Rolling the tape and reviewing Tyler Thigpen’s performance against San Diego last Sunday revealed an impressive performance for a quarterback making just his fourth NFL start.
Running the Chiefs spread offense out of the shotgun, Thigpen wasn’t flawless. But he was far more than just a game manager, far more than a guy just holding the spot. The kid from Carolina exhibited skills that every NFL quarterback must have to be successful.
He was accurate, he protected the ball and didn’t try to force the ball into tight areas. He stayed in the pocket for the most part but showed his escapability several times and was able to make something out of nothing. In running the offense, he quickly went through his reads and in only a handful of occasions did he lock on to his intended receiver. He did a good job of looking off defensive backs.
Best example was on the first TD pass, the 30-yarder to WR Mark Bradley. The Chargers sent five pass rushers at Thigpen. He kept his head and eyes on the left side of the field, and San Diego CB Quentin Jammer bought the fake. Bradley got a step behind Jammer and was five yards open when he caught Thigpen’s pass in the end zone. If anything, the ball was underthrown.
Now, Thigpen had some things going for him in this game. At the top of that list was pass protection. The Chargers were credited with a sack, but that came on a bootleg play when Thigpen ran out of bounds short of the line of scrimmage. Otherwise, in 44 passes that he attempted (41 officials attempts and two wiped out by penalty and the two-point conversion play) he was touched by the pass rush only twice, and knocked down after the throw just once. That came when LB Shaun Phillips beat RT Damion McIntosh with an inside move and forced Thigpen out of the pocket. A big help to the offensive line was the blitz pickup blocks by RB Dantrell Savage.
Chan Gailey has set up the passing game so the ball gets out of Thigpen’s hands very quickly. Timing him on all the passing plays, there were only four plays where he held the ball longer than three seconds. The clock started from the time he caught the shotgun snap to when he released the ball. On average, the snap took . 3 to .4 seconds to get back from Rudy Niswanger to Thigpen. Five of the 44 passing plays came when Thigpen was under center. In those, he was timed him from when he received the snap to when he released the ball.
On average, Thigpen got rid of the ball in 2.08 seconds. Only a handful of times did Thigpen retreat for what would be considered a full seven-step drop. For the large majority of plays, he took the shotgun snap, took two choppy steps backwards and threw the ball.
Even though his mobility is one of his strengths, Thigpen seldom was on the run against the Chargers and threw only two passes without setting his feet.
Despite a change in defensive coordinator, the Chargers played it relatively safe with their defenses. Only once in that last Chiefs drive did San Diego send more than four pass rushers. In the game, they had five guys rushing eight times. Thigpen did a great job of picking up the blitz, completing seven of eight passes for 109 yards. On both of his first two TD throws, Thigpen saw the blitz, Savage picked up the extra rusher and the quarterback found the open man for the score.
You can count on one hand the number of times his passes were not in the catching zone for the receiver. His worst throw of the game came on that last possession, when on a first-and-10 play at the Chargers’ 18-yard line he overthrew Bradley in the end zone. The Chiefs scored three plays later.
In the first half, Thigpen was 13 of 15. That changed in the second half, he threw the ball 29 times and completed 14 passes. The plays that didn’t work included a drop by WR Dwayne Bowe, a non-call on what should have been a pass interference call against Chargers CB Quentin Jammer, a pass that was hurried by a rushing Phillips and two tipped balls that came when Thigpen locked on to Gonzalez right from the snap of the ball.
There are plenty of areas where Thigpen must improve, but what he’s getting done right now is remarkable given his experience. His learning curve has been steep and he’s handled it without many apparent problems. Gailey has done a great job of twisting the offense towards what Thigpen feels comfortable doing. He seems very comfortable in the shotgun, although he was three of five when taking the snap under center, so he can handle that as well.
If Thigpen continues to get the type of pass protection he received in the San Diego game, then he’s got a chance to get better and better each week. His performance last Sunday against the Chargers was the best quarterback performance the Chiefs have had in two years.