When I took the occasion of the Mets clinching the NL East to make fun of Jon Papelbon, I wouldn’t say I anticipated this:
It’s not news that Papelbon is a gold-plated asshole. What’s amazing is that Matt Williams — while taking Harper out — left Papelbon in the game. It’s a meaningless game, your pitcher literally chokes your best player for no particular reason, and…your response is to do nothing. Williams is in over his head on every level, of course, but I insist that this is a reflection of his biggest problem. The systematic underachievement of the Nationals isn’t just some big coincidence. It is appropriate, though, that Williams used the same robotic “he’s our closer” response that he uses to justify his unwillingness to use his best relievers in high-leverage situations. (The fact that today he was using Papelbon in a tie game just makes it more awesome.) He’s a beauty; I hope the Nats keep him forever.
To move up the coaching chain a little, there’s not really any justification for a separate Chip Kelly post this week. On the one hand, they stopped the bleeding; on the other hand, since the secondary was facing (Ryan Fitzpatrick – 2 of his 3 viable weapons), his most expensive running back was unable to play and his expensive QB was highly ineffective (QBR: 25.7), critics of his offseason work have no reason to back off. Since there’s been some good stuff written about it this week, though, I do want to (re)address one narrow issue. I’ve seen very few people defending the Murray signing at this late date, but a lot of people do seem to be insisting that trading a 2nd round pick for the privilege of being the idiot who issues Sam Bradford’s hefty paychecks this year was a good move. The argument, roughly, is that while Bradford is already 27, has a huge litany of injuries, and has been well below-average on those occasions when he takes the field, he has a big arm capable of taking big shots down the field and offering upside that guys like Foles and Sanchez don’t.
The thing is that this characterization of Bradford’s abilities is straightforwardly false. Far from being a big-armed gunslinger, he’s always been Captain Checkdown:
The explanation favored by the Eagles, and not without reason, is that everything wrong with the offense at the moment is linked to an inability to run the football. Whether the problem is a talent deficit on the offensive line, or a fundamental failure to execute, or that opposing defenses have decoded Chip Kelly’s system, the end result is the same. If opponents don’t worry about the run, they can pay more attention to the pass, and specifically to preventing deep passes.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with taking a shot down the field. What we have to do is be able to run the ball vs. a six-man box,” Kelly said Thursday. “[If you do], now you’ve got to get a safety down in the front. Now you have an opportunity to make him pay for getting an extra guy down there. But we haven’t in either game we played, whether it be Dallas or Atlanta, seen an extra defender in the box because we didn’t run the ball well enough to get that extra defender in the box. So there was no opportunity to throw the ball down the field.”
That’s fine and logical, but there have been passes completed in the history of the NFL against teams playing two high safeties. It’s not like threading a needle wearing boxing gloves. Completing a pass in that circumstance might be more difficult, but the great quarterbacks in the league don’t get paid because they can make the easy throws. The difficult ones are what separate them from the pack.
For whatever reason, Bradford has seemed to prefer rating risk above reward during his career. Among all active NFL quarterbacks – a list that includes 30 with enough lifetime attempts (1,500) to qualify – Bradford is ranked 30th for both yards per attempt (6.3) and yards per completion (10.7) over his entire career. Those numbers not only put him miles from guys at the top of the lists such as Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady but also behind lesser lights such as Rex Grossman, Chad Henne, and Matt Cassel.
BTW, I love the first two sentences of the third quoted paragraph. One favorite technique of apologists for Darrell Bevell’s Super Bowl-losing atrocity is to observe that the Patriots had their BIG BODIES on the field. Typically, apparently, Lynch’s successful runs in short-yardage situations have come against dime packages, because no NFL defensive coordinator has ever considered putting in his best run defenders in on short yardage situations before. Moving right along, when the trade was made Barnwell had more sophisticated data:
Foles was incredible throwing deep that season, doing so effectively and on a frequent basis. Bradford didn’t throw deep at all, and when he did, he posted a dismal QBR. In his career, 9.9 percent of his passes have traveled 20 yards or more in the air, which ranks 24th out of 29 qualifying passers over that time frame. His QBR on those throws was also 24th out of 29. And his average pass has traveled just 7.5 yards in the air; only Alex Smith has managed to be worse.
Rams fans complained after the article that it somehow wasn’t Bradford’s fault — that, through all the offensive coordinators and draft picks and free-agent dollars spent on receivers and linemen, it was everybody else and not their quarterback. But last year, we got a full season of the Rams offense without Bradford. And what do you know? They suddenly somehow found a way to throw downfield! The combination of Austin Davis and Shaun Hill, hardly superstar quarterbacks, threw passes 20 yards or more on 13.4 percent of their passes, the eighth-highest rate in the league. Their QBR on those passes was 93.6, which was 12th among NFL teams. Either Kenny Britt is the greatest downfield weapon the league has ever seen, or Bradford is not a good downfield passer. You pick.
Bradford does not have anything remotely resembling a good long passing game. The data on this point is unambiguous. So the argument is that 1)it made sense to trade a second round pick for a below-average QB because he would fit very well into Chip Kelly’s system although 2)said QB runs like an cement block and doesn’t throw a good deep ball. If your QB allegedly needs a great running game to make downfield plays this means he sucks, and in the NFL an effective running game isn’t actually going to help the QB much anyway. There was no reason to think this would work at the time and there’s even less reason to think it will work now.