Nick Foles and the Art of Throwing Receivers Open

As a quarterback in the NFL, timing is extremely important when it comes to completing a pass. When a defender is in tight coverage, there is a small window of opportunity for the quarterback to be able to get the ball to his receiver. This window opens up immediately after the receiver makes his cut and creates separation from the defender, and then begins to close rather quickly as the defender recovers and gets back into position to make a play on the ball. This is where timing and anticipation come in. If the quarterback is able to begin his windup just as the receiver is beginning to make his cut and is able to put the ball in a spot that allows the receiver to catch it in stride as he is coming out of his break, the result will be a completed pass, even if the defender had great coverage on the play. If the quarterback waits too long to deliver the football, that window of opportunity may have already been shut and now the defender is able to make a play on the ball and break up the pass. For the folks watching the game at home, the play looks like a simple case of great coverage and a great play made by the defender. For the coaches and players reviewing the game film afterwards, this was a missed opportunity for positive yardage.

The act of being able to properly time and anticipate throws like this is dubbed by many analysts as “throwing your receiver open”. It is called this because at the time the quarterback begins his throw, the receiver is covered, but at the time the ball gets to the receiver, there is now separation between him and the defender because he has just completed making his cut and created a few steps of space between them. Thus, the quarterback has effectively “thrown” his receiver open. When a quarterback is able to do this, it makes the pass nearly impossible to defend.

Nick Foles showed last year that he possesses this skill, and it’s one of the many reasons why I think he’ll have another successful season this year. There is no defense for a perfectly thrown ball, and I see Foles getting even better at throwing his receivers open this year than he was last year. The following are some examples of Foles throwing his receivers open during the 2013 season. In each clip, the play is paused at the time that Foles begins his windup, and each time you’ll see that there is no separation between the receiver and the defender.

The first play comes from the week five game against the New York Giants. Foles throws a touchdown to wide receiver DeSean Jackson on a fade route to the back corner of the endzone. On this play, Foles begins his throw just as Jackson begins to make his cut. The cornerback defending Jackson has no idea that the ball is even in the air, which gives Jackson the freedom to make his move and create space, and then go up and get the ball before the defender even knows what happens.
001_jackson fade nyg

This next play is another fade route. This time it’s to wide receiver Riley Cooper during the Oakland Raider game. Foles throws this ball to the back pylon, and once again he begins his throw before Cooper is open. The result is a touchdown.
01_cooper fade oakland

This next play is a wheel route to runningback LeSean McCoy against the Washington Redskins. McCoy is covered by Ryan Kerrigan, which is a mis-match that Foles exploits for a big gain. Once again, Foles doesn’t wait until he sees that McCoy is open to begin his throw. On this play, he doesn’t necessarily “throw” McCoy open as there is no chance that Kerrigan catches him from behind, but he still does make the throw before McCoy has broken free.
02_mccoy wheel washington

This next play comes on a post route to tight end Zach Ertz against the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals are in a zone defense on this play, and Foles is able to lead Ertz into the space in between the two safeties for a touchdown. The timing and accuracy of the throw are key on plays like this. Since Foles is able to begin his throw before Ertz begins his cut, by the time the ball arrives the safety is in no position to be able to make a play on the pass. All he can do is tackle Ertz into the end zone. Had Foles waited a split second longer to make this throw, the safety would have been in position to be able to get a hand on the ball and break up the pass. And that’s how a split second can be the difference between an incomplete pass and seven points.
03_ertz post corner AZ

The following play comes on a deep square-in to Riley Cooper against the Washington Redskins. Once again, note the timing. Foles begins his throw as Cooper is making his cut, and the result is a 20+ yard play as the ball gets to Cooper just as he’s coming out of his break and has created separation between himself and the cornerback.
04_cooper square in washington

This last play is another deep square-in to Riley Cooper. This time it comes against the Arizona Cardinals. Just as in the play above, Foles begins his throw as Cooper is making his cut. At the time Foles begins his wind up, there is no separation between Cooper and the cornerback, but at the time the ball gets to Cooper, there is now a little over a yard of separation between himself and the defender. The defender is able to close in after the fact and make the tackle, but not before giving up a 15 yard gain and a first down.
05_cooper square in AZ

Foles’ ability to consistently make throws like this will make it very hard for defenses to prevent the Eagles from moving the chains and getting into the end zone in 2014. A perfect throw almost always beats perfect coverage, and the Philadelphia Eagles have a quarterback who can routinely make the perfect throw.

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6 thoughts on “Nick Foles and the Art of Throwing Receivers Open

  1. Great article Larry!!!!!!!

    Joe Monica
    Sr. Principal Designer
    Civil/Structural/Arch Dept.
    KBR
    242 Chapman Rd.
    Newark,Del 19702
    Office No. 1-302-452-9536

  2. So letting go of the ball before the player is open results in Foles being credited for them being open? I thought this kinda thing was just called timing.

    • It is timing, but that’s kind of the point. Being “open” at times can be a relative term because not all QBs can throw with anticipation and accuracy like that. When a QB can do that, it creates more opportunities for his receivers that they wouldn’t be getting with a QB who struggles with it.

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