Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Grossman v. Griese

Welcome back. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. And, welcome back to where we started the season: Grossman v. Griese -- The Great Debate. I go away for a long weekend and all hell breaks loose on the local sports scene. We'll get to Big Ben and the Headbands, as well as the possible end of Hawk's man-crush on Joe Crede, but first things first.

After Sunday's loss to the Patriots, the argument that Brian Griese should replace Rex Grossman has gained substantial steam. In fact, it produced dueling columns, and a scary freakin' picture of Brirex Griesman in today's Sun-Times. Grossman has turned the ball over 15 times in his last 6 games. But before we anoint Griese, know that he too has thrown 30 picks in his last 20 games. So, who's it gonna be?

The argument for sticking with Grossman goes like this: the Bears' first priority should be to see if Grossman can play through his recent problems. Griese will still be there if he can't. Grossman has a strong arm, quick release, and good agility, which he should use more to his advantage. The ceiling on this kid is still pretty high -- Super Bowl winning high. Griese would be asked not to derail a run to the Super Bowl. Grossman can be asked to contribute to such a run. And, if he can't get his act together, then the Bears can turn to Griese, but they shouldn't rush to do so.

On the other hand, Griese supporters argue that allowing Grossman time to develop made sense before the Bears established themselves as the top team in the NFC. Now, however, the Bears need to do whatever makes the most sense to grab the window of opportunity that is presenting itself right now in a weak NFC. Griese has a reputation as a good decision maker and accurate thrower. And, Grossman has already thrown away his chance, and an inordinate number of footballs. The Bears have a viable alternative, so they should at least explore it. Grossman has gained valuable experience this year, and can remain the team's QB of the future, even if Griese needs to be their QB of the present. Plus, Grosmman has been getting worse as the year has gone on and teams have discovered the recipe to shut him down.

So, who's right? Grossman started the season hot, went through some terrible struggles, but now does seem to be making progress. He rebounded well in the second half of the Giants game. He was off, but minimized damage against the Jets. And, he started well, including some big completions against middle blitzes -- Grossman's nemesis -- against the Patriots. Then, he hurt his hand, his accuracy suffered, and his game went to pot. Grossman's picks against the Pats came when he had time to throw, and threw inaccurately. That's not good, but it's also not what has been plaguing Grossman for much of the year. His track record is that he is accurate when he has time. So, that may have been a one time, injury related, anomaly. I'm not even sure which way this cuts. Is it a good thing that Grossman is getting better against the blitz, and that his problems last Sunday were unrelated to his previous struggles? Or, is it a bad thing that Grossman threw three picks on a day when the opponent wasn't able to turn him into the "Bad Rex" we all fear?

There is no question Grossman is struggling. Maybe the answer to Grossman v. Griese lies in answering the question: how good is Griese? Let's start with a baseline. Before the Pats game, Grossman had completed 57% of his passes for 2133 yards. He had 18 touchdowns, 11 picks, and three lost fumbles. His Defense-Adjusted Points Above Replacement (DPAR), Football Outsiders' stat to measure a player's overall contribution, was 22.7, 16th in the NFL. His Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), which measures a player's contribution per play, was 3.0%, 17th in the NFL. Grossman is neither as good as he's been at his best, nor as bad as he's been at his worst, so let's consider Grossman's 22.7 and 3.0%, both of which are around league average for a starting QB, as a realistic measure of what Grossman can contribute from here on out.

Obviously, Griese hasn't played enough this year to tell us anything, but he does have a fairly lengthy career to analyze. Griese supporters point to his 5-1 record last season with Tampa before getting hurt. But Griese wasn't playing very well in that time. His 2.8 DPAR ranked 31st in the league, and his -9.5% DVOA ranked 30th. He had 1061 yards, seven touchdowns, and eight turnovers. Before anyone points out, "Yeah, but he was winning," so is Grossman. The Bears are 9-2.

So, were Griese's six games last year a rough patch, as we hope Grossman is going through, or indicative of his career? In 2004, also with the Bucs, Griese ranked 13th in DPAR and 11th in DVOA. He threw for 2460 yards, 20 touchdowns, and committed only 12 turnovers. Pretty good. In more limited action in 2003 for the Dolphins, Griese ranked 38th in DPAR and 42nd in DVOA. He threw five touchdowns and turned the ball over 10 times. Pretty terrible. In 2002, Griese was still with Denver, and ranked 15th in DPAR and DVOA. He threw for nearly 3000 yards and 15 touchdowns, but also turned the ball over 15 times. Eh. In 2001, Griese was 25th in DPAR and DVOA. He matched 23 touchdowns with 22 turnovers. Blech.

It's Griese's 2000 season that has his supporters so excited. Griese threw for 2500 yards and 18 touchdowns. He only turned the ball over seven times. His DPAR ranked 5th in the league, but his DVOA was 2nd because he did it playing in fewer games than the guys ahead of him. That's outstanding.

But what does that 2000 season mean? In five seasons since, during which Griese has repeatedly been given the opportunity to match his 2000 efficiency, he never has. Since that time, Griese has been inconsistent. His lows have been dismal, and his highs have been no better than Grossman is playing this year. Yes, he won games last season, but Grossman is winning games this season.

Grossman has struggled of late. But the viable alternative the Bears have is no sure thing. If I believed Griese could play like he played in 2000, then I'd say the Bears should hand him the job today. But the odds are much better than he plays like he played in 2002 or 2004, which is no better than Grossman is playing, or like he played in 2005, 2003, and 2001, which is considerably worse. That kind of mediocrity and risk doesn't inspire me to pull the plug on the guy I'm hoping is my team's QB of the future.


Blogger jamesmnordbergjr said...

Interesting thoughts, CA.

First, I honestly have a doubt Rex was injured in the game Sunday. His pride was hurt, he's heard the gripes, he sees the writing on the wall, and he panicked a little. Yeah, I think he faked it a little.

But I agree with sticking with him. Betting on a guy whose defining year was 2000 is like betting with Mush from A Bronx Tale.

5:26 AM  

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