Monday, November 16, 2009

Football Quarterback Throws - The Long and Short Pass

The NFL is becoming a very offensive game, with quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Phillip Rivers airing out long passes regularly and using short quick passes to their running backs more often than the hand off.

The reasons for the increased amount of passing in the NFL are still up for debate. The simple fact is that the teams whose quarterbacks are throwing more are winning more. If throwing is the winning formula then all teams are going to try it.

All this throwing makes for exciting football. Hail Mary passes for touch downs, miraculous interceptions and numerous spectacular catches have all been part of the 2009 season. The wide receivers have to be on their game and the quarterbacks have to throw accurate passes with the right amount of force , often under pressure.

The quarterback has two basic options when throwing a pass. He can either step into it and air it out for distance, or he can throw a short accurate pass.
In both cases it is important to use proper mechanics to achieve the results and also to prevent any injury to the shoulder or elbow.
In general the best mechanics for all throws can be described as:
  1. Aim your non throwing shoulder at your target.
  2. Step forward with the opposite foot to your throwing arm to counterbalance the throwing action.
  3. Rotate your hips toward your target followed by your shoulders and finally your throwing arm.
  4. Follow through with your throwing arm, so that you put speed on the ball and prevent injury.
Lets take a look at two different types of passes, by our two quarterbacks. These quarterbacks (myself and Dennis) are weekend flag football quarterbacks and do not have the best mechanics. Although we will comment on their mechanics (good and bad) we are focused on the differences between the two throws.

The first throw shows QB1 stepping into a throw and attempting to follow the mechanics described above. He is attempting a long throw to his wide receiver way down the field.

  • QB1 starts by taking a few steps back. Most quarterbacks do this to create some room to step into a throw. This is not always possible, but it is usually necessary if you are trying to throw to a wide receiver way down field.
  • He then does a little skip hop to position his back foot at right angles to the direction he wants to throw. He does this so that his hips also remain closed to the target (at right angles).
  • His lead shoulder (left) is also pointing toward the target. This also keeps his shoulders closed to the target.
  • The red arrow shows how QB1's hips will rotate toward the target, while the blue arrow shows his shoulders. Rotating first his hips followed by his shoulders toward the target will create a kinematic sequence which will allow QB1 to put more speed into his throw and therefore get more distance. The kinematic sequence was first described in golf but it can and should be used to create power in any throwing or hitting sport. The idea is that by first accelerating your hips, then shoulders then arm toward the target in the throw you will create the most energy for the throw with the most efficiency and least effort.
  • Our QB1 does not make best use of the kinematic sequence as his hips and shoulders rotate toward the target almost simultaneously, but he is still using his rotational energy to create throwing speed.
  • Finally he follows through with his arm across his body to obtain maximum speed until ball release and allowing his arm to decelerate after the throw.
Now lets look at QB2 , who is also stepping into a throw, but he is keeping his hips and shoulders open to the target and using mostly his arm to make the pass. With this technique it is very difficult to throw a long pass and is usually used in rushed situations and for short passes.

  • QB2 also takes a few steps back to create space. This is not necessary to throw a pass like this but it may give the quarterback some time to make a decision.
  • He also takes a skip hop but lands with his back foot facing toward the target. This keeps his hips open to the target.
  • His lead shoulder turns a little toward the target, but he cannot turn as much because he has kept his hips facing the target. Turning his front shoulder toward the target a little, allows QB2 to get a bit of rotation of the shoulders into his throw.
  • The red arrow describes the direction of QB2's hips moving forward and the blue arrow the direction of his shoulders. He is not using the kinematic sequence to create arm speed in this case. Although by turning his front shoulder a little toward the target, he is getting some of the energy of rotation that the kinematic sequence gives a thrower.
  • Unlike QB1, QB2 needs to use much more strength in his throwing shoulder and arm to throw his pass. For this reason it is very difficult to throw a long pass using this technique. If QB2 attempts to throw as hard as he can with this technique he could cause shoulder or elbow injuries, because of the extra stresses and forces on his muscles.
  • QB2 is meant to be throwing a short accurate pass, but he does release the ball a little early, so we will assume he was just trying to lob it over the defenders head.
  • Finally QB2 follows through across his body, allowing his arm to decelerate without injury.
Watch the quarterbacks in the NFL and notice when they throw with an open hip and shoulder technique and when they rotate toward the target. In most instances you will see that they use the kinematic sequence and rotate their hips and shoulders into the throw to create good accurate passes, even for short passes.

Once in a while however, usually when they are under pressure, you will see them launch a pass with hips and shoulder facing their receiver and using mostly their arm power and little rotation.

Enjoy the rest of the NFL season. We hope to see many more games with more than 300 yards passing. Get out your video camera and film your throwing mechanics to compare to the pros.

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