A&M’s best offensive playmaker is only averaging 4 catches a game. As a sophomore and freshman, he averaged almost 7 catches a game. Why is his production down?
#1 QB Play. It goes without saying that A&M’s QB play under Kellen Mond has been too slow and indecisive in coverage recognition needed to identify good looks for an inside WR. It’s also safe to assume that coaches have called plays away from the middle of the field where interceptions most often happen. It’s also fair to point out that Kirk has struggled with drops in almost every game. Even when the ball is delivered to him, he is not automatic to catch it.
#2 Passing Attempts. A&M is averaging only 31 passing attempts this year, down from 36 last year and 37 in 2015. A&M simply isn’t throwing the ball as much nor running as many offensive plays due to inefficiency and slower tempo.
#3 No Josh Reynolds. I will maybe write about this in depth later. But, in this offense the X WR has to draw safety attention. That is not happening this year and that means Kirk is getting safety looks over the top all game long. This is a big problem for A&M right now.
#4 Coverage Looks
Teams have schemed the ball away from Kirk this year. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
In the UCLA game, on the very first drive, UCLA sends 6 rushers on 3rd and 5. This empties the middle of the field for a quick in/drag route to Kirk for a nice gain. It’s a nice job by Starkel in recognition.
Easy throw and catch to a wide open middle of the field.
However, if you watch A&M on tape in SEC play, teams simply don’t empty the middle of the field in passing situations. They have caught on to A&M tendency to run a lot of drag routes in the middle of the field and are dropping multiple defenders into this area.
Here, State drops 3 into the drag area of the field on 3rd and 5. The exact same scenario as the UCLA game example above. They take away the easy drag throw and force Mond into more difficult throws betting he can’t make them. They only rush 3. They are also spying Mond to take away the QB scramble here.
Again going back to UCLA, this is a disguised zone coverage when A&M goes 5 wide/empty on 2nd and 8. Kirk has no defender over him and does a great job sitting down at the sticks for a great throw by Starkel. While this look is still occasionally seen by A&M, they are not taking advantage of it with Mond at QB. He is simply far too slow in recognizing and delivering the ball. This is a timing throw that absolutely must be threaded between the defenders. If it is late, it is likely picked off. I’ve seen this concept double clutched by Mond multiple times a game. The QB has to be ready to fire the ball upon the snap.
Here is an example of a similar coverage look vs Arkansas. This time A&M has an RPO called and Mond reads the off coverage and decides to throw the hitch to Kirk. A good read.
But, the execution is bad. The ball sails high and Kirk has to leave his feet to catch it. This can’t happen on this throw, because the yardage in front of Kirk is erased by the defenders. It has to be an accurate throw made quickly. Not easy, but important. Remember Johnny Manziel side arming these throws at the speed of light? That is what you are looking for on these type of throws. Mond’s delivery is consistently lethargic on these timing throws. The release just isn’t fast enough, nor the accuracy good enough.
Now, let’s take a look at Nick Starkel after he entered the State game. You can immediately tell that Starkel has recognition of what coverage he is seeing from the defense.
Here State is showing a 2 safety shell look. With both safeties back and no defender near Buckley on the nearside, there is a soft spot in the coverage.
Starkel quickly recognized this and throws to the open spot in the defense where he is expecting Buckley to sit down. The throw is on time and accurate. This was a throw that Johnny Manziel made for probably 1,000 yards to Swope and Labhart….5 yards at a time.
But, Buckley has not sat down in the soft spot in the coverage. He drifts another 3 yards upfield into the safety. The ball is now behind Buckley and lucky to not be intercepted. This was a bad job by a young WR in recognizing the soft spot in coverage, which is a critical skill for any WR playing on the inside. But, I can assume that based on very limited film of Starkel, he is more comfortable reading this type of coverage vs inside WRs and making throws into this area of the field as compared to Kellen Mond. This creates danger, but will also assuredly create opportunities for slot players like Christian Kirk. This is vital for any spread offense. And why a QB change could be coming very soon.