NFL Week in Review: Andrew Luck Live, Matt Ryan on FOX, and 5th-Year Breakout QBs

A goose, a moose, and the son of Marv Albert walk into a bar…

Watching a live NFL broadcast is good for the creative mind. You can pick up plenty of ammo for The Whistleblower, and every once in a while you might learn something of value.

I watched the Cincinnati Bengals at Atlanta Falcons preseason game on Thursday night, or at least as much as I could stomach, and I found multiple things worth looking into.

First, the FOX broadcast team of Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa seemed pretty supportive of Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. There was not much talk about the playoff struggles, but instead they went optimistic for Ryan to really get things going in his fifth season.

In fact, even after one nice play by Ryan in the game the crew said something to the effect of “maybe the 5th year really is the breakout year for a young quarterback!”

Now they were not being scientific of course, and neither am I today. But I decided to dig a little into quarterbacks, with the help of Pro Football Reference’s Play Index, and see if there was any proof for the 5th season being the breakout season.

This would be defined as the QB having his best season in his fifth year, and ignoring any season that came afterwards for the purposes of this study.

The results were surprising, as I actually did find several high-profile cases of a QB having a career-year in season 5. Certainly enough to actually warrant the claims the FOX crew threw out there.

Note: When I say career-high here, I am only looking at the first five seasons unless noted otherwise.

5th-Year Breakout QBs

  • Sid Luckman (1943) – This one is influenced by WWII, but 1943 was the year Luckman threw 28 TD and had a ridiculous 107.5 passer rating.
  • Sonny Jurgensen (1961) – after riding the bench for four years in Philadelphia, Jurgensen got his shot in 1961 and threw for a then NFL record 3,723 yards and 32 TD.
  • Daryle Lamonica (1967) – After four backup years in Buffalo in which he was also a punter, Lamonica exploded with the Raiders, throwing 30 touchdowns and leading the team to Super Bowl II.
  • Bob Griese (1971) – Had a career-high 90.9 passer rating while throwing 19 TD to only a career-low 9 INT.
  • Ken Stabler (1974) – Threw 26 TD  and won the only AP NFL MVP award of his career.
  • Ken Anderson (1975) – Though 1974 was incredible too, Anderson made his first Pro Bowl and a 10-win season in 1975, while throwing for a      career-high 3,169 yards and 21 TD.
  • Danny White (1980) – Backup to Roger Staubach no more, White threw 30 TD and led Dallas to a 12-4 record and the most points scored in the league.
  • Joe Montana (1983) – One could argue 1981, the first Super Bowl win, was a better year, but in 1983, Montana had a career-high in yards (3,910), TD (26), and passer rating (94.6).
  • Dave Krieg (1984) – though he was more efficient in 1983, he only played half the season. In 1984, Krieg threw 32 TD and led Seattle to a 12-4 record.
  • John Elway (1987) – His lone MVP  award of his career came in 1987, which was the best season Elway had in his first 10 seasons actually.
  • Boomer Esiason (1988) – Won league  MVP and led the highest-scoring offense in the league to the Super Bowl in the best year of his entire career.
  • Chris Miller (1991) – Here’s a former Falcon. 13th overall pick in 1987, Miller had his lone Pro Bowl      season in 1991 when he threw 26 TD and led Atlanta to the second round of the playoffs.
  • Brett Favre (1995) – had a career-high in yards, TD and passer rating. Favre won his first MVP award.
  • Scott Mitchell (1995) – Yep, the one-year wonder came alive in 1995 with 4,338 yards and 32 TD for the Detroit Lions.
  • Matt Hasselbeck (2003) – Threw a career-high 26 TD while leading Seattle to 10-6 and the playoffs. He wanted to score too much that year.
  • Tom Brady (2004) – Brady had his best statistical season in year 5 as he led the Patriots to a third Super Bowl in four seasons. It was the first time he had a passer rating over 90.0 in a season, and this was easily the most dominant NE team to win a Super Bowl.
  • Tony Romo (2007) – In his second year as a starter, Romo led Dallas to a 13-3 record, threw for 4,211 yards, 36 TD and had a 97.4 passer      rating.
  • Philip Rivers (2008) – forget the  8-8 record, Rivers was on fire that year with 34 TD and a league-best 105.5 passer rating.
  • Eli Manning (2008) – After the  Super Bowl win, Manning had the best regular season of his career in 2008, leading the Giants to a 12-4 record and setting career highs in comp.  percentage, YPA and passer rating.
  • Aaron Rodgers (2009) – In just his second year as a starter, Rodgers threw 30 TD to only 7 INT, and had a 103.2 passer rating.

I could go on, but 20 rather high-profile cases is good enough to get the point across. Year five has been a breakout year for many of the all-time greats.

But what about the math check? We are talking about five seasons, so there is a 20 percent chance a QB will have his career/breakout year in the fifth year.

Even more inflating is the fact that most of these quarterbacks are not like Matt Ryan: starters from day one. Only Griese and Elway were five-year primary starters. When you sit on the bench for multiple seasons like Rivers or Rodgers, then it is even more likely your 5th season will be your best. Rodgers had a 50 percent chance, because all you could really compare are 2008 and 2009.

Notice players that started as rookies like Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Ben Roethlisberger and Johnny Unitas did not make the list. That’s not to say they were not any good in year five, but it was not their best effort.

Matt Ryan’s best season was 2010. Maybe he will surpass it this year, but it is far from being a lock.

Great QB-Head Coach Pairings

Matt Ryan entering his fifth season also means Mike Smith is entering his fifth season as head coach of the Falcons. They came in together, and as I wrote at Bleacher Report last week, that is one of the great ways to turn a team around.

I looked at 80 cases in the Super Bowl era (but not every single case) of a team getting a new head coach and quarterback in the same year. Nine have been extremely successful (the elites), 20 had moderate success (Ryan/Smith fit in here), 12 were average/one-year wonders, and 34 were complete and utter failures together. That leaves five active/unknowns.

That includes 2012 rookies Chuck Pagano/Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, and Joe Philbin/Ryan Tannehill in Miami. They are the 31st and 32nd examples of a team hiring a rookie head coach and drafting a first-round QB in the same year since 1966.

FOX Gave Me a Concussion

The worst thing from the NFL on FOX, besides Laura Okmin’s interviews in Baltimore on Friday, was the semi-brutal discussion in Atlanta about the new kickoff rule helping to bring concussions down 43 percent on kickoffs. The crew boasted about how great that was, but they were misleading people by only looking at that one number.

As I wrote last week with data from Edgeworth Economics, concussions may have went down 43 percent on kickoffs, but it is because the number of kicks actually returned went down to 53.5 percent. In previous seasons, returnable kicks were in the lower 80’s in percentage.

Kickoffs are not safer. They just are less frequent. Going from 35 to 20 concussions on kickoffs sounds nice, but not so much when the overall concussion number only goes from 270 down to 266. That means concussions on other types of plays increased in 2011.

Also, we are talking about a one-year sample size, which was unusual because of the lockout. Let’s see what happens with the injury data this year before declaring the kickoff rule change a success.

Maybe we need five years of data for it to be clear. Just throwing it out there, much like Fox did in their effort to talk up Matt Ryan during a meaningless preseason game.

At least they were not blatantly wrong…this time.

Andrew Luck…Live and In Person

Finally, I went to the Colts/Steelers game last night, which means I did not get to hear any of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. They are not a duo I have a beef with, and you kind of miss hearing some type of analysis offered other than the loudest people sitting in your section.

With the stadium Wi-Fi almost nonexistent and a lack of stats on the scoreboard, I was pretty much forced to use the eyeball test to follow the game. This is exactly why I never go to regular season Sunday games (I have actually never been to a regular season or playoff game period), because I cannot be away from all the action going on around the league. I need details.

Not to mention I still favor my couch and computer chair. Even if the seat was pretty damn nice.

Ben Roethlisberger threw maybe the worst interception I have ever seen him throw, and I have seen them all. The Steelers showed very little on offense outside of Antonio Brown’s incredible run-after-catch on the touchdown. I have not seen a Pittsburgh WR do that since Santonio Holmes did it to the Baltimore Ravens in the 2008 AFC Championship.

I don’t know if Antonio Brown can replace Mike Wallace, but he has been a great replacement for Holmes.

Just before the game I learned via Twitter the NFL Network showed my tweet about predicting a 9/16 for 84-yard performance by Luck against Pittsburgh’s defense. I missed it. Again.

Andrew Luck started off with a weird Bruce Arians screen that saw Reggie Wayne go in motion, and Luck threw at his teammate’s ass (it appeared that way to me at least). I actually saw Wayne in motion and line up on the right, which is far different from his usual “I only line up on the left” role in Indy’s offense.

Luck threw a good pass to Collie, who must have dropped it on the way to the ground after taking yet another hit that saw him walk slowly to the bench. I don’t feel very good about the long-term career of this kid, which is a shame because he is a talented receiver.

That 19-yard reversal seemed to take forever, as did most of the challenge/reviews with the replacement refs. At least they knew which teams were playing tonight.

Luck’s pick six by Ike Taylor was a poorly thrown pass, and you know things are going bad when stone-hands Ike Taylor is taking your pass to the house. At this point, Luck was 2/8 for 16 yards and the INT.

But like he did last year at Stanford, he came right back from a mistake and led his offense to a touchdown. This is a great article from ESPN on Luck’s career at Stanford, and one of the facts I remembered was Luck bouncing back from interceptions last season.

After 10 interceptions in 2011, Luck led Stanford to 7 touchdowns on the ensuing drives. He was 28/34 for 288 yards, 3 TD and no turnovers on those drives. He knows how to immediately make up for a mistake.

After starting the next drive with a sack, Luck could have easily folded down 14-0 on the road, but he came back with four straight completions on a touchdown drive. He did have a second interception, but that was all on T.Y. Hilton throwing the big gain up into the air for a turnover.

Though he was 8/16 for 79 yards and two picks to start the game, numbers pretty close to my 16-attempt prediction, I was still far off on how Luck would finish the night. He was 16/25 for 175 yards, a TD run, and the two INT.

He had a spike to set up a last-second field goal. He had at least two drops that would have been another 40 yards in the half. Luck was pretty impressive in my book.

The game does not count for anything, and is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

But for one night, I experienced football from an angle without any commentary, statistics, while watching two teams I respect, and with players I may never see in person again in my life.

Now that it’s over, my anticipation for the real thing is much greater.

Coming up this week: expect articles on regression for elite offenses, potential myth-busting, and a PSA on bad stat usage. I will also give the podcast world a try for the first time.

(If you were looking for the punchline to the joke at the beginning, think “something, something…sodomy and glory holes”)

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