In this week’s SI, senior writer Tim Layden takes a look at how today’s best freestyling QBs, including Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco and Matthew Stafford, are blowing the lids off defenses with an old-school weapon: the back-shoulder pass. Layden writes, “It simultaneously exploits defensive backs’ fear of giving up long touchdown passes and rules changes that have steadily eroded defenders’ ability to control receivers with their hands without being penalized.” (PAGE 52)
Layden notes that the technique has been around for a long time but has exploded in popularity over the last five years, matching increasingly sophisticated throwers with powerful, athletic receivers. “It’s an amazing weapon,” says Colts backup quarterback and 15-year NFL veteran Matt Hasselbeck. “If it’s properly executed, the defender can’t be right.” (PAGE 53)
The back-shoulder pass is used almost exclusively against single coverage, and offenses use it to take advantage of defensive backs who do not want to give up a deep ball. Saints quarterback Drew Brees says, “If my guy is obviously not getting over the top, then there’s going to be a lane for the back-shoulder throw.” A receiver’s perspective: “If the corner stays over the top of me,” says the Ravens’ Torrey Smith, “we’re going to throw it back shoulder, where I can see the ball and he can’t.” (PAGE 53)
The play is rarely called in the huddle or at the line of scrimmage. “It’s something you read,” says Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, “and then react to.” When asked about the back-shoulder throw, veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall of the Redskins nods his head. “That’s a play where if they do it right,” he says, “it’s tough to stop.” (PAGE 53)
Layden also looks at the evolution of the back-shoulder pass and who in the NFL does it best today. “Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Drew Brees,” says Jon Gruden, “and Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson.” (PAGE 59) Layden says that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning throw it less frequently, though that could change. Who are the best receivers? Layden lists Anquan Boldin (49ers), Hakeem Nicks (Giants) and Calvin Johnson (Lions) as some of the best back-shoulder pass-catchers. Says Flacco, “The back-shoulder throw has really redefined what open and covered mean.” (PAGE 59)
Also appearing on a regional cover of this week’s SI is University of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, a 6’6”, 273-pound All-America standout who many consider to be the first-overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. This is just the second time a South Carolina player has even been featured on an SI cover.
In “The Hit”, senior writer Tim Layden (@SITimLayden) takes a deeper look at Clowney’s bone crushing tackle of Michigan tailback Vincent Smith at this year’s Outback Bowl that shook the football world and made his name even more of a household name.
Down 22-21 to the Wolverines in the 4th quarter on New Year’s Day, Gamecocks senior linebacker Damario Jeffery turned to Clowney after a tough call gave their opponent a controversial first down and said: “Just make a play.” Clowney responded: “I’m with you.” (PAGE 36)
On the next play, Clowney exploded untouched into the backfield, launching Smith’s helmet into the air and the ball onto the ground (Clowney recovered the football and South Carolina went on to score on the next play and eventually won the game). The hit played on a constant loop on TV and clips online have topped well over four million aggregate views. Layden writes: “The hit was a last breath of football sanity for Clowney.” (PAGE 40)
The assumption is Clowney will leave for the NFL after one more season and has some in the media speculating he may consider sitting out his junior year to avoid injury. Clowney told Layden he plans to play next season and work hard to improve. Jon Gruden says:
“He runs gassers with the defensive backs. That’s the kind of speed he has He’s the perfect player against today’s offenses. You want to run that read option? Clowney will tackle the back, and if he doesn’t have the ball, he’ll go get the quarterback. He’s the number 1 pick whenever he comes out.” (PAGE 40)
How do I get a franchise quarterback? This is the nonstop question every NFL team must ask if they don’t believe their signal caller can win it all. In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, senior writer Tim Layden (@SITimLayden) examines the most prized currency in the league and explores… “When do you cut loose a quarterback and start over?” (PAGE 47)
Bill Polian, former Vice Chairman and General Manager of the Indianapolis Colts says,
“You never forget what it feels like to not have a quarterback…It’s an ongoing thing. Every single minute you don’t have that guy, you think about it” (PAGE 46)
The pressure intensified for General Manager’s in 2013 because of the immediate success of rookie QB’s Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and second –year quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who took the 49ers to the Super Bowl this season. Because of their instant success this season, front offices and fan bases hope the draft can now help them find the next great quarterback who can succeed right away.
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED writer Andrew Perloff (@andrewperloff) complements the article by listing five current quarterbacks in which he feel’s won enough to tease and lost enough to have their G.M.’s consider change: Ryan Fitzpatrick (Bills), Tony Romo (Cowboys), Matt Cassel (Chiefs), Josh Freeman (Buccaneers), and Mark Sanchez (Jets).
This Year’s BCS Title Matchup Embodies the Essence of College Football
Crimson vs. Gold. Roll Tide vs. Shake Down the Thunder. Southern passion vs. Catholic pride. Notre Dame vs. Alabama is more than a battle for the national title. It’s a history-drenched showdown that embodies the essence of the game. For all their history, both of these storied programs had to climb back to this moment, and senior writer Tim Layden looks into the storied 1973 Sugar Bowl that pitted the Irish and Tide to reflect on how college football has evolved since that historic game.
Fans know this matchup embodies the passion and tradition of the sport. Mused Archie Manning, who worked the Alabama-Georgia SEC title game last weekend for CBS: “Alabama and Notre Dame. That’s college football right there” (page 98).
Tim Layden explores the myth of the man who had once borne his blood on big league diamonds
Senior writer Tim Layden had been name-dropping his great uncle for years: Johnny Evers was a Hall of Fame second baseman and part of the Cubs’ famous Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance double play crew in the early 1900s. But it was less than a year ago that Layden decided to write a story about Evers, and he details the process that led him to understand his Uncle Johnny’s life, marked by success on the field but personal tragedy and financial ruin off it.
Layden took special care to learn about one of the most notable events in Evers’ career: A controversial game-ending double play in 1908, in which Evers forced out New York Giants first baseman Fred Merkle to prevent the Giants from winning a crucial pennant race game. Layden found he wasn’t the only one fascinated by the mysterious play: TV commentator Keith Olbermann bought the ball used in the play at auction in 2010, and has made an avocation of vigorously defending Merkle’s actions. Olbermann bought the ball at auction in 2010 not only because he is an avid memorabilia collector but also because the Merkle ball holds particular significance, saying: “It’s the Rosetta Stone. This is the time-travel node that puts you on the middle of this swirling dust storm with 10,000 fans on a Wednesday afternoon at the Polo Grounds 104 years ago” (page 60).