How Bad Was Browning? I Re-Watched His Passes To Find Out

2021 QBs - Kellen Mond
Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks, from left; Jake Browning, Kellen Mound and Nate Stanley during workouts at the team’s rookie minicamp at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center in Eagan, Minn. on Friday, May 14, 2021. (Craig Lassig / Special to the Pioneer Press)

At this point, you know the story: the Minnesota Vikings’ Covid fiasco opened the opportunity for Jake Browning – the third-year UDFA – to finally get a shot at asserting himself. He responded with strong practices, solidifying himself as the clear-cut front runner for the purple QB2.

The end result? 5/10 passing for 31 yards. Oh, and he took a sack, a safety, and threw a pick-six. Yikes. To his credit, he understood that he missed an opportunity on Saturday:

Now that the dust has settled, though, I’ve been wondering about how poorly he actually played. There is some widespread concern among purple fans. Some have even called for a Teddy Bridgewater trade. I mean, we all know Browning didn’t play well, but how bad was it? Could the team around him have done more? Should he still be the QB2? These are the questions I was asking myself as I re-watched the four opening drives for our Vikings. These drives, in order, resulted in a 3 & out, 3 & out, a field goal, and then the aforementioned pick-six. Not good.

By the time Kellen Mond took over in the second quarter, Minnesota was down 23-3. There’s no way anyone can deem this a success. That being said, I’m going to argue that Browning’s performance wasn’t as awful as most of us (myself included) assumed. Let’s dive in.

Drive #1

  • Browning’s first pass attempt came on 2nd & 6 in the game’s opening minute. It’s a three-step drop, meaning he’s looking to throw a short pass in rhythm. He didn’t like his first read to the right side, so he attempts a short pass over the middle. Unfortunately, a Denver defensive lineman gets his mitts up, deflecting the pass.
  • On 3rd & 6, Browning is in shotgun and the offense is in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs). He throws to Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who was running an in-route near the first down line. The rookie WR drops the ball, effectively ending Minnesota’s opening drive. Browning could have been more accurate with his throw, but Smith-Marsette should have caught the ball (a consistent theme when I re-watched the game is that bad things happened when Browning targeted Smith-Marsette).
  • Main Takeaway: Browning didn’t set the world on fire in this opening drive, but it’s hard to be overly critical. True, he could have been more decisive with his first pass and more accurate with his second, but the basic facts are that there was a deflection and then a drop. He thus began 0/2.

Drive #2

  • This drive began after Kris Boyd’s sensational play on Jerry Jeudy on 4th & 2. The Vikings, in other words, had a chance to seize control of the game early. Instead, the offense wilted. The drive begins with a short run for 2 yards. On 2nd & 8, Browning finds backup FB Jake Bargas for another modest gain. The offense now faces 3rd & 6 backed up against their own end zone.
  • In the opinion of your humble author, Browning’s decision on this 3rd & 6 was the worst of his day. Watch Denver’s DE and DT on the left side. The DE works underneath to try to create pressure up the middle. Browning sees this and gets spooked mid-play. Instead of stepping up in the pocket, he retreats into the end zone, thereby giving Dakota Dozier the chance to do Dakota Dozier things. One holding penalty later and it’s a safety for Denver. The icing on the cake is that Shamar Stephen is the one who got the best of Dozier.
  • Main Takeaway: I can’t fault Browning for the short pass to Bargas on 2nd down. The offense is just trying to get some breathing room given that they’re so close to their own end zone. The 3rd down play, in contrast, was a complete disaster. Apart from throwing a pick six, retreating into the end zone for a safety is the worst thing he could have done.

Drive #3

  • This is the drive where Browning deserves some credit. He came into this drive after consecutive 3 & outs; he was 1/3 for 2 yards passing.
  • On an initial 1st & 10, Minnesota is in 22 personnel. Browning completes a pass to Bargas off of play-action for a 9 yard gain. He hit the full back in stride, accurately placing the ball on his numbers. Great pass. Minnesota gets the 1st down on a run the next play.
  • On another 1st & 10, Browning completes a pass to K.J. Osborn. He was working from a three-step drop, and he rightly goes to Osborn (his first option), who was wide open. Browning’s only fault was that the pass was a touch high. If it had been more accurate, it’s possible Osborn could have picked up more yardage. He also has a little skip when he gets to the back of his drop. In theory, he should plant his back leg on that third step and drive the ball toward his receiver.
  • After three consecutive runs, Minnesota faces 3rd & 2. Browning finds Ameer Abdullah (who had a nice game) for the first down. The veteran RB was lined up out wide. He ran a short in-route on the heels on the slot receiver who was running a clear-out route. Smart decisions all around led to the first down.
  • The next play came from under center. The Vikings are in 12 personnel, their base offensive formation. Browning targets Brandon Dillon down the left sideline. It’s incomplete, but Dillon draws the PI call. It’s a 20-yard gain for the Vikings. Good play from both Browning and Dillon, especially seeing as how Asim Rose finished as Minnesota’s top receiver with 1 catch for 18 yards. The Dillon PI, in other words, may be understood as the most explosive passing play of the game (big yikes).
  • First down is a 5 yard run. On 2nd & 5, Browning is under center. The Vikings have had several first downs, and they’re now on the 16-yard line. They’re in 21 personnel. Browning finds Zach Davidson in the end zone, hitting the rookie TE in the hands. Unfortunately, Davidson isn’t able to secure the pass. Perhaps a pass with a little more zip would have done the trick, though it would have been good to see Davidson make the tough grab. 6/10 with a TD would have made Browning’s stat line look considerably better, but it just didn’t work out.
  • The next play came from the shotgun with five wide. The pass was intended for Smith-Marsette, but it didn’t work out. Two straight contested catches to rookie pass catchers resulted in two straight incompletions for Browning.
  • Main Takeaway: Drive #3, without question, was Browning’s best. For the most part, he executed the bland offense well. Minnesota had to settle for 3 points.

Drive #4

  • Browning’s final pass of the day was a TD for Patrick Surtain. The issue, of course, is that Surtain is a CB for Denver; he took the INT to the house. It was another attempt in Smith-Marsette’s direction. Before getting there, though, let’s briefly recap what Browning did on this drive.
  • There were some positives before the INT. The Vikings began in 13 personnel; Browning got sacked. That play wasn’t great. On 2nd & 15, though, Browning hit Osborn for an 11 yard gain. That’s the kind of response we need after tough plays. Unfortunately, Browning’s 3rd & 4 play left a little to be desired.
  • As you’ll see in the above video, Browning is trying to hit Smith-Marsette on a route that is working out toward the sidelines. Part of the issue with an out route, though, is that it requires the QB to throw with A) great timing B) great accuracy and C) great velocity. The ball has further to travel. If the timing isn’t good, the accuracy is poor, and the ball is slow, the defender has more opportunity to step in front to make the INT. We had this precise thing happen. With nearly 12 minutes left in the second quarter, Denver took a commanding 23-3 lead. The game was basically done.
  • Main Takeaway: Some will quibble with my insistence that the safety was his worst play, but I’m doubling down. The pick six was ugly, but I liked his pass on 2nd down in Drive #4. I understand what he was trying to do with the 3rd down pass to Smith-Marsette. In the future, he’ll need to either go to his next read or ensure the pass is delivered sooner and with greater zip.

So, How Bad Was Browning?

The simple answer is that he was really bad. If he was getting a report card, though, I wouldn’t give him an F. Maybe a D. Hear me out.

This was Browning’s first game action in a while. He was working with Minnesota’s 2s and 3s against many of Denver’s 1s. His receivers dropped passes and failed to make contested catches. The offensive game plan was dull and dry. All of these factors worked against him. Combine these things with the few positive plays and it’s not 100% disaster.

Mind you, Browning won’t get too many more of these performances before he slides down the depth chart (or worse yet, gets cut). All I’m suggesting is that things weren’t quite as ugly initially believed. There were some positives.

Onward to Indianapolis.