Injured Quarterback Replacement Analysis: 2011 Edition
These ten teams have something in common: (Miami, Indianapolis, Houston, Jacksonville, Oakland, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Arizona, and St. Louis). What they have in common is that they all lost their “established” (quoted to include Indianapolis) Week 1 starting quarterbacks for multiple weeks and or to season ending injury, and those quarterbacks were not replaced by promising rookies, but by players who were on the field to win games first and foremost.
The backups ranged in experience from rookie QB T.J. Yates, second year QB John Skelton, and third year QB Curtis Painter to A.J. Feeley in his tenth year, and Carson Palmer in his ninth season. But how many teams actually improved when they went to their backup? And how efficiently do NFL head coaches and coordinators handle the talent within their own roster? We’ll go chronologically by the time that the injury to the original starter occurred.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Luke McCown replaces David Garrard prior to Week 1
The Jaguars quarterback situation has just been so horrible this year that it is hard to wonder how much of a good job David Garrard did to keep the Jaguars moving towards a common goal for the last four years. At his worst, Garrard is a mediocre, 61% completion, 6.0 NYPA guy who has a TD to INT rate just a fraction above 1 to 1 and makes a couple head scratcher decisions every year. That’s bad David Garrard. Luke McCown for his career: 58% completion, 5.0 NYPA, 9 touchdowns to 14 INTs, gets sacked 10% of the time, and a couple of head scratchers every week. So obviously, this wasn’t a move that would have been justified by the two players involved. Obviously, McCown just served as a veteran placeholder for Blaine Gabbert, who has managed to be both the worst quarterback in the NFL this year as a rookie, and a better player than McCown has been over the course of his career.
The Jaguars with a healthy Garrard would have contended for a playoff spot this year, but that ship sailed in the preseason.
Indianapolis Colts: Curtis Painter replaces Kerry Collins in Week 3
This one could have also been done with Collins replacing Peyton Manning or even Painter replacing Manning, but what would be the point of that: to show that Peyton Manning is a better option than Peyton’s backup? The more relevant decision is whether or not signing Kerry Collins was a better decision for the Colts than just moving forward with Painter. The answer is: yes. Curtis Painter is not the average backup quarterback. He is far worse.
The whole idea of the Colts having Painter on the roster at all through these last three years is an interesting investigation into the true motives of the Colts. There were far better options out there who weren’t rostered by NFL teams, guys who played in the UFL, Dan Orlovsky, etc. Painter became the guy this year, eventually, because he had learned the system behind Manning. But it’s weird that the Colts were so correct to go out and get Kerry Collins for those first three games because in fundamental football terms, there should not be better options on the street than your backup quarterback for the last two years. This was never the case with the Colts.
Collins gave the Colts a chance to win games by limiting opportunities for the defense with sacks and interceptions. The point production of the Colts offense improved with Painter’s knowledge, but the stats that remain most inate to quarterbacks all suggest that winning games consistently with Painter is impossible. Give Curtis Painter credit for getting much further in football than it ever looked like he would get, but the Colts had motives beyond “win the most games” when they decided to roster him. The depth of those motives require speculation beyond a level I am comfortable with.
As for Collins, his career may never get the respect it deserved. Kerry Collins was a good NFL quarterback. He was never a great NFL quarterback. His career compares very favorably though with Jim Harbaugh’s NFL career, and frankly, Collins was likely better.
Miami Dolphins: Matt Moore replaces Chad Henne in Week 4
So here is an interesting one. Chad Henne went 0-4 with the Dolphins to start the season. Since turning the keys to Matt Moore, they have gone 4-5. Maybe this isn’t a revelation, but the Dolphins are better off now than with Henne, right? Moore has inspired the Dolphins with his abilities.
Not so fast. Here are the DVOA ratings and ranks for Dolphins QB since Tony Sparano became head coach:
- Chad Pennington 2008 -> 25.7% (5th in NFL)
- Chad Henne 2009 -> 7.9% (21st in NFL)
- Chad Henne 2010 -> 7.6% (22nd in NFL)
- Chad Henne 2011 -> 4.6% (18th in NFL)
- Matt Moore 2011 -> -2.9 (25th in NFL)
2011 Matt Moore vs. 2011 Chad Henne would require a much deeper debate than a simple cursory look at value statistics, but what the above shows is that when you compare Matt Moore as Dolphins quarterback under Tony Sparano (an era that can now be put to rest), it is undeniable that Moore is unequivocally the worst starting quarterback that Sparano had over his four years as Dolphins head man. He just so happens to be the only of the three to be under contract for next season, so the value of the retired Pennington and the unrestricted free agent Henne have little relevance to the Dolphins going forward.
Moore has thrown for fewer adjusted net yards per attempt and gets sacked more often than Henne with more help from his teammates and offensive coaching staff, but also against significantly stronger defensive competition. At best, Moore shows that replacing Henne shouldn’t be so difficult. At worst, it’s not the right decision to move forward with Matt Moore.
Oakland Raiders: Carson Palmer replaces Jason Campbell in Week 7
Another one where there appears to be no clear answer. If you apply the exact same standard for performance to both quarterbacks for the 2011 Raiders, Jason Campbell comes out far ahead of Carson Palmer. But in fairness to Palmer, it’s perhaps fair to lump in Jason Campbell’s first season as a Raider which will both regress his value statistics a bit, and take out Campbell’s advantage heading into the season knowing he would be the Raiders quarterback.
Roughly 68% of Campbell’s snaps as a Raider came last season. He posted a very pedestrian -2.9% DVOA, a 1.28 WPA (51.9 EPA) and a 43.8 TQBR. However, that came against a rather difficult slate of passing defenses. This year, Campbell’s DVOA was near the top of the league at 24.6%, a 1.02 WPA (22.4 EPA), and a much improved 58.1 TQBR. Weighted between the two seasons, Campbell is averaging a 48.4 TQBR as a Raider, which isn’t all that far below what he accomplished in Washington. He’s averaging 5.9% DVOA as quarterback of the Raiders, which is slightly above what he accomplished as a Washington Redskin. He’s fumbling just a tad more since joining the Raiders, up to about 2.4% of plays from 2.0% in Washington. And on a per play basis, his WPA and EPA over his tenure as Raiders quarterback both rank between 10th and 14th in the NFL over that timeframe.
Here are the quarterbacks in the NFL who have a higher gross WPA than Jason Campbell since he was traded to the Oakland Raiders on draft day 2010:
- Aaron Rodgers
- Tom Brady
- Drew Brees
- Tony Romo
- Eli Manning
- Matt Schaub
- Ben Roethlisberger
- Matt Ryan
- Joe Flacco
- Josh Freeman
- Philip Rivers
Campbell has been more valuable (by gross WPA) over the last two seasons than Mark Sanchez, Michael Vick, Matt Stafford, Cam Newton, and Jay Cutler. And because of the collarbone injury that cut his season short, that’s likely underrating his impact on his team.
Carson Palmer has improved the Raiders third down efficiency since coming over from Cincinnati, but he’s also made the interception rate of the Raiders skyrocket. Palmer has not played a slate of particularly strong pass defenses, yet the Raiders passing game’s adjusted net yards per attempt has tanked under Palmer. Carson Palmer’s yards per completion is at a league high 14.1, but he’s not completing enough passes to justify the interceptions he is throwing. At 65% completion rate with that 14.1 yards per completion figure, these INTs would merely be a non-issue that would work itself out with more time. But combined with the other Raiders offensive struggles of late, the turnovers are really holding the Raiders back.
Still, Palmer’s 51.5 TQBR as a Raider is an upgrade over the combined 48.4 TQBR Campbell posted in two seasons. Palmer’s 0.73 WPA has actually been quite good in his six career starts for Oakland. He ranks 18th in the league this year according to WPA (Campbell ranks 14th) Despite the bump in third down efficiency, the Raiders ability to create points through the passing game has actually declined a bit going from Campbell to Palmer. His DVOA has tanked to -8.0% on the back of his last two performances and the high interception rate. There is no question the Raiders’ performance has declined going from Campbell to Palmer (through Kyle Boller) at quarterback, but regressing Campbell’s numbers through his 2010 performance suggests that Palmer’s teammates with the Raiders are culpable in that decline as well. Campbell was playing with a healthy Darren McFadden, and Palmer has yet to take a snap with McFadden in the backfield.
Campbell’s recent past has clearly been superior to Palmer’s but I think the Raiders’ realize that there is more upside with Palmer going forward. If they cannot corral the interception rate though, they’d be better off with Campbell moving forward, upside be damned.
St. Louis Rams: A.J. Feeley replaces Sam Bradford in Week 7
A.J. Feeley is not a good pro quarterback. It is clear that Sam Bradford is a better NFL quarterback than A.J. Feeley. What’s more interesting about this is just how similar their numbers look. The Rams are a worse team with Feeley under center, but how many guys in the league could have better numbers even in the inept environment the Rams play in? 40? 50? Feeley doesn’t fall into that category of course as a sub-replacement level quarterback, but this takes us right back to the Curtis Painter argument: why do the Rams employ A.J. Feeley in the first place?
Sam Bradford has been all sorts of dreadful this season, and the Rams inability to have a backup that can at least improve the short term prospects of the organization is as much an indictment of the Rams front office as anything is. Billy Devaney was promoted to GM of the Rams three years ago. Their three first round picks since then: OT Jason Smith, QB Sam Bradford, DE Robert Quinn. Offensively, the Rams are dreadful. Their best offensive player when Devaney took over was RB Steven Jackson. The Rams best offensive player right now is Steven Jackson, though he’s nowhere near the player he was three years ago. His best acquisition on offense is probably inconsistent WR Brandon Lloyd, who is only there because of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and his acquisition coming at a time when the Rams were already out of the playoff race.
Bradford isn’t good and has little help. Either way, it’s hard to argue that Devaney should have his job beyond this year.
Arizona Cardinals: John Skelton replaces Kevin Kolb in Week 9
The Arizona quarterback situation is pretty bad, but they are picking between two young players who are largely unproven. Kevin Kolb throws a better ball than John Skelton, doesn’t struggle quite as much to read coverage, and gets hurt every four weeks, typically with a head injury of some sort. Skelton manages the pocket better and relies on Larry Fitzgerald to bail him out of trouble he gets himself into. Skelton has a knack for leading the Cardinals back from the land of the forgotten, while Kolb has a knack for blowing huge leads to the Ravens.
Kolb is the better quarterback, but his injuries never really seem to hurt the Cardinals. This seems to fit into the same mold as the Miami Dolphins situation. Kevin Kolb just happens to have one of the most extreme fumbling tendencies ever seen in a quarterback. John Skelton is kind of clueless in the pocket as well, but at least Kolb makes him look competent there. The real issue is the Arizona OL, which protects for neither of them in the pocket.
Last year, the Cardinals quarterback situation involved some combination of Derek Anderson and Max Hall, so Kolb’s replacement level performance should be a welcome sight for Cards fans. Only thing is, Kolb’s performance has proved, well, replaceable. Not necessarily by Skelton. More by the idea of John Skelton, who is 5-3 in his NFL career and came off the bench to win last week. Skelton is a 23 year old 5th round draft pick with 8 career starts under his belt. The Arizona Cardinals are not a good football team. And yet, that formula works in the NFC West. Because of this, it’s easier to suggest Kolb has been a failure to date.
Philadelphia Eagles: Vince Young replaces Mike Vick in Week 11
Vince Young was a very interesting pickup by the Eagles, because for the cost of $5 million of guaranteed salary, they picked up the player who many thought was the Tennessee Titans’ franchise quarterback just a year ago. And here is a statistic that will be just stunning to you:
Vince Young 2011 DVOA: -12.5%
Kevin Kolb 2011 DVOA: -12.4%
For Kolb, of course, the Eagles picked up a second round pick and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. So in light of that, it’s hard to say that Young was a bad signing: he replaced Kevin Kolb on the roster and almost directly replaced his production (although to be completely fair, Kolb was far better last year on the Eagles). But the Eagles needed more out of their backup quarterback. After losing Michael Vick for three weeks with broken ribs, they needed a quarterback who would keep their head above water, winning at least two out of the three games.
Young spearheaded an upset win over the New York Giants on the road, overcoming three picks to lead two critical touchdown drives. But over the next two games in a span of five days, Young was picked five times in two season killing losses. Young this year is averaging less than 100 passing yards per interception, which is a dreadful ratio.
For all the talk about Vick’s poor season, he’s really isn’t passing at a significantly worse rate than last year. His running efficiency and effectiveness has taken a hit due both to constant health issues and to age. And his interception rate is fluky high like it was in the late Atlanta days. Vick may never make the contract that he was given a couple months ago look good, but nothing about this performance can’t be replicated next year absent the high INT rate. Young, on the other hand? Well, the Philly backup QB job is the best gig in all of pro football. And so I’m not sure where his career will go from here.
Kansas City Chiefs: Tyler Palko replaces Matt Cassel in Week 11
I was stunned when I saw the numbers on Cassel vs. Palko. Tyler Palko is not a good backup quarterback. He’s already lost his job to Kyle Orton, who has the good fortune of being available three weeks ago. That’s the level of confidence Palko has given the Chiefs. But when you look at the opponents each has faced this year, and Palko has drawn the Bears, Steelers, Jets to go with the Patriots. And while Palko looked mostly lost against New England, the fact that the Chiefs offense has appeared only a bit less lost under Palko than Cassel despite the uptick in defensive competition is eye opening.
Palko has not replaced Matt Cassel, exactly, but it’s the Chiefs passing system that defines both of them, which is why their sack rates and completion percentages are identical. Both are ‘within the system’ passers, and always have been. Palko is lacking physically compared to Cassel and doesn’t make consistently good decisions, but if Palko has been overwhelmed, it hasn’t been by the moment, it’s been by the competition.
I don’t think either Matt Cassel or Tyler Palko will be on the 2012 Kansas City Chiefs.
Chicago Bears: Caleb Hanie replaces Jay Cutler in Week 12
Caleb Hanie has a really nice skill set for a quarterback, but he had a really high sack rate at Colorado State, and in the pros his sack rate has been a fictitiously high 15.5%. It’s not so much that Hanie has that limited a sense of the pocket, it’s more that the game is just moving too fast for him. Hanie was a ball holder in high school, in college, and now in the pros, so his inability to react to information has just meant that he’s going backwards at a historic rate in the Bears offense.
Hanie’s negative plays have torpedoed the Bears offense, which is shocking specifically because Jay Cutler managed to limit those errors for the first time in his career this season. The Bears offense under Hanie has become stripped down, but not in a good way. The Bears throw around timeouts like they are valueless and they can’t convert the third downs they were converting earlier in the year. Hanie is young, and would be able to grow into this role, but on some level, Mike Martz is deciding not to help him because Hanie was never Martz’ guy. In another system, Hanie would be doing a lot better. But this system is set for someone who is a quick thinker like Cutler, even if they make mistakes.
You could find plenty of things in Cutler’s game to complain about as well. Cutler’s offensive production fell beyond their 2010 levels to achieve more balance in terms of sacks and interceptions. But Cutler was seeing things a lot quicker and making better decisions than at any point in the past, and it took him 2o games to reach that level in the Mike Martz offense. Caleb Hanie is four games into his tenure as Bears quarterback and people are already tired of him. One thing that no one can deny: the loss of Cutler is going to define the NFC playoff picture this season.
Houston Texans: T.J. Yates replaces Matt Schaub in Week 12
For a young quarterback, T.J. Yates has made remarkably good decisions for the Houston Texans to keep the team rolling towards a deep playoff run. He isn’t Matt Schaub in terms of talent, but he is six years younger. If the Texans are still playing football in February, then there’s actually a chance that this could be T.J. Yates’ team for the long haul.
Yates has thrown three touchdowns in two and a half games, and he has committed three turnovers, which isn’t a great rate, though it is more than acceptable for a rookie. Schaub, of course, was one of the best quarterbacks in all of football at the time of his injury (66.7 TQBR, 33.1 DVOA). If Yates can’t improve on Schaub, it is only because of how good Schaub had been.
But Yates doesn’t need to improve on Schaub to become the quarterback of the Texans. He must improve on himself from the first two starts, but two game winning drives in two career starts is a pretty good beginning to a nice long career. Yates must put the ball in the end zone with more consistency. If he does that, the Texans could go deeper in the playoffs than anyone expects. And if that happens, then the Texans will have a QB decision on their hands next season. That would be a good problem to have.