Playing QB in the NFL is extremely complicated. On a pass play, the QB has to do the following: call the play in the huddle, identify the defensive front, identify the pre-snap coverage, audible if necessary, identify the Mike LB, set the pass protection, say the cadence, put the men in motion, take the snap, get to the proper depth in the drop quickly, re-read the coverage during the drop, identify the primary WR based on that coverage, know the WR route based on that coverage, set their feet, deliver the football on time and in rhythm. (And guess what, there may be more. This is just what I know based on going to coaching clinics over 15 years ago.) That is a lot of responsibility and that is why playing the position in the NFL is as much mental as it is physical. Because if any one of those things go wrong, the play will most likely fail.
But there are also certain rules for a QB that don’t change regardless of the level that they are playing at. Chad Henne broke one of those rules last night and that is why I am writing this post. I am talking about the 2nd INT he threw, the pass intended for Bess.
Tony Sparano was quick to defend Henne on that play stating the Bess ran the wrong route. Clearly Sparano wanted to take some of the heat off of Henne for a bad pass and publicly placed the blame on a miscommunication. But inside, deep down, Sparano and Daboll know how bad a play it was by Henne. Why would I say that? Because Henne broke a fundamental rule that has been taught to him since High School.
We have all watched a ton of football. We have all seen a QB throw an out route when the WR ran an in route. It happens all the time. That is simple miscommunication, a misread of the coverage by either the QB or the WR. When you hear a commentator state that the "QB and WR need to get on the same page", that is what they mean.
That is not what happened on the INT to Bess. If this was the scenario on that play Henne would have thrown the ball on time to the place where he thought Bess would be. He didn’t. He pumped, reset his feet, and threw the fade into coverage, a fundamental mistake. That mistake broke a fundamental rule that is taught to all QB’s from the High School level on up. That Fundamental Rule is:
If the WR runs the wrong route or isn’t where you expect him to be, either go to a secondary WR or throw the ball away.
Why must a QB do that? Because everything that I describe above that happens after the snap is now wrong.
Get to the proper depth in the drop quickly: The drop is dependant on the route. If the route is wrong, so is the drop.
Re-read the coverage during the drop: Either you or the WR have misread the coverage because the WR isn’t where you expect him to be.
Identify the primary WR based on that coverage: The Primary WR just ran the wrong route so even if you identified him correctly, he isn’t where he is suppose to be.
Know the WR route based on that coverage: The route is wrong so you don’t know where he is going.
Set their feet: The QB sets his feet to a specific route. A QB has different footwork to throw and out as opposed to an in.
Deliver the football on time and in rhythm: Because the WR isn’t where you thought he would be, the timing and the rhythm of the throw is wrong.
Because all of these things are wrong with the play, the odds of that play being successful are almost nonexistent. That is why the QB has to get to his secondary WR or throw the ball away, the lesser of two evils.
This is Henne’s 4th year in the NFL. Henne was a 4 year starter in College and probably a 4 year starter High School. He has to know better than that. He has had to have been taught repeatedly that he cannot make that throw. If the WR runs the wrong route, or I should say a different route than what you are expecting, a QB cannot throw the ball his way. This is basic football 101 and is taught at all levels of the game. I have had High School QB’s understand this concept.
In a way, I would have felt better if Sparano and Henne just came out and said it was a bad pass. While I wouldn’t have like that statement, I could have understood it. After all, it was the first preseason game with limited practice time. But stating that the WR ran the wrong route makes this INT, in an insignificant game, that much worse.
It worries me that an NFL QB would make this fundamental mistake. It worries me that an NFL QB would lock onto his primary WR and attempt to throw him the ball even when that WR is in the wrong spot. And I guarantee you that Sparano and Daboll are just as worried.
These are the types of fundamental mistakes, regardless of the system that they are running, that get QB's benched.
Update: Here is the video of the play in question. http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-preseason/09000d5d8216ce42/Grimes-picks-off-Henne?r_src=ramp
Watch Henne's reaction and his feet. Look at how his feet aren't pointing to the WR when he makes the throw.
Thanks to Alejando for finding the link to the video.