The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a somewhat surprising move at the quarterback position, naming Josh McCown as starter within hours of inking him to a contract. McCown overtakes Mike Glennon, who had a moderately successful and still frequently debated rookie season.
McCown hasn’t been the talk of the town in Tampa, because many perceive him to be no better than Glennon, and feel he was the beneficiary of a big receiver corps in Chicago.
And while he certainly didn’t lack for weapons or good coaching with the Bears, McCown did plenty to justify his new role as a starter in Tampa Bay.
So what does this journeyman-turned-breakout-starter have to offer? Let’s look at the film.
(All images obtained from NFL Game Rewind.)
One of my biggest complaints about Mike Glennon is his ball placement, and this is something that Josh McCown can struggle with, as well. Here’s an example of a play that both quarterbacks get right, to establish a baseline.
Timing is crucial for both receivers and quarterbacks, and as you can see about, McCown is anticipating a break by Alshon Jeffery.
The other routes have cleared out a path for Alshon, and all McCown has to do is hit him in stride for a nice gain. This isn’t a tough throw, and it’s one that Mike Glennon can make as well.
And McCown puts it right on the money, and it’s a successful play.
Now, as I said, this isn’t something special that only Josh McCown can do. It’s something any NFL QB should be capable of doing on any given play.
But let’s take a look at something that’s a bit more than we’ve seen from Glennon in his first season under center. Something that sets him apart from the NC State product. (GIF courtesy of SI’s Doug Farrar)
McCown hangs in the pocket under intense pressure, shrugs off a defender, and places a perfect pass into the short corner of the end zone for Brandon Marshall. This is the sort of play where Mike Glennon’s head goes down, yet McCown’s stays up.
As mentioned previously on the site, Josh McCown has far better numbers under pressure than Mike Glennon, which may be one of the major factors that led to his immediate ascent to starter.
Here’s another example of just that.
McCown is about to be blasted by an oncoming blitzer, but he doesn’t duck his head or try to run away. He has a mismatch, and he’s going to try to exploit it.
So he gets the pass off just in the nick of time, and is punished for it with a hard hit which bounces him into another defender. But a tight end running down the seam with a linebacker in coverage was too good for the veteran to pass up.
McCown drops in a really nice pass considering the circumstances, but Martellus Bennett just can’t quite hold on. Obviously with less duress, McCown could have made an even better throw, but to hit a man in stride down the seam while getting hit is pretty poised.
It’s also quite brave, which is something Mike Glennon has proven not to be. Here’s another example of McCown showing some guts with his decision making.
Again, McCown has a defender on the way to hit him and disrupt his pocket. There are nearly similar examples to this in Mike Glennon’s first season (see attempt 3 at the previous link) where his eyes would drop instantly, and the play would be lost.
But instead, McCown (from an uneven base that isn’t ideal for most NFL throws) finds the same mismatch as above (Bennett covered by Hawk) and delivers a perfect throw for a big gain.
This pass would be completed and ran down to the one, and converted for a touchdown not long after.
McCown also has a good understanding of how routes will develop, and anticipates the play well, making the right throw before it’s obvious that it’s the right throw. Here’s an example.
McCown is letting the ball go, from his own end zone, before his receiver is all the way out of his break. But he understands that the underneath defender isn’t deep enough, and the high defender is bailing out too far, and he has a window to complete a pass for a key first down.
The throw is high enough to safely clear the short defender, and far enough in bounds to give his receiver a chance to get both feet down and secure a big first down.
But it’s not all positives. McCown is a 34-year-old with limited starting experience for a reason.
Ball placement stands out as one of the primary places where McCown comes up lacking. Here are just a few examples.
Here McCown is targeting Brandon Marshall, who has a defender crashing down from further upfield toward his left hip. As a result, McCown aims behind Marshall, to avoid a turnover and allow his big-bodied playmaker to do his thing.
The problem? He left it too far inside, and it fell incomplete.
This play is almost straight out of the Mike Glennon playbook, as McCown has room ahead of his receiver, but instead leaves it well behind and it falls incomplete.
This is proof that “if it hits your hands, it should be caught” is bogus, because it required incredible athleticism for Marshall to get his hands on this ball with his momentum carrying him further toward midfield on a poor surface.
Here’s yet another example of McCown missing out on a big play because of poor accuracy. Note the red box, which is where a throw could have gone to secure some kind of run after the catch for his receiver.
Instead, Marshall is brought to his side on the ground by a low throw that came in behind him. It’s complete, so it’s a moderate success, but there were yards left on the table here.
And finally, McCown also showed inaccuracy when going deep, something Glennon also struggled with. The red rectangle represents all of the grass gone to waste by throwing short and letting a shorter defensive back get in the way of a pass to a massive, athletic receiver.
There are clearly flaws and imperfections to McCown’s game. He’s only getting paid as a premium backup/low-end starter for a reason. But he offers a level of experience, poise, and understanding of the game that’s missing with Mike Glennon.
McCown also offers athleticism and bravery that don’t come naturally for Glennon, while struggling with similar, non-game breaking flaws.
Mike Glennon is a capable quarterback with no special skills, while McCown is the same but with a slightly better overall skill set and more experience. And neither is a long-term answer under center in Tampa Bay, which is why it would be wise to trust when Lovie Smith says the Buccaneers will consider a quarterback in the first round of the draft.