Mark Brunell vs. Jason Campbell

[editor's note, by Skin Patrol] By the way readers, I've updated the layout of the front page so that it's a bit more intuitive to navigate. Links are on the left now as opposed to buried deep on the right side. Let me know what you think.

After much deliberation and input from readers I have reached a conclusion regarding the Mark Brunell and Jason Campbell circus. I think it's time we brought in the young blood. First I will explain positive reasons why Jason Campbell needs to be the starter posthaste and will then attempt to address what I perceive to be the main arguments against Jason Campbell as the new starter.

In the 2005 draft the Washington Redskins traded up for the Denver Broncos 25th pick in the 1st round. In exchange they traded top dollar, including the 3rd round pick of that draft as well as the 1st and 4th round pick of the 2006 draft. A good number of draft observers felt that was a stretch for the Redskins, who likely could have traded for a later pick at cost to pick up Campbell. The reach suggested that Gibbs' coaching staff saw things in Campbell that others did not.

Regardless, the Redskins invested their future to get the QB of the future. Campbell is now in his second year in the NFL as a Redskin and has yet to play a snap. He was quickly relegated to the third string behind starter Mark Brunell and (at the time) backup Patrick Ramsey.

If he completes this year without so much as playing a snap he will be entering his 3rd year in the league without any regular season experience. The investment our team placed in him will have taken its course on the team as we will have had a year to evaluate the effects those missing draft picks had on us. Yet we won't know a thing about our "QB of the future" unless we see what the kid can do on a field in a game. Getting Campbell involved in the game as soon as possible is paramount to determining if he really has what it takes to lead this team for years to come. Our journeyman quarterback strategy of bringing in anyone and everyone to lead this team has been an unmitigated disaster, more often than not failing to accomplish any post season success.

If Jason Campbell is not the real deal than we'd benefit by finding out sooner rather than later. If he is not, then we can plan a draft around taking another shot at a future QB. But without knowing anything about Campbell we are resigning ourselves to additional years of failure; we know an aging Brunell and a perennial backup Todd Collins are not the future.

It is also unlikely that Campbell will be a bust. Campbell went 30-8 as a starter at Auburn against fierce SEC defenses. In his senior year he completed nearly 70% of his passes, one of the highest amounts in the league. He was the third highest rated quarterback in the nation and had an incredible 10 yards an attempt, something Redskins fans probably can't comprehend at this point. His 20 touchdowns on 7 interceptions attests to an intelligence protecting the football.

The most common defenses in favor of Mark Brunell that I am familiar with (though readers I'd love to hear your arguments as well) are the following:

1) The coaches do not have confidence in Jason Campbell therefore we should not either.

I deny the conclusion. Joe Gibbs' refusal to bench Mark Brunell can be attributed to his historically observable preference for playing veterans and staying loyal to his quarterback. In 2004 Mark Brunell was playing injured and having the worst season of his career. Despite the obvious to all of us in Redskins nation, Gibbs remained loyal to Brunell for 9 games which eventually cost the Redskins a 3-6 start. The Redskins would win as many games in the remainder of the season without Brunell at the helm, largely because our 2004 defense was so dominant. Regardless, 2004 is the perfect example of Joe Gibbs remaining loyal to a player despite clear evidence that it was the wrong decision. We shouldn't view the benching of Campbell as proof of anything other than Gibbs' loyalty to Brunell.

2) Mark Brunell gives us the best chance to win now and abandoning him for Jason Campbell is tantamount to giving up on this season.

This is perhaps the most popular argument but also the most misleading. A clear endorsement of Jason Campbell need not be an abandonment of the season. 2-4 is grim, but hardly impossible to turn around, especially with a win against an undefeated Colts team next week. It would be overly skeptical to throw away the season this early.

But there's also no reason to assume that Jason Campbell starting is equivalent to giving up on the season. The vast majority of throws Mark Brunell has made thus far this season are the kind of throws that a high school QB can make; short dink and dunks on or near the line of scrimmage. None of these throws are ones Jason Campbell is incapable of making, yet there are throws that Campbell can make that Brunell cannot (or has not this year). Campbell introduces a deep threat to this offense that has been lacking at our expense. And by "deep threat" I don't mean Santana Moss catching a 12-15 yard pass and breaking two tackles for an eventual 60 yard TD reception, I mean passes that travel in the air many yards before finding their way into a receiver's hands.

Mark Brunell's mere presence under center limits the offense in ways that are predictable for defensive coordinators. His reads are quick this year and often panicked dumps that are too often checked down to the least productive receiver at or on the line of scrimmage. Intelligent coordinators can dare -- with great effectiveness -- Brunell to beat them deep by stacking the box and keeping all receivers in front of them. This has a suffocating effect on our run game as well as our short passing game which always finds receivers running head first into two or three defenders. Campbell's presence on the field with just his ability to throw the deep ball should go a long way towards keeping opposing defenses honest which will help all the other offensive players on the field.

To sum it up: Mark Brunell has been found out by opposing defenses.

3) Joe Gibbs' decision to keep Mark Brunell last year was vindicated by our post season run and thus we should honor his decision this year.

While I think Joe Gibbs is a marvelous coach and to a certain degree I agree with the above, reasonable observers to last year's success would place most of the success on the running game as well as our dominant defense, which has since escaped us. First I point to the games we clearly lost because of Mark Brunell: Giants the first time around and the Oakland Raiders embarrassment. The common denominator in both games was an inability to complete passes or throw down the field effectively. Against the Raiders Brunell had a pitiful 43.8% completion, zero touchdowns, and under 5 yards an attempt. Against the Giants he was even worse: 39.3% for 1 interception and 2.3 yards per attempt. The Oakland game was easily winnable, we lost 16-13. The Giants game might have been out of reach, but it's impossible to tell given such a horrid QB performance from Brunell.

Perhaps more telling are not the games we lost because of Brunell but the games we won in spite of him, since it is often claimed without evidence that Brunell was somehow responsible for our 10 wins. Cases in point: Chicago, Arizona, and @ Philadelphia. He was essentially a non-factor in Chicago, amassing an unimpressive 70 yards on 14 attempts (5 YPA). The Arizona game was even worse. Brunell had just 122 yards on 28 attempts and 3 interceptions in a barely winning effort. Against Philly he only completed 36% of his passes (25 attempts 9 completions) with an interception.

Even the biggest Brunell cheerleader would have to admit that he didn't lead us to victory in those games. In our 5 game win streak that would ultimately lead us to the post season, our stout defense held opponents to under 14 points a game. I would argue that our defense had much more to do with our post season than our quarterback last year.

Brunell's performance in the playoffs would support this assesment. We beat Tampa Bay in spite of his record setting 41 yards passing in a winning effort (with an interception). He barely managed a game against Tampa, but as soon as the defense failed to show up the following weak there wasn't anything Brunell could do about it and the Redskins went home.

4) Mark Brunell is a better decision maker and manages a game more effectively than a rookie QB could.

I'm not yet ready to unquestionably accept the "fact" that Brunell is a better decision maker than Campbell particularly since his decision making is one of the things I question. His frequent checkdowns, especially on third down, to receivers that are either not open or cannot possibly get to the first down are ending drives in the same way a costly interception would. Furthermore when he's been asked to win a game on his own, against Tennessee for instance, he throws the game ending interception. His 3 interceptions on 5 touchdowns isn't especially intimdating given that he has a tendency to wear down over the course of the season. He probably will not match the 23-10 touchdown to interception ratio he had last year.

Jason Campbell has a history of protecting the football in College and I believe is perfectly capable of "managing" a game when asked to do so. His ability to throw deep will keep defenses more honest, perhaps bolstering our run game slightly. Also, particularly on third downs, his ability to scramble and move about with the ball --and throw on the run-- are invaluable at maintaining drives. In my opinion, he can do everything Brunell can do and more.

Yet even if we accept the "fact" that Brunell is a better decision maker than our young QB, we can still reach the conclusion that the team is better off with a more talented QB who makes slightly worse decisions. A Game-Manager is a serviceable quarterback when you have a strong defense. The Redskins have consistently played poorly on that side of the ball throughout this season, and the return of Shawn Springs doesn't appear to have solved that. We cannot stop the run, which means opposing offenses can eat up clock and force us to beat them as opposed to the other way around. We give up huge plays in the passing game enabling opposing teams to grab a lead early on and, again, force us to actually beat them as opposed to waiting for the clock to run down.

Sacrificing a legitimate deep threat QB because he might make costly decisions so that we can retain an aging, increasingly immobile, check down dink-and-dump QB who might be a better decision maker is the worst kind of Faustian bargain. We've sacrificed costly mistakes for an inability to move the ball effectively. Combined with our currently lackluster defense, this strategy makes for an easily predictable failure.

With all of that in mind, I think it is time for us to abandon our current game strategy of signing game managing quarterbacks. We need to devote ourselves towards finding out if Jason Campbell is the future of this team. The sooner we can establish whether or not he has what it takes the better: if he isn't then we can move in a different direction rather than suffering another losing season needlessly, if he is then he will enable us to win now and perhaps carry us towards a playoff berth this season.

I'd love to hear your take on it, readers. Cheers.

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