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Breaking down Bryce Petty’s first start of the season

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Bryce Petty #9 of the New York Jets warms up before a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 17, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Bryce Petty #9 of the New York Jets warms up before a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 17, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
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Bryce Petty’s first start of the year, the fifth of his career, wasn’t the complete trainwreck that many expected. Still, Petty has a lot to prove regarding his future with the New York Jets.

Sunday’s game against the Saints had all the makings of an absolute horror show for Bryce Petty and the New York Jets. The team was coming off a downright humiliating loss to the dreadful Denver Broncos who had lost their last eight prior contests. The Jets had lost their starting quarterback and locker room leader, Josh McCown, to a broken hand which would prematurely end his season. Finally, the unfortunate Jets had the “privilege” of traveling to New Orleans to play the Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Superdome is a notoriously difficult place for visiting teams to play in and the Jets road record this season speaks to their deficiencies in that category.

Ultimately, it’d be hard to imagine a more difficult situation for the inexperienced Bryce Petty to make his first start of the season. While he didn’t necessarily light it up, all things considered, Petty and the Jets (which side note is an awesome play on words for the Elton John song of a similar name) likely performed better than most people might have expected.

With that, let’s take a look at Petty’s performance and examine the individual components of his game.

Footwork and Mobility

While nobody is going to confuse Bryce Petty with Michael Vick, the former Baylor quarterback has enough mobility to get by and flashes his athleticism every now and then. Despite this, one of Petty’s biggest flaws comes with his footwork, particularly when rolling outside of the pocket.

Petty has the ability to evade opposing defenders inside the pocket but when asked to drift outside and make a throw on the run he struggles. The third-year QB has a difficult time with his footwork when making a pass while moving and this affects his ability to extend plays when the situation calls for it.

Too often he finds himself crossing his legs when he releases the ball and his feet get tangled forcing wildly inaccurate passes. This might be the biggest difference between a quarterback like him and McCown who seems to thrive outside the pocket. Petty just isn’t comfortable when asked to make a play with his legs and improvise when a play breaks down.

Against New Orleans, we saw this multiple times as he was able to evade pressure inside the pocket but once said pressure was evaded, Petty struggled to make accurate throws when in motion. The Jets ran multiple designed quarterback rollout patterns with Petty to no avail as the 26-year-old signal-caller either failed to execute his throws or find an open target.

One of the more impressive plays that Petty made with his feet on Sunday came late in the fourth quarter where he was able to avoid a blitzing defensive back and throw a strike on the run to the speedy JoJo Natson for a gain of around 20 yards. This is a type of throw that Petty needs to make more often and was certainly one of his most admirable passes of the day. Petty also had a nice run of 13 yards to convert on third-and-four which displayed his ability to extemporize on the spot.

Regardless, Petty’s mobility is something that should likely be more of an asset than it currently is and his subpar footwork is mostly to blame for that. He needs to work on making accurate throws on the run more consistently if he is going to fully utilize his above-average athleticism.

Pocket Awareness and Decision Making

While Petty’s footwork looks just as shaky as last season, it appears the young quarterback has improved with his decision making and poise in the pocket, at least from the small sample size we’ve seen thus far.

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Petty finished last year with seven interceptions in just four starts and was overall pretty careless with the football. While he wasn’t “Nathan Peterman careless,” Petty struggled with turnovers as many young quarterbacks tend to do. However, Petty seemed to be a lot more careful and protective with the football in his most recent start against the Saints, despite the final stat sheet showing two interceptions.

Be it a product of play-calling or simply just not taking as many risks, Petty seldom made poor decisions and almost always put the ball in a spot where his receiver had a better chance at catching the ball than the defender.

His first turnover was probably his worst decision of the night as Petty threw the ball late on a spot route to backup tight end Neal Sterling allowing the defender to make a play on the ball as it was tipped up and intercepted by linebacker Craig Robertson. Even so, this is more of an issue with Petty’s ability to progress through his reads rather than a knock on his decision making. The correct decision was made, it was just made too late.

Perhaps what was most impressive about Bryce Petty’s performance was his ability to complete passes under pressure. Many inexperienced quarterbacks struggle mightily against the blitz and it’s generally the first game planning technique coaches will employ when facing a young signal-caller. Petty, however, was a different story.

Per Pro Football Focus, Petty’s QB rating when blitzed on deep throws was a 103.2 as opposed to a horrid 2.8 rating when not under pressure. That’s a very interesting statistic that could leave many wondering if this performance was just a product of a very small sample or if it’s a sign of things to come.

Whatever the case may be, Petty raised some eyebrows with his poise in the pocket and his ability to react accordingly against blitzing defenders. This could prove to be a part of his game to build off of and hopefully could help him grow more as a passer. After all, this isn’t a trait that many quarterbacks with his experience possess.

Accuracy Concerns

When analyzing Bryce Petty’s game, the two problems at the forefront are his difficulties with accuracy and his ability to make accurate reads against NFL defenses. First, let’s start with his accuracy concerns.

There is perhaps no easier way to gauge a quarterback’s true talent than by witnessing his throwing accuracy. It is the simplest way with the naked eye to quickly decide whether a passer is good or not. With Petty, he too often finds himself failing the proverbial “eye test” in this category.

The former 4th-round draft pick struggles more than the Jets coaching staff would hope on short passes. Petty frequently finds himself missing short, easy throws that leave many watching at home questioning why an NFL quarterback can’t consistently connect on five-yard passes.

Against the Saints, Petty missed multiple throws from inside 10 yards and even some of his completions had to be dug out of the dirt by his receivers. Robby Anderson alone had at least a couple shoe-string catches on simple hitch routes.

His intermediate and deep passes were few and far between as he insisted on hitting his check downs even more than Josh McCown, which is saying something. Despite this, Petty, for the most part, looked adequate with these throws. Eye-opening passes to Elijah McGuire and Chad Hansen along the sidelines immediately spring to mind.

Still, his short passing struggles must be cleaned up before he could take the next step as a passer. It’s safe to assume that some of his difficulties with accuracy are likely the fault of nerves and that some of his issues should fade away over the next two games. That being said, these misses are nonetheless concerning.

Reading Defenses

The good thing is Petty’s problems with accuracy can be fixed. The same may not be true for his ability to read defenses at the professional level, which has been his Achilles’ heel since he was drafted back in 2015.

Petty came from a system at Baylor that utilized what is known as a “one-read” system which emphasizes an up-tempo style of play and limits the responsibilities of the quarterback. It takes a lot of pressure off the signal-caller as the plays are generally fairly simplistic and the quarterback doesn’t have to progress through a ton of reads, hence the “one-read” moniker.

This put Petty at an immediate disadvantage as professional offenses are nothing like this and reading an NFL defense is one of the hardest things to do in all of sports. Petty has struggled with this concept since he was drafted and while he has certainly improved, he is nowhere near the level he would need to be to be considered a viable NFL starter.

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Petty takes too long when scanning the field and making decisions. Instead, he has a habit of locking on to targets or simply making throws too late. This issue was on full display against the Saints as Petty hit the aforementioned Neal Sterling too late on a spot route and the pass was deflected and subsequently intercepted.

If Petty makes that read a second earlier, it’s a completion and a gain of about five yards. In this case, he waits too long and the ball is turned over. This exemplifies Petty’s biggest weakness as a quarterback.

Unfortunately, at already 26 years of age and with almost three professional years under his belt, the window of opportunity appears to be closing for Bryce Petty. The issues with progressing through his reads, although improved, will likely never fully go away and this will ultimately keep him from being a starting quarterback in this league.

Perhaps he projects as a backup QB in the Jets future plans. Even so, Petty is going to have to show that he could fix some of his accuracy issues and continue to improve with his ability to read NFL defenses if he wants to hang around the league for an extended period of time.

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This past Sunday’s game wasn’t necessarily the disaster that many expected, but it was also a true demonstration of all the time and development Petty still needs to grow into a competent quarterback.

And at 26-years-old, that time is beginning to run out.

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