Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pryor acquisition must be an excuse for Seahawks to dump Jackson, rather than improve back-up QB position

Last season, the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks were second from the bottom in pass attempts, just three more than (who else) the San Francisco 49ers. They were also 26th and 30th respectively in passing yards gained. Although both teams were highly ranked in rushing offense, in total they were only 17th and 24th respectively in total offense. Both teams’ success was predicated on defense—ranked 1st and 3rd respectively, as well as among the league leaders in forced turnovers. 

That both teams managed to score points at all was indicative of the premium placed on limiting turnovers, which explains the emphasis on the ground game rather than passing. This also “explains” what for some is the Seahawks’ head-scratching acquisition of Oakland’s former starter, Terrelle Pryor, regardless of what its amusing press release on the subject says. The Seahawks traded for him in exchange for a 7th round pick, although they could have gotten him for nothing, since sources reported that Pryor was going to be cut on Monday anyways. Perhaps management wanted to show fans that he was “worth” something. 

Last season, Pryor was ranked 36th out of 37 quarterbacks (ahead of Geno Smith) in quarterback rating (69.1) for those who had the requisite number of pass attempts. Outside of two games in which he had 100+ ratings (against the 27th and 29th ranked passing defenses), Pryor had a 56.7 rating. Matt Flynn—who he “beat out” for the Oakland starting job—with 200 pass attempts had an 85.7 passer rating (I don’t put any stock in ESPN’s “total QBR” since unlike the traditional rating system, it relies too much not just on quantity but on subjective measures, and thus prone to the prejudices of the statistician). 

Although Flynn was the “presumed” starter heading into Oakland’s training camp last year—just as he was the previous year in Seattle—he somehow lost out to a quarterback who despite his 6-6 frame had just as “weak” an arm and even less accuracy. Pryor could, of course, run; my theory is that until NFL defenses can effectively “solve” the question of how to game plan against athletic quarterbacks with “happy feet,” some teams will continue to try to compensate for the lack of a "franchise" pocket passer with one that “confuses” defenses. But like a novice chess player whose “game” might confuse a competent player for awhile, the latter usually figures him out soon enough. 

Pryor will, of course, “compete,” but the question is with whom. Certainly not Russell Wilson; Pete Carroll risks losing the locker room with a move like that. No, this time it is poor Tarvaris Jackson. Jackson had by far his best season with Seattle in 2011, but he threw even fewer passes in 2012 (none) than Flynn (nine). Last season, Jackson played well in junk time against the worst team in the league (Jacksonville), while Flynn only arrived back in Green Bay in time to win enough games (including a 37-36 win over Dallas after trailing 26-3) to help the team somehow win the NFC North. 

Flynn made the smart move by re-signing with Green Bay, where he is regarded as a “hero” for saving at least the regular season; for Jackson, it is likely back on the road again, courtesy of a mediocre (but “athletic”) talent.

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