Play Rewind: Obomanu Corner Route Gone Wrong

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Charlie Whitehurst had a bad game on Sunday. Everyone has already said that. All quarterbacks have bad games. Heck, Carson Palmer only managed half of Whitehurst’s 35 passer rating on Sunday. The difference with Whitehurst was there were a few plays that stood out as indictments on his ability to play quarterback in the NFL. Plays that are not about having a bad game, they are about a player’s viability. One such play came very early in the game. Hugh Millen discussed it on Hardcore Football with Ian Furness on Monday. It was a throw on 3rd and 13 to Ben Obomanu on what is called a corner or flag route that was severely under-thrown. Let’s walk through it to see how it developed, and why it was an inexcusable miss.

THE SNAP: The Seahawks a 3WR, 1TE, 1RB set, and at the snap of the ball, Cleveland was showing blitz with six players crowding the line of scrimmage. Two safeties are not visible in this shot, and all the corners are rolled up in press coverage. 
PLAY FAKE: After the ball is snapped, LG Robert Gallery pulls to the right, and Whitehurst fakes a handoff to Leon Washington. It is worth noting that Washington would have had a ton of green in front of him if they play call had been to him. Cleveland only sends four rushers, but keeps two players near the line. All three corners are playing man coverage.
ROLLOUT: Whitehurst rolls to his right after the play fake to Washington. The line has done it’s job wonderfully, and creates a gorgeous pocket for Whitehurst to throw from. Nobody is within 10 yards of the QB. Whitehurst has time and space to wind up and throw the ball as far as he can. He could survey the field and pick any target. The ball is being thrown from about the 35-yard line after Whitehurst steps into the throw.

BEHIND THE DEFENSE: Obomanu ran what appeared to be a Post-Corner route where the receiver breaks inward toward the middle of the field, and the out toward the corner of the endzone. He had gotten by the corner and the safety, and was running free two yards past the nearest defender. The ball is already in the air at this point (it’s above the 42-yard line). Note that Doug Baldwin is five yards past his defender, and looked to be a viable choice as well.

IN-FLIGHT ADJUSTMENT: Obomanu sees that the ball is under-thrown, and breaks off his route to try and come back to the ball. His defender sees it as well, and positions himself between Obomanu and the ball. 

INCOMPLETE: The ball falls harmlessly at the 23-yard line, which make the throw about 42-yards vertically. Add another 10 yards since it was across the field, so figure a 52-yard throw. For Whitehurst to have completed the throw, he would have needed to get it to about the 20-yard line, maybe a few yards beyond. He also could have thrown a shorter pass to Baldwin.

So why is this so egregious? A quarterback needs a few things to go right in order to make a big play. Primarily, he needs protection and he needs a receiver to run a good route and give him a place to throw. Whitehurst had plenty of time, and a massive pocket. He was able to take all the time he needed to select his target, and had space to step into his throw to give it everything he had. He had multiple receivers that were open by more than a step. In the case of Baldwin and Obomanu, they were open by at least two steps. That’s serious separation in the NFL. Whitehurst chose the right receiver to target since a completion could have led to a touchdown. All he needed to do was throw the ball 55-60 yards down-field. For a guy that is supposed to have a good arm, that should not be a problem. If it is a problem, he either should have selected a closer target or thrown the ball sooner. Whitehurst will not get a better designed play, executed with more precision than he got on this one.

People will tell you it takes a team to lose a game, and it is never on one guy. This play is a prime example of everyone on the field doing their job except the quarterback. There were other plays like this, that I may choose to breakdown as well. These are the plays that stick out when evaluating a quarterback. These are the plays that cause a person to write-off a player. This is not about having a bad game. It’s about not being good enough to play the position.