Schofield QB breakdown: Josh Rosen’s NFL starting debut a positive for winless Cardinals
Two rookie quarterbacks made their first NFL starts last week. While Baker Mayfield grabbed the lion’s share of the headlines, Josh Rosen’s debut for the Arizona Cardinals might have been more worthy of attention. Rosen completed 15-of-27 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown and had the Cardinals in position for a late field goal that would have given them the lead. The numbers are not jaw dropping, but the film shows that Rosen might already be the quarterback many expected him to become in the NFL.
Accuracy and Anticipation
Many who were in Rosen’s camp last draft season pointed to his crisp mechanics and ability as a passer as reasons that Rosen would succeed in the NFL. Both of those traits — and more — were on full display last Sunday in the desert. Despite just 15 completions, Rosen made a number of picturesque throws, and some drops by the Cardinals’ receiver corps also diminished the offensive production.
Trailing by seven in the fourth quarter, Arizona lines up with Rosen (#3) under center and with ’12′ offensive personnel on the field. The Cardinals align the two tight ends in a double-wing to the right, and put the two receivers in a stack slot to the left. The Seattle Seahawks respond with a two-high safety look pre-snap, and they walk a cornerback down over tight end Ricky Seals-Jones (#86), the wing tight end:
The Cardinals run a four verticals concept against this defensive look:
With the cornerback cheating down toward the line of scrimmage and the safety playing half-field, there is a window to deliver on a vertical route to the two-TE side of the formation. This throw, into the “turkey hole,” will need to be delivered with pinpoint accuracy, ahead of the cornerback in trail coverage and before the safety can rotate over.
This is a very impressive completion into a tight throwing lane, but the rookie quarterback puts this pass “into a shoebox,” to borrow a phrase from Gus Johnson. Seals-Jones pulls in the perfect throw and the Cardinals are on the move.
It does seem that Rosen is developing a great rapport with Seals-Jones, and Rosen’s best throw of the day was also in the direction of the athletic tight end. Later in the fourth quarter with the game tied at 17, the Cardinals face a second-and-8 in their own territory. They line up with Rosen in the shotgun and Seals-Jones aligned as the inside receiver in an inverted slot formation:
The Cardinals run a three-receiver concept to the left, with Seals-Jones running a deep out route, the outside receiver running a wheel route, and the running back running a route to the flat. On the backside Chad Williams (#10) runs a dig route while Larry Fitzgerald (#11) aligns in the wing and is tasked with helping in pass protection:
Seals-Jones gets isolated in a man coverage situation with Bobby Wagner (#54), a talented and athletic linebacker. The tight end gets upfield and perhaps has a step on the linebacker, but Wagner is in very good position underneath the tight end, right in his hip pocket. Rosen still looks to the tight end:
This is a prime example of “NFL open.” Seals-Jones has a step on Wagner, and while the linebacker is in good position this is a throw that quarterbacks need to make. Again, it needs to be put “in a shoebox” and Rosen does exactly that. When watching it on the broadcast replay angle, the throw is even more impressive:
This is a perfect throw from Rosen, and as Mark Schlereth points out in the booth, “you can’t throw it better than that.” The pass is delivered with enough touch to get it over Wagner, but with enough velocity to arrive before the safety can make a break on Seals-Jones. A truly impressive pass.
During his pre-draft process Rosen was viewed as a more statuesque quarterback, a throwback to the pocket passers of yore. Part of this might be because of the athleticism evident in the other four quarterbacks taken in the first round. But many, myself included, pointed to a path Rosen could follow regarding mobility: The Tom Brady model. Given Rosen’s background as a high school tennis player, he could use quick feet in the pocket to move, slide and extend from pressure. While not making him a dangerous threat with his legs as a runner, an ability to create enough space to deliver throws while evading pressure, akin to how Brady does it, could still be very effective.
Late in the first half the Cardinals face a third-and-5 in Seattle territory. They line up with Rosen in the shotgun and a three-receiver bunch look to the left that includes Fitzgerald. Here is the route combination the Cardinals use to try and convert this third-down opportunity:
Arizona has vertical routes to each side of the field, with Fitzgerald and Williams running a spacing concept underneath. The Seahawks bring pressure here, with slot cornerback Justin Coleman (#28) blitzing off the edge. Watch as Rosen uses quick feet in the pocket to slide in response to the bending and bowing of the line in front of him, creating enough space for himself to make this throw:
This is another perfect throw, using FItzgerald’s leverage advantage toward the sideline to complete this pass. But the footwork is also something to notice. Quarterbacks are often forced to react like boxers. When you watch a fight, notice the footwork from the boxers in the ring. There are times when they need to create enough space in a condensed period of time to get off a punch, whether by moving to one side or the other or stepping back before letting a punch fly. Quarterbacks in the pocket often need to do the same, using their feet to slide from pressure to create enough space to get the ball out of their hands:
Rosen does that very well on this play. Two plays later, the Cardinals are in the end zone.
A strange pre-draft phenomenon surrounding Rosen was how his intelligence was used against him, as a red flag of sorts. Rosen was labeled as a “millenial,” someone who was opinionated and needed to understand deeply the route concepts and reasoning behind calling specific plays. This came from his college coach, someone you would think would be in Rosen’s camp. But it became a mark against him, with many wondering if it would lead Rosen to a life away from the football field, or if his outside interests might prevent him from doing the necessary work in the film room.
But when you watched Rosen in college you saw a quarterback with a deep appreciation of schemes, coverages and how to attack them. He showed a great understanding of leverage (as we saw on the previous play) and also displayed the quick processing speed necessary to make immediate decisions in compressed amounts of time ... like in a collapsing pocket.
Rosen’s first NFL touchdown pass is a prime example of his processing speed and deep understanding of the game at work:
This is a maximum protection, two-receiver route with both Fitzgerald and Williams running crossing routes. Fitzgerald comes underneath while Williams goes over the top. The primary receiver on this play is Fitzgerald, and the offense is hoping that play-action in the backfield draws the linebackers down toward the line of scrimmage, freeing up the intermediate route to Fitzgerald.
Two of the linebackers, Barkevious Mingo (#51) and Wagner display pretty good discipline on this play. Though they both crash down initially, each makes a quick retreat into his underneath zone, taking away the throwing lane on the dig route to Fitzgerald. Rosen then looks to the other option, Williams, as he crosses into the red zone. But now the QB needs to worry about free safety Earl Thomas (#29) in the middle of the field, so he puts this throw to the outside and away from the safety.
Now, don’t just take that from me. Take it from the principals involved. The Cardinals put together a Film Room piece on this play and you can see the analysis from Rosen himself.
One That Got Away
Rosen’s debut was largely impressive, but there is always room for improvement. If there is one play the quarterback would likely enjoy a second crack at, it is this third-and-goal play from the second quarter. The Cardinals line up with Rosen in the shotgun and use a Y-Iso formation, with Seals-Jones split from the left tackle on the left side of the formation, and three wide receivers in a trips to the right. The Seahawks bring all 11 defenders down near the line of scrimmage, in what looks to be a man coverage scheme:
Arizona uses a dual passing concept on this play. They run a Flat-7 Smash concept to the left, with Seals-Jones running the corner route while running back David Johnson (#31) releases to the flat. To the trips side of the formation they run a Double-In concept, with the outside two receivers running quick in cuts while Christian Kirk (#13) runs a corner route:
If the defense stays with a man coverage scheme here, one of the in-cuts is probably a good route to throw. But Seattle drops to a red zone Cover 2 scheme instead, and as it makes this rotation, Kirk comes open on the corner route in the back right corner of the red zone:
Rosen first opens to his left to check the Flat-7, and then comes to the Double-In concept. Rather than looking for the corner route, Rosen double clutches on the inside in-cut and forces it late. The pass falls incomplete and the Cardinals are forced to settle for three. This is one that Rosen will probably hear about in film review.
Despite that mistake, this was a very positive debut from Rosen. The numbers were not gaudy, and despite his efforts at getting the Cardinals into field goal position late, Arizona failed to secure the victory. However, the numbers do not always tell the story, and through one game at least the young QB is showing some of the traits that made him a top ten draft pick.