Breaking Down the Biggest Mistakes NFL Quarterbacks Can Make

BJ KisselContributor IJuly 5, 2013

October 21, 2012; Foxboro, MA USA; New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez (6) under center during the second quarter against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

We've all been there.

You're watching an NFL game any given Sunday and your favorite team's quarterback makes a bone-headed play, which leads you to screaming at the television. This takes you down a dark path. 

We see these plays in most games every weekend during the fall. Then the millions of armchair quarterbacks around the world take to all the outlets at their disposal to tear down that player for that specific play.

In some cases it's a trend that fans have seen too often from that quarterback. The two plays we're going to take a closer look at in this article are from two quarterbacks who made a habit out of making mistakes during the 2012 season. 

There are many mistakes quarterbacks can make throughout the course of a season, game, offensive series or play. There's a reason it's the most difficult position to play in sports. (It is). While fans don't know the specific play calls, reads, defensive looks or tendencies, it's not hard to see glaring mistakes and question the decision-making or ability of the player in question. 

The two common mistakes that consistently set quarterbacks back are staring down receivers, which we'll also mend with "forcing it" in this article. The second is being late with your throws. It's often described as a skill in throwing into windows, throwing the receiver open or simply, ability to anticipate routes. Those are all ways to describe very similar things. 

Obviously there are many other mistakes quarterbacks can make. But the two plays described below are good examples of things that you really don't want to see your quarterback doing on Sundays. 

This first play is going to be from former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel, who is currently with the Minnesota Vikings

Cassel found ways to be so fantastically awful at times for the Chiefs last year that you thought he had to have been doing it on purpose. We're talking legendary-status bad. He was far-removed last season from the Pro Bowl year he had (statistically) back in 2010. 


In this first screenshot you'll see the pre-snap formation the Chiefs are running against the San Diego Chargers. Tight end Tony Moeaki (who's in the black square) will motion to just outside the left tackle, Branden Albert. This causes the free safety to slide to his right. 


Here's the end-zone view of that picture just a few counts later before the snap. Cassel has a great view of the safety moving over once Moeaki gets into position. 


Once the ball is snapped, the Chiefs fake the run to Jamaal Charles, and Cassel immediately starts looking to the left side of the field. You can see Eric Weddle in the middle of the screen (circled in blue), who eventually ends up with the interception. At the top of the screen, you can see Dexter McCluster slanting in before he breaks up-field. 


Here's another end-zone angle that shows you where Cassel is looking. If you consistently stare towards the same side of the field, the defense is going to assume that's where the ball is going. Good quarterbacks can use this kind of manipulation to create throwing lanes and space to throw the football to the backside of the play. Bad quarterbacks stare where they're going to throw the ball. 


Once the ball is released, you'll see how many Chargers defenders are in the area of where the ball is headed. The ball is attempted to Dwayne Bowe, who is in the black square at the bottom of the screenshot about to break on his out-route. Weddle sees this the whole way because for one, he's a good player, and two, because Cassel never took his eyes off that side of the field. McCluster may not be real open at the top of the screen, but he doesn't have anyone over the top of him and seems to be the better option right here.


He never looked anywhere else, which is weird because you'd think in that case he'd have known that Bowe wasn't open and that Weddle was just sitting on this route the entire time. 


Weddle hops the route and picks it off for an easy turnover against the Chiefs. This play is a good example of staring down receivers, forcing a throw and basically having your mind made up from the beginning of where you were going with the ball. For all we know, this play is designed to go to Bowe and only Bowe. That's probably not the case, but even if it was don't you think if you were looking his way the whole time that you would have seen Weddle just sitting there?

This next play is from another quarterback who has taken his fair share of criticism. (Understatement of the year nominee.)

Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets are driving late in the fourth quarter against the Tennessee Titans. They're down 14-10 and have the ball on the Titans 23-yard line. 


The slot receiver is running a go route towards the seam and is nothing more than a decoy on this play. The Titans are bringing pressure with two linebackers blitzing up the middle. The non-blitzing middle linebacker is responsible for the tight end. 


As soon as Sanchez gets to the top of his three-step drop, he pump-fakes toward the slot receiver. The idea is to get the free safety to bite towards the play-fake. But that doesn't happen.

Also, you'll notice the tight end is immediately open as the linebacker is late to cut-off a throwing angle. The tight end takes a wide angle on the go route to create more separation from the defender (linebacker in this case) coming over the cover him. Maybe it's possible the tight end was the hot read on this play because he's immediately looking at Sanchez right here. If Sanchez didn't see the blitz coming, he wouldn't have known to get the ball out quickly. 


Here's the end-zone angle of Sanchez pumping to his left while the linebacker rushes over to cover the tight end on the other side. 


The free safety breaks towards the tight end while the cornerback at the top of the screen leaves his man to help on the tight end, who has a step on the linebacker, who was late to come over in coverage and is now beaten down the field. 


It's already a tight window that Sanchez is throwing into, but he just throws the ball a half-count too late, and it gives the safety enough time to come over and make a play. 


This shows you how the defenders broke on the ball once it was in the air. The ball was awfully under-thrown and late, which gave the free safety enough time to come over and pick it off. This was Sanchez' fourth interception of the game. 

A possible bad initial read to not get rid of the ball to the hot receiver when the Titans blitzed was the first possible mistake on this play, with the second being just a count late on getting the ball in the air and on its way to its target. 

The defensive backs in the NFL are so fast and athletic that you can't be late in your throws. These guys can change directions and cover ground in a hurry. They'll still interrupt plays if you aren't getting the ball out on time. You have to be confident that you're throwing it to the right guy at the right time even if he doesn't appear to be completely open on the play.

It just so happens on this particular play from Sanchez the receiver was open for most of the play, at least right up until the ball was actually headed his way. 

That's Sanchez in a nutshell.

Both of these plays are good examples of things good quarterbacks just don't do on a consistent basis.

That said, do all quarterbacks make mistakes? Absolutely. Are we just looking at two plays out of thousands that are out there to dissect and discuss from numerous quarterbacks across the league? Yes. 

Cassel and Sanchez aren't alone in these mistakes. But they did make them on these plays and they're good examples of two things that are routinely the answer when the question is posed, "what are the biggest mistakes NFL quarterbacks make?"

You can follow BJ on Twitter at @bkissel7 where he'll give monthly Photoshop lessons for those who want to learn how to put squares around players.