When the Carolina Panthers came to town to face off against the Buffalo Bills, the biggest topic was of course the quarterback competition. They say “cream rises to the top” and the hope was that one quarterback would be the cream. All three ended up looking pretty good and for at least one more week the quarterback battle goes on. This level of quarterback competence is unfamiliar territory for Bills fans. To come to terms with this newfangled situation, let’s take a look at AJ McCarron’s night.
For Nathan Peterman, the quick release was a point of emphasis. This play might give us a clue as to why Daboll wants the ball out fast. AJ McCarron is under siege from both sides in under two seconds. He steps up to find that the rest of the pocket wasn’t doing any better. “Not fumbling” is actually about as good as this play could have hoped for.
On the next play, McCarron (correctly) feels pressure behind him. He drifts up to avoid a strip-sack and uses his safety valve of Logan Thomas. It’s not a huge gain by any means. And maybe the all-22 would reveal a better pass option, but safe works pretty well in this case. The pocket awareness is looking like a positive habit after and we’re only two plays in.
McCarron has a little less pressure, but left tackle Marshall Newhouse still isn’t making him the most comfortable. To be fair to Newhouse, he holds up well once engaged but has a habit of allowing defenders back pretty far before anchoring (something we noted here). McCarron climbs the pocket and finds Rod Streater. The play pauses to show the fairly narrow lane McCarron fires into.
McCarron has a more slowly-developing play this time but is again under siege pretty quickly. McCarron throws this off-balance (second pause shows his feet) and manages to overthrow Brandon Reilly on what would have been a 40-yard pass if thrown accurately. McCarron had room to drift right and set his feet, but the quick pressure convinces him to throw off-kilter a bit. It’s a bad throw due to mechanics, but the silver lining is that McCarron had the arm to overthrow this rather than letting it flutter short.
A near-miss to Rod Streater makes it look like McCarron is off-target again. Take a closer look, though. McCarron delivers the ball right at the end of his drop back on a timing pass to Streater. If you caught the tiny yellow bar that comes up at the end of the clip for a flag, that’s a result of defensive holding from Ladarius Gunter, the corner covering Streater. Without that penalty disrupting the route, Streater is there to make the catch.
AJ McCarron finally has a clean pocket to work from. He steps into his throw and delivers a strike to Jeremy Kerley. The pause shows the narrow window on the throw.
This is a play where the all-22 would be incredibly helpful. Kaelin Clay is the best option visible on screen and as a result this looks like a good decision by McCarron. This is however, one of his better pockets and it would be nice to see if a better opportunity existed. With what we have to look at this play grades out well.
Brian Daboll had McCarron roll right a few times to allow him more time to read the field. It’s true that McCarron took more time to throw the ball than Nathan Peterman. However, there did appear to be differences in play calling based on which quarterback was in the game. McCarron routinely looked as if he was asked to hold the ball a little longer. From this angle, McCarron identifies the best target and delivers the ball well.
One of the biggest things routinely said about McCarron is that he’s the “safe” option at quarterback. In many ways that’s a fair assessment, but not in the sense that he won’t try to hit a big play from time to time. Remember from above that McCarron had been pressured numerous times already. The tendency of a rattled quarterback would be to throw the quick pass to Travaris Cadet (number 39) who has room to run. If Cadet shakes his man he could be in for a big play. The safe play in this case would still be a positive. Furthermore, judging by head position, McCarron was indeed weighing the Cadet option. Instead of taking the safe play McCarron launches this to Brandon Reilly. The result speaks for itself.