YIKE: Passing Attack

Rex Grossman: My research into Grossman started back when the Bears were backing their way into the playoffs and people were jumping off the bandwagon so fast that the spokes were clogged with their bodies. At the time I was convinced that people were making too much of one player. I thought, could one player, even a QB, be enough to stop a team that had marauded through the regular season, had posted a +172 point differential and secured home field until the Super Bowl?

Surprisingly, the answer is probably yes. We'll soon see if the Hawks are the team to prove it.

The first thing I did was to pick a couple comparables, mediocre QBs who had led their team to a Super Bowl victory. Two easy names came to mind. The first and most recent was former Hawk Trent Dilfer. In 2000, Dilfer rode a strong special teams and an exceptional defense to a Super Bowl victory. He was credited for strong "game-management" and an exemplary ability to "not screw up".

The second was former Bear Jim McMahon. I thought McMahon made sense because he was another average QB who led a team with a great defense to a Super Bowl and also a Bear. Here's how they compare.

Name Pct. Yds. Avg. TD INT QB Rtg
McMahon 56.9 2392 7.6 15 11 82.65
Dilfer 59.1 1502 6.7 12 11 76.56
Grossman 54.6 3193 6.7 23 20 73.90

The first thing to note is that Grossman is the worst of the three. McMahon and Dilfer played fewer games because of injury and Tony Banks starting, respectively. Grossman is also playing in a friendlier period for QBs in general, thanks to the illegal touching rule implemented in 2005 and a recent emphasis on pass interference and roughing the passer penalties.

To put that into perspective, Dan Marino only posted an 84.0 QB rating for 1985. Peyton Manning's QB rating in 2000 was 94.7; his league leading rating for 2006: 100.95. So, yes, Grossman's rating is in fact worse than it looks. In fact, with the exception of Joe Namath and maybe Jeff Hostetler, Grossman would be the worst QB to ever win a Super Bowl.

The next thing I looked into was Grossman's supposed "Jekyll & Hyde" play. To do this I went through the play-by-play for every game of the Bear's season and looked for trends. Here is what I found: In weeks 1-5 Rex was a solid QB. His bomb throwing big play ability complimented a steady and productive run game. The key was that Grossman passed for a TD on 7 drives from outside their opponents fifty while recording only one interception and no fumbles. In other words, Grossman and the offense--and not the defense and special teams setting up great field position--were responsible for Chicago scoring.

But Hyde came back in a big way in week 6. Starting outside the 50, Grossman recorded three interceptions and two fumbles against the Cardinals. This set the trend. In weeks 6-13 Grossman recorded 12 interceptions and five fumbles vs. only four TDs when starting a drive outside the 50. This wasn't surprising, because one thing you didn't see much from the 2006 Bears is a sustained drive, but don't blame the offensive line or HBs who ranked 7th in the league at converting short yardage. In fact the Bears were less than 4 percentage points from second.

Weeks 14-16 saw the seeming return of the kindly Dr. Jekyll. Not surprisingly this corresponded with match-ups against St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Detroit whose pass D's ranked 25th, 27th and 30th respectively. Each of these teams feature a poor pass rush, but Detroit and St. Louis feature an even worse secondary.

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I theorize that Grossman is, in fact, a worse QB than his numbers suggest. The problem with QB rating is that when a quarterback throws a touchdown it doesn't matter if the defense intercepted the ball on the one yard line or the play was set up by a seventy yard run by the HB -- all that's recorded is that the QB threw a touchdown. Of Grossman's 23 TDs, seven were on drives that started within their opponents 50 and another nine were against bottom seven pass defenses (that includes San Francisco along with the previously mentioned ignoble three).

So what does this mean for the Hawks? The Hawks have the 11th best pass rush, but only the 23rd overall pass defense. Lofa Tatupu and Julian Peterson are good coverage LBs, so this points a big red arrow at the Hawks' secondary. Conventional wisdom will tell you that this becomes an even greater problem with injuries to our top two corners. However, Kelly Jennings and Jordan Babineaux both played well last week and it's not unreasonable to suggest either is an upgrade over the player they are replacing. I don't need to tell Hawk fans that Kelly Herndon is bad, but most people think Marcus Trufant is an excellent cover corner.

Unfortunately, for three years running the numbers don't support this. In 2004 Pro Football Prospectus inked the Hawks as 17th against #2 receivers, presumably Trufant's primary responsibility, and 31st against #1s. In 2005 FO started using game charting in an attempt to evaluate the things play-by-play and conventional statistics couldn't, like individual cornerback play. They published their findings in their 2006 annual. Trufant ranked an unremarkable 26th at stopping successful pass attempts. This year, however, Trufant's vaunted cover skills have fallen apart. Trufant is stopping just 40% of passes thrown to the receiver he's covering from being successful. That's the fifth worst in the league. In other words, whether rookie Jennings and scrub Babineaux are an improvement over the starters they replaced is uncertain, but the bar isn't set very high.

Chicago fans know it: Grossman can single-handedly lose the game for them on any given Sunday, and it scares them to death. What's even better for Hawk fans is that Brian Griese isn't any better.

Brian Griese: Griese was brought into Chicago as an insurance policy lest injury prone Rex should go down again. Why, I'll never be sure. Griese's best year was six years ago in 2000 with the Broncos, and it truly was a fine year. In ten games he posted a superlative 102.9 Qb rating. Since then he's bounced around, playing decently and sometimes working as a backup. In 2004, playing for Tampa Bay, Griese posted another excellent Qb rating: 97.5. Gruden's modified Walsh offense was a perfect fit for the weak armed but accurate Qb's son. Griese's 2005 performance earned him his walking papers, as his completion percentage, average yardage and TD/INT ratio plummeted. In limited action this year Griese has shown further decline, but it's not all his fault.

The reason I can't understand the Bears signing Griese is that he is a terrible fit in Ron Turner's downfield passing attack. Benching Grossman might mean fewer mistakes--emphasis on might--but it also means that the Bears cannot run much of their playbook. The Bears' second leading receiver Bernard Berrian (15.2 ypc) will be neutered, along with resurgent deep threat Desmond Clark (13.9 ypc). Couple that with a station to station running game and the Bears become largely without a big play threat.

. . .

The Bears' passing woes are such that I actually feel like the Hawks may have a better chance against them than they did against Dallas. Bears' fans, are you pissed? Hawk fans, are you excited? Good, than I've done my job.