After seeing him play against an aggressive Baltimore Ravens team on Thursday night, that analysis was exactly right.
There are a few indisputable facts from Malik Willis’ first (preseason) game with the Titans.
1. Willis has the arm strength to hit throws all over the field. Not only that, but he has the arm talent to change his throwing angle to make throws around defenders.
2. He looks very uncomfortable in the pocket and he has a long way to go in terms of dealing with that pressure when it comes and not bailing from a good pocket for no good reason.
3. In space he has the rare ability to be fast enough to escape defenders while also running with enough body control to avoid taking big hits.
4. His tendency to bail from the pocket means that he is missing wide-open receivers and that is going to hurt guys like Treylon Burks who got ignored despite getting open.
One play that everyone is getting excited about is Willis’ touchdown run, which was undoubtedly impressive. But, I don’t think that was his best play of the night and in fact, I think he would do it differently if he could.
Why Malik Willis would change his TD run and what was his best play?
Let’s take a look at his touchdown run in a really easy and clear way using the “dots”:
When you look at this play, you can tell by the blocking and the routes that this is a play designed to roll the pocket to the right. The reason the Titans called this is that even though they only have seven players (the OL, TE, and RB) blocking, it should keep eight players from making a play.
The eighth player here is #14 who shouldn’t be able to make a play because Malik Willis is running in the opposite direction from the start.
Theoretically, the worst thing you could do on this play is to stop your feet and try to run back to the left side of the field because you would be running directly into a defender that is deliberately unblocked.
The fact that Willis did this and not only prevented a negative play but actually scored, is why he is so captivating. It just shouldn’t work, we are talking about asking a quarterback to make first-round safety Kyle Hamilton miss in space, and if you manage to do that it only earns you the opportunity to try to outrun a linebacker and an EDGE who have the angle on you.
And yet, it does work because Malik Willis is…well, awesome.
However, if Willis would have stuck with this for just a few more steps, he would have seen #16 Treylon Burks winning on the backside of the play. Burks was in position on the defensive back (who never even saw Malik Willis tuck the ball) and he had plenty of space in front of him for Willis to make that throw.
His best play of the night wasn’t the touchdown run and it wasn’t even the explosive 50-yard pass to Racey McMath, it was this pass. Being able to deal to carry out the play action fake, turn and see pressure in your face, square your shoulders, and throw at that arm angle purely with your upper body, is incredible.