On the eve of one of the more important games of the preseason, I thought it worth the time to take a quick look at Graham Harrell and illustrate some of the issues he's been having the last few weeks.
The Cleveland Browns had pressure on him most of the night. This is an issue we've talked about regarding the second unit for the offensive line. They can be inconsistent and, on occasion, downright bad.
On the two plays I will diagram tonight, though, they gave plenty of protection.
The inconsistent nature of the protection in general might be wearing on Harrell, though. He sees plenty of defenders coming at him that are real, but sometimes it's an illusion—hopefully not a sign of what I call "David Carr Syndrome."
"David Carr Syndrome" is when a quarterback gets hit often enough, regularly enough that when he gets good protection, he still sees defenders coming at him. Side effects include waking up screaming "GOD NO NOT AGAIN" in a cold sweat, reacting badly to loud noises and a permeating fear that Terry Tate, office linebacker, is coming for you.
Harrell may not have it, but on occasion he looks like he might.
It could just be he has issues with pressure, but he made some good throws with guys in his face. I can't write it off that he's hearing footsteps that aren't there.
Take this first pass, for example, where he throws behind D.J. Williams.
Now I break this down with the caveat that I'm not in Harrell's head. I base my thoughts on what I see, but it could be that something else happened on the ground that fans can't witness.
That said, Harrell sees or feels pressure that just isn't there.
As we look at the first cap, Williams is in mid-route, with Harrell dropping back.
Note that he is firmly in the pocket, and the offensive line has the rush in hand. He has room to move if need be and time to let the play develop a bit more.
Williams is running his route perfectly. He will break inside his coverage and there is, as you can see, ample room to make a big gain. Even if the linebacker drops back in time, Williams has a chance of breaking off some extra yards.
Instead, Harrell rushes the throw.
As you can see by the second screen cap, the throw ends up behind Williams, and he is unable to catch it, much less advance it.
When I watch Harrell's performance of that night, it's a pattern I see over and over. He senses pressure—sometimes real, sometimes Terry Tate pressure—and rushes the throw, resulting in passes that are wide, high, behind or otherwise uncatchable.
Again, he wasn't helped out by his receivers, who dropped and tipped numerous passes, but he didn't help himself either.
This second set of shots highlights the same problem with the exact same results, though on a more dangerous pass.
On this play—a pass behind Jarrett Boykin which never should have been thrown—the Packers set up in their spread formation with four receivers wide and a single back.
Pretty standard fare for the Packers, who like to spread things out and have moved to a single-back system to allow them the flexibility to do so.
As the play begins, Harrell appears to sense pressure coming from the pass rush. He's in the pocket, well-protected and has three potential routes out of the pocket if he needs to move.
Harrell is not the most mobile cat in the world, but it's nothing he needs to be Mike Vick to accomplish.
The offensive line seems to have things well in hand. Harrell should have time to read the defense, but as you will see, he does it quickly or not at all.
Take note of the position of the defenders. The secondary is well-positioned to stop anyone short of the first. Additionally, the two linebackers are in place to help on either of the interior receivers, one of which is Boykin.
On a play like this—a 3rd-and-15 situation—Harrell needs to let the play develop. He needs to gain some ground, and he has players going long. The longer he can hang, the better his chances of a first are.
Instead, he feels pressure that isn't quite there and forces out a ball.
Even with a little pressure coming from his left—and really the tackle looks like he is riding the rusher out of the play—Harrell has room to sit in the pocket.
Take a look at where he is throwing. Not only is the cornerback in position to make the play, so is the linebacker, who begins to move as soon as Harrell releases the ball.
Three things come to mind looking at the last screen cap.
First, rushing the throw once again puts the ball well behind his receiver. Second, even if Boykin catches the ball, he's not getting that first down.
Maybe the outside receiver wasn't going to break free, but we'll never know. As the ball is released, he comes back to block.
Third—and this is the most important thing—if Harrell had thrown the ball in front of Boykin, what are the chances it gets picked off? I'd say pretty good.
Boykin is cutting in, which means he's running right into the linebacker. Look at the enhanced zoom and where the ball is in the spot shadow. Now picture the ball in front of Boykin—right where the linebacker is.
Harrell had several interceptions (one pick six) which were not his fault—receivers tipped balls, fell and otherwise made his life tougher than they should have.
This one would have been all on him. The throw behind Boykin may have been a blessing in disguise.
Looking at those two plays isn't the totality of his performance. He had some good throws and hung in under pressure a few times.
However, he showed a tendency to not trust his blockers and rush throws and plays that, had he let them develop, could have been very big.
If Harrell is going to be a good backup for the Packers, he needs to stop hearing footsteps and see the pressure when it is there—not when it isn't.