A Look at 14 Non-Quarterback Pass Attempts Through Week 8
We hear it every week on television broadcasts - it's a passing league.
But even with all of the throws, not much excites an NFL fan more than a pass by a non-quarterback. Matthew Stafford can drop back to pass 60 times in a game with no one blinking an eye, but if one wide receiver or punter attempts a pass, we all lose our collective minds. We get excited by players performing tasks they’re not supposed to complete. It’s the same excitement we get when we see Peyton Manning scramble or Roman Harper take a correct angle to a tackle.
Not all non-quarterback passes are created equal, and some are better left in the mind of the offensive coordinator who drew it up. So far this year, 12 non-quarterbacks have attempted a pass, with two players having attempted more than one. For the sake of football analysis literally no one else is doing, let's take a look at these passes. We'll only be looking at pass attempts that actually happened, so while Thomas Morstead might have tried one of the worst fake punts ever earlier this year for the New Orleans Saints, he never actually got a pass off. To accurately judge how these plays went, we're going to use our Net Expected Points (NEP) Metric.
Mohamed Sanu: 2/2, 68 yards, 1 TD | Passing NEP: 4.59
Pass 1 - Week 2
Situation: First quarter, 1:03 remaining. 1st-and-10 on own 26, score tied 3-3
In his three-year career, Mohamed Sanu hasn't thrown an incomplete pass. That’s not completely rare for a wide receiver, but Sanu has now attempted four passes in his career. He’s 4/4 for 166 yards and 2 touchdowns. His first attempt of the season was a fake end around with Sanu coming into the backfield from the left side of the formation. He then throws a beautiful pass down the sideline into double coverage, hitting Brandon Tate for a 50-yard gain that probably made Andy Dalton jealous.
Pass 2 - Week 3
Situation: First quarter, :06 remaining. 1st-and-10 on opponent 18, up 3-0
The second pass attempt of the season features Sanu in backfield. The play is a fake pitch to the right as Dalton sneaks out to the left. Sanu throws a pass across the field to Dalton runs the 18 yards for a touchdown. There were multiple possibilities for how this play could have ended, more than one involve Dalton getting pummeled as soon as he touches the ball. Thankfully for Cincinnati, Tennessee cornerbacks are contractually obligated to take inefficient routes in coverage this season and the Bengals escape with a touchdown that could have been a pick-six the other way.
Robert Golden: 1/1, 25 yards | Passing NEP: 3.53
Situation: Fourth quarter, 9:28 remaining. 4th-and-10 on own 20, tied 27-27
Robert Golden is an NFL player who has completed an NFL pass. In full disclosure, I was aware of neither of these facts before the research for this started. Golden signed with the Steelers in 2012 as an undrafted free agent, and upon more research, has become one of the better special teams contributors in the league. On this fourth down, Golden received a direct snap in a punt formation immediately throwing a pass to a wide open Antwon Blake, also an NFL player. After this successful fake punt, the Steelers would actually punt three plays later from midfield.
Johnny Hekker: 1/1, 18 yards | Passing NEP: 2.74
Week 7 Situation: Fourth quarter, 2:55 remaining, 4th-and-3 on own 18, up 28-26
This is probably the most well-known on the list. With a two-point lead, the St. Louis Rams called for a fake punt inside their own 20 in attempt to ice the game against the Seattle Seahawks. This was the Hasselhoff of David strategies. The play worked when Benny Cunningham went uncovered and gained 18 yards on a pass from Hekker. What hasn’t gotten enough attention from this play is the pre-snap motion from Stedman Bailey. Bailey is positioned as the gunner on left side and motions to the right, brings the lone defender with him and opens up the entire half of the field for Cunningham to run after the reception. The pre-snap motion doesn't get talked about enough, probably because it's a pre-snap motion on a fake punt.
Antonio Brown: 2/2, 20 yards, 1 TD | Passing NEP: 2.56
Pass 1 - Week 4
Situation: Third quarter, 10:07 remaining. 1st-and-10 on opponent 37, tied 17-17
Is it possible during a non-quarterback pass that the actual pass isn't the most surprising thing? Antonio Brown throws left-handed. While that might not be a secret, it’s not going to be something opposing teams on their scouting reports. So when Brown took what looked like a screen from the right side of the formation and runs back towards the middle of the field, a pass is the last thing on a defense’s mind because a right-handed player would be making that throw across his body. But Antonio Brown throws left handed, leading to a smooth 17-yard completion to a wide open Le’Veon Bell.
Pass 2 - Week 7
Situation: Second quarter, 1:10 remaining. 1st-and-goal on opponent 3, down 13-10
Now the secret is out of the bag. On this play, Brown motions into the backfield at the snap and takes a pitch running to the right. A pass is the last thing on the defense’s mind because a left-handed player would be making that throw across his body. But Brown makes a U-turn, runs away from J.J. Watt — always a good idea — sets and finds Lance Moore in the end zone for a touchdown.
Shane Lechler: 1/1, 10 yards | Passing NEP: 2.30
Situation: First quarter 10:10 remaining. 4th-and-1 on own 39, tied 0-0
Sometimes the trickiest thing about a trick play is in fact that it is a trick play. On 4th-and-1 near their own 40 — a place the Texans probably should have just kept the offense on the field to go for it — Houston ran the most generic fake punt possible. Alfred Blue was the deepest blocker in front of punter Shane Lechler. As the ball was snapped, Blue snuck out uncovered and Lechler hit him for a 10-yard gain.
Jermaine Kearse: 1/1, 17 yards | Passing NEP: 1.35
Situation: First quarter, 13:23 remaining. 1st-and-10 on opponent 23, tied 0-0
One week after Sanu threw his first attempt, the Seahawks started out with the same type of play for Jermaine Kearse. It started as an end around, but instead of finding a receiver down the field, Kearse found an uncovered Russell Wilson. Kearse’s pass hung just enough to have Wilson get hit hard after catching the pass, not the ideal scenario for a trick play. Seattle has not let a player besides Wilson throw a pass since.
Ted Ginn: 1/1, 10 yards | Passing NEP: 1.14
Situation: Fourth quarter, 13:23 remaining. 2nd-and-10 on own 47, up 20-14
Bruce Arians is known for his offensive creativity. He’s also apparently the most daring coach on this list, as he's the only coach to call a non-quarterback pass that wasn’t on first down or as a fake punt on fourth down. The play designed was also well done. Ted Ginn lined up as one of three receivers in a trips formation on the right side of the formation. He motioned towards the middle of the formation and took the ball on a jet sweep before making a U-turn and tossing the ball to Michael Floyd, who was also in the original trips formation.
Fred Jackson: 0/1 | Passing NEP: -0.50
Situation: Second quarter, 3:53 remaining. 1st-and-10 on opponent 30, down 10-0
EJ Manuel wasn’t the only Bills player struggling to find Sammy Watkins early on in the season. For this play, Fred Jackson was in the backfield, took a swing pass behind the line of scrimmage and overthrew a covered Watkins heading towards the end zone.
Anquan Boldin: 0/1 | Passing NEP: -0.56
Situation: First quarter, 5:36 remaining. 1st-and-10 on opponent 18, down 7-0
When evaluating quarterback prospects, we often talk about arm strength. In order to make some throws at the professional level, a certain amount of arm strength is needed. Just 18 yards away from the end zone, Anquan Boldin showed he has just enough arm strength to play wide receiver. Boldin took the ball on a reverse from the left side of the formation and tried to hit Michael Crabtree in the end zone. The pass was well under thrown and should have been intercepted.
Bobby Rainey: 0/1 | Passing NEP: -0.57
Situation: Fourth quarter, 2:03 remaining. 1st-and-10 on opponent 14, down 24-20
The Buccaneers tried an “everything you can do I can do better” approach against the Steelers in Week 4, though this particular attempt wouldn’t work. A quarter earlier, Antonio Brown completed his first pass of the season against Tampa Bay, so when the Buccaneers got to the red zone at the end of the game they tried their own version, complete with a left-handed player reveal. Bobby Rainey took a simple enough looking toss to the left out of the backfield, made the left-handed reveal and overthrew a covered Vincent Jackson in the end zone, thus putting his name into consideration to be the 2014 Tampa Bay starting quarterback.
Eric Weddle: 0/1 | Passing NEP: -1.38
Situation: Third quarter, 8:40 remaining. 4th-and-35 from opponent 46, tied 14-14
Depending on what he sees on the field, Eric Weddle has the ability to call for fake punts at the line of scrimmage. He was responsible for the call to run a fake punt that helped sending the Chargers to the playoffs last season on a 4th-and-2 in overtime in Week 17 against Kansas City. On this pass, Weddle saw cornerbacks covering the gunners on each side creep towards the middle of the defensive formation. If the corners stayed a 35-yard completion might have seemed possible, but the defenders were bluffing pre-snap and what Weddle though would have seemed like an open throw to Seyi Ajirotutu, turned into a contested throw and the look of an embarrassing decision for a conversion attempt on 4th-and-35.
Darren McFadden: 0/1 | Passing NEP: -0.53
Situation: First quarter, 12:52 remaining. 1st-and-10 on opponent 37, tied 0-0
The Wildcat formation is the worst. Much of the problem with it is - ever since Tony Sparano made the formation popular with the Ronnie Brown-led Miami Dolphins - it’s failed to evolve. The formation is slightly less bad when something different is done from it. Unfortunately one of those things is not Darren McFadden throwing the ball. McFadden took the snap in the Wildcat as Maurice Jones-Drew motioned into the backfield in a typical Wildcat fashion. McFadden kept the ball and attempted a pass to a covered Derek Carr. To make McFadden feel better, Matt Schaub fumbled and threw an interception on a fake field goal three plays later.