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Josh Rosen’s Development

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NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It was shocking that Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim did not hire an offensive-minded head coach who could have had a key say in which QB the Cardinals drafted.

2018 was the year the Cardinals were finally going to draft their QBOF. It should have happened in 2017, but they fell asleep at the draft board only to wake up and find that the Chiefs and Texans leapfrogged in front of the Cardinals to steal Pat Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.

Luckily, the 2018 QB draft class was loaded with top prospects—-5 of which carried 1st round grades. It would have been virtually impossible for the Cardinals to miss out on all 5.

With Steve Wilks hired as head coach and Mike McCoy as OC, Steve Keim went ahead and traded up for UCLA’s prize QB Josh Rosen.

As we know, Wilks is a defensive coach and if you wanted an OC to groom a young QB, Mike McCoy was an odd choice—-particularly seeing as McCoy’s most recent work with young QBs Trevor Siemian, 2016 1st Round pick Paxton Lynch and 2017 7th round pick Chad Kelly was an abject failure.

But—-the Cardinals’ Plan A had nothing to do with Rosen or any QB they drafted. It was to get a superb two seasons out of Sam Bradford with Mike McCoy calling the plays.

While Wilks and McCoy did have Josh Rosen taking a good deal of snaps at the QB2 in training camp—-they coddled and bubble wrapped him during the pre-season to the point of keeping him out of the last two pre-season games. It made absolutely no sense and it prevented a valuable opportunity to accelerate Rosen’s development.

But—-Keim and Wilks may have been worried that the fans would clamor for Rosen as the starter and thus interfere with their two year Bradford/McCoy plan.

Alas, from the get-go the Cardinals wanted to put Josh Rosen’s development on the back burner. That’s right—-as in a dream deferred.

After Sam Bradford’s inept three game start to the season and then the subsequent firing of Mike McCoy—-it was suddenly time to turn to Josh Rosen and to pair him with newly appointed OC Byron Leftwich, a 2 year QB coach who had been learning Mike McCoy’s system and now was suddenly in charge of it.

While Leftwich has been a steady presence as a mentor for Rosen and as OC has improved the offensive production overall—-the current offense (still mostly McCoy’s) is not the right fit for Josh Rosen. it does not cater to his strengths. Rosen is a classic West Coast offense kind of QB who thrives on a steady diet of rhythm passes off of 3 and 5 step drops, with some bootlegs and pocket shifts built in.

The 2018 Cardinals’ offense is heavily dedicated to the running game—-which has not allowed Rosen to get into a steady rhythm and has put Rosen under extreme duress having to try to deliver on countless 3rd and longs. That’s tough on any QB—-let alone a rookie.

In the design of the offense, there have been major spacing issues in the passing game, as too often 2-3 receivers run routes that are too close together—-and too often Rosen’s passing lanes to the RBs are at poor angles and cluttered because of teams keying on screen passes to David Johnson.

Leftwich has turned to throwing a number of quick WR bubble screens or motion screens to the RB—-but those too have been easily blown up by defense who can crowd the Cardinals because the Cardinals in this offense don’t threaten the back end of the coverage.

In many respects, it is impressive that Josh Rosen has won three games, has engineered a number of first drive TDs and has done as well as he has in a system that doesn’t allow him to play to his strengths.

Having spend a good deal of time studying Rosen’s college game tapes, I would like to examine where Rosen currently stands with regard to his scouting reports. Let me bring in and comment on some of the bullets that Lance Zierlein of NFL.com wrote with regard to Rosen’s strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths

  • Tennis prodigy with impeccable footwork and delivery balance—-YES
  • Plays with excellent coordination between eyes and feet—-YES
  • Gets head around quickly on play-fakes—-YES
  • Has experience under center—-YES
  • Anchors in pocket and doesn’t creep around needlessly—-YES
  • Trusts his protection and doesn’t take eyes of targets when pressure mounts from the edge—-YES
  • Climbs pocket when appropriate—-NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
  • Willing to stand and deliver in face of pressure—-YES
  • Completed 63 percent of his passes when blitzed in 2017—-NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
  • Accuracy totals negatively impacted by 31 receiver drops this year—-YES
  • Mechanics are terrific—-NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
  • Rarely over-strides and throws with consistently bent front knee—-YES
  • Throwing motion and follow-through are effortless—-YES
  • Extremely confident and intelligent—-NEEDS THE RIGHT SYSTEM
  • Might be best back shoulder thrower in the game—-NOT PART OF CURRENT OFFENSE
  • Very good usage of shoulder fakes and hitches to move defenders or buy additional time for receivers to uncover—-NOT USED ENOUGH IN CURRENT OFFENSE
  • Touch passer who can throw feathers when needed—-YES

Weaknesses

  • Durability is a concern—-HAS HELD UP WELL THUS FAR DESPITE POUNDINGS
  • Carries slight build and has had injury issues dating back to high school—-NEEDS STRENGTH & CONDITIONING
  • Carries ball low in pocket with slight upward pre-throw hitch—-NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
  • Too casual in pocket set-up—-NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
  • Decision making and post-snap reads are inconsistent—-NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
  • Refuses easy throws at times—-NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
  • Arm talent and strength are below average—-NEEDS IMPROVEMENT BUT ARM TALENT IS BETTER THAN AVERAGE (I disagree with Zierlein here)
  • Poor career deep ball completion rate—-NEEDS MORE EMPHASIS AND IMPROVEMENT
  • Excess air under ball allows challenges—-NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
  • Needs better anticipation—-NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
  • Poor mobility—-NOT IF COACHED PROPERLY, BUT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
  • Struggles to elude early pressure—-NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
  • Completed just 42.4 percent of his throws when forced to move—-NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
  • Extends plays and takes unnecessary chances rather than throwing it away—-NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
  • Scouts question his passion for football and whether he will be a willing student—-HAS SHOWN THE OPPOSITE THUS FAR

One thing I would add to this list are stretches in games where Rosen appears to lose focus. Rosen needs a coach who will ride him and challenge him. One can see why many of the draft pundits feel that at times Rosen looks bored. If he ever gets a Kurt Warner type hunger—-wow—-look out. But it’s hard to see that thus far in Rosen—-he appears to lack sustained on-the-field focus.

What I wanted to accomplish in providing Zierlien’s lists is an understanding of how challenging it is to develop a young QB. For most NFL QBs they are constantly trying to improve the flaws in their games. It takes thousands of reps and in-game adjustments.

This is why it is so critical for the Cardinals to put Josh Rosen in the most capable and fitting hands.

It would be an auspicious start to pair Rosen with a West Coast (or modified version) offensive guru—-a guy in the mold of Andy Reid, Josh McDaniels, Jay Gruden, Doug Peterson, Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Matt Nagy and Frank Reich.

Matt LaFleur (OC Titans) is a young West Coast type of coach who, imo, would be a very good fit for Rosen—-so might Freddie Kitchens (OC Browns), who is doing very well with Hue Jackson’s version of the West Coast offense while dapping it to Baker Mayfield’s strengths.

I still believe in John DeFilippo and think that he was handcuffed and overly micro-managed by Mike Zimmer (whom I believe may have been worried that DeFillippo would become so popular with the fans and Kirk Cousins that Zimmer could eventually lose his job to him).

Mike McCarthy has deep roots in the West Coast offense—-he would be an excellent fit for Rosen, especially if the Cardinals want an experienced head coach. I have long thought that it was very challenging for McCarthy to coach Aaron Rodgers—-and I think McCarthy did a superb and under appreciated job of it.

if Jay Gruden gets released by Washington—-hiring him could be a coup.

And if the Patriots lose in the first two rounds of the playoffs, this might be the year that Josh McDaniels moves on. Yes, jilting the Colts was not a good look. But, then again, Bill Belichick jilted the Jets, and we know how that turned out.

No coach in football utilizes the TEs better than Josh McDaniels—-and if the Cardinals get Rosen a couple of very good TEs—-this offense is going to skyrocket.

In the college ranks, I love Lincoln Riley and Chris Peterson. They are two of the more well-educated, creative geniuses on the planet. It doesn’t appear right now that either one of them is tempted to leap to the NFL, but it would be well worth the effort to try to interest them.

I would gladly pay to see Peyton Manning or Kurt Warner do some training sessions with Josh Rosen. This is why I have been touting Manning as GM. Talk about getting Rosen in the best possible hands. It would be fine with me if Nationwide buys out State Farm in Glendale! Nationwide could be on our side. And Josh Rosen’s.