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Sunday, May 9, 2021

Ah Crap, Guys, I'm Excited About Justin Fields

Anyone who knows me or notices the long gaps of inactivity on this blog will probably gather that I gave up on the Bears the minute it was clear that the Jay Cutler Era, the black hole into which I had poured all of my blood, sweat, and tears for years, was going to end in tragedy. For the first time in my life I found other things to do with my Sundays. I followed on twitter on draft night in 2017 as the Bears did the predictable thing and passed on what I felt was the obvious choice at QB and drafted Mitch Trubisky. Like many other of Trubisky's skeptics I briefly thought I may have been wrong about him after his hot start in 2018, but while watching him blunder his way through the opener in 2019 against the Packers I realized he was who he was, a mediocre QB, and once again my interest in the Bears waned with the realization that no matter how else the rest of the roster shaped up they would, as they had for most of my life, be stuck trying to win in a passing league without an elite passer. You can call me a bandwagon fan at this point, I guess, but after 30 years of watching Krenzels and Morenos and Hanies, there's a lot of comfort to be found in just not letting the Bears have any control over your daily emotions, it saves you from caring when they do shit like lose Kyle Fuller because they needed the cash for Andy f'ing Dalton. 

So it was that I entered the night of the NFL Draft not hosting a draft live chat, as we once did around these parts, or taking my family to a sports bar to watch it on TV, as I sometimes did as well, but instead following it only as a bystander, trying to keep a safe distance from the agonized tweets of my Bears fan pals who had yet to find the ability to stop caring. Then twitter lit up, the tweets came fast and furious, the rumors swirling, and the Bears, the mother fucking Bears, were up at #11 with Justin Fields still on the board, and I laughed. Oh no, they won't do that, no no. They couldn't. Not my Bears. Sorry, I mean, not THE Bears. Definitely not my Bears anymore. I don't care. No siiiiHOLY SHIT IT'S JUSTIN FIELDS.

Fuck, they're my Bears again. I'm back. I've got to see how this plays out. Because I have the feeling that this time, for all their thundering idiocy (and no, I don't think Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy have gotten any less stupid), they have a shot, because they have a quarterback. How do I know they have a quarterback? Haven't I thought I knew before? Well, let's break it down:

Saturday, June 8, 2019

The Historically Boring Numbers of Daniel Jones

That's right folks, it's time for me to once again piss all over the insanely stupid decision by a New York franchise to draft a mediocre college passer who shouldn't have sniffed the first half of the draft, let alone the top ten. No I'm not picking on Buffalo and Josh Allen again*, today I'm tackling the indefensible decision by the New York Football Giants to draft East Coast Clayton Thorsen. Any time you can draft a guy who managed to put up Shane Matthews numbers in the ACC you gotta do it (NFL Shane Matthews, not college Shane Matthews, whom it should be noted was a much, much, much better college QB than Daniel Jones). To be blunt, statistically speaking, Daniel Jones might be the most indefensible first round pick at QB in the last twenty plus years, and yes, that does include my well-known hatred of the aforementioned Josh Allen pick.

Just how bad is the Daniel Jones pick, historically? As I mentioned in my article on drafting QBs a few months ago, I have compiled basically every relevant statistic on every QB drafted in the first round since 1998. With the three 2019 draftees this list now spans 63 quarterbacks who combined for over 66,000 college passing attempts. No matter the category, however, Daniel Jones ranks middling at best to jaw-droppingly awful at worst. Without further introductions I'll just dive right in:

1) Jones can't throw deep, at all, in any capacity.
For his career Jones averaged 6.4 yards per attempt. That's absolutely terrible, and out of all 63 QBs drafted in the first round in the last 21 drafts that figure puts him 62nd overall, ahead of only the notoriously awful Kyle Boller.There have been just 5 QBs before Jones who were drafted in the first round and failed to hit 7 yards per attempt in college (generally consider the Mendoza Line of acceptable production for a QB):

Jake Locker, Matt Ryan, JP Losman, Kyle Boller, and Patrick Ramsey.

Aside from Ryan, whom I will discuss more in detail further down since I'm quite sure he'll be the most frequently used comp among Jones apologists in the near future, that is obviously quite the terrible selection of QBs.

Raw yards per attempt can sometimes be misleading, however, as one can sometimes arrive at a respectable YPA by completing an insanely high % of short passes (like Sam Bradford, who completed 71.3% of his passes for the Vikings in 2016 and managed a respectable 7.3 yards per attempt while only averaging a paltry 9.8 yards per completion), or by hitting on a smaller percentage of deep pass plays. For this reason I decided to look at Jones yards per completion as well, and that was just as staggeringly awful. For his career Jones averaged a mere 10.7 yards per completion. For perspective, Case Keenum ranked 26th in the NFL last year with a 10.7 YPC. This points to an almost laughable inability to complete the long ball. Jones is one of only two first round quarterbacks total to have managed fewer than 11 yards per completion in college after Tim Couch.

2) Okay, so he can't throw deep, he's accurate, though, right?
Actually, no, not really! Jones was one of just 19 QBs out of 63 who completed less than 60% of their total college pass attempts. His 59.9% average ranked 45th in the pack. While there are some successful QBs who have completed less than 60% of their total college pass attempts and gone onto NFL success (namely Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler, Carson Palmer, Donovan McNabb, and Matthew Stafford), all of those successful QBs managed higher yards per attempt and yards per completion than Jones, meaning that while Palmer, McNabb, Stafford, and Cutler especially can blame some of their low % on the fact that they often went deep and connected often enough on big plays to make it worthwhile, Jones has no such excuse.

Even more concerning than Jones' mediocre career completion % is the fact that his first season as a starter was actually his best in that regard, as his 62.8% as a sophomore saw a massive drop to 56.7 as a junior and only a modest rebound to 60.5% as a senior. Most of the successful QBs listed above started as overwhelmed freshman before seeing their completion % increase to more than 60% in their final year. Jones regression (or his stalled progress, at best) does not bode well for any ability to improve steadily at a more difficult level of football.

Even more depressing is that Jones managed that mediocre % while, as noted above, managing the second-lowest yards per completion of any QB in the sample. At least when Tim Couch only managed 10.6 yards per completion he was a high volume passer, completing 67.1% of those attempts and 72.3% in his final campaign. Then again I'm sure that Jones' apologists will point out Jones played with a terrible supporting cast at Duke and Tim Couch had the all-star talent one normally finds on the football program at, uh, *checks notes*...Kentucky.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Grades and Growth: Mitch Trubisky and the People v Pro Football Focus

If you have been paying much attention to Bears twitter (or you've dared to tweet something positive about Mitch Trubisky only to find Goddamn Detroit Lions Fans of all people invading your mentions to screech "bUt HiS PfF gRaDe") since around the time Mitch Trubisky's second season began to show some promise in week 4 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, you'll have no doubt encountered the famous problem of Trubisky's deplorable PFF grade failing to align with his mostly very good traditional or even non-PFF advanced analytics. Lest Bears fans spend even a minute thinking that having a QB who was above average in terms of completion %, yards per attempt, adjusted net yards per attempt, touchdown %, sack %, QB rating, Total QBR, and expected points added is a good thing, someone (and, again, it's always a goddamn Lions fan) will come bursting through the wall like the world's most depressing Kool-Aid man to once more cite the sacred texts and tell you that actually a bunch of dude's in Ireland figured out how to chart football players on a play by play basis and we have determined their findings are law and render all of the above null and void. Trubisky, if you didn't know, ranked 33rd in the league in terms of overall PFF grade at QB, behind such luminaries as the deposed Blake Bortles and beloved Start Kyle Orton punching bag Josh Allen. You are not to question the inherent absurdity of this statement and how incongruous it is with, y'know, every other available form of measuring a quarterback's performance. You are to accept that you have been owned, and to scurry back into your hole in shame. Once you get there you'll still find that same fucking Detroit Lions fan, though. He lives there. It's all he's ever known. Dragging others into the hole is all he's got man.

Bears fans, however, have never been known to go quietly into the night or really go quietly anywhere. They have gathered their swords and sprung to their quarterback's defense with arguments ranging from tinfoil hattery ("they are biased against Mitch!") to more well thought-out critiques of PFF and their grading methods. You wouldn't be reading this site (if you're reading it at all, which you probably aren't. It appears taking a break of a mere *checks notes* four years did some damage to my overall readership) if you weren't looking for more of the latter, so here goes nothing: Pro Football Focus grade of Mitch isn't wrong, nor does it reflect any kind of bias on their part. It's also pretty much irrelevant.

Imagine, if you will, that a football season is a 16 week college course. Each week there is a test, worth exactly 6.25% of your grade. You need a 70% overall to pass the course, but in the first three weeks of the season your drunk ass failed to show up to class and you got a zero. Week 4 starts and you've already completely wasted 18.75% of the available points. You've basically got to be perfect in every single week from then on in order to ensure a  passing grade. You do your best, but there are some weeks you get an A and then there are some weeks you get Cs. Those last 13 weeks of the year you average out to being more or less a B student. You get 80% of the remaining points overall, but at the end of the year, thanks to those three zeros in the first three classes, you get a 65 in the course. You're a failure, your dad's mad he spent a dime sending you to school, and pretty much anybody looking at your semester from a distance would deem it a failure.

And did improve, didn't you? You were a B student for a greater % of the weeks you were in class than you were an F student. You learned a lot, you actually understood the point of the class, but alas, the transcript never lies, does it? If you were to take the class next fall, though, and you managed perfect attendance, would it be wise for someone to bet that you'll fail it again?

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Josh Rosen vs Josh Allen, or When "Stats vs Scouts" Ends in a Draw

Football in recent years has started, in fits and starts, to go through its own analytics revolution, similar to the one that overtook baseball in the early to mid 2000s. While the rise of sites like Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus, and the introduction of the NFL's own house analytics page Next Gen stats, heralds a new and more informed way for fans to take in the game of football, it is clear that this revolution will not be as complete as baseball's. Football's requirement for teamwork more than individual excellence means that numbers alone will never tell anything close to the full stories. Quarterbacks are amplified or hindered by schemes, offensive lines, or butter fingered receivers. Cornerbacks benefit from elite pass rushers causing panicked and hurried throws or suffer from tepid pass rushes that allow QBs ample time to wait for the coverage to breakdown. While a number of new metrics try and break football down piece by piece to determine individual responsibility and performance on every play, it is clear there will always be a gray area when it comes to the story stats are telling about a football players performance, and how to project future performance from those stats. This is especially true when it comes to translating college performance to future NFL success.

No debate demonstrated the conflict between the rising tide of football analytics and the traditional methods of football scouting than the debate in the 2018 draft between quarterbacks Josh Rosen and Josh Allen. As previously noted on this blog there was zero, and I mean zero, statistical argument for drafting Josh Allen. Statistically he may have been the single worst QB taken in the first round in the last 20 years, at least since Kyle Boller. Scouts loved him, however, citing his underrated mobility, his zeus-hurling-thunderbolts level arm strength (he most definitely has what long-time readers of this blog will remember I once coined an "armcock"), his "leadership" and intangibles. Mel Kiper declared of course that "stats are for losers" and that Allen, most definitely, is a winner.

This avalanche of counterfactual, cliche-leaden, antiquated nonsense regarding what was clearly an unusually flawed prospect understandably appalled the more analytical minds of football media. In response they, too, found a cause to champion: Josh Rosen of UCLA. Rosen was himself a controversial prospect in the eyes of scouts, not because of his on field performance, but because off the field he was an outspoken liberal, a guy who appeared to value life outside of football, a unique personality willing to speak his mind and criticize coaches and teammates when he deemed it necessary. On the field Rosen was clearly Allen's statistical better in every category.

And so the stage was set: the grizzly old scouts, mouths full of chewing tobacco, car filled with old takeout containers from lifetimes spent traveling constantly to various backfields, evaluating players with gut instincts and finely honed senses locked into a culture war with basement-dwelling nerds who'd never picked up a ball thinking the entire game can be determined by spreadsheets. Whose Josh would win?

Monday, December 3, 2018

So You Want to Draft a QB?

The draft is an inexact science, or so they say. There is no doubt that even the very best talent evaluators in the NFL are lucky to hit on as many picks as they miss. This applies most, of course, to the most important position on the field, and nothing has made heroes or goats of more executives than a first round draft pick spent on a quarterback.

While the draft is an inexact science, it is a science nonetheless. Over the years it has become more meticulous and more analytical, and despite still being at best a largely 50/50 proposition teams have generally become more successful at it over time. Whereas the period from 1990-1999 produced only one likely Hall of Famer (Peyton Manning) and only a handful of generally successful starters (Drew Bledsoe, Steve McNair, and Donovan McNabb) in the first round, the drafts since the turn of the century have seen a number of potential HOF types (Rivers, Roethlisberger, Rodgers, possibly although hopefully not Eli Manning) and a bevy of average or better starting QBs. QBs in the 1990s and before were often drafted based largely on physical traits and whether or not they won games for elite college programs. Statistics were often treated as a footnote if they were considered at all. This led to such nonsense as Rick Mirer, a pedestrian passer in college, getting taken with the #2nd overall pick and fooling multiple franchises into giving him a shot over a nearly 15 year career where he never showed any signs of developing whatsoever, largely because he looked damn good in a Notre Dame jersey.

With time the tide has shifted somewhat and college statistics are given a bit more weight by front offices, and with the proliferation of spread offenses in the NFL teams are now less likely to dismiss QBs who ran those systems in college as products of the system and to take them seriously as prospects. Despite this, however, as we saw in the 2018 draft and the controversial pick of Josh Allen, there is still a significant debate between the importance of "tools" and the importance of college production. "Stats are for losers," Mel Kiper famously cried, adding later that "completion % doesn't matter anymore." Well, in some ways Mel is right. Stats are for losers in that certain ones can tell you which QBs are likely to lose a lot of games if an NFL team drafts them.

I have recently developed a database that tracks certain key college statistics for quarterbacks drafted in the first round dating back to 1998 (the Leaf/Manning draft, the ultimate Stats vs Skills debate). I looked primarily at three main categories: completion %, Adjusted Yards Per Attempt (yards per attempt, with a bonus added for TD passes and a penalty for interceptions, as we all know Ryan Fitzpatrick could give you 8 yards per attempt but it's going to come at a much greater cost to you than Drew Brees' 8 yards per attempt), and interception %. There were a number of other statistics I looked at but these three had the most predictive value. Here's what they tells us you shouldn't do when drafting a QB high:

1) Don't think you can fix an inaccurate passer.
You can't. Accuracy is a skill like any other. You can sometimes clean up a few things, maybe fix a guy's footwork or improve his reads and decision-making, but those don't change his innate accuracy so much as they improve his efficiency. A guy flat out incapable of routinely delivering the ball will never fix that. So how do you determine whose low completion % is a product of system or correctable flaws and who is just a bad passer? Well, besides game film the threshold for a college passer who could potentially become an accurate NFL passer is a career completion % of at least 57%. The following QBs fell underneath that threshold:

Josh Allen, Jake Locker, Kyle Boller, Joey Harrington, Michael Vick, Akili Smith, Cade McNown, and Ryan Leaf. None of the QBs before Allen became more than a 57% passer in the NFL, and all but Vick were outright busts.

Even the 57% threshold is charitable however. If you expand the sample size to include QBs who completed 59% of their passes or less in college, you do land on some successes (Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan, Carson Palmer, and Donovan McNabb) but all of those exceptions have a simple explanation: all of them were 3 or 4 year starters who struggled as underclassmen but improved to be 60% or better passers before they left college. In their specific cases it doesn't take much to figure out that they were less inaccurate than they were overwhelmed by being thrown into the fire early, and they adjusted accordingly. Guys like Jake Locker and Josh Allen, however, put up pitiful completion %'s even as upperclassmen and also saw a decline in their completion % as they went along. Simply put, if a guy never had as much as a single 60% passing season in college, he's not going to manage that in the NFL.

2) Don't think you can tame the turnovers
Does a guy throw a lot of picks in college? Guess what, he's going to throw a lot of picks in the NFL. The gunslinger mentality can almost never be tamed. The following first round picks were intercepted on at least 3% of their college attempts:

Josh Allen, Jameis Winston, EJ Manuel, Christian Ponder, Jake Locker, Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Vince Young, Carson Palmer, Rex Grossman, Kyle Boller, Patrick Ramsey, Michael Vick, Tim Couch, and Cade McNown.

With the exception of Manuel, Stafford, and Vick all of these QBs were/have been intercepted on at least 3% of their NFL passes (and as Eddie Jackson can attest Stafford is still no stranger to horrible turnovers). This is not necessarily a fatal flaw, as there are some successful QBs in this group, but you should make sure you feel comfortable that said QB will be productive enough in every other area to overcome a knack for turnovers that is unlikely to ever go away.

 3)Don't draft an unproductive small school starter
The argument for drafting Josh Allen despite pedestrian stats at Wyoming was that his supporting cast at such a mid-tier program was subpar. This is an absurd excuse, because his opponents were equally lacking in talent. There is no reason to overlook QBs from non-Power 5 schools but they must have shown themselves to be a man among boys at that level in order to merit a high draft pick. A good Adjusted Yards Per Attempt is 8.0, the average "successful" first round pick managed at least an 8.5 AYA in college.

The list of small school passers who averaged at least 8 AYA has several notable successess: Carson Wentz, Alex Smith, Ben Roethlisberger, Chad Pennington, and Daunte Culpepper. 

The list of small school passers who fell below that mark is quite ugly: Josh Allen, Paxton Lynch, Joe Flacco, Brady Quinn (eat my ass, Notre Dame fans. Join a conference), JP Losman, and Patrick Ramsey.

Now, I'll begrudgingly admit that despite being the most boring QB in recent memory Joe Flacco is by most measures a "successful" QB, but I think we can all agree that spending a first round pick for that has, at best, a 20% chance of being Joe Flacco in the best case scenario is probably not a good idea. Your franchise passer should be someone who can thrive in less than ideal circumstances while not likely having superior talent than his opponent, because most young QBs are on poor teams to start their career. If they weren't able to thrive against Idaho without a roster of stars to support them they're not likely to do much against the New England Patriots, either.

4) Beware the regression
Development is not always linear but for the most part a college passer should show steady improvement from beginning to end. Some guys start out at such a high level of performance that they at best hold steady in subsequent years, and that's okay (Deshaun Watson is a notable example of this), but a massive red flag is the guy who has a breakout year as a sophomore or junior only to regress in key areas their final year.

The following QBs saw their Adjusted Yards Per Attempt decline by a full yard or more from their college peak during their final season:

Josh Allen, Jameis Winston, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Sam Bradford, Brady Quinn, JP Losman, Rex Grossman, Michael Vick, and Cade McNown

Typically when a QB sees a steep drop off in production their final year in college it indicates either a struggle with a change in scheme, a struggle with the loss of talented teammates to graduation or the NFL, or opposing defensive coordinators finding a weakness they can exploit. Typically if a player is already struggling to adapt to scheme changes, personnel changes, or new defenses on the college level they're not going to do so well dealing with those things in the NFL, and all three of those are the norm for highly drafted QBs joining bad organizations.

So if these are the rules for what *not* to do, what do the stats tell us a good first round draft pick looks like? It varies somewhat, but the average successful first round QB is accurate, obviously. Typically a career completion % around 62 is the average, but most are 65% or better passers by the end of their time in college. Most are extremely productive, averaging at least 8 adjusted yards per attempt, though again the figure is typically higher than that for their final season, and obviously they don't throw a lot of interceptions. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, both in that there have been a few largely unproductive college passers (mostly Matt Ryan) who have become highly productive pro QBs, and there are of course a number of highly productive college passers who have bombed in the NFL.

The general conclusion here is that there is a limit to the utility of college stats when it comes to these decisions. They cannot tell you will succeed, but they can at least, for the most part, weed out the guys you shouldn't even begin to consider. Once you've established a pool of candidates who at least clear those benchmarks the importance of scouting comes into play. The stats alone wouldn't pick up that Tim Tebow threw a football like a shot put or that RGIII and Teddy Bridgewater had knees likely to shatter into a thousand pieces under routine shots from NFL defenders. They didn't notice that Matt Leinart was a mediocre talent surrounded by 5 star recruits and future NFL players at every position on the depth chart.

No, Mel Kiper, stats are not for losers. If you want to win, they should be the first place you look to identify potential winners, but the final decision should come with equal input from scouts and stats.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

When the Floor Meets the Ceiling: the Rising Tide of NFL QBs and the Slow Death of the Cheat Code

you've already won me oveeeeeer, in spite of meee
I may have lied last time when I said the Bears had no power over me. I'm back. It helps that since I asked who Mitch Trubisky was he appears to have answered affirmatively with "a pretty good QB, actually." I have to admit that the Bears being relevant again has led me, after some reluctance, to once again embrace football and all of the accompanying stupid that comes with it, or, as Spencer Hall once eloquently put it, the “NFL's farting miasma of machismo and PR stunting.” Lord, I had forgotten just how insanely stupid the discourse can be. The story of the NFL this year is, of course, the massive explosion in passing across the league, be it due to new rule changes or new schemes. Within the context of that passing explosion, however, a debate has emerged: which of these QBs putting up these fancy numbers are “for real” and which are “system QBs?”

Bears fans are of course aware of what the consensus of many of these pundits is regarding Mitch Trubisky. He’s the “worst pure passer in the league” according to some, who tally his “almost” INTs and spout nonsensical criticism like “his completion % is inflated by screens and his yardage by YAC” despite Mitch ranking in the top five in the league in Average Depth of Target and average Air Yards while his receivers rank just 14th in YAC. The point today is not to debate Trubisky’s merits, however, but to highlight how this debate points to a number of broken brains and more importantly the death of an old NFL truism: having a Good QB is not the cheat code it used to be.

Probably since Joe Montana, but at least since Troy Aikman hoisted his first trophy in 1992, the franchise QB has been the quick and easy path to consistent contention in the NFL, and there’s been a clear demarcation between the haves and have nots . Between Aikman’s 1992 Superbowl win and now 21/26 Superbowls have been won by teams with long-term franchise QBs. 16/26 have been won by someone named Elway, Brady, Roethlisberger, Aikman, or Manning. The quickest way to a championship, and more importantly to sustained success, has been having a passer far enough above his peers to cover for a multitude of other sins on your roster.  But what happens when the gap between that guy and said peers starts to narrow?
The people trying to parse through this year’s passing statistics and determine who is actually good and who is faking it are working off an assumption that the talent distribution in the NFL at QB has remained largely static over time and that the stats have merely just inflated like currency while remaining the same relative to each other. I reject this. The floor has been raised thanks to changes in youth football, college football, and the NFL scouting process. From 1990-1999, just one hall of fame QB was drafted in the first round: Peyton Manning. Scouting was crude, the use of statistics even more so. People cite Ryan Leaf and Akili Smith as failures largely because of their attitudes and effort, which certainly contributed, but even by the standards of the time a look at their completion % in college would have also revealed that both QBs were below average in terms of accuracy. Back then high school programs and college programs that passed frequently were the exception and not the norm, while nowadays you can get kids who have been running 7 on 7 and understanding route concepts since their junior high days who have run  a similar spread attack from high school on up to the pros.

When Tim Couch was drafted by the Browns having never had an actual playbook in college, the Browns backed a mack truck sized playbook up to him and dumped it on him, asking him to make complicated reads and run 5 and 7 stops drop behind an abysmal line. He was blitzed out of the league. When another Browns #1 overall pick, Baker Mayfield, experienced a similar schematic clash, the Browns fired the OC and HC and moved heaven and earth to get their QB into the kind of pinpoint, short passing game that made him deadly at Oklahoma. The game has changed, and instead of asking QBs to fit the system teams are asking coaches to fit their QBs. The result, unsurprisingly, is a lot more productive QBs.
So where does this leave us? There are, without a doubt, some QBs who are still a cut above the rest. Drew Brees would no doubt succeed at this point in any system. Patrick Mahomes is a rare breed. Much as I loathe him as an individual, Ben Roethlisberger has succeeded in just about every kind of system the league can offer over the years. Aaron Rodgers may finally be losing his battle with Mike McCarthy’s incompetence, but he’s done more with less than most could dream of. Beyond those guys, however, we find ourselves in a brave new world where anywhere from 10-15, maybe even 18 or 19 guys could reasonably put up top ten passing numbers or win a Superbowl in the right situation. I’m not interested in debating whether DeShaun Watson or Mitch Trubisky is actually better when they’re within a standard deviation of each other statistically.
Circling back to Trubisky, however, it’s important to examine what people mean when they use “system QB” as a pejorative and whether that phrase even has any meaning in 2018. Years ago a System QB was a term pretty specific to a physically limited college QB who put up great numbers due to a spread offense or, like Ken Dorsey, put up good numbers despite limited skills thanks to playing with a supporting cast of multiple future first round picks. The System QB was a guy you passed on in the draft because he simply would not be able to make the required throws into the tighter windows of the NFL. The term moved a bit into the NFL when referring to guys like Matt Cassel or Kyle Orton, guys who put up huge yardage numbers in the wide open attacks of Josh McDaniel but struggled in more bland offenses with less talent around them in Kansas City and Chicago. I don’t think the term “system QB” is appropriate for Mitch Trubisky, Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, or any number of the players that it has been hurled at in recent years mainly due to one key difference between their offenses and those led by Cassel and Orton and their ilk: they fucking score a lot of fucking points.
A system QB is a person whose limitations still limit their offense, the scheme just allows them to hide that sometimes between the 20s. Orton and Cassel threw for a lot of yards in Denver and New England, but their offenses were middle of the pack in scoring regardless. Trubisky might have some occasional issues with footwork and accuracy, and Matt Nagy unquestionably caters his play-calling on offense to what Trubisky does best, but the result is a Bears offense that scores a lot of points because Trubisky is indeed a talented QB who can do things physically (primarily attacking downfield and also running the ball) that your old-fashioned noodle-armed System QB couldn’t dream of. It is no crime to have a system that amplifies your skills and hides your weaknesses. Joe Montana would have sucked if he’d been dropped onto any other team in the 80s, where passing was relegated largely to third down and the vertical game dominated. Instead he was hand-picked by Bill Walsh precisely because Bill knew he could score a lot of points with a smart, accurate QB like Montana running his system. Montana wasn’t a “fraud” because his skills or his measurements at the combine paled in comparison to his peers, his skillset was just suited to a different scheme than John Elway’s. Mitch Trubisky is no Joe Montana, obviously, but neither is he Matt Cassel. The flaw of the System QB is sustainability. When defenses take away the cheap and easy yards, who are you then? Whether it’s with his legs or his arm, Trubisky appears to be a guy who can find a way to score points on you regardless.
The key to the new NFL is to focus less on trying the impossible task of separating those QBs from their context and determining who is best in some kind of nonexistent vacuum, but to evaluate which coaches and orgs are doing the best job of creating the best situations for their guys. Focus less on dated, Trent Dilfer-esque bleeting about factorbacks and QB Rankings and more on specific x’s and o’s and punches and counter-punches. The paradigm is shifting. Much as baseball had to learn how to reevaluate pitching as the steroid era gave way to the new deadball era, the NFL must learn how to deal with a world where most teams can possibly drop 30 points on a given Sunday and the game will be decided in the margins rather than under center. The cheat code isn’t working anymore. You’re going to have to build a team the hard way.
Or you could be the Bills and ignore literally all of that stuff I said has changed in the last 20-25 years and draft Josh fucking Allen. Jesus, Buffalo.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

So What the Hell is Mitch Trubisky?

Holy shit, I remembered the password

*chokes on dust, pushes skeleton of TEC out of the way and begins typing at desk of long abandoned Start Kyle Orton headquarters*

First off this is not a permanent unretirement. I got better things to do than the Bears and they no longer have any power over me.

For the first time in years however I am actually watching them, and one question keeps coming up: what the fuck is Mitch Trubisky?

I've seen a lot of quarterbacks fail for a lot of reasons. Jay Cutler never was going to stop turning the ball over. Rex Grossman was never gonna stop doing that either. Cade McNown was never going to throw the ball with any kind of zip or stop being a petulant turd waffle. Trubisky seems something else.

This is, ostensibly, a QB with a full toolbox. He's not Kyle Orton, there's a real arm there. He's not a gunslinger, what turnovers he's had tend to be bad throws and not bad decisions. So where does that leave us? Why does he, uh, suck? And will he get better?

A lot of people object to that last question. "Of course he'll get better he's young blah blah." Well one of the uncomfortable hidden truths of sport is that progress isn't always linear. Some guys, far more than you think actually, pretty much stay the same guy they were when they got to the pros. If you don't believe me ask Joe Flacco.