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Investigating the Mark Brunell Enigma

Redskins fans high and low are questioning both sides of this football team. A formerly dominant defense is producing few turnovers and cannot stop opposing teams from marching effortlessly down the field. After relinquishing the lead we helplessly allow our opponents to pile up rushing yards.

Our offensive woes have probably not driven our record as much as our defensive ones, but they are more frustrating for fans. So many 3rd and longs failed because we throw check downs to short receivers combined with a complete unwillingness to throw the ball deep (or remain committed to the run) has many wondering what can be done. Our roster on offense is unquestionably talented with skill position stars like Clinton Portis, Santana Moss, and Chris Cooley. Combined with Antwaan Randle-El, Brandon Lloyd, and backup tailbacks Ladell Betts and TJ Duckett, and many wonder why this team struggles offensively at all.

I had proposed last week that our signal caller was the failure of this offense and that perhaps 1st round pick Jason Campbell should be given the opportunity to lead this offense. One of my main criticisms was that Mark Brunell had not made any throws that Campbell was incapable of making and that our dink-and-dunk, largely a product of Mark Brunell's hurried checkdowns to his backup receiving options, wasn't going to win us any games.

This has been argued elsewhere on message boards and columns and the common response is: But Mark Brunell is actually a great quarterback! Didn't you know that he is 9th in total yards and 11th in QB rating in the NFL?

I am shocked by those numbers. Anyone and everyone watching Redskins games knows that Brunell has been a let down thus far. So how do we account for these numbers? Are we just impatient for the rise of Jason Campbell or is there more to these stats than meets the eye?

As it turns out, there is.

Mentioned above was that our main criticism with Brunell is his short passing. Much of that QB rating is bolstered by the fact that he completes a high percentage of very easy passes to open receivers on short routes... who are quickly smothered on or near the line of scrimmage by 2-3 defenders. Much of that QB rating has to do with an overachieving Santana Moss breaking two big plays against Jacksonville. Despite all that, I still insisted that Mark Brunell just was not throwing the ball deep enough to keep defenses honest. They could crowd the line and dare Brunell to throw deep knowing full well he wouldn't even attempt to do so unless the situation was incredibly dire. I give you the evidence:

I wanted to compare statistically how many yards a player has in relation to how many Yards After the Catch they pick up from their receivers. Below please find the Quarterback with his Total Passing Yards - Yards After Catch = Total Yards Ball Passed in the Air on Completions.

  1. Donovan McNabb 2162 - 966 = 1196
  2. Jon Kitna 1853 - 926 = 927
  3. Peyton Manning 1620 - 480 = 1140
  4. Marc Bulger 1619 - 717 = 902
  5. Jake Delhomme 1581 - 560 = 1021
  6. Eli Manning 1518 - 463 = 1055
  7. Drew Brees 1509 - 809 = 700
  8. Brett Favre 1511 - 745 = 766
  9. Mark Brunell 1465 - 864 = 601
  10. Chad Pennington 1450 - 620 = 830
  11. Carson Palmer 1418 - 470 = 948
  12. Rex Grossman 1387 - 514 = 873
  13. Phillip Rivers 1330 - 497 = 833
  14. JP Losman 1314 - 601 = 713
  15. Brad Johnson 1299 - 560 = 739
  16. Alex Smith 1285 - 703 = 582
  17. Matt Hassleback 1249 - 406 = 843
  18. Tom Brady 1226 - 527 = 699
  19. David Carr 1217 - 614 = 603
  20. Charlie Frye 1188 - 625 = 563
  21. Drew Bledsoe 1164 - 444 = 720
A 9th overall ranking in total yards turns into (among the 21 I was willing to measure) a 19th overall -- in front of only Charlie Frye and Alex Smith.

Consider this as well. Brunell's 2nd favorite target on this team is Ladell Betts, who has 23 receptions to Santana Moss' 28 (followed by Cooley with 21 and ARE with 18). Ladell Betts has 193 yards this season but, amazingly has 215 yards after the catch meaning he's caught the ball more behind the line of scrimmage than he has in front of it.

This isn't all together troubling as that is the case with a number (by no means all) running backs. But it does tell a story that Redskins fans know all too well; on 3rd and long Brunell steps back... and dumps it to Betts behind the line of scrimmage. The result is a punt, and with Derrick Frost on duty this isn't that much better than a deep interception.

Mark Brunell has gotten nearly 60% of his passing yards after the catch, a higher percentage than any other qb listed above. Even the two with fewer yards traveled in the air, Frye and Smith, have lower percentages -- 53% and 55% respectively.

Yes Mark Brunell has a high completion % and yes he has a high QB rating. But no other qb listed above has benefitted more from his receivers than Brunell. And replacing Mark with Jason Campbell won't suddenly make these receivers forget how to run down the field after a catch.

In Washington our defense is the problem and Mark Brunell is not the answer. It is time we abandon our dink-and-dunk gameplan for a deep passing game that takes full advantage of our explosive offensive talent. A deeper passing game with a quarterback who can deliver the ball quickly and avoid pressure in the pocket is the only way we will put up the 30+ points a game necessary to win in this league opposite this defense. Given the amount of talent on this team there is absolutely no excuse for our mediocre production. The only reason we've been this good thus far is because our receivers, tight ends, and running backs have been over achieving against virtually all other units in the league. They deserve the quarterback of the future.