November 2015 – How to Protect Your Quarterback

The Alouettes were tied with Calgary in 2015 for LEAST quarterback sacks allowed (33 Sacks or 1.8 S/G). IN THE SAME SEASON they had the CFL’s leading rusher in Tyrell Sutton. When our DOMINANT offensive line teams up with Rakeem Cato…a truly GIFTED and ELUSIVE runner…the outcome should be GOLDEN.

Still…the Edmonton game (Week 8) made it clear that even THIS combination will be vulnerable unless your team takes the appropriate steps. Despite the numbers, Cato spent a LARGE part of his time reacting to pressure AND escaping the rush. Let’s face it…the LAST thing your 170lb rookie quarterback needs to succeed is to be running for his LIFE OR to be sacked 8 TIMES in a game. NOT ONLY did Chris Jones (Eskimos defensive guru and Head Coach) out-coach the Alouettes in that game…the Als proved to EVERYONE that their playbook was NOT up to the challenge of STOPPING a truly formidable defense. In 2015 the Alouettes simply COULDN’T protect their quarterback.

Action-Reaction: The KEY to Success in Sports

ANY given situation on the field can be analyzed by determining the ACTIVE and REACTIVE participants. The team who puts it’s players in the ACTIVE role the MOST OFTEN during the course of any game…is the team that ULTIMATELY wins.

When a defensive back JAMS the receiver at the line of scrimmage he goes from a “reactive” situation where he must counter whatever move that receiver makes to execute the intended play…to taking the “active” role in that coverage situation. If he manages to knock his man off his route sufficiently, the receiver will spend the rest of the play attempting to re-establish the “active” role…

When an offensive lineman protects a quarterback in the pocket he is almost ALWAYS in the “reactive” position. The defensive lineman NEEDS to get to your quarterback…and you have to stop him. As the reactive participant you WILL fail, eventually. The best you can do is hold him off LONG enough to keep your quarterback “active” and ensure the play’s success. THIS is why you hear announcers declaring how much the “hogs” prefer running plays. The run game gives offensive linemen the chance to reverse their role, ATTACK and be “active”, force the defensive line to “react” for a change.

As a quarterback drops back in the pocket, EVERYONE on the offensive squad knows their role in the successful execution of the called play. As long as your quarterback can stand in the pocket, and WITHOUT pressure, he maintains that “active” position…KNOWS what he’s meant to do with the ball…and the chances for success are skewed in his team’s favour. The very MICROSECOND your quarterback is forced to react to the pressure, the roles are reversed. 90% of all turnovers occur once the player with the ball’s status has switched from an active to a reactive position.

So the PRIMARY goal in protecting your quarterback, and AVOIDING turnovers, is to assure that your QB is “active” for as much of the game as possible. You would HOPE that with experience, your quarterback will go through his reads quickly enough to remain “active” AND distribute the ball quickly enough that he WILL NOT be forced to “react”. The REALITY is, THAT ability comes with time and experience. Locking your young and mobile quarterback in the pocket, assuming he can read the field like a veteran, and NOT using the MULTITUDE of options his athleticism affords you is FOOLISH…and a recipe for disaster.

Of course your players will INEVITABLY find themselves in the “reactive” roles at various points of the game. There is NO time for thought in the micro-second between action and reaction. In ANY stressful situation, the cerebral cortex is bypassed…THOUGHT is simply TOO slow to get you out of the way of that stampeding Mastodon. REACTION then is essentially¬†a “thoughtless” process.

The truth is, our bodies betray us. Left to their own devices, our bodies will REACT in ENTIRELY the wrong way in MOST athletic situations. It’s fair to say that the ENDLESS repetitions and HOURS of constant training is in part a process of forcing your body to UNLEARN it’s endemic responses, and LEARN the reactions appropriate to your sport.

I have to wince whenever I see a coach SCREECHING at a player for some boneheaded penalty or play. Penalties and other mistakes happen when a player “reacts” in the wrong way, or finds himself at a disadvantage in reacting and has to FOUL in response. THEREFORE…any “boneheaded” play is the result of improper training and preparation…the coach SHOULD be yelling at himself.

While I would accept that as a RULE…there are SOME rare exceptions. Part of what makes extraordinary athletes so SPECIAL is their ability to IMPROVISE. And while part of their improvisational abilities come from those HOURS of training, the greatest ones seem to have “programmed” responses, that is instantaneous reactions that equal or surpass ANY planned strategy or play. And while you DON’T want to rely too heavily on your quarterback ALWAYS coming up with some improvisational MAGIC…it’s certainly nice to have.

There’s NO DOUBT that when you find such a quarterback, and if you can create strategies to use his athletic abilities to be “active”, attack defenses and avoid the pass rush, you NOW have a surefire recipe for SUCCESS. All that REMAINS is to slowly and patiently work on his pocket management. With any luck and before long you have a COMPLETE package…and a quarterback to be reckoned with.

As a concept, ACTION-REACTION may be a mite simplistic. Still…you’d be hard-pressed to find a football situation in which it didn’t apply. And as an over-arching philosophy it might well provide some team with the advantage it needs to go all the way. Beats the hell out of “Stay the Course” IMHO.

So what ARE the means by which a team can keep their mobile quarterback upright, ahead of the pass rush, and consistently in an “active” posture?

more to follow…


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