Well, it's been a while since I wrote the first edition of Josh McCown vs. Game Film, thanks to the draft and numerous other things - but now that the Bucs are fully into OTAs and finding out just what exactly they have in Josh McCown, it's timely that we do the same. Obviously, from outside One Buc Place, we can't tell how quickly McCown is gelling with the Dunkaneers skillset, or how comfortable he is communicating protection calls to and from Evan Dietrich-Smith, or how well he's nailed down Jeff Tedford's offense. What we can do, however, is use last year's game film to see what he can and can't do.
After nearly beating the Redskins coming off the bench in a high-scoring shootout, Josh McCown was handed the reins of the offense while Jay Cutler healed up from a groin injury. McCown had some luck on his side, as the team had its' byeweek after the Washington game. I found McCown impressive in his first run out in 2013, so with two weeks to get practice reps with the starters, I was excited to see what McCown could do in his next game, a Monday night showdown against fierce rivals Green Bay - a game that ultimately became a "battle of the back ups" after Seneca Wallace replaced an injured Aaron Rodgers in the first quarter.
I couldn't help but be disappointed in McCown's performance.
I'll go through some plays that show some specific examples of where I felt McCown's showing was really lacking, but first, as always, here's the throw-by-throw breakdown of every one of McCown's dropbacks:
|Attempt||Down & Distance||Result||Notes|
|1||1st & 10||12 to Marshall (0 YAC)||Moves in the pocket while scanning downfield, sees Brandon Marshall heading to a soft spot between zones and throws the ball as Marshall breaks his route. Pass is thrown low killing any YAC opportunity|
|2*||1st & 10||Pass batted down||Tramon Williams blitzes from the slot, McCown tries for a quick pass to Alshon Jeffery but Williams easily bats it down - bad decision making, could have been a pick. Martellus Bennett, who was close to Jeffery, would have been the better option - see 'A' below|
|3*||2nd & 10||19 to Marshall (8 YAC)||McCown fakes a handoff to Matt Forte, then finds a wide-open Marshall. Pass was thrown a little behind; while it went for 8 YAC, it could have gone for a lot more if the ball was placed where Marshall could have caught it in stride - see 'B' below|
|4||1st & 10||Deliberate throw out of bounds||This is officially recorded as an incomplete pass to Forte, but what actually happens is a breakdown in pass protection - looks like McCown was meant to roll out off of the play-action, but there were too many unblocked Packers, sending him back in the other direction. With all kinds of pressure in his face, he throws at Forte to avoid an intentional grounding flag, but far too high to make this anything but an intentional throw out of bounds|
|5||2nd & 10||13 to Jeffery (15 YAC)||Receiver screen off of play-action|
|6||1st & 10||Pass broken up||McCown targets Marshall in the end zone with a deep pass. The pass was accurate enough but the coverage was good, and Tramon Williams is able to get his hands on the ball, with Williams and Marshall essentially knocking the ball away from each other|
|7*||3rd & 6||23 to Marshall (0 YAC), touchdown||Great job by McCown here, who's getting all kinds of mugged off by the Packers' pass rush. Despite being grabbed at, he doesn't lose focus downfield, and is able to get the pass off to lead Marshall into the end zone - see 'C' in part two|
|8||2nd & 8||Incomplete to M. Bennett||McCown appears to get hurried into rushing his progression by pressure, and ends up sidearming this ball without stepping into this throw; as a result, the ball bounces off the ground in front of Martellus Bennett's feet|
|9||3rd & 8||'Sack' - deliberate slide behind LOS||Though coverage is initially good (with the nickel managing to get away with defensive holding) receivers begin to break open; however, McCown decides to scramble without being pressured (though a defender is coming free, McCown will not have been able to see him), so questionable decision making by McCown|
|10||2nd & 12||10 to Jeffery (4 YAC)||McCown has a standard slant-flat concept and makes the right read, but doesn't step into his throw despite a clean pocket; ball placement is a little behind, with Jeffery having to slow his route a little - if placed further in front then this could have gone for more YAC|
|11||3rd & 2||16 to Jeffery (7 YAC)||McCown freezes the safety with his eyes then makes a quick glance & throw at Jeffery, hitting him in stride and letting him make YAC. Markedly better placement than the previous play|
|12||2nd & 7||1 to M. Bennett (5 YAC)||Designed screen to Bennett, but Nate Palmer doesn't bite on the play-action, so McCown floats an inaccurate pass over Palmer to Bennett, who has to drop to one knee to be able to catch the too-short pass; as a result, defenders swarm onto Bennett, and he shows fantastic effort just driving his feet enough to get some positive gain|
|13*||3rd & 6||Incomplete to M. Bennett||Bad play by McCown, who appears to stare down a tightly-covered Bennett the whole way. He follows that up with a pass that's too low and too far in front, again not stepping into his throw despite having a clean pocket. Marshall was running a similar route behind Bennett, but was wider open so in much better position to make YAC, but McCown doesn't go through his progression - see 'D' in part two|
|14||2nd & 8||33 to Forte (32 YAC)||McCown is patient here and goes through his progression; he had the opportunity to throw to Jeffery over the top, but to do so would have been a 'greedy' decision as Forte was just so wide open|
|15||1st & 10||-3 to Forte (2 YAC)||Designed screen to Forte, but BJ Raji read the screen and tackled Forte as soon as he had the ball in his hands|
|16||2nd & 13||27 to M. Bennett (17 YAC)||McCown leans back as he throws to avoid two defenders coming in, and falls over in the process while still getting the throw off. AJ Hawk, who's covering Bennett, appears to slow down (presumably he must have assumed McCown was sacked when he fell over), opening up Bennett to catch the ball and make YAC|
|17||3rd & 4||Incomplete to Marshall||McCown doesn't step into his throw, resulting in a low pass. The ball drops in between Marshall's arms but this incompletion is more on McCown's delivery than on Marshall|
|18||1st & 10||Incomplete throw||On the Bears' own 1-yard line, McCown appeared to be trying to throw to Jeffery over the top, which was a fair decision, but Raji hit him as he threw, resulting in the ball landing on the ground several yards short|
|19||2nd & 10||16 to Marshall (0 YAC)||In my first draft I had criticised this as a floaty pass, something McCown does throughout this game, but on further review the floaty pass was a fair decision to avoid any chance of an interception by an underneath defender - but the floaty pass is an issue later on in the game|
|20||2nd & 8||15 to Bush (14 YAC)||Given that the pocket was beginning to collapse in on him, the checkdown to Michael Bush was the right decision here|
|21*||1st & 10||14 to Marshall (0 YAC)||Good job of going through his progression, but ball was badly placed, with Marshall having to jump in the air and twist round to haul it in. If placed well, could have led to solid YAC, which is vital as this pass comes inside the two-minute warning - see 'E' in part two|
|22*||1st & 10||0 to M. Bennett (0 YAC)||Another pass without McCown putting his lower body into the throw, another floaty pass which killed off any YAC opportunity. If this is thrown hard, then Bennett has a chance at making YAC - see 'E' in part two|
|23||3rd & 10||Scramble for 20||Scrambling was the right choice, though I question the wisdom of cutting back in field instead of stepping out of bounds given the gametime situation. I could see the argument for him attempting to get to the end zone, though|
|24||1st & 10||Incomplete to Jeffery||McCown went through his progression fine, and ultimately deciding on the jump ball to Jeffery was the right decision. Pass was a little too hight, but better too high (and save the FG opportunity) than risk the turnover|
|25||1st & 10||3 to Forte (9 YAC)||Designed running back screen|
|26||2nd & 7||Deliberate throw out of bounds||McCown had an edge rusher in his face, so appears to have decided to throw the ball away rather than take the sack or force a throw|
|27||3rd & 7||Drop by Forte||Bad drop by Forte, but McCown's ball placement didn't help - there was no reason this couldn't have been placed right on Forte's numbers. Marshall would have been a better choice too, though pocket was beginning to close in|
|28||1st & 10||Thrown out of bounds||This is meant to be a deep sideline throw, but McCown's throw - which is entirely unhurried - is pretty inaccurate, even if Marshall had been able to catch it he would have had to have jumped so high there's no real chance he would have managed to get his feet in bounds|
|29||3rd & 9||15 to Jeffery (0 YAC)||Patient in his progression|
|30||1st & 10||Incomplete to Jeffery||Something of a bizarre play, Jeffery is in position, then as McCown throws Jeffery moves away from where the pass is going. By the time Jeffery realises this he has to turn so sharply that he slips, and the pass falls to the ground|
|31||3rd & 4||Incomplete to Jeffery||Despite having room in the pocket, McCown scrambles. On the one hand, as he had space in the pocket, you could argue he should have stayed home and waited for a receiver to come open; on the other, the coverage was very good. In either case, he throws on the run at Jeffery but the pass is too low|
|32*||2nd & 9||12 to Marshall (0 YAC)||Despite seeing a defender come free, McCown stands tall in the pocket to make the throw knowing he's going to get hit; however, again the pass is a floaty one, meaning by the time the ball gets to Marshall he doesn't really have any room to go anywhere but out of bounds. If this was thrown hard, Marshall could have had some space to try and make YAC - see 'F' in part two|
|33||1st & 10||12 to Forte (11 YAC)||Goes through his progression patiently|
|34||1st & Goal, from the 6||Incomplete to Marshall||Looks like McCown was only interested in Marshall, as he throws this pretty much as soon as he completes his drop, suggesting he decided pre-snap that he liked this matchup. However, ball was thrown too high to ever make it realistically catchable|
|35||2nd & Goal, from the 6||6 to Jeffery (0 YAC), touchdown||Similar to the previous play, McCown must have liked what he saw pre-snap, as he takes a one-step drop then turns and throws to Jeffery. This time the pass is lower, giving Jeffery the opportunity to (successfully) contest the jump ball|
|36||1st & 10||Deliberately incomplete to Forte||As with pass attempt #15, this is a designed running back screen BJ Raji reads and ruins. McCown throws it at Forte's feet since the play is blown|
|37||2nd & 9||Incomplete to M. Bennett||McCown makes the right read here and delivers a decent enough ball despite being hit as he throws. Ball actually gets to Bennett's hand, but he can't hold on as AJ Hawk pulls on Bennett's arm, though Bennett did push off of Hawk first so was lucky not to get flagged for OPI|
|38*||3rd & 9||Incomplete to M. Bennett||Risky decision by McCown that could (and should) have ended in an interception by Tramon Williams. I can see McCown's logic here, but Jeffery would have been the better option; McCown doesn't look past Bennett, though - see 'G' in part two|
|39||2nd & 9||Caught out of bounds by Marshall||Designed roll-out off of play-action. The pass is a little low, a result of McCown jumping as he throws (due to being on the roll-out), but given those circumstances it's not a bad throw, just not enough real estate to let Marshall catch it in bounds due to Mike Neal not biting on the play-action|
|40||3rd & 9||8 to M. Bennett (7 YAC)||Bennett is the right read here, not much McCown could have done differently|
|41||1st & 15||Pass to Marshall broken up||McCown makes the right read, but Morgan Burnett breaks up the pass. However, McCown did underthrow the ball slightly, so Marshall had to round off his route, meaning Burnett had a better angle to break break up the pass; if thrown with a bit more touch, Marshall would have been able to continue running laterally which wouldn't have let Burnett close in as easily|
|42||2nd & 15||9 to Forte (4 YAC)|
|43*||3rd & 6||11 to Marshall (0 YAC)||Right read but bad placement means Marshall has to slide to catch this ball. Pocket was closing in but McCown had time to throw this more accurately - which is crucial given the situation of the game - see 'H' in part two|
So, all in all a regressive performance, marked by ill-placed balls that negated YAC opportunities, or long floaty passes that put his receivers in bad situations - sprinkled in with some bad decision making too. Here's some plays that in particular display some of McCown's more worrying tendencies from the game:
A) How not to adapt
The Bears line up in a single-back set, in a trips-left look, with Alshon Jeffery in the slot and Martellus Bennett at tight end. Pre-snap, Jeffery recognizes that Tramon Williams, who is lined up across from him, is going to be blitzing, and signals to McCown to throw a quick smoke route.
I've highlighted Jeffery's quick curl, and where Williams is blitzing - McCown is faking a handoff to Forte, but he would clearly be able to see Williams coming at him. Notice too how A.J. Hawk is coming forward, due to the play-action. You'll also see I've drawn Bennett's route, a short dig.
Now, as you can see Williams (circled in dark blue) is in the line of sight between McCown and Jeffery. McCown can see this as his arm is cocking back (in beige). Meanwhile, Bennett's dig route is being run into a huge hole in coverage, thanks to the linebackers biting on the play-action.
McCown throws the ball to Jeffery, despite seeing Williams in the way of the throw. Williams jumps up and bats the ball down - and McCown is lucky that the play didn't end in a pick. Now look at Bennett, who is still wide open. Jeffery alerted McCown to Williams' blitz pre-snap, and they adjusted to a smoke route - which is what you'd hope they would do in that situation. Still, McCown has to recognize that the trajectory of Williams' blitz meant he was in perfect position to make a play on the ball, and adjust. From the design of the play, it's clear that the play, as called in the huddle, was designed to suck the linebackers in and open up that zone for Bennett. When McCown saw Williams, he should have still been thinking "the play-action should open up Bennett", and adjusted to what he saw in front of him. Heck, if he was determined to go to Jeffery, even pump-faking would have frozen Williams - or forced him to jump for the bat-down too early - and opened up Jeffery again. The most frustrating thing is seeing how wide-open Bennett was - if McCown hits Bennett in stride, all Bennett needs to do is run fast enough to put the high safety at a shallow angle and turned the corner and this play's going for six. Instead, McCown's failure to adapt could have led the play to go for six - in the opposite direction
B) Location, location, location
Last time I looked at McCown's game film, I praised him for the regularity with which he would hit receivers in full stride, due to the accuracy of his ball placement.
In the very next game, McCown's performance was riddled with poor ball placement, that either reduced how much yardage could be made after the catch - if not killing off YAC opportunities all together. It's confusing, and frustrating, that something McCown did so well in the previous game, he failed to do so regularly in this game. On the following play, Brandon Marshall makes 8 yards after the catch - but it should have been more. Further, this was the only catch all game where Marshall was able to make YAC.
Here you have two receivers, circled in blue, running clear-out routes - deep routes designed to take defenders away from the area of the field you want to attack. Brandon Marshall is running a crossing route across the field; as a linebacker is coming down to cover Matt Forte (blue arrow), it means Marshall will be wide open.
So McCown throws the ball (beige circle) at Marshall, who (as you can see in the yellow circle) has a ton of space around him with no defenders in the area. The defender most likely to get to Marshall is Davon House (wearing #31), but if Marshall is catching this in full stride then House shouldn't be able to catch up to him, giving Marshall plenty of room to turn up field and make YAC.
Unfortunately, McCown's ball doesn't hit Marshall in stride - the endzone camera angle is too blurry to be able to show the optimal angle, but you can tell that Marshall has had to turn his shoulder back towards McCown to catch the ball - which means he can't be running full speed. This allows House to close in on him.
By the time Marshall turns up field, House is in position to force Marshall to have to move diagonally rather than vertically. If Marshall is moving full speed, he would have enough distance from House to be able to use all of the space in the yellow circle to set up the DB at the right of the screen with headfakes and stutter steps, or at the very least use his large frame to run through him for a few added yards after contact. Instead, he has to try and break away from House...
... which he is unable to do. What seems like a relatively minor problem here - Marshall was still able to make 8 yards after the catch - is something that became more and more of a problem as the game went on, which is why this was the only play where Marshall made YAC.
Unfortunately, McCown's ball placement, which was so praiseworthy against the Redskins, is an issue several times throughout the game - and not just the placement, but the ball delivery as well. It wasn't all bad, though, as McCown showed a few real positives in this game too. Come back for part two for seven further plays that highlights McCown's good and bad play in this game.