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Football Relativity Week 19

Each week during the regular season, we compare all 32 teams using our Football Relativity tool. But now that the season has ended, we’re winnowing down our list of teams, this week going from the eight quarterfinalists to the four conference championship teams. You can see where teams fell on last week’s comparison here. Note that, with the Seahawks’ loss, the 1 level this week is equal to the 7 level last week.

James Harrison led the Steelers' D against Baltimore

10 – Pittsburgh Steelers – Somehow, likely because they played the first game of divisional weekend, the Steelers have flown under the radar a little bit this week. But we still believe that they’re the best team of the final four. Baltimore is a good team, and the Steelers made the plays defensively and offensively to come back from a 14-point halftime deficit to beat them. That’s an impressive performance. Ben Roethlisberger continues to show his ability to make big plays at big times, no matter who his receivers are. And the defense forced a key fumble on Ray Rice to turn momentum and set up the comeback. Pittsburgh isn’t flashy, but they’re super solid, and they have an excellent chance to beat the Jets and make the Super Bowl for a record eighth time.

9 – none

8 – Green Bay Packers (UP A LEVEL) – Aaron Rodgers is putting on a show this postseason, and that’s making the Packers even more dangerous. Rodgers actually has more upside than elite quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees because he adds running to the mix and is just as accurate and potent passing the ball. That means Rodgers has a chance to be a Steve Young or John Elway – combining unique talent with elite performance to be a quarterback a level above anyone else in the league. The great news for Rodgers is that he has a better defense than Young or Elway did, with last year’s defensive player of the year Charles Woodson and likely 2010 winner Clay Matthews leading a talented group that’s playing well. The Packers are incredibly dangerous right now because they’re playing well on both sides of the ball.

7 – none

6 – none

5 – none

4 – none

3 – Chicago Bears (THIS LEVEL IS THE EQUIVALENT OF MOVING UP ONE LEVEL FROM LAST WEEK) – Jay Cutler was the Bears’ biggest question mark entering the playoffs, and he acquitted himself well in his first playoff game. Cutler nearly made a killer error on the goal line in the first quarter, but he took advantage of the mulligan of a dropped interception to lead the Bears to a big lead and ultimately a win. Cutler isn’t going to keep up with Aaron Rodgers in a scorefest, but if the Bears can limit the Packers to 10-17 points (as they have in both meetings this season), Cutler is capable of generating two or three big throws to give the Bears a chance to win. The defense is on the spot this week for the Bears, then, to limit Rodgers more than the Eagles or Falcons have been able to. That’s no easy task, but the Bears D has been a classic Tampa-2 unit this year with terrific (if not elite) performance. We give them a chance to stop the Aaron Rodgers train and earn Chicago the win.

3 – none

2 – none

1 – New York Jets (THIS LEVEL IS THE EQUIVALENT OF MOVING UP ONE LEVEL FROM LAST WEEK) – Just like Jay Cutler, Mark Sanchez is his team’s biggest question mark. And Sanchez answered the questions against the Patriots with a sterling performance that out-did Tom Brady and put the Jets in position to win. But Sanchez didn’t have that kind of performance against the Colts in Round One, and so there’s no guarantee the Jets will get good Sanchez this week in Pittsburgh. But if Sanchez can play well, he has the kind of targets (led by ex-Steeler Santonio Holmes) to make the Steelers pay for poor coverage. The Jets’ defense, meanwhile, needs to pressure Ben Roethlisberger like the Ravens did in the first half last week. That’s the recipe for a Jets win, and it’s possible, though not likely.

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FR: New and moved announcers for 2010

Last year we started a tradition of comparing the new announcers added to the roster of major national outlets for the NFL season. (Here’s last year’s post.) In this comparison, we’ll compare the importance of new hires, major movers, and some guys who added side jobs this season. The 10 level indicates the announcers with the best chance of making a national splash; the 1 level is for announcers who you probably won’t even notice in 2010.

10 – Jim Mora, Fox – The younger of the coaches named Mora, who was the Seahawks’ head coach last year, will move onto Fox’s No. 3 announcing team with Dick Stockton and Charles Davis. That’s a soft landing spot for Mora, because Davis is a pro who will allow Mora to feel comfortable finding things to say instead of forcing out comments after every play. But Mora will face the challenge that all former coaches have – especially those who have dreams of coaching once again. Can he be critical? Can he be honest? Or will he pull punches in an effort to avoid making enemies? Mora has the gumption to be honest, and if he does he could develop a la Brian Billick. But if Mora doesn’t do so, it’ll be incredibly easy for Fox to move him down the roster – or off it entirely. Still, Mora has the privilege of one of the higher profile new announcing gigs.

9 – none

8 – Kurt Warner, Fox – The recently retired Warner, who has done some Arena League games for NFL network this summer, takes the route of many high-profile quarterbacks and lands in announcing. But unlike many of those QBs, instead of starting in a high-profile studio role or top game-announcer, he’s starting at the bottom of the national totem pole. He takes over for Trent Green on Fox’s No. 7 team, which means he’ll only work selected weeks when Fox has a full game slate. That may actually be a blessing for Warner as he seeks to develop as an announcer. This role will give him room to grow and make mistakes without being in the national glare, and if he emerges he certainly has the street cred to move up the charts quickly. But Warner is also close enough to the bottom of Fox’s roster that, if he struggles, he can be cut without much notice. So Warner must show signs of ability quickly, or else he’ll be looking for a new post-retirement career.

7 – none

6 – none

5 – Joe Theismann, NFL Network – Theismann, who for years irritated viewers with his verbose and grandiose declarations of the most obvious things on Sunday Night Football, joins the NFL Network’s booth for Thurdsay-night and Saturday-night games. It’s an annoying addition, not just because Theismann is terrible, but because the Bob Papa/Matt Millen team ended up being pretty good last year. Millen actually has insight about what’s happening on the field, while Theismann doesn’t seem to see inside the game. His performance in an NBC wild-card playoff game last year was awful, yet it somehow got him another gig. If NFL Network wanted a third man in the booth, they had much better options on their roster – Marshall Faulk, Steve Mariucci, Warren Sapp, Tom Waddle, just to name a few. This move makes no sense, and we can only hope it’s short-lived.

4 – Antonio Pierce, ESPN – After a nine-year career with the Redskins and Giants that included a Super Bowl win and a Pro Bowl bid, Pierce hung up his cleats to join ESPN’s roster of analysts. He’ll appear on NFL Live, SportsCenter, and ESPNEWS and also contribute to ESPN’s web and radio platforms in New York. It’ll be hard for Pierce to establish a role nationally on ESPN’s crowded roster, but his years under the New York media spotlight have polished him to the point that he’ll look good on camera. As always, having a player who’s competed against most guys he’s analyzing is also a plus – if the player can be honest. Only time will tell if Pierce clears that hurdle, but if he does he could have a bright future in the business.

3 – Brad Nessler and Trent Dilfer, Monday Night Football – For the fourth straight year, ESPN will open its Monday Night Football schedule with a doubleheader. For the past three years, the late game has been called by Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, along with either Mike Ditka or Steve Young. But Greenberg isn’t the smoothest play-by-play guy, and the radio duo’s penchant for going topical irritated fans. So this year, ESPN will go to veteran play-by-play man Brad Nessler, who spends most of the fall on college football, for the game. He’ll pair with Trent Dilfer, an NFL Live analyst who has shown a penchant for incisive, insightful, and strong commentary. We’re excited to see Dilfer in the role, because we admire his talents and wish he had an even more high-profile role. This is his chance to show he can be a top-flight game analyst.

2 – Spero Dedes, CBS – Dedes has moved into CBS’s play-by-play roster for the NFL this year, working on a No. 6 team. Dedes also worked the NCAA Tournament for CBS, and he’s best known as a Lakers announcer. In recent years, he has hosted NFL Network’s Gameday Morning, but Rich Eisen moves from postgame to take over those pregame duties.

1 – Jay Glazer and Daryl Johnston, NFL Network – Glazer and Johnston, both Fox staples, are adding NFL Total Access duties to their repretoire. Both will be studio analysts for the NFL Network show. We include them here just for the sake of the record.

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How great is Favre, really?

My brother Kam sent me an interesting link this week that tried to argue that Brett Favre is even better than we think. Basically, this blogger argues that Brett Favre’s career interception percentage of 3.3 percent is much better than most of the QBs in the Hall of Fame — thus undercutting the big argument against Favre as an all-time great.

It’s an interesting theory, but as my brother and I discussed it, we quickly came to the conclusion that there’s an era gap here that the blogger tried to gloss over. Current-era Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Dan Marino, John Elway, Joe Montana, and Steve Young are all below Favre in terms of interception percentage. Only Warren Moon and Jim Kelly (both of whom started in the NFL about five years before Favre) are above him in this stat.

And as we look at the career passer rating list, this change in eras bears out. Favre is just 18th on this list, behind many the great QBs of the eras in which he’s played — Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Steve Young, Joe Montana, Drew Brees, and Dan Marino. Meanwhile, the only QB from before the Bill Walsh era in the top 20 is Otto Graham, who is an all-time great who always seems to get lost in the discussion.

So while the interception stat doesn’t tell us much about Favre in the end, it does indicate how much the game changed when Bill Walsh came on the scene as a head coach around 1980. (We’d say that the Walsh era began with the Niners’ first Super Bowl win in the 1981 season.)

Kam said this in the discussion…
Most people think of interception stats vis-a-vis the TD to interception ratio.  nteresting here to consider it as pass attempts to interception, although I wonder what Favre’s completion rate in general is compared to other QBs with comparable yardage and TDs. You’re right that completion rate and TD-interception ratio would be skewed now in the post West-coast era. Fewer and fewer QBs who can actually throw the ball down the field. 

 In my mind, I still don’t see Favre on the same level as modern standout QBs like Peyton, Brady or Drew Brees (potentially Matt Ryan). You can’t help but admire Favre’s passion, but he has lost his teams many games, too, with his cavalier approach to the quarterback position. Might be the difference between one and three Super Bowl wins.    
 
So where do we compare Favre among the great quarterbacks of his era (1992-on)? I’d put the following guys above Favre:
*John Elway
*Steve Young (won his Super Bowl in the Favre era)
*Peyton Manning
*Tom Brady
*Troy Aikman (this one is close, because Aikman never piled up monster numbers, but the three Super Bowls vs. one makes the difference)
 
I’m reserving judgment today on Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees. They’re too young right now to say where their careers will truly end up.
 
I’d put Favre before Warren Moon, Donovan McNabb, and Kurt Warner, though Warner and McNabb could pass Favre with huge late-career spikes.
I’m not considering Joe Montana, Dan Marino, or Jim Kelly in Favre’s era, because they were more 1980s guys than 90s guys.
 
That makes Favre a great quarterback but not among the top-5 quarterbacks ever. In fact, when you add in old-timers like Otto Graham and others, Favre would have to push to make the top 10. That doesn’t diminish his greatness, but it does show that his numbers – even his interception numbers – don’t tell the whole story.

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Research project: QB contemporaries of Favre

With the retirement of Brett Favre, we have the end of an era. Favre, of course, owns most of the most important quarterbacking records — TD passes, yards passing, completions, attempts, interceptions, and victories as a starter, just to name the big ones. But how does he rate against the quarterbacks of his era? We did a research project and used the information to do a football relativity comparison of quarterbacks in the Brett Favre era.

A couple of descriptions: The era we’re talking about is the current era. We define this era as beginning with the end of the Cowboys dynasty (which means with the 1996 season). Also, we’re only including quarterbacks with 20,000 passing yards. Of course, that leaves out some important current quarterbacks (listed at the bottom of this post), but we had to make a cutoff somewhere.  We’ve also excluded some quarterbacks who played a bit in this era of ’96-’08 but weren’t necessarily in this era. (Those guys are also listed at the bottom of this post.) A couple of Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Steve Young and John Elway, would have been left out of this relativity comparison but won’t be because they had significant accomplishments in this era.

We’re using a 10-point scale, with 10 being the best quarterback of the era and 1 being a quarterback who hit the yardage qualifier but won’t really be remembered.

10- Tom Brady (26k passing yards), Peyton Manning (45k passing yards), Troy Aikman (32k passing yards), Steve Young (33k passing yards), John Elway (51k passing yards). Brady and Manning are the standard bearers since 2000, while Aikman, Young, and Elway all finished their careers with several years in this era.
In the era:
Brady: 3 Super Bowl wins, 1 MVP, 1 passer rating crown, 2 TD passes crowns, 2 passing yards crowns.
Manning: 1 Super Bowl win, 3 MVPs, 3 passer rating crowns, 3 TD passes crowns, 2 passing yards crowns.
Elway: 2 Super Bowl wins.
Young: 2 passer rating crowns, 1 TD passes crown.

9- Kurt Warner (28k passing yards), Brett Favre (65k passing yards). These guys are just a notch below the first group because of consistency. Favre was dynamic in the 1990s, but for most of the 2000s he was a step behind Brady and Manning. Warner has several unbelievable years, but also has a black hole in his career.
In the era:
Favre: 1 Super Bowl win, 2 MVPs, 3 TD passes crowns, 1 passing yards crown.
Warner: 1 Super Bowl win, 2 MVPs, 2 passer rating crowns, 2 TD passes crowns, 1 passing yards crown.

 8- Donovan McNabb  (29k passing yards), Drew Brees (26k passing yards), Steve McNair (31k passing yards) This is a pretty significant drop from the level before, because the remaining Super Bowl champions weren’t long-term impact guys, and the main statistical stars didn’t win big. McNabb has been a first-tier starter for 10 years now, and Brees is the new Dan Fouts — a big-time stat compiler who hasn’t won big-time in the postseason. McNair led several top teams even though he was never a huge stat guy.
In the era:
Brees: 1 TD passes crown, 2 passing yards crowns, 1 offensive player of the year award.
McNair: 1 MVP, 1 passer rating crown.

 7- Randall Cunningham (29k passing yards), Drew Bledsoe (44k passing yards), Rich Gannon (28k passing yards), Daunte Culpepper (23k passing yards). All of these guys had years when they were among the best in the league, but they didn’t sustain that excellence that long. Still, at their best they were elite quarterbacks.
In the era:
Cunningham: 1 passer rating crown.
Culpepper: 1 TD passes crown, 1 passing yards crown.
Gannon: 1 MVP, 1 passing yards crown.

6- Mark Brunell (31k passing yards), Vinny Testaverde (46k passing yards), Kerry Collins (37k passing yards), Brad Johnson (29k passing yards). Testaverde’s career stats land him here, and in this era he played for some quality Jets teams. Collins led good teams in Carolina, New York, and Tennessee. Johnson put up big numbers in Minnesota and then won a title in Tampa Bay. Brunell was a top-8 quarterback in Jacksonville for several years.
In the era:
Brunell: 1 passing yards crown.
Johnson: 1 Super Bown win.

5- Trent Dilfer (20k passing yards), Trent Green (28k passing yards), Jeff Garcia (25k passing yards), Matt Hasselbeck (23k passing yards).  The fact that Dilfer won a Super Bowl means he can’t go lower than this. Imagine what his career standing would be if the Ravens had given him a chance to stay and he had won a second title. Green was a solid starter for several years in Kansas City; Hasselbeck was a consistent winner with good Seahawks teams; and Garcia was a good starter in San Francisco and Tampa Bay, along with a good run as a backup in Philadelphia.
In the era:
Dilfer: 1 Super Bowl win

4- Chris Chandler (28k passing yards), Jake Plummer (29k passing yards). Chandler led a Falcons Super Bowl trip and was a solid starter for several years. Plummer led both the Broncos and the Cardinals to the playoffs.

3- Steve Beuerlein (24k passing yards), Jeff George (27k passing yards), Jeff Blake (21k passing yards), Marc Bulger (21k passing yards). Beuerlein had a few huge years in Carolina but was otherwise a backup. Bulger and Blake both had brief stops as triggermen in very dangerous offenses. George put up some big numbers but wasn’t a guy you could construct a franchise around.
In the era:
Beuerlein: 1 passing yards crown.
George: 1 passing yards crown.

2- Jon Kitna (27k passing yards), Jim Harbaugh (26k passing yards), Neil O’Donnell (21k passing yards). O’Donnell and Harbaugh played into this era but had their best runs before it. Kitna never was respected as a starter, but he produced numbers in Seattle, Cincinnati, and Detroit.

1- Gus Frerotte (21k passing yards), Aaron Brooks (20k passing yards). Brooks had a few good years in New Orleans, but he flamed out incredibly quickly. Frerotte was mostly a backup.

Active quarterbacks who are not included because they have not yet thrown for 20,000 yards: Brian Griese, Jake Delhomme, Chad Pennington, Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, David Carr, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo.

Quarterbacks whose careers ended in this era and who had 20,000+ passing yards, but who are not included in this poll because the most significant parts of their careers happened before this era began: Dan Marino, Warren Moon, Dave Kreig, Boomer Esiason, Jim Kelly, Jim Everett, Steve DeBerg, Bernie Kosar, Bobby Hebert.

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