of quality the coaching Glennon is receiving is at. With a better QB coach, these fundamentals could be fixed - and that could change the trajectory of Glennon's development significantly. I've said before that the Glennon issue is self-resolving - if Glennon doesn't want to be replaced by a top-shelf rookie QB, he needs only to play well enough to make sure the Bucs aren't drafting early enough to get one. If the Bucs can't grab one of the top two prospects, then they won't find an immediate upgrade over Glennon elsewhere in the draft. They'd be better off finding a veteran QB to part-compete, part-mentor Glennon, and hiring the best QB coach money can buy to see if Glennon's shaky fundamentals can be fixed. If yes, then he's absolutely worthy of re-assessing over next season - there's always the 2015 draft.

But while Bridgewater may now be out of the equation, Mariota remains very much in play for the Bucs. Again, going by PFF's grades, they don't face another pass rush anywhere even slightly near as bad as the Falcons' the rest of the year - important to note, as under pressure, Glennon's stats drop to a 44.6% completion rate, and a paltry 60.1 passer rating. More importantly, since - let's be under no illusions here - the offense fired on so many cylinders last week due to Bobby Rainey, they only have one game remaining against as bad a run defense, that being against the Rams.

So with that in the mix, Mariota could absolutely on the board when the Bucs pick in May. If that's the case, then they should learn from the two teams they beat this year (ok, it's not a perfect analogy as it was the same draft rather than consecutive drafts, but the point stands):

You don't pass on Matt Ryan for Chad Henne. That's all it comes down to, really.


But wait, there's more to this week's article:


Yes, I said I'd evaluate everyone who threw a pass for the Bucs this season. We had Josh Freeman vs Game Film, we have Mike Glennon vs Game Film, and now we have two more players stepping up to the plate.

Pass Attempt Down & Distance Result Notes
1 4th & 9 Incomplete to Leonard Good job by Leonard breaking up a potential pick. Michael Koenen just flung it as he fell to the ground, looks like his primary (only?) read on the play wasn't open

Flinging it blindly is never advisable, and frankly just shows he's not mentally ready to step up the quarterback position. At least it was an improvement over the last pass he threw.


Finally, we have Bobby Rainey's passing efforts:

Pass Attempt Down & Distance Result Notes
1 1st & 10 Incomplete to Jackson Ball thrown too high and wobbles all over the place. Interesting note: based on this play, it appears Rainey is left-handed

Simply put, Rainey's fundamentals are just awful. The ball placement was just atrocious. I would strongly recommend the Bucs look at another option at quarterback than Rainey. Dude can run, though.