One of the most difficult aspects of evaluating talent is projecting it. Every year, players come into the regular season, and we fans have high hopes for them because of their great physical traits. Although they possess immense physical talent, it is their dedication to the intricacies of their occupation that determines if they are going to be successful or not.
Take, for instance, Jay Cutler, Philip Rivers and Matthew Stafford. All high draft choices once upon a time and were largely considered, at some point of their careers, one of the league's best quarterbacks. However, all three have struggled mightily this season for reasons that they can and can't control. They are all in the Top 12 in sacks taken, but also are Top 10 in interceptions thrown.
The latter has been the biggest problem for the three quarterbacks, and it's mostly a consequence of their porous footwork.
Jay Cutler—Chicago Bears
Starting with Jay Cutler, he's long been one of the NFL's most stubborn quarterbacks.
There have been countless times when he's made very poor decisions, almost blindly throwing into double and triple coverage because of overconfidence in his arm strength. To his credit, Cutler has also made some incredible throws in the most difficult circumstances because of his aforementioned arm strength, but it's simply not always going to work consistently.
Many quarterbacks that have strong arms tend to be lackadaisical with their footwork simply because of their belief that they can fit the ball into any window.
In Jay Cutler's case, he has a tendency to stand flat-footed while throwing the football, and this gets him in trouble because he is unable to control the velocity or accuracy of his throw.
Such was the case against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 14 when he sailed a pass in the direction of safety Harrison Smith, who caught the football and returned it for 56 yards. The throw came in the third quarter with the Bears in their own territory and down by a touchdown.
After a shift by Brandon Marshall from the right of the formation to its left, Cutler had two receivers to his left and to his right. The play call to the left was a "Double Slants" concept, and if Marshall cleared the near linebacker, Cutler would throw him the ball. Otherwise, the ball went to the outside receiver running a slant route.
Once Cutler received the ball, he secured it with both hands and then watched the play unfold. As Marshall cleared the first defender, Cutler was preparing to throw him the ball while standing flat-footed. This was his first mistake. He needed to be on the balls of his feet so he could get the ball out quicker.
Getting the ball out quicker meant he could also get a split-second to step up into the pocket to deliver a precise pass despite a heavy rush coming at him. There was enough space to work with in the pocket to make the throw, but he didn't utilize it.
Once he failed to step up into the pocket, he threw the ball without bending at the knee of his lead leg.
As a result, the ball sailed over Brandon Marshall and into the hands of Harrison Smith.
Cutler's footwork has long held him back from becoming an elite quarterback despite possessing the physical traits to be one. He has a very strong arm, is accurate and mobile, but he doesn't seem to be interested in throwing the football with proper footwork.
Philip Rivers—San Diego Chargers
There's been much misplaced criticism of Philip Rivers this season. Many are pointing to his arm strength as the biggest reason why he's struggled, but I see no issue with it. The biggest reasons he's struggled this season are the lack of quality pass protection and his poor footwork.
Rivers is only behind Aaron Rodgers in the amount of sacks he's taken. He has been sacked 43 times this season and pressured an abundance of others. At times, he has seen the illusion of pressure, which has led to some very poor throws. This is a problem that should correct itself as the Chargers build the offensive line, but what has to improve, regardless, is his footwork.
During the Monday night meltdown against the Denver Broncos in Week 6, Rivers threw four costly interceptions, including a backbreaking and game-sealing pick-six to cornerback Chris Harris.
Standing in shotgun, he had "11" personnel (one back, one tight end) aligned along the formation. The Chargers were down 28-24 and had to put together a scoring drive to give them hope after 28 consecutive points from the Broncos.
Rivers took a quick five-step dropback and immediately focused his eyes to his left, where he had slot receiver Eddie Royal running an outside breaking route. Once Rivers hit his plant step at the top of his dropback, he lifted his front leg and put all of his weight on his back leg. This meant that before he threw the football, he'd have to put his front leg into the ground again, transfer his weight, open his hips up and then throw.
He didn't do transfer his weight. Instead, he opened his hips up immediately and threw the football.
The pass didn't have enough power on it and was inside of the receiver, which is a quarterbacking sin. All outside breaking routes should have passes thrown outside of them opposed to inside.
Half a field later, Chris Harris was celebrating a pick-six in the end zone, and the Broncos clinched the crucial divisional win.
Matthew Stafford—Detroit Lions
Of the three quarterbacks, it is Matthew Stafford that is the most frustrating. It's not simply because he makes the mistakes, but he's young enough to correct them and appears nowhere near doing so.
Every Sunday, Stafford can be seen throwing the football wildly. Dozens of passes attempted, handful of sidearm deliveries, throws off the back of his foot and at least one interception.
He's thrown 15 total interceptions this season, which is three shy of the league lead, and has had only three games this year without a pick.
In his defense, he has thrown an absurd 55 passes more than the next quarterback, but the interceptions have been truly costly to his team. Many of them have come in similar fashion to Philip Rivers' and Jay Cutler's, as witnessed against the Arizona Cardinals this past weekend.
He threw two pick-sixes against the Cardinals, one of which he telegraphed into the hands of safety Rashad Johnson. Lined up in shotgun with two receivers to his left and a lone receiver to his right, Stafford caught the snap and took a five-step drop.
Once he reached the top of his drop, his back foot planted into the ground, and all of his weight flung back on it.
As he went to throw the football, he failed to transfer his weight, as it was still on his back foot. He opened his hips up to his left and attempted to drive the football to his intended target with pure velocity. In doing so, he drifted to his left, and his footwork became very sloppy. He established a poor base, and the velocity that he had hoped to throw with was not generated.
Consequently, Johnson jumped the pass after planting his foot in the ground and attacking the football. He returned it for a touchdown in the final minute of the first half.
Just like that, Matthew Stafford put his team in a two-touchdown hole.
Coming out of school and into the early years of their careers, Jay Cutler, Philip Rivers and Matthew Stafford were considered three of the most talented passers that the league had seen in a long time.
Each of the signal-callers had a lot of physical talent, toughness and understood the game very well. However, in the last couple of years, all three have struggled with poor decisions and footwork.
These struggles can be partly attributed to the lack of quality blocking they have received, as well as the sheer number of throws they've attempted.
Despite these attributions, they are not the sole reason the three quarterbacks have struggled as their footwork has been sub-par. It is only when they clean it up will they will become three of the league's best once again.