Josh Rosen is talented, but has major flaws to his game
Josh Rosen has the UCLA Bruins undefeated through four games, 2nd in the Pac-12 South, and with their sights set firmly on success this season — despite being a true freshman starting the first games of his college career.
We’ve already seen signs of the ups and downs that are expected from a young quarterback, but that leaves us wondering just how good Rosen can be going forward.
Let’s start by focusing on the bad from his game — because in spite of the hype, he’s young, and there will be plenty of that on display.
It’s easy to focus on the negatives and get lost in the things Rosen doesn’t do well, but we have to remember this is a true freshman quarterback and nobody should expect the finished product. What determines how successful he can be going forward is how much he can improve on or remove these flaws.
Against BYU we saw the worst of Rosen and his decision making. His single biggest issue so far has been that he doesn’t yet see the field in three dimensions, and is far too often surprised by a defender coming from somewhere he wasn’t paying attention to — the guy coming from the opposite direction of the flow of play.
This happened multiple times against the Cougars and it cost him one interception, but should have cost him two more.
Late in the first quarter Rosen reads a combination route to the left of the screen before quickly coming off it and moving to the next option in his progression, a dig coming from the other side of the field. At the time he looks to this route it is already open and the ball should be in the air, but he hesitates a little, waiting until he is sure before putting the ball up.
Ironically, waiting until he was certain it was open caused the window to close because it took the receiver too far across the field and put a linebacker in the throwing lane that would not have been a factor had the ball entered the air earlier.
This play is a combination of Rosen’s two biggest issues at the moment: not throwing with anticipation and failing to see the potential threat from all angles.
When you add in the tendency to stare down targets, you have a pretty potent recipe for some ugly-looking passes.
Later in the same game Rosen makes another ugly mistake — again by just not factoring in the player coming from another angle. He is so excited that the left cornerback bites up on the fake bubble screen that he seems to completely forget about the safety over the top and throws the ball right to him. He got lucky when the ball was dropped, but this is the kind of throw he can’t make, and the kind of coverage he needs to be able to see.
I’m not convinced of Rosen’s accuracy yet, though we are obviously still dealing with extremely small sample size. He has missed more routine passes than I would like to see, and even a couple of completions have asked more of his receivers than they should have because of less than ideal ball-placement.
Any time you see a quarterback flat-out miss a wide receiver screen (as opposed to some miscommunication or disruption in timing/positioning) it’s concerning, but at least that hasn’t been a regular feature of his game (unlike Christian Hackenberg) so it’s not quite time to push the panic button.
When I was watching his tape I scribbled the note “misses high, a lot”, and when I checked out the numbers they supported that precisely. Of his 48 incomplete passes this season 15 of them have been overthrows — by far his single biggest incompletion type. If you take out drops (7) and passes thrown away (6), they account for 10 more than any other legitimate QB-WR-DB interaction (PBUs being next).
Even when he doesn’t miss high, the ball placement is often higher than he would like, asking for tough catches from his receivers like the one below. This was caught, then an almost identical play later in the game was missed high and cost them on 3rd-and-3.
While he put up some good numbers and was receiving huge credit for UCLA taking apart Arizona, the running game was doing much of the heavy lifting on some of those scoring drives. That’s not to dismiss Rosen’s play (he had a very good grade for the game), but rather make the point that he was steering a ship rather than powering it for much of the game.
The flaws have led to Rosen bouncing up and down in grade over the first four games. We have credited him with two very good performances and two bad, much like the raw numbers. If the game against BYU highlighted the biggest flaws in Rosen’s game, the takedown of Arizona highlighted some of his greatest strengths.
Though his coaches will be tearing their hair out and imploring him to slide, Rosen’s bravery with the ball in hand when he breaks the pocket is commendable. For a guy listed at just 210 pounds at 6-4, he has broken three tackles in limited carries already, and early in the game converted a 3rd-and-9 despite knowing he would need to pick up the last couple of yards through Arizona defenders. While most quarterbacks would have slid and punted the ball away, Rosen kept the drive alive and ultimately scored on it.
You can take that one of two ways, but I’m encouraged by a quarterback willing to put his body on the line a little to move the chains. Taking unnecessary hits is one thing, but breaking a tackle to keep the drive alive is an impressive feat.
In fact, when things break down might is when I’ve been most impressed by him, which is a touch ironic because his overall numbers have not been good when pressured. Mixed in with his mistakes, however, are some great plays under pressure or when creating on the move.
Take the play above as an example. It’s not a particularly difficult throw in the end, but what I love about it is his eyes remain downfield throughout. While a lot of college quarterbacks tuck the ball and just run when they break the pocket, Rosen knows he has to move, but does so just to buy him enough time to find a receiver. Eventually, things open up and he delivers the pass calmly to the open receiver he helped create.
He has also made some fantastic throws, and not all of them show up in the stats. He has been the victim of a few drops, some of which have come on beautiful passes. Maybe his best pass of the Arizona game was dropped as Rosen slid in the pocket away from mounting pressure up the middle and delivered a rainbow down the field to his left — only to see his receiver short arm the ball and fail to come up with it. This was a high-level throw that not many passers can execute regularly, but Rosen did it without a problem.
The bottom line is that right now Josh Rosen is a work in progress. When he plays well UCLA will look fearsome given what they have around him, but the flaws in his game are bad ones that will cost turnovers — the quickest way to derailing an offense in an instant. How much Rosen can work on those flaws and develop his game this year might dictate how far the Bruins can go, and how much he improves the team will ultimately define his ceiling as a prospect.