The Mental Side of the Passing Game

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Hendon Hooker, Virginia Tech
Hendon Hooker has a lot to process in a short period of time. (Jon Fleming)

It’s been a while since we’ve talked about how quarterbacks and receivers process the passing game, so that’s what we’re looking at here. The cleanest breakdown of a QB’s mental responsibilities that I’ve come across is “PPC.” That stands for Protection, Pattern, and Coverage. If the quarterback knows how he’s being blocked for, understands the route concepts on a play call, and can figure out what defense he’s seeing and how to attack it, he should make a good decision on where to throw. Receivers follow the same responsibilities, though compared to the QB, they place more emphasis on the pattern they’re running and less on the blocking call and the coverage specifics.

When most people think of how quarterbacks run the passing game, they think of “progressions,” where the QB has a given order of receivers he looks at after the snap, and when he sees one that’s open, he throws the ball. TV analysts have traditionally focused on progressions during games, and video games going at least back to the Tecmo series have encouraged things along the same line. Less-known are “coverage reads,” where the QB decides to throw the ball by reading one or two defenders. In the modern era of football, roughly