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Why The 3 Step Drop?


Last year Jay Cutler was sacked 11 times.  So far this year Jay Cutler has been sacked... 11 times.  I could easily end this post right there, as that's enough to warrant him getting rid of the ball a.s.a.p., but let's dive in a little bit with what goes on in the short passing game.

When you have your QB take a 3 step drop you are asking his receivers to get to their spots quickly and expect the ball right now.  The routes the wide-outs run have to be quick.  No posts, corners, or flys.

 The timing of their routes should correspond to the 3 steps the QB takes.  The slant from the receiver would be 3 steps then slant.  Out patterns would be 2 or 3 steps then out.  A curl (some terminology calls this a hook or hitch) would be 3 steps then turn.  All those pass routes with a 3 step drop will see the WR making their cut and immediately look for the ball.  

When running a drag route (instantly going across the field either in front of or behind the linebackers depending on where they line up) against man to man coverage a receiver would run away from the corner while looking for the ball, but against a zone defense the WR will run the drag then settle down between 2 zone defenders and look for the ball.  The QB will take his 3 step drop and fire the ball, with both the WR and QB having to be on the same page as far as the man or zone read.  Timing is everything on all 3 step drops pass plays.

The deepest throw you'll see with a 3 step drop is the fade route.  If a defense gives a one deep safety look (strong safety up tight for an 8th in the box) and you can preferably get an outside release from the WR, the QB will take his 3 step drop and throw the ball down the sideline.  Coaches teach the QB to throw it ‘to our guy or no guy', meaning you want your receiver to have to run the ball down, basically for him to go get it.  A QB will throw to a spot "X amount" of yards down field depending on who he's targeting.

Defensive backs jamming up the wide-outs will throw off the timing of the routes in the short passing game.  If a WR can't get a clean release off the line of scrimmage there is no point in looking his way.  Some motion from the receivers could help them get off the line clean. 

Ideally you'd like the receivers to have exceptional run after the catch ability.  The West Coast Offense, which popularized the short passing game, had this aspect down pat.  Looking back at those old Bill Walsh 49ers teams, how many times did we see Joe Montana take a 3 step drop, fire a short pass to Jerry Rice, then have Rice take it 40 or 50 yards.  Do the Bears have good Yards After the Catch receivers?  Right now the Bears sit at 20th in the NFL with 665 YAC (RB Matt Forte leads them with 164).  You either need the big physical presence at WR like Brandon Marshall or Anquan Boldin, or you need the speed guys that are a threat to outrun everyone when they touch the ball like Devin Hester or Johnny Knox.

One last thing with 3 step drop pass plays is when they're run from the shotgun you need a crisp, on target snap.  Something the Bears had problems with last week.  The reason you need the snap on target is by lining up in a shotgun there is no drop.  The QB will simply catch and throw.  The time it takes the QB to get the ball and set is the time the 3 step drop would have taken.  Any bobble will throw off the timing.

The Bears do have the weapons to utilize the 3 step drop more effectively, and out of necessity (the O-Line still hasn't "gelled") they need to utilize the 3 step drop.