DraftHistory.com

Backup Quarterbacks Rarely Fail to Disappoint

By Chris Malumphy

What happens when NFL teams have to resort to using their back up quarterbacks? It should be obvious that it is rarely likely to be good. It already appears as if the seasons of at least three expected playoff contenders, including one with strong Super Bowl hopes, have been ruined by injuries to their starting quarterbacks and the inadequacies of their backups. Thus, I was extremely surprised when the New England Patriots traded not one, but two highly regarded backups after the season began while pursuing a sixth Super Bowl “despite” needing to rely on a 40-year-old quarterback, even if he is Tom Brady, perhaps the greatest quarterback of all-time.

To see how teams fare when led by backups, I identified every game through week 12 this season in which the quarterback who threw the most passes for a team was different than the one who had the most attempts on opening day. While the methodology is not without its anomalies, it does show the downside of moving on to a back up quarterback whether it is due to necessity caused by injury, the poor play of the starter, or the development (sometimes unrealized) of the quarterback in waiting.

Except for the Vikings, the Results are Not Pretty

Backup quarterbacks have been their team’s primary passer in 63 games thus far in 2017. The results are not pretty: 20 wins, 43 losses for .317 pct. But that’s not really a very accurate picture for the typical team. The Vikings Case Keenum, who replaced the injured Sam Bradford, Minnesota’s original 2017 starter, has eight victories and just 2 losses. So excluding the Vikings, teams that have had to rely on a backup quarterback are 12–41 for .226 pct. which equates to about a 4–12 record over a full 16-game season. But for many teams it is even worse than that since more than half of remaining victories went to three teams: Cardinals (2–2), Bears (2–5) and Colts (3–7) for a combined 7–14, .333 pct. The 49ers (1–5), Broncos (0–3); Browns (0–2), Buccaneers (1–3), Dolphins (1–3), Packers (1–5), Raiders (0–1), Texans (1–3), and Titans (0–2) are a combined 5–27 for .156 pct.

Oh, and using a backup quarterback is even worse than that since my methodology excludes games started by a backup quarterback in which they screw up so much that the “starter” is put into the game and ends up throwing more passes. This has happened at least three times: 1) when the Browns started Cody Kessler and then replaced him mid-game with DeShone Kizer; 2) when the Bills thought it was time to see if Nathan Peterman was any better than Tyrod Taylor and five first half interceptions proved he wasn’t; and 3) this past weekend when backup Paxton Lynch got the start but was replaced by Trevor Siemian. These three games might rightfully be included as additional losses for backup quarterbacks.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers began the year with Brian Hoyer behind center. Although he didn’t play all that poorly, he couldn’t lead the team to victory, and lost the job to rookie C.J. Beathard, a third round draft pick, who has gone 1–5 in the games in which he has attempted the most passes for his team. Hoyer was then released in what some consider as “part of” the trade with the Patriots for Jimmy Garappolo.

Chicago Bears

Mike Glennon began the year as the stop-gap starter for the Bears while Mitch Trubitsky, the second pick in the 2017 draft, gained his bearings. It didn’t take long for the Bears to push Glennon aside but Chicago has only gone 2–5 since then and in one of those victories Trubitsky and the Bears threw only seven passes.

Denver Broncos

The Broncos are in the midst of a seven game losing streak. In an attempt to stop the death spiral, the Broncos moved on from their original starter Trevor Siemian, first to Brock Osweiler and then to Paxton Lynch. Osweiler lost three games. Lynch couldn’t last more than 14 pass attempts before the team reverted to Siemian again. Although Lynch completed 9 of his 14 passes (64.3%), his meager 41 yards passing combine with an interception and 23 yards lost on four sacks resulted in an average net yards per attempt of -1.5 (that’s going backwards folks) and a 38.4 passing rating. Siemian replaced Lynch early enough in the game to surpass him in attempts which avoided adding a loss to the backup quarterback totals.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns have the worst quarterback situation in the league and decided that they might as well start 2nd round draft choice DeShone Kizer from game one. Kizer has been benched three times. Both Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler have gotten starts, but Kessler got knocked out early and was replaced by Kizer. Nothing has helped the Browns who have lost their first 11 games.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers have had to deal with the injury and the off-field problems of Jameis Winston. Backup Ryan Fitzpatrick has not yet self-destructed on the field as he did a year ago for the Jets, but the Bucs are only 1–3 when he leads the team.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals are a surprising 2–2 without quarterback Carson Palmer, getting a victory from both backups: Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert. Still, without Palmer, the odds are definitely against the Cardinals making the playoffs.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts had hope that Andrew Luck would be ready by the beginning of the season. When he wasn’t, they still had hope that he would be back in time to get them into playoff contention. Turns out that he might not play at all in 2017. It took only a week for Indianapolis to realize that Scott Tolzien was not the answer and the team pulled a startling trade landing Jacoby Brissett from New England. Brissett has shown promise, but likely many quarterbacks who play behind weak lines, especially mobile quarterbacks who like to run, he takes an inordinate number of sacks. The Colts are 3–7 behind Brissett. It is likely the Colts would have been much worse behind Tolzien.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins were hit hard when Ryan Tannehill was re-injured during the preseason. In hopes of returning to the playoffs, the team decided to lure Jay Cutler out of retirement rather than turn the reigns over to backup Matt Moore. But Cutler succumbed to injuries too and the Dolphins have gone 1–3 with Moore as the primary passer.

Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Packers have gone from a solid Super Bowl contender to an also-ran due to the injury to Aaron Rodgers. Brett Hundley has not been the answer, appearing extremely shaky in most of the games during his 1–5 string. With a 5–6 record and Hundley’s decent showing in a loss to the Steelers, the Packers may be on life-support but they are not out of it yet.

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders had to use EJ Manuel in place of Derek Carr against the Ravens and predictably lost. Even though Oakland’s season has been terribly disappointing, a victory in that game would now have the Raiders tied for first in the AFC West with the Chiefs.

Houston Texans

The Texans pose a problem to the methodology being used here. Tom Savage was the opening day starter, but he played so poorly that he was benched at the half by rookie Deshaun Watson, who actually finished with more passes in the game which made him the designated “starter” for this analysis. The Texans are 1–3 in games in which Savage has thrown the most passes and 3–4 under Watson. Whichever quarterback is considered the starter, the team has lost more than they’ve one, although Watson’s future seems brighter by far. With Watson, the Texans were beginning to look like strong playoff contenders. Not so much now.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans have not fared well when Marcus Mariota has been sidelined going 0–2 in games in which Matt Cassel has thrown more or as many passes as Mariota. With a 7–4 record overall and Mariota back behind center, it appears the Titans are playoff bound.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings have been snake bit the past two seasons losing starting quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater to injury during the 2016 preseason and Sam Bradford in the 2017 opener. But the play of backup Case Keenum has been a very pleasant surprise and has resulted in eight wins and just two losses placing keeping Minnesota at the top of the NFC Central Division.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs are in a rut. After the first five games, the Chiefs looked like they’d join the Patriots as the teams to beat in the AFC. Now they’ve lost five of the last six, including three in a row. Injuries have played a big part, but the quarterback position has been spared. Injuries to safety Eric Berry, wide receiver Gene Conley, running back Spencer Ware and others have hurt, but many are placing blame on quarterback Alex Smith. Smith has been a whipping boy for both the 49ers and the Chiefs for many years, despite an examplary win-loss record for the past several years. Smith’s strong suits are his accuracy and ability to protect the ball. Early in the year, Smith appeared to be on the verge of a breakout season, getting the ball down the field to wide receivers better than ever. In recent weeks, however, he has reverted to past form and the ball seems to be finding its way into the hands of opponents more than usual. Many are calling for coach Andy Reid to put rookie Patrick Mahomes behind center. Supposedly, Mahomes has been doing fantastic things in practice since joining the team. But the Chiefs are 6–5 and in first place. Reid has always been somewhat conservative in making quarterback changes. All it takes is a look at the Buffalo Bills to see why.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills do not have a game in which a backup quarterback threw more passes than the season “starter.” Not that they didn’t try. Bills fans are tired of missing the playoffs. Many also seem to be tired of quarterback Tyrod Taylor who tends to play conservative small ball even more than the Chiefs’ Alex Smith, despite the fact that Taylor has led the team to a 6–4 record in the games he has started this season. Those fans, and apparently the front office as well, don’t believe Taylor is the long term answer at quarterback. After getting off to a 5–4 start, the Bills thought they’d turn the reigns of the team over to rookie Nathan Peterman who has the bigger arm. It only took half a game, and Peterman’s five interceptions, before Taylor regained his job in hopes of keeping Buffalo in the playoff hunt.

New England Patriots

Bill Belichick and the Patriots took an enormous chance when they traded both of the backups. I had genuinely assumed that New England would hold onto Jimmy Garoppolo, particularly after they traded Jacoby Brissett, to ensure having a tested backup in case even a minor dinger knocked Tom Brady out of a game for even a few plays. A team with the sole goal of adding another Super Bowl victory wouldn’t, in my mind, put even one play at risk, let alone the future. I not only thought the Pats would keep Garoppolo through this season but that they would place the franchise tag on him next season and eventually sign him to a long-term deal, not believing that Brady will be playing until he’s 45 like he hopes. So much for that. Still a very, very risky moves for trading both backups. Having Brian Hoyer helps, but he has shown his limitations and hasn’t played in the Patriots’ system for several seasons.

Backup QB Games
49ers
Brian Hoyer
WeekNameOppAttCPctYdsYds
Att
Yds
Comp
TDPct
TD
IntPct
Int
SacksYds
Lost
Pct
Sacked
RatingANY/AOutcomeScore
6C.J. BeathardRedskins361952.82456.812.912.812.82195.372.15.3LL 24 - 26
7C.J. BeathardCowboys382257.92356.210.700.000.054811.676.14.4LL 10 - 40
8C.J. BeathardEagles361747.21674.69.812.825.642310.046.91.8LL 10 - 33
9C.J. BeathardCardinals512447.12945.812.200.012.05288.957.14.0LL 10 - 20
10C.J. BeathardGiants251976.028811.515.228.014.0000.0123.411.3WW 31 - 21
12C.J. BeathardSeahawks382257.92015.39.100.012.63237.361.43.2LL 13 - 24
Bears
Mike Glennon
WeekNameOppAttCPctYdsYds
Att
Yds
Comp
TDPct
TD
IntPct
Int
SacksYds
Lost
Pct
Sacked
RatingANY/AOutcomeScore
5Mitch TrubiskyVikings251248.01285.110.714.014.0173.860.13.7LL 17 - 20
6Mitch TrubiskyRavens16850.01137.114.116.200.042320.094.05.5WW 27 - 24
7Mitch TrubiskyPanthers7457.110715.326.800.000.042236.4101.87.7WW 17 - 3
8Mitch TrubiskySaints321443.81645.111.700.013.12145.946.93.1LL 12 - 20
10Mitch TrubiskyPackers352160.02978.514.112.900.052912.597.07.2LL 16 - 23
11Mitch TrubiskyLions301860.01796.09.913.300.0133.288.16.3LL 24 - 27
12Mitch TrubiskyEagles331751.51474.58.600.026.12135.738.31.3LL 3 - 31
Broncos
Trevor Siemian
WeekNameOppAttCPctYdsYds
Att
Yds
Comp
TDPct
TD
IntPct
Int
SacksYds
Lost
Pct
Sacked
RatingANY/AOutcomeScore
9Brock OsweilerEagles381950.02085.510.912.625.33177.353.43.0LL 23 - 51
10Brock OsweilerPatriots331854.52216.712.313.013.0000.072.95.9LL 16 - 41
11Brock OsweilerBengals422354.82546.011.012.412.43256.770.94.5LL 17 - 20
Browns
DeShone Kizer
WeekNameOppAttCPctYdsYds
Att
Yds
Comp
TDPct
TD
IntPct
Int
SacksYds
Lost
Pct
Sacked
RatingANY/AOutcomeScore
5Kevin HoganJets191684.219410.212.1210.515.3000.0122.410.0LL 14 - 17
6Kevin HoganTexans372054.11403.87.012.738.14279.838.1-0.0LL 17 - 33
Buccaneers
Jameis Winston
WeekNameOppAttCPctYdsYds
Att
Yds
Comp
TDPct
TD
IntPct
Int
SacksYds
Lost
Pct
Sacked
RatingANY/AOutcomeScore
6Ryan FitzpatrickCardinals322268.82909.113.239.426.2153.0102.37.7LL 33 - 38
9Ryan FitzpatrickSaints15853.3684.58.516.700.021011.887.64.6LL 10 - 30
11Ryan FitzpatrickDolphins372259.52757.412.525.400.0172.6100.68.1WW 30 - 20
12Ryan FitzpatrickFalcons442761.42836.410.500.000.0142.280.06.2LL 20 - 34
Cardinals
Carson Palmer
WeekNameOppAttCPctYdsYds
Att
Yds
Comp
TDPct
TD
IntPct
Int
SacksYds
Lost
Pct
Sacked
RatingANY/AOutcomeScore
9Drew Stanton49ers301550.02016.713.426.713.3000.080.06.5WW 20 - 10
10Drew StantonSeahawks472451.12735.811.412.100.02174.175.95.6LL 16 - 22
11Blaine GabbertTexans342264.72577.611.738.825.92135.692.45.9LL 21 - 31
12Blaine GabbertJaguars382257.92416.311.025.312.6152.683.35.9WW 27 - 24
Colts
Scott Tolzien
WeekNameOppAttCPctYdsYds
Att
Yds
Comp
TDPct
TD
IntPct
Int
SacksYds
Lost
Pct
Sacked
RatingANY/AOutcomeScore
2Jacoby BrissettCardinals372054.12165.810.800.012.74269.860.23.5LL 13 - 16
3Jacoby BrissettBrowns241770.825910.815.214.200.031611.1120.09.7WW 31 - 28
4Jacoby BrissettSeahawks291655.21575.49.813.413.43189.467.73.6LL 18 - 46
5Jacoby Brissett49ers342264.73149.214.300.012.942610.582.26.4WW 26 - 23
6Jacoby BrissettTitans372156.82125.710.112.700.0000.082.36.3LL 22 - 36
7Jacoby BrissettJaguars372259.52005.49.100.000.0106421.374.22.9LL 0 - 27
8Jacoby BrissettBengals392564.12336.09.325.112.64179.386.84.9LL 23 - 24
9Jacoby BrissettTexans302066.730810.315.426.700.03299.1122.69.7WW 20 - 14
10Jacoby BrissettSteelers241458.32229.215.928.314.232611.199.77.1LL 17 - 20
12Jacoby BrissettTitans291758.61966.811.500.000.083121.679.14.5LL 16 - 20
Dolphins
Jay Cutler
WeekNameOppAttCPctYdsYds
Att
Yds
Comp
TDPct
TD
IntPct
Int
SacksYds
Lost
Pct
Sacked
RatingANY/AOutcomeScore
7Matt MooreJets211361.91889.014.529.514.8194.5102.97.9WW 31 - 28
8Matt MooreRavens442556.81764.07.000.024.53256.447.21.3LL 0 - 40
11Matt MooreBuccaneers281760.728210.116.613.600.0103.4106.510.4LL 20 - 30
12Matt MoorePatriots342367.62156.39.312.925.976117.170.12.0LL 17 - 35
Packers
Aaron Rodgers
WeekNameOppAttCPctYdsYds
Att
Yds
Comp
TDPct
TD
IntPct
Int
SacksYds
Lost
Pct
Sacked
RatingANY/AOutcomeScore
6Brett HundleyVikings331854.51574.88.713.039.142010.839.60.6LL 10 - 23
7Brett HundleySaints251248.0873.57.200.014.0183.839.91.3LL 17 - 26
9Brett HundleyLions382668.42456.49.400.000.03127.386.05.7LL 17 - 30
10Brett HundleyBears251872.02128.511.814.000.033010.7110.77.2WW 23 - 16
11Brett HundleyRavens362158.32396.611.400.038.364914.343.61.3LL 0 - 23
12Brett HundleySteelers261765.42459.414.4311.500.041813.3134.39.6LL 28 - 31
Raiders
Derek Carr
WeekNameOppAttCPctYdsYds
Att
Yds
Comp
TDPct
TD
IntPct
Int
SacksYds
Lost
Pct
Sacked
RatingANY/AOutcomeScore
5EJ ManuelRavens261350.01596.112.213.800.032210.382.15.4LL 17 - 30
Texans
Deshaun Watson
WeekNameOppAttCPctYdsYds
Att
Yds
Comp
TDPct
TD
IntPct
Int
SacksYds
Lost
Pct
Sacked
RatingANY/AOutcomeScore
9Tom SavageColts441943.22195.011.512.300.02254.366.44.6LL 14 - 20
10Tom SavageRams361850.02216.112.312.825.63277.755.43.2LL 7 - 33
11Tom SavageCardinals322268.82307.210.526.213.1173.097.16.6WW 31 - 21
12Tom SavageRavens372259.52526.811.500.025.42155.157.53.8LL 16 - 23
Titans
Marcus Mariota
WeekNameOppAttCPctYdsYds
Att
Yds
Comp
TDPct
TD
IntPct
Int
SacksYds
Lost
Pct
Sacked
RatingANY/AOutcomeScore
4Matt CasselTexans10440.0212.15.200.0220.02816.78.3-6.4LL 14 - 57
5Matt CasselDolphins322165.61414.46.713.100.062215.885.53.7LL 10 - 16
Vikings
Sam Bradford
WeekNameOppAttCPctYdsYds
Att
Yds
Comp
TDPct
TD
IntPct
Int
SacksYds
Lost
Pct
Sacked
RatingANY/AOutcomeScore
2Case KeenumSteelers372054.11674.58.300.000.02215.165.93.7LL 9 - 26
3Case KeenumBuccaneers332575.836911.214.839.100.0000.0142.113.0WW 34 - 17
4Case KeenumLions301653.32197.313.700.000.02226.376.96.2LL 7 - 14
5Case KeenumBears211781.01406.78.214.800.0000.0110.37.6WW 20 - 17
6Case KeenumPackers382463.22396.310.012.612.6000.078.75.6WW 23 - 10
7Case KeenumRavens312064.51886.19.400.013.2000.067.74.6WW 24 - 16
8Case KeenumBrowns432762.82886.710.724.712.3112.388.16.4WW 33 - 16
10Case KeenumRedskins292172.430410.514.5413.826.9000.0117.010.1WW 38 - 30
11Case KeenumRams382771.12807.410.412.600.0000.0100.87.9WW 24 - 7
12Case KeenumLions302170.02829.413.426.700.02106.3121.89.8WW 30 - 23

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