The big story of Notre Dame/Pitt was, once again, the Irish not seeming to be able to get out of their own way, especially on offense. We’ve all wondered why we seem to cough up the ball so often and against Pitt, Rees was the major culprit. While other people didn’t help around him, Rees could have prevented each turnover on his own. The mistakes made are beyond frustrating, but, if Rees is the QB that Kelly believes is the best to lead this team, all of these mistakes can and should be corrected.
I do want to put out a disclaimer that the goal of this post isn’t to bash Rees or suggest that we have a better option. I don’t watch practices and I only have a single half of video footage of any other QB play. The purpose of this post is to breakdown the comments I made all game long on Twitter (and the analysts on ESPN made as well) that Rees was “locked in” and “wasn’t seeing the field properly”. Such statements are easy to throw out, but being able to break down the footage helps to highlight exactly where Rees went wrong and why I damn near pull my hair out on such mistakes.
Let’s start with the opening drive. Right before the Irish were forced to punt, Rees threw a near INT after a overthrow of Riddick. This play ends up being a great example of Rees locking on to his target and Pitt selling out in coverage on that fact.
Just after the snap, you can see that Rees has two receivers running down the middle of the field, with only one safety to help. That safety is watching only one thing: Rees’ eyes. Once Rees looks to a receiver the safety will then decide which man to cover and which man to leave open.
Rees immediately looks to Riddick and starts his throwing motion. The safety makes his decision and starts to move Riddick’s direction. By doing this though, Eifert is now open against single coverage on the right side, which Rees never sees. Had Rees used his eyes to look the safety off or even did a pump fake, we easily have the potential for a big play. It wasn’t like Rees had to hurry and make a throw either, just look at the protection around him.
And now we get the eventual result. The CB on Riddick is actually able to adjust to the route and cuts off the window Rees initially thought he had. With the safety also coming over the top, this pass just became near impossible to complete. The throw happens to be overthrown in this instance and would’ve been picked off had Riddick not gotten a piece of the ball. Rees made a bad decision here and focused far too much on his primary read instead of making the easy adjustment to Eifert’s route.
Next, we take a look at the first turnover of the game, Rees’ fumble.
Before the snap Rees reads a blitz and throws out an audible. He sees for sure at least two LB blitzing as one is lined up with the D-line and another creeping right behind them. The final LB circled behind the 30 was also creeping back and forth as well. Rees sees the potential for six pass rushers to be coming at him at once.
The ball is then snapped and it’s obvious that Rees has misread the blitz package. Six men are indeed rushing, but the CB circled in red is the blitzer that Rees never saw. However, missing the pre-snap read isn’t the end of the world. The CB blitz has left Riddick wide open as the hot route and all Rees has to do is adjust and see it.
We come to our next problem in this play and this time it’s the blocking. The four offensive linemen toward the bottom are engaged on only three pass rushers, leaving the two blitzers circled in red free to shoot the huge gap created by the initial rush. Cierre Wood is now stuck in an impossible situation and must at least take care of one blitzer to give Rees enough time to get rid of the ball. Riddick, circled in yellow, literally has no one around him; however, Rees doesn’t see this as he is locked into the receiver to Riddick’s left. Rees is still operating off his pre-snap read and believes that the blitz up the middle is going to leave single coverage for his receiver down the sideline.
Wood takes out the closest blitzer and Rees needs to make his decision now on his throw. He has the entire yellow circled area by Riddick to throw to safely; however, he still doesn’t see it despite looking in that direction down the field. He is still looking past the correct read and is waiting for the other route he was previously staring down to develop.
The route that Rees was previously staring down didn’t develop to his liking and Rees then makes another critical error that eventually buries him. He somehow doesn’t see the wide open Riddick and actually turns his vision to the other side of the field towards Floyd, whom, according to his presnap read should have single coverage as well. Rees has exposed his blindside to the CB he never saw coming presnap, and based on his reactions during this play, never saw at all. Rees continues to stare down Floyd as he is sacked and stripped of the football.
Now let’s move on to the INT, a play which should have been a touchdown.
This play is called to Eifert and, while ESPN would later criticize Rees for staring him down, I actually don’t have a problem with it. This is a slow developing route that Rees was waiting on. As shown above, there are two defenders circled in red. The defense here is playing a zone and the LB will try and take away the throwing lane below and the saftey, Hendricks (the one that will eventually get the INT) will take away the route above. Hendricks will again sell out on Rees staring down Eifert, but this time it will work to his advantage. Eifert will move in the direction of his arrow and Hendricks will completely sell out to the route over the middle.
Eifert then makes his second move and begins to run an out toward the sidelines. The LB behind him has settled into his zone and is completely unaware of this move. Hendricks attempting to take away the route over the middle is now dead in the water.
Eifert is now well ahead of Hendricks. Floyd’s route is run just underneath Eifert so he can clear out his defender in order to leave Eifert wide open. The trap has been sprung, the perfect play called and all routes run to perfection. Hendricks desperately tries to catch up to Eifert, but then…
…the ball was thrown to the wrong spot. Had the ball been thrown to the area in yellow, Rees would hit Eifert in stride with no one in front of him on his way to an easy TD. However, the ball is thrown to the area in red, forcing Eifert to stop dead in his tracks to readjust to the ball. Hendricks, who was completely burned on the route and is in full stride attempting to catch up, now has the perfect angle to pick off the errant throw. While Eifert should have gone forward to ensure the INT never happened, it’s easy to see why he didn’t. He knew that he absolutely burned his man and had to make a quick adjustment to his route to get into position to catch it. He still had time to move forward though, but while he could’ve saved the pick, the root cause for the INT is still on all Rees and a very, very poor throw.
After the first half though, Rees did begin to put things back together. He still had several more moments of not seeing the whole field properly and locking into his primary route, but Kelly and staff actually started to use that to their advantage, trying to open up routes to Eifert all game long. When Pitt adjusted to that, they would call a play for another receiver, leaving Pitt’s coverage eventually exposed on several plays. Rees still fit some passes into some tiny windows that are too close for comfort (take a look at the fourth quarter TD), but that plus the above issues can be corrected.
The three plays above were major drive killers and likely took away points (especially the INT, that should’ve been a TD). To me, it’s starting to become clear that offensive struggles are directly related to Rees not seeing the field and coverages properly along with having some accuracy issues as well. It isn’t time to go into full panic mode, but I sure hope he can iron out these issues because it will be a long, frustrating season for the offense if he can’t.