Thursday, July 30, 2009

Can you win with mediocre QB play?

In all likelihood, the Vikings will have mediocre quarterback play in 2009. Some people (myself included) think that would have been the case whether or not the team signed Brett Favre, but even the most ardent Sage Rosenfels/Tarvaris Jackson supporters admit they aren't going to turn into Peyton Manning or Drew Brees overnight. With most Viking fans thinking the 2009 version of the team is the strongest in a long time at running the ball and playing defense, the common wisdom is that the only thing potentially holding the team back is the quarterback.

But how much will the quarterbacking hold the team back? There have been plenty of teams, even in the recent, pass-happy NFL, that went a long ways -- and even all the way -- with so-so quarterbacking and a stout defense and/or running game. Recent versions of Baltimore, Chicago, and Tampa Bay teams all spring to mind.

Here are the list of quarterbacks who've acquired Super Bowl rings in the last decade:

Ben Roethlisberger
Eli Manning
Peyton Manning
Tom Brady
Brad Johnson
Trent Dilfer
Kurt Warner

Three of those, I'd say -- Warner, Peyton Manning, and Brady -- have played at an elite level for a good chunk of their careers. Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Johnson have been OK-but-not-great, and then there's everyone's favorite whipping boy, Trent Dilfer. That makes over half of the SB-winning quarterbacks of the last decade in the above-average-but-not-great category. Could Sage or Tarvaris fall into this category and maybe play well enough, with a good supporting cast, to take the Vikings to the promised land? Of course, they could -- anything's possible, after all -- but this is still a pretty small sample size to go on and there were several teams that almost made it to the big game, if not for a small blip along the way in the playoffs. If not for the "Tuck Rule" and the "Proehl Rule," we might see Rich Gannon or even Shaun King (!) on this list.

So how good can a team be with iffy quarterbacking? I decided to set the bar of a "good team" as a team that either a) won at least 12 games in the regular season; or b) advanced to its conference championship game (or beyond). That would qualify any team that had a good regular season or a good postseason, at least by most people's definitions, and both criteria would be above and beyond anything the Vikings have done since 2001. Frankly, I'd be happy with that.

60 teams meet these criteria over the last 10 years. I judged their passing prowess both by their team passer rating and their Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. Here's the list, sorted by passer rating.

2007New England116.08.0
1999St. Louis106.67.3
2001St. Louis102.26.8
2004San Diego102.07.0
2007Green Bay95.96.6
2001San Francisco95.06.1
2006New Orleans94.96.9
2001Green Bay94.16.4
2006San Diego93.06.3
2004New England92.56.4
2003Kansas City92.46.6
2006New England88.35.6
2008NY Giants88.25.7
2002Green Bay86.65.3
2002Tampa Bay86.35.3
2001New England85.35.0
2003New England84.35.4
2000NY Giants83.15.4
2007San Diego81.35.1
2003St. Louis81.04.9
1999Tampa Bay76.54.0
2007NY Giants73.04.3


Super Bowl-winning teams are indicated in bold. The average for this list is 89.3 passer rating and 5.9 ANYA. Surprisingly, for Super Bowl winners, the averages are 87.3 and 5.7. Super Bowl winners were actually worse, on average, than the typical "good team" over this span, at least in terms of quarterbacking!

The last two Super Bowl winners have actually been some of the worst teams at passing the ball, at least in the regular season. Eli Manning had a spectacular 2007 postseason, but Ben Roethlisberger didn't, and, again, that 2000 Baltimore team was laughably bad. We also tend to forget that Tom Brady really wasn't all that early in his career, as evidenced by the so-so showings of his 2001 and 2003 championship teams; those teams were 6th and 1st in points allowed, making Brady more of a "game manager" than a truly elite player in those seasons.

The average league passer rating over this span is somewhere in the high-70s range, so most of these teams at least featured slightly above average passing games, but, with the exception of Peyton Manning's 2006 Colts and Kurt Warner's 1999 Rams, and arguably, Brady's 2004 Patriots, most of the teams to win the big game have featured solid, but not spectacular passing.

Here are some notable quarterbacks' career numbers. Remember that the average QB on a "good" team from 1999 to 2008 had an 89.3 passer rating and 5.9 ANYA:

Brett Favre: 85.4, 5.9
Tarvaris Jackson: 76.5, 5.0
Sage Rosenfels: 81.2, 5.7

Favre's numbers certainly are better than the others', but he's still only about average, or slightly below. Even Jackson and Rosenfels grade out better than Trent Dilfer and Eli Manning in their Super Bowl years. When you take recent events into consideration -- like Favre over the past four years (79.5 passer rating, 5.0 ANYA) and Jackson's late-2008 surge, he looks like even less necessary.

A number of things still need to come together for the Vikings to make an impact this season, but central to all discussion will be the quarterback play. While it would certainly be nice to have a better quarterback situation than what the team currently has, there's (still...still) no evidence to suggest that Brett Favre would have improved the team or even if he was all that necessary to start with. The Vikings have two quarterbacks who, provided they don't completely fall off the wagon, are capable of leading an otherwise-talented team to a good season or even the promised land of the Super Bowl, even if they don't improve much on their career numbers.


Anonymous said...

Good post. I think that would fall in line with what people would normally expect for the team to succeed, namely, just not having the quarterback suck. Neither Jackson or Rosencopter has to be fantastic this year, they just have to be decent and we have a shot. I kinda think getting to the post season is the big issue and once there anything can happen.

Peter said...

Cool analysis. Sage clearly has the upper hand according to these numbers, but Andre Johnson has to account for some of that.

I think it all hinges on the play of the two new starters on the O-line. I'm not as worried about Sullivan because I think he can be at least as physical as Birk and has the potential catch on to the nuances of the pro game as quickly as Birk did when he replaced the almight Christy, but Loadholt could be a pass protection liability. He's got great size and should run block very well out of the gate, but his decent footwork and long arms won't be enough to compensate for his understandably slow speed when facing rushes of the edge.

I know that Sage is mobile (although I'll be pounding Pepto everytime he leaves the pocket), but Jackson is a better scrambler. That will come into play if the pocket continues to collapse.

I'd like to see Minnesota get creative (or at least effective) protecting the QB with Taylor and/or Kleinsasser on passing downs in order to let Rosey be a statue and get his 65% completion rate. If not, Jackson will keep the job as long as he can avoid stringing losses or turnovers together.