What do Preseason Stats Mean? Yet Another Post on The Quarterback Debate


When I sat down to write an article today I told myself I was going to steer clear of the quarterback situation. I looked into other topics, I tried to stay away. I really did. Ultimately, I could not help myself. The quarterback competition is “the story” surrounding the Seahawks right now and it cannot be avoided. Discussion about this conundrum has become heated and frenzied, especially following Russell Wilson’s outstanding performance against Kansas City. Personally, I believe that Flynn should be given the opportunity to open the season as the starter and Russell Wilson should be brought along slowly. I understand people believing that course of action to be too conservative, and while I respect their point of view, I really do think it is too early to assume that Russell Wilson will be a star or even a viable starting quarterback based on a few preseason performances. In this article I will look at preseason passing leaders over the last five years to see how well their performances carried over to the regular season in an effort to decipher the significance of Russell Wilson’s extraordinary preseason. I will use passer rating as my tool of evaluation because, although it is imperfect, it gives an overall snapshot of quarterback performance and with smaller samples the leaderboards for counting stats like touchdowns are very clustered.

Preseason 2011- Top 5 Rated Quarterbacks*

1. Charlie Whitehurst (91.1)- I couldn’t make this stuff up. I think we all know the story here. Last year Whitehurst started two games, both of them losses, completing 48.2% of his passes with a single touchdown for a 62.9 Passer rating. Clearly his stellar work in the preseason did not continue into the regular season.

2. Stephen McGee (89.0)- McGee filled in for an injured Tony Romo in one game last year throwing for 182 yards and one touchdown for a solid, but unspectacular 83.2 Passer rating. An admirable performance for a backup QB but not one suggesting he will unseat Romo any time soon.

3. Greg McElroy (87.9)- I had never heard of McElroy before beginning to write this piece and I’m guessing you hadn’t either. He has never thrown an NFL pass.

4. Joe Flacco (82.7)- Flacco had arguably his worst year as a pro last year with career lows in completion percentage and yards per attempt. His Passer Rating of 80.9 was fairly similar to his preseason mark but his season was clearly a disappointment.

5. Matt Ryan (80.8)- Matt Ryan had possibly his best year last year setting career highs in touchdown passes (29) and Passer Rating (92.2). He is the only one on this leaderboard to exceed expectations over the course of the season.

Preseason 2010- Top Rated Quarterbacks

1. Luke McCown (99.2)- McCown went on to appear in one game with the Jaguars in 2010, throwing for 120 yards and a 76.6 rating. One should not forgot that McCown is an absolutely dreadful quarterback as demonstrated by the almost unfathomable 39.0 passer rating he managed when he opened the season as Jacksonville’s starter in 2011

2. Kyle Orton (95.4)- Despite the fact Denver was awful in 2010 Orton had a good year throwing 20 touchdowns compared with only 9 interceptions for a 87.5 rating. Although he didn’t match his preseason rating this was the best year of Orton’s career statistically.

3. Brian Hoyer (93.5)- We know very little about Hoyer who appeared in 5 games in 2010 primarily in mop up duty and produced 122 yards, one touchdown and a 69.3 passer rating. As long as Hoyer remains in New England we are very unlikely to know if he’s any good or not.

4. Joe Flacco (90.9)- Flacco makes his second appearance on the preseason leaderboards. This time he would go on to have a career year with his highest ever totals in yards (3622), touchdowns (25) and passer rating (93.6).

5. Rudy Carpenter (87.6)- Carpenter is another player I had never heard of who has not thrown a pass in the NFL.

Unfortunately some record keeping error at NFL.com has made the preseason passing stats for 2009 disappear, probably due to widespread conspiracy that goes all the way to the top of the United States government. That annoyingly breaks up the flow of our magical journey into the history of preseason passing leaders so I suppose I’ll cut things short. For the sake of brevity I will tell you that the three top rated quarterbacks in the 2008 preseason were David Carr, Brady Quinn and Dan Orlovsky. In 2007 they were Sage Rosenfels, Bruce Gradkowski and Gus Frerotte. I think you know where I’m going with this.

Russell Wilson has shown us some very exciting things in this preseason and after the win against Kansas City he has done so against first team defensive players. This does not mean nothing. However, it seems that there is virtually no correlation between preseason success and regular season success. So perhaps we need to take these performances with a grain of salt, or two, or five thousand. I’m not saying that Russell Wilson can’t or won’t be the starting quarterback for the Seahawks this year or in the future. I’m merely saying that we need to take a step back and have a little bit of perspective in terms of what he’s done so far. When Russell Wilson does what he’s doing now against NFL defenses during the regular season consistently then I will gladly hop aboard this bandwagon, until such time we need to keep our expectations within the realm of what is reasonable, especially for a rookie quarterback.

Before we get into the heated commentary that has permeated this site over the past few days I would like to point out that this article is not meant as an assault on Russell Wilson. If Wilson starts for Seattle in week one I will cheer for him with as much enthusiasm as any of the people out there calling for him to start. What people seem to forget is that both Russell Wilson and Matt Flynn are Seattle Seahawks and regardless of which one you would prefer to see start for your team they both deserve your support as a fan. Last time I checked this was a Seattle Seahawks blog not a Russell Wilson blog or a Matt Flynn blog. If someone wants to start one of those they should go ahead. Let’s not let our opinions on this quarterback situation cloud the fact that we all cheer for the Seahawks regardless of who plays where. I will support the Seahawks whether they put Russell Wilson at starting quarterback or third string defensive tackle (to be fair, he might be a bit short for that), and I hope you do as well.

*Quarterbacks had to have thrown 14 passes a game to qualify for the passer rating leaderboard