Over the past few years one element in the Cardinals’ passing game that has been significantly problematic is the TE seam pass. Offenses that complete a steady diet of seam passes typically are able to keep the free safety honest and less inclined to help on the deep thirds.
One might think that seam passes are easy to throw—-but, in actuality, they are very difficult because of the slight angle, precise timing and required touch. The QB cannot afford to lob the ball up the seam because that gives the safety and cornerback time to recover. Just the same, typically when the QB tries to gun it in there on a frozen rope, it is often deflected by a defensive lineman or thrown too low for the TE to catch it. In essence, the seam pass needs to be thrown with zip, but with a slightly upward arc.
The seams often appeared to be Carson Palmer’s blind spots, as a fair number of his interceptions were passes thrown late into the seams and into crowded areas at the hash marks. Drew Stanton tended to sail his seam passes well over the TE’s reach. And throwing up the seams was perhaps Blaine Gabbert’s most conspicuous flaw as a passer, as he struggled time and time again with the timing and the touch. Ironically, the best seam pass he threw was dropped by Troy Niklas near the goaline versus the Redskins—-on a 4th quarter drive that could have won the ballgame.
Enter Josh Rosen.
In watching Josh Rosen’s game tapes at UCLA, even when he started as a freshman, he manifested superb timing and touch on the TE seam pass. This part of Rosen’s game is as Brady-esque as any young QB to come down the pipe in years. For example, in UCLA’s historic 54-53 comeback win over Texas A&M last year, Rosen completed 15 passes to redshirt sophomore TE Caleb Wilson for a whopping 208 yards. Rosen connected with Wilson several times up the seams and when the Aggies started to key on it, Rosen and Wilson would counter by running Wilson up the seam and then having him break toward the sideline.
In the Cardinals training camp thus far, Rosen has been creating good chemistry with former Aggie TE, Ricky Seals-Jones. Here is a TE seam pass off play action:
Rosen was saying at his press conference yesterday that a great pass in high school or in college is still a “great pass in the NFL,”, the main difference is that when a pass is just a little off, it has a greater chance of winding up in the wrong hands.
On this play, as you can see, Rosen throws into the tightest of windows—-but he throws it with near perfect timing and arc. The timing was made even more difficult because of the play action and yet Rosen heeded the clock in his head. The free safety did not bite on the play action and might have had a chance to break up the pass, but credit Seals-Jones for squaring back to the ball and thus not giving the FS a clear and easy undercut lane to the ball. Between the defenders, Seals-Jones catches the ball cleanly, splits them and takes the ball to the house.
Now—-here’s the counter to the seam pass—-a play that is run off play action again, but this time Seals-Jones breaks to the sideline. Look at the textbook timing, touch and ball placement of Rosen’s pass—-which gives Seal-Jones a big RAC (run after catch) opportunity:
For many years now the Cardinals’ TEs have been an afterthought in the passing game. They were used to occasionally keep the defensive secondary and linebackers honest. When you look at some of the top offenses like the Patriots’, Cowboys’, Chiefs’ and Eagles’ they make throwing to the TEs a priority. Successfully establishing the TE as a primary threat has an uncanny way of opening up all other areas of the offense.
One of Sam Braford’s greatest strengths is throwing to the TE. Bradford throws as accurate a seam pass as any QB in the NFL, including Brady and Rodgers. And when it is Josh Rosen’s turn, he is going to continue to enhance the transformation of the Cardinals’ offense because suddenly the Cardinals’ TEs will become a focal point and not an afterthought.