Here are three plays that show ways in which Gabbert has improved since last year.
12:33 (1st quarter): 1st-and-10 Gabbert finds Cloherty for 14 yards
Gabbert's second pass of the game turned into his longest gain of the night. Off a play-action fake, he bootlegged to the right and dumped off to Colin Cloherty, who rumbled an extra 12 yards for a nice pickup. As a correction, his pass to Justin Blackmon covered 16 yards.
What you like on this play from Gabbert is how smooth his footwork is. He executes the play fake nicely and sprints out, getting his body turned so he's in a correct throwing position. It's just a short toss of five yards or so, but he hits Cloherty in stride for a quality play.
Because of the ball placement out in front of Cloherty, he's able to run to the ball and away from the defender. Sloppy footwork on this play can lead to a short gain, but accurate ball placement turns a short pass into a first down.
6:10 (1st quarter): 1st-and-10 Gabbert hits Rashad Jennings for 5 yards
If you want tangible proof of Gabbert's improvement, here it is. On the first drive, he never looked off his first read once. On his second drive, he opens the action by scanning the field, looking left then right before coming back to his safety valve in the middle of the field.
In the process, he takes a hit and delivers a completion. He's patient in the pocket and finds an open man after looking at other options.
Compared to where he was last year, this is a quantum leap forward.
Now, there is room for improvement here. This play is similar to the one Andrew Luck had against the Steelers. The difference is that Luck stayed alive in the pocket longer by moving up. By making himself a moving target, he bought time and hit a bigger play downfield.
Gabbert, on the other hand, does not move at all from his drop back to release.
It's encouraging to see a player play well while knowing there are still additional layers of improvement he can reach for. Gabbert has become comfortable in the pocket and is able to hang in and make a positive play.
As his footwork and comfort improve, he'll be able extend plays further and turn five-yard strikes into 25-yard plays.
0:19 (1st quarter): 1st-and-10 Gabbert to Montell Owens for no gain
Again, we see the evolution of a quarterback. Gabbert drops back off a fake and looks deep. He winds up to throw, but thinks better of it, checking down instead to his back.
He doesn't pick up positive yardage, but he doesn't throw a bad interception either. He's making reads and decisions on the field that aren't hurting his club. It would have been nice to see the wide angle on this play to see what coverage scared him off the bomb, but the fact that he's making reads is an encouraging sign.
On the night, my count had Gabbert throwing to his first read on 11 of 16 passes. He's still locking on his first read, watching him work open then throwing the ball, but on this play, he did a nice job breaking that pattern and avoiding a dangerous throw.
Gabbert didn't do a lot of big things against the Saints, but his solid play was built on a foundation of doing the little things right. He wasn't flawless, but he did a good job with his footwork and showed confidence in waiting for routes to spring open.
It was a good building block for a young quarterback looking to improve each week.
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