Thursday, February 21, 2013

Fun with HBD: Few Great Black Dropback QBs, Blame Poor Spatial Visualization Ability

Every year in the draft since the arrival of Michael Vick, there seems to be amazing hype for the next hybrid black QB who will revolutionize the position and sport*. The NFL combine is in town right now, so the city is crawling with despicable sports writers. The unfair thing for black quarterbacks is that the media will pigeonhole them into the running QB mold when they might not be a running QB, but the media has to force it because they are black. The NCAA game has plenty of mobile, black QBs so why doesn't it translate to NFL success. Likewise, the media was pretty silent on Jake Locker and Andrew Luck running at Cam Newton speed; it's a bonus for them, not the main course for their upside. It is part of the PC liberal narrative. This is why mobile, white QBs like Big Ben and Aaron Rodgers are surprising with the mobility despite displaying it their entire college and pro careers. The hybrid QB is shiny and new despite Roger Staubach being Roger the Dodger 40 years ago and Fran Tarkenton being a master of the scramble in the '70s. Despite the rush of more black QBs in the NFL, they still seem to flame out like any other, and sometimes sooner than others. The worry is also why there aren't more. The answer might be genetic. My dad's coached baseball for 30+ years, and whenever he coached black kids, he noted they hit poorly and needed more instruction on it than white kids. His comments on vision and the NFL combine being in town got me thinking. I'm not going down the IQ or Wonderlic road, which has merit but dummies have been some of the greatest QBs like Marino and Favre. Blacks have worse spatial visualization than whites* and in an increasingly pass oriented game, this ability matters more in the NFL than in the college game.


Broken record alert: I wait for QB's to show me their stuff in their third season. We've seen too many flame outs and too many QBs who don't make the leap for me to get super excited about rookies. I've blogged before that the college game is more conducive to the running QB because first, defensive talent is spread thin over 100+ college teams versus 30 pro teams, second, foot speed has a wider gap in the college game between elite and the average (ask Reggie Bush), third, a running QB can outrun defensive ends and linebackers and plow over defensive backs in the college game more than in the pros, and fourth, defenses are not as exotically schemed in the college game so coverage reads are easier. This is why Vince Young could be dangerous in college but fail miserably in the NFL. He ran a 1 read passing attack at the University of Texas, and could truck defensive backs while outrunning DEs and LBs. In the pros, Demarcus Ware and J.J. Watt can run him down, and larger safeties like Laron Landry will pop him hard. Nobody is perfect in predicting which QBs can make the leap from college to the NFL, but reading schemes, recognizing coverages and seeing the coverage shells unfold quickly is absolutely critical when a QB has 3-4 seconds to drop back and make his decision.

What makes Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning so good? They consistently watch game film to pick up patterns in pre-snap formations and watch how coverages might be disguised one way but unfold as another. They recognize the "mike" defender, who is their responsibility, so that if a blitz comes, they know their hot read. They recognize, make adjustments and execute. Besides intelligence, memory and studying, spatial visualization is key when the play unfolds. Completing a pass is like chucking a stone into a hole in a three dimensional map viewed from a nearly horizontal plane. Almost a decade ago, Bill Belicheck stopped the red hot Peyton Manning cold in the playoffs. One of his tricks was setting up the defense pre-snap to trick Manning into believing that he was facing a Cover-2, but in reality, the Patriot defenders would drop back into a Cover-4. Belicheck also had the Pats line up in the same blitz looks as when they faced the Colts earlier that season, but they didn't blitz in the playoffs. This worked on Manning and the Colts to perfection and is a testament to Belicheck's smarts and his team's execution of his game plan. Manning didn't realize the Cover-4 until it was too late, and once the Colts were down, Belicheck could change things up, adjusting to Manning's in-game adjustments. With smart defensive coordinators dreaming up schemes to trick QBs, NFL teams need a QB who can make great pre-snap reads and then in-play, read the defense extremely well in space to know where to make the correct throw, minimizing incompletions and turnovers. As Ron Jaworski says, the QB looks at the coverage, not the pass rush, and throws to the open spot in the defense per the routes run by the WRs.

A quarterback touches the ball every single play. He has to throw it 30 or more times a game. This spatial visualization is needed at a high level and on a consistent basis. To go back to my dad's observation on hitting, look at what a hitter has to do in 500+ plate appearances a season. Consider the hand eye coordination that goes into hitting a baseball, including the spatial visualization to recognize the pitcher's arm slot, spin on the ball and expectations of where a curve, slider, change up moves to by the time it gets to the plate. Hitting a baseball consistently is the hardest thing to do in the big 3 sports. Recent news reports and MLB outreach programs have focused on getting black representation in baseball up above the generational low of 7%. Baseball is very focused on spatial visualization in almost every avenue, Besides cultural reasons for the lack of black baseball players, this key ability is naturally lower in blacks than whites. Playing quarterback in the modern NFL relies on similar visual abilities. This isn't the whole answer, but it's an explanation we should consider as part of the story.


Playing quarterback is mostly throwing ability, but it's not just arm strength. There are many components to great QB play, and as the game becomes more complex, the mental and visual aspect grows in importance. One bit Steve Sailer has mentioned is that as a player ages and their speed slips, a QB who relied on his legs will lose his edge, and they better have their passing game improved by that point. A swift Mike Vick won't last no matter how strong his arm if he can't read defenses. I call that the Steve Young-Donovan McNabb transition. My point here is that blacks test worse than whites in spatial visualization, and this might be why black QBs seem to use their feet to make up for passing deficiencies that they can't overcome at the pro level or after their speed is gone. With an increase in complex coverage schemes and masking of schemes pre-snap, that very ability is critical in those 3 seconds after the snap. This is much more important than in the days of the 1970s when it was downfield bombing into man coverage by Lamonica, Namath, Bradshaw and Staubach (all of whom called all of their team's plays except Staubach). West Coast offenses created by Bill Walsh and the deeper seam passing attacks that Manning spawned and others copied rely heavily on timing, recognizing coverages and throwing to the right space at the right time. How often do you hear announcers say, "That interception is on the wide receiver as he cut to the wrong spot/ran the wrong route". Quarterbacks throw to a spot per the coverage scheme. Before I ramble on too long (too late), if we consider the importance of spatial visualization in sports and how blacks are at a disadvantage genetically, this could explain their lower profile at the quarterback position.


* No studies after '75 were available that mentioned a race difference in this ability. Lots of studies on gender differences. Gender differences in this ability might be acceptably politically incorrect to discuss and study, though this paper cited differences may be biological and genetic because of evolution they cited a study that hinted that stereotype threat may alter women's scores. The blank slatists will never ever stop.

1 comment:

asdf said...

Yup.

One black QB I like is RGIII. Whenever black sportscasters are complaining a person acts/plays "too white" you know you got a winner. Russel Wilson seems good too.

I'm pretty happy that Baltimore is transitioning from Ray Lewis as spokeperson to Joe Flacco. Lewis is intense but a clown. Joe has that quite dignity and humility that reminds me of Johhny U. And you don't get much more statue in the pocket drop back passing prototype then Flacco.