Recently, a listener of Reporting As Eligible asked us what would constitute a successful rest of the season for Jordan Love, and it’s a good question. Love’s play hasn’t changed that much from week to week this season, with his successes coming when his preferred throws to the intermediate middle of the field are relatively open. Over the last two Sundays, Matt LaFleur finally did him some favors with personnel and play-calling, getting Luke Musgrave up the field and increasing the role of Dontayvion Wicks, but the improvements in the offense aren’t entirely about Love himself.
The real answer may not present itself in Love’s counting statistics. Instead, what we really need to see is real, sustained improvement in an area of weakness: his accuracy. Love could, for instance, improve his short passing accuracy and finally start putting the ball on his receivers’ hands instead of making everyone slow down or contort themselves to make the catch. I’m sick of seeing Luke Musgrave, who’s not a YAC guy in the first place, getting lit up because the ball was three feet behind him.
However, the better, more impactful, and theoretically easier improvement should come on his deep ball. To this point, Jordan Love’s deep ball has been almost unbelievably bad. It’s baffling. Love can sling it on outs and up the seam, but when he’s trying to lead someone deep, the ball consistently comes up short. This is not a question of arm strength, which Love undoubtedly has. Instead, on 50-yard bombs the ball goes 47. On 40-yard bombs, it goes 37. It is, like most of Love’s issues, a problem of accuracy and confidence.
Major League Baseball pitchers sometimes lose their command, and when this happens you’ll frequently hear analysts describe them as “aiming instead of pitching” or “aiming instead of throwing,” and this is precisely the problem with Love on his deep shots. If you’re unfamiliar with the baseball shorthand, what it actually means is that pitching (and throwing) are fundamentally about muscle memory gained from repeated practice, and that you cannot think or will yourself to throw strikes. Throwing the ball is a precision activity requiring your legs, core, shoulder, upper arm, forearm, wrist, and fingers to work in perfect harmony. It’s too much for your conscious mind to handle, and if you try to think your way to better throwing, you’re far more likely to instead develop bad habits.
I went back and watched all of Love’s “big plays” from college (highlights, bombs, and touchdowns) just to see if this is a longstanding issue. Although I watched a ton of Love college tape during draft time, I never thought to look at his deep ball accuracy specifically because honestly, it’s almost never a problem. When it is a problem it’s usually more along the lines of early-career Brett Favre, a quarterback who just wanted to gun everything as hard as possible, even if it was 40 yards downfield. The fact is that even weak-armed college quarterbacks routinely have good deep balls. As long as you put the ball far enough in front of the receiver (and the DB), it’s among the most quarterback-friendly throws you can make, because your receiver has so much time to help you out. Deep balls don’t really have to be that precise, they just need to provide a receiver with enough time to adjust while still maintaining separation. That separation requires that you continue running forward at high speed. You cannot consistently underthrow.
Unfortunately, Love was every bit as bad at this in college as he is now. I counted two legitimately good deep balls among 60 or so highlights from his college career. Here they are:
Maybe there are a few more out there, but the percentage is quite low.
Everything else is either underthrown or, more charitably, a back shoulder throw or something like a post where Love can gun it to the receiver on a break. Love also benefitted from a ton of blown coverages by the lackluster defenses he faced. His receivers also helped him immensely, especially contested catch specialists Ron’Quavion Tarver and Siaosi Mariner.
It’s bizarre because quarterbacks also get a TON of practice throwing deep balls, because kids LOVE throwing deep balls. It’s one of the first throws people learn because it’s fun to huck it deep. It’s bizarre to be this bad at one of the fundamental throws of football, but it’s also no mystery as to why. Love’s mechanics, which are not a strength in the first place, are a complete and total mess when he throws deep. He is almost always fading backwards on his deep throws which is a major cause of his underthrows, but even when he does step into the throw, he looks more like a three point shooter than a quarterback. He looks like a player who was told he needed more loft on his deep shots and took that advice to an absurd degree, sacrificing all of his form and power.
With that said, Love did show signs of improvement against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. His touchdown pass to Jayden Reed was a beautiful throw, and it came from good footwork out of a deep drop. He also had a few other solid deep passes, including a pair of seam throws to Musgrave. Those throws are building blocks that show Love is at least capable of throwing accurate deep balls on occasion. However, one good game does not undo a track record of struggles, and there is a far stronger track record of issues than successes.
Love appears to need a total rebuild on the deep ball, starting with a direct challenge from the coaching staff to overthrow, and not underthrow receivers. While underthrows occasionally become pass interference penalties, they are also far more likely to be intercepted. Virtually every receiver on this team has excellent deep speed, and it’s being wasted because Love can’t throw the one route that should be a specialty for this team.