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Breaking down all throws from Sam Ehlinger’s first game and expectations

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Andrew Nelles/ / USA TODAY NETWORK

Sam Ehlinger got thrown into the fire against the Commanders and he came out with a nice statline. Here are each one of his throws from his last game:

Throw 1

Ehlinger sells the fake nicely, rolls out with depth and aligns his shoulders and aims his hips towards his target, which is why he gets an accurate throw off. In the past, he struggled with his accuracy on the run because his hips would be closed and his shoulder wasn’t properly aimed towards the target. You see here that his front shoulder was aimed perfectly towards the receiver and he hits him perfectly. This is a really nice play on an early down.

Throw 2

This is a throw that Ehlinger needs to get off much earlier and he needs to trust his arm and accuracy into a tight window. As a quarterback, you are taught to throw the ball to a place only the receiver can get it. If that means that you have to miss long, then so be it. In this case, Hines is has half a step on his DB and it would be a tight throw but Ehlinger has to make it since it’s his only option. If he misses Hines too much in front of him then so be it. What he does well in the end is extend the play with his feet and end up hitting Hines later on. It’s not ideal but it worked out in the end.

Throw 3

This is a screen pass so nothing major to break down; he does a good job of getting the ball out quickly.

Throw 4

This is a great throw by Ehlinger for so many reasons. For one, it’s the right read. The wide out took the safety and cornerback deep and it left a one-on-one matchup with the slot receiver. On an out route, the best time to release the ball is right out of the break and that’s when Ehlinger releases it. The accuracy was perfect on it and he hit the receiver in stride, out of the break and gave the defender no chance to make a play on the ball. This is a serious NFL starter-like throw.

Throw 5

Unfortunately he follow it up with a potential missed touchdown throw. Ehlinger, who’s read was clearly to the bunch trips side, misses a receiver (looks like Pierce) running a go route where the safety doesn’t follow him. He was still in the pocket, with clean space to throw from when Pierce hits the top of the defense, which is when the ball should’ve been released. Instead, he waited for the pressure to come and he forced a pass to Michael Pittman which was tipped. This was a big missed opportunity.

Throw 6

This is another negative play, even though the result is good in the end. It’s simple: Ehlinger needs to hit the crossing route a lot earlier. He waits too long, has to use his feet and hit the crossing route when the receiver has slowed down and is not in stride. He is a full 2 seconds late on his throw. In my opinion, had it been thrown on time, they would’ve gotten an extra 10+ yards on the play. Poor timing is what hurts him here.

Throw 7

He follows up two bad throws with a beauty. He steps up in the pocket to avoid the pressure, keeps his eyes downfield and hits his receiver running a dig in stride. Like on the first throw, we see he does a good job of adjusting his upper body (hips and shoulders) to be properly aligned to his target which is why he ends up making an accurate throw on the run.

Throw 8

While the throw was pretty good, he clearly misses #80 Woods who is wide open on a dig/in route. He was open and it wasn’t even close and it would’ve led to a lot more yards. It’s tough to call this a misread since the receiver he threw it to was the 2nd best choice on the play, but he missed a completely open player who would’ve gotten a lot more yards.

Throw 9

Ehlinger is late on this throw. He sees his receiver is open and the defense is playing a zone underneath and the receiver is about to cut into an open zone. This is easy money and the throw needs to come right out of the break, but instead he waits an extra 0.5 seconds and the receiver has to slow his momentum to make the catch and it hurts his YAC potential. It’s what leads to him getting tackled by a linebacker chasing him; if the ball was thrown on time, that linebacker doesn’t chase him down and make the tackle.

Throw 10

With tight man underneath and a safety over the top playing heavily on the weak-side, the weak-side wideout isn’t the right read here. What you end up seeing is #1 Campbell who is pretty open on a deep dig route on the strong side of the field. Considering the middle of the field was open pre-snap and the Commanders were showing a 2-high look, Campbell was probably the primary read pre-snap and post-snap he was open. Ehlinger missed another golden opportunity to hit Campbell.

Throw 11

Even though #11 Pittman is wide open right away on a quick in underneath, it’s obvious that Ehlinger got a green light look with a one-on-one on the weak-side. He does his 3-step drop looking at him the whole way and fires at him right off his settle step. #14 Pierce was his read the whole way, so even though #11 Pittman was open, taking a shot down the field with a good 50/50 ball receiver is an okay decision here. The reality is the ball needs to be placed better. When it’s one-on-one, you try and aim for his outside shoulder or you can just throw it and have your receiver fight for it. This was a very poor throw that was off line by about 5 yards.

Throw 12

Technically this wasn’t a throw, but I had to include it. Ehlinger messes up by waiting too long and then deciding at the last second to run even with the pocket closing on him. He had two out route options on the left side with #21 Hines running a short one or #80 Woods running a deeper route. In the NFL, while tight, those receiver have a step on their man out of the break which means that they are open. Ehlinger needs to hit one of them out of the break. This was a very poor decision to hold on to the ball and it leads to him getting hit and fumbling it.

Throw 13

A sign of a good quarterback is that he takes what’s given to him. In this case, he was under pressure for most of the throw but tried to force something outside when he had his check-down option wide open 5 yards away. Through 13 throws, he gives off the impression that he has serious tunnel vision and has missed a lot of open targets. Because of the duress he’s under, he’s unable to properly adjust his hips which causes them to be closed and when your hips are closed as a thrower you will lose a lot of power, which is why his throw one-hopped.

Throw 14

Similar to a play earlier, Ehlinger made the 2nd best read on this play. He had a crossing route by #80 Woods which was wide open and if he hit him in stride, it would’ve been trouble since that’s a big body moving with a lot of speed. Instead, he makes the longer throw and since it’s a bit off target, it forces #14 Pierce to have to make a tough catch which results in no YAC yards. Ehlinger needs to take what’s given and make the throw that not only has the highest chance of being completed, but also one that gets a good result after the catch. He didn’t do either of those things here.

Throw 15

This was a half-field read and the man he’s reading on this throw was the nickelback. If he sits, he has to throw the slot running a deep out. If he goes with the slot, he needs to hit the wideout running a quick dig/in underneath. The nickel sits and he hits the wideout underneath, who immediately gets hit pretty hard. As you’ll see, the slot ends up being pretty open on the deep out.

Throw 16

Thanks to an amazing outside-in release off the line by Alec Pierce (#14), he gets a couple of steps on his cornerback and Ehlinger delivers a very nice throw. If I want to be very picky, the throw was very slightly underthrown which is why Pierce eases up between the 50 and opposing 45 yard line. However, the throw was still very nice and Ehlinger made the right read here.

Throw 17

Ehlinger took the safe route throwing underneath to Pierce, but had he been a little more patient and gone through his progressions, he would’ve had an open #1 Campbell crossing behind the linebackers and in front of the safety. The protection was good on this play, so Ehlinger had time to go through his reads and had he kept his body more centered towards the middle of the field, he would’ve seen that route by Campbell open up. To me, while the result wasn’t bad, this was another missed opportunity.

Throw 18

This, like a throw earlier, was a screen pass so no breakdown needed.

Throw 19

This is a great read by Ehlinger and he does a fantastic job staring down the field, keeping the safety from reading his eyes and then quickly turning, adjusting and launching a nice pass to #21 Hines who makes a great adjustment to the ball on his catch. While the pass wasn’t perfect, it was thrown only to a spot where Hines can get it and any good NFL receiver makes that catch, so this play gets a 99% grade.

Throw 20

A pop pass is something anyone can do, so nothing to break down here.

Throw 21

This is a quick dump off screen pass but I find Ehlinger and the running back need to do a better job selling the fake (more blame put on the running back).

Throw 22

This was the right read by Ehlinger; he saw the one-on-one with no safety help over the top and he took a shot. The throw was actually extremely good and had #1 Campbell not been held, I think he makes the catch. He also does a great job going through his reads (you see his eyes move left to right) and not letting the safety catch on to him. Although technically not a throw that goes on the stat-sheet, this is an amazing read and throw by Ehlinger. The clear DPI is called and the Colts get the ball inside the 5.

Throw 23

This might’ve been his best throw of the game, which is such a shame considering the ball was dropped. Everything he does here is great starting from the patience in the pocket, staying calm when the pocket is collapsing, making the right read and firing a perfect strike at the perfect time. Unfortunately, this drop cost the Colts from getting to around the 50 yard line with about 15 seconds left.

Throw 24

I won’t even rate this throw because this is a horrible play call to call with 15 seconds left; the depth of the receivers’ routes are not spaced out enough and the Commanders defended it perfectly. Frank didn’t help Sam out too much on this play.

Throw 25

No point in posting this last throw which was just a dump off pass which was suppose to turn into a lateral show.

Expectations going forward

It’s worth noting that Ehlinger had several rushes as well, some designed and some off-script. This is a good skill to have and something a Colts quarterback hasn’t done properly in what seems like a million years. He produced positive plays with his feet and this is an extremely valuable asset to have in today’s NFL.

I think the Colts are going to use Ehlinger very similarly to how the Giants use Daniel Jones and have him run a lot more than what he did against the Commanders. I also believe that the Colts will use him more on rollouts since his mechanics are greatly improved on the run (refer back to my shoulder alignment comments) and he shows good placement on the move.

Taylor Heinicke, who I’ve always liked ever since his days at Old Dominion, is a more experienced version of Sam Ehlinger. So it’s funny that Ehlinger got his first career start against older Sam Ehlinger. Heinicke made some incredible throws this game and his clutch play (along with Terry McLaurin’s big plays) is what won the Commanders the game in the end. The Colts left a lot of play out there and were the better team that day.

Recap and Grade

In my opinion, this was a C+ game from Sam Ehlinger. I’m not taking into account that it was his first game or which players he had to play with. Im purely grading him from a quarterback standpoint and how he was with his reads, his mechanics, his accuracy and his poise amongst other things.

While he made some great throws, he left a lot of big plays out there. He needs to do a better job of scanning the field and seeing his options because there were some open players he didn’t hit or try to hit. He needs to eliminate that tunnel vision.

On a more positive note, his ability to run and his ability to evade defenders in the pocket is a big plus. He also does a nice job with his eyes and playing with the safety.

From a mechanics standpoint, he’s gotten a lot better. In my opinion, his inaccuracy issues last year stemmed from two issues:

  • Kinematic sequencing issues
  • Poor shoulder alignment

The shoulder alignment is clearly fixed as his lead shoulder is always aimed properly towards his target and not in a closed or open position. In a closed position, you’ll see ball be under-thrown and in an open position, you can get a variety of things but usually you’ll see passes be overthrown. You can see that Ehlinger this game had no major accuracy issues or more than a couple poor throws.

The kinematic sequence, which is the order in which parts of the body accelerate/decelerate as the the quarterback is making the throw. It starts with the front foot opening towards the target, then the hips twist and turn and followed by the shoulder movement and then the arm with the throwing motion. In the past, I noticed a disconnect between the timing of his shoulders and his hips and now it’s clear that the order is good. If you want to confirm it yourself, take one of his throws and put it in 0.25x speed and you’ll see that each part of his lower body up to the throwing motion follow the proper order and nothing is out of turn. The kinematic sequencing issues were clearly fixed by Tom House and his team at 3DQB since this is one of the biggest teaching points House talks about.

All in all, Ehlinger, with the proper tutelage can do some good things, but I expect some growing pains in the next month, especially against Bill Belichick this week as well as the Eagles and Cowboys in the next month. He will need to scan the field much better because if he doesn’t he will leave too many golden opportunities out there. With that being said, I think he has potential to be a good starting quarterback in this league. He may not be the long-term answer, but he can’t be counted out yet.