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The days of the NFL one-dimensional pocket passer are over

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The best quarterbacks in the NFL right now are doing their best work outside on the move.

NFL: Preseason-Kansas City Chiefs at Chicago Bears Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Guess what? Andy Reid will lounge with his family on Sunday, get the popcorn ready, and watch NFL games on TV just like much of America. Kansas City hosts Denver Monday night, and Reid revealed it is his time to be a fan, too.

"Absolutely," Reid explained. "I watch the Red Zone. That way, I can see it all."

He will distinctly see this trend as the NFL approaches its midseason mark -- quarterbacks on the move, throwing outside of the pocket in historical and significant ways.

We’ve all heard the familiar tune. It’s a pocket-passing league. A quarterback cannot consistently flourish or survive passing outside of the pocket. He must stand in that circle and execute his offense in statue-like, courage-filled style.

But look around.

The game is briskly changing.

"You’ve still got to do what you have to do from the pocket," Reid said. "But we’re all designing more plays for the quarterback to move around and throw it from a different place. My offense has always kind of been that way. It’s kind of what makes this offense go.

"I think you need it. Movement throws where the quarterback is a thrower first. And people are getting creative with these things outside of the pocket. I love the fact that the college quarterbacks we are getting are moving and throwing the football. We are not getting wishbone guys. We’re getting quarterbacks on the move who somewhere in there had to learn how to read and throw it, even if not on an NFL level. The smart ones, we can teach them the NFL style of it. I know. I just took one (Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes, drafted No. 10 overall by the Chiefs last April)."

Defenses are forcing it. They are stronger, faster and more bullying in their intent on collapsing pockets and punishing quarterbacks. The high school and college games are boosting it. Both are producing movement quarterbacks who push their skills to new levels. The scarcity of proficient pass-protecting offensive linemen is inducing it. Their task is easier with quarterbacks who can buy time and extend plays.

"The days of the one-dimensional pocket-passing quarterback in the NFL are over," Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said. "I know coaches and experts say and want to think otherwise, but the fact is, if you don’t have a quarterback who can give you some kind of effective movement, you’ve got a dead offense."


Survey the NFL quarterbacks who lead the league in touchdown passes: It’s Carson Wentz (17), Tom Brady (15), Alex Smith (15) Deshaun Watson (15), and Dak Prescott (14). Wentz, Smith, Watson and Prescott are among the league’s finest in mobility, and Brady for nearly two decades has proved a master at the pocket sidestep with his nuanced ballets in nimbleness.

NFL quarterbacks thus far this season who own the highest passer ratings and nearly all of the division leaders feature effective, planned and impromptu quarterback movement in the passing game.

The Seahawks-Giants game last Sunday at MetLife Stadium provided stark contrasts. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson spent the afternoon running circles around the Giants’ pass rush and throwing exacting passes on the run in Seattle’s 24-7 victory.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning struggled for most of the game inside the pocket, was stripped there for a late fumble that turned the game, and on his only score sprinted wide right, faked a stretch handoff and tossed a 5-yard strike to tight end Evan Engram. Inexplicably, the Giants did not continue to find ways to put Manning on the move, despite his success doing it on that play, locked into the belief that because it is not his strength, it should not be a more consistent feature.

That left Giants coach Ben McAdoo praising Wilson’s "extended plays of the quarterback."

"I think there is a little bit of a misnomer to say this is something new," Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "Even before Fran Tarkenton and after John Elway, there have been guys in this league who can play off schedule. There has always been sort of a sneaky commitment to it. But the colleges now are emphasizing it. And so are we. It has become more a part of the evaluation of what makes an NFL quarterback. I know our guy (Prescott) is very good at it. Across the league, there are more creative ways and functions of it."

Prescott, Linehan said, has particularly glowed and displayed a sparkling knack on play-action bootleg rolls and throws.

"It’s gotten to the point now in our league where you can have a run called and the quarterback has a built in movement pass he can go to based on what he sees," Linehan said. "Especially when he’s in the shotgun, he can see it all, make the change without audibling and that is really key. These defenses now make strong checks on every audible you do. They react to your reactions really fast. But when you can go to a movement pass like that without even audibling, you really put the pressure back on them."

That is the type of ruse that will be a prominent part of both highly mobile quarterbacks, Prescott and Kirk Cousins, when Dallas plays at Washington on Sunday.


Reid said he already sees quarterback movement and mobility on third-down plays especially becoming more prominent in the NFL.

Linehan dissects that NFL offenses are turning to more quarterback movement in the red zone, asking them to buy time, break down defenses and find success.

There is always the concern that putting your quarterback on the move possibly makes him more susceptible to injury. This is how Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers -- on the run and throwing before getting hit -– broke his collar bone.

But a quarterback who is a sitting duck in a leaky pocket is just as susceptible to injury as a quarterback on the move. In fact, in many instances, the guy on the move has a better chance of seeing and avoiding injury than the one in the pocket who is blindsided.

It is all a mix and match, a matter of feel and intelligence, the blended scheme of keeping him in and moving him out.

More NFL play-callers are clearly intent on finding timely, key spots to put their quarterbacks on the edges.

On the move.

"Listen, the feet have always been an important part of quarterbacking," Reid said. "And escapability matters. It counts."


Deshaun Watson is very good, but we knew that already