Kurt Warner has always seemed like a stand-up, good dude to me. Which is why it’s going to be painful to be so mean to him for the following paragraphs. Kurt, I know there’s a non-zero chance you’ll read this because for the last 24 hours or so you’ve been kind enough to your Seattle Seahawks fan detractors on Twitter to listen to and respond to their criticisms of the Russell Wilson take you had this week, so please take this with a grain of: I love ya buddy, but wow, you are wrong.
Not that you are alone, we know that a lot of former athletes seem to miss the mark on logical, statistical, analytical evidence against their wholesome and genuine beliefs on the game they played for so many years. Maybe the “rah rah” and “let’s go get ‘em” halftime speeches really do engrain an untamable thought that “intangibles” win out over all else, but I can’t operate in the same manner. No, I did not play the game for longer than a few plays in high school, but I know that Russell Wilson had a better week than Derek Carr. Let’s break it down.
What he said:
Warner ranked his top five quarterbacks of the week on NFL Network, giving the top spot to Patrick Mahomes after a 23-of-38, 295 yard, 4 TD, 0 INT performance against the awful Oakland Raiders, who as a team have 10 sacks on the season. As a team. That’s fewer sacks than seven individual players have this season. But while you’ll soon find out that “number of completions” and “number of missed completions” comes into play heavily for Warner, strength of opponent does not. At all. It’s weird because certainly over his 124 career games Warner preferred to face more opponents than others, but maybe not. Maybe as a player you learn to respect all defenses because you’ve learned just how hard it is to get to that level, but let’s be honest. It’s easier to make the Raiders defense than it is to make the Vikings defense. Or the Bears defense. In part, those guys are starters or professionals because someone had to do it.
But this is not about Mahomes. It’s not even that much about Carr. It’s about the opinion — the long held, unflinching, ridiculously overrated opinion — that completions and yards matter. It’s an opinion that Warner, the NFL’s 40th-leading passer in career yardage, still holds and probably will hold until he dies. And again, Warner, if you’re reading this ... give these other thoughts some consideration! Thank you for reading!
Philip Rivers was next: 26-of-36, 299 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT against the Pittsburgh Steelers
Tom Brady: 24-of-32, 311 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT against the Vikings
Dak Prescott: 24-of-28, 249 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT against the New Orleans Saints
Carr: 29-of-38, 285 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT against the Chiefs
Then there’s the game had by Wilson:
11-of-17, 185 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT against the San Francisco 49ers
Looking at it from this perspective, perhaps the oddest inclusion is that of Brady. It feels like we all know why Brady was included: lip service to the king. But we can also assume that Brady’s “completions” and “completion percentage” is also coming into play here because Warner says as much. He notes that an incompletion is a very bad thing in his mind, likely regardless of a drop, a throwaway to avoid a sack, which Wilson doesn’t really do, or the fact that sometimes incompletions just happen. One thing we do know is that Wilson only completed 11 passes because he only attempted 17, and he only attempted 17 because the 49ers are awful and the Seahawks are not. It harkens back to the days of yore (2012-2014 mostly) with regards to criticisms of Wilson:
“Russell Wilson would be better if the players around him were worse.”
Kurt Warner and others can claim that this not what they believe, but it would be hard for them to argue that they don’t want Wilson to “throw more” because that’s explicitly what they are saying.
Haha - if u say - u have to watch whole game, situation of game, how D plays, what throws they make/miss throughout... & once again when up huge & throw 17x it’s easier to be efficient! A lot goes into this - Carr only missed 9 of 38 throws (pretty efficient) & brought team back!— Kurt Warner (@kurt13warner) December 7, 2018
I went back and watched thinking maybe I missed something... now u go watch every throw & tell me that was a great performance!!! Love to talk it through - he made 4 great throws - he missed some he should make & most were short throws (within 5 yrds of LOS)! That’s why no Top5— Kurt Warner (@kurt13warner) December 7, 2018
Not even sure what that means TD/att???— Kurt Warner (@kurt13warner) December 7, 2018
But Wilson would only have to “throw more” if Seattle was a worse team and needed him to do so. Throwing more almost always = Worse team. We know this. Take the top seven passers in terms of attempts this season and these are their team records:
Ben Roethlisberger is first in attempts and the Steelers are in first place in the AFC North (barely) but he’s also 0-3 in his most-attempts games this season, including a loss to the Chiefs when he had 60 throws and a loss to the Broncos when he had 56. Teams are in trouble when their QBs are throwing it more than 40 times. Even more than 30 times, often. Pittsburgh is also 4-0 when Roethlisberger throws it less than 40 times.
Yet over and over we hear things from analysts like “Me likey da yards” and “Me go yum yum when me see completions.” It just doesn’t make any logical sense if we’re talking about successful, winning football. Even Mahomes, the NFL’s likely MVP, and a hair off from leading the league in yardage as it were, is just eight in pass attempts; He’s got 22 fewer yards than Ben on 88 fewer attempts than Ben. You know what they call that, Kurt? For your number one QB? Efficiency!
You like Mahomes? Guess what: his “TD/att” of 9.6% is one of the all-time great figures and you actually do like him for it. Wilson’s is 8.9% and is also one of the all-time great rates in that category. It’s a good thing! But Wilson has passed it 103 fewer times than Mahomes. Why? Part of that is scheme, offensive design, and a heavier commitment to running the football: Seattle is 1st in attempts, Kansas City is 20th. But there’s another reason: the Chiefs defense is ...
NO GOOD DAY.
They are 32nd in passing yards allowed, and teams can throw on them time and time again because of a lack of defensive talent. The Seahawks don't have anything near the defense they once had, but they’re still roughly league average across the board, if not a little better. Kansas City also ranks 32nd in rush defense by DVOA but admittedly are 13th against the pass in that same category. It gives a little more street cred to Carr for his game last week, but let’s also evaluate the situation:
The Chiefs led 13-0 in the second quarter, 26-10 in the third quarter, and 33-16 in the fourth quarter. Carr hadn’t scored a touchdown until his team was already down 16 points and it came against a known “shootout” team that is 28th in points per drive allowed.
Warner says, “Hey, I re-watched Wilson’s game and decided it still wasn’t that good” (mind you, Warner does NOT say that Wilson played well but just got outplayed, he says that it was not a great week for QBs in general and that it wasn’t one of Wilson’s best games) but did he take any time to re-evaluate his decisions for Carr or Brady? I doubt it. Otherwise, what would Warner’s reply be to a second look at Carr’s game?
He didn’t complete a touchdown when his team was down 13-0 at the end of the second half and deep in KC territory. He didn’t get them into the end zone at the start of the second half when they got into KC territory. They didn’t call a play for Carr on a two-point conversion in the third quarter. His second touchdown was a one-yarder. And he had few plays with a positive EPA (expected points added) because the Raiders were playing from two scores down for virtually the entire game. Is this because Oakland’s defense is bad? Yes. It is also because Oakland’s QB and offense is bad.
Warner, as a Hall of Fame QB, surely knows the value of a QB. I think. (Why am I creating an enemy out of one of the nicest guys in the game-oh who am I kidding he’s not actually going to read this.) But if you are reading this, keep this in mind for the next top-5:
In Kurt Warner’s 21 career games with at least 45 pass attempts, his teams are 4-17. He throws 2.3 interceptions per game in these contests. Only twice did he post a passer rating above 100. (As fate has it, Warner also threw 45 attempts in his one and only Super Bowl win.) But he surely knows that he was better when he didn’t have to complete 25 passes.
Warner, what’s your grade for September 24, 2000 against the Atlanta Falcons, a 41-20 win in which you went 12-of-19 for 336 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception? Or November 22, 2009, when you threw 19 passes and completed 15 of them against your former team, gaining 203 yards with two touchdowns and no picks in a victory? You actually were efficient sometimes. You’re pretty much nothing like Russell Wilson though and maybe that’s what offends many of the older analysts. I don’t think that Warner has anything against Wilson and he ranked him 5th in MVP voting last season. Wilson was number four on Warner’s list just a week ago:
So let’s not unleash the hounds on Warner just yet. He’s not biased against Wilson. He’s not crazy. I think this is purely about an overrating of completions and yards. When he ranked Wilson 4th, he didn’t have Drew Brees in the top five after a 4-touchdown performance against the Falcons. “He only threw for like 170 yards” said Warner. He doesn’t care about efficiency, he cares about yards. Yards come way of attempts and completions, and attempts come way of necessity.
Kurt, you and Wilson are both great for various reasons. In fact in my seven years of writing about Wilson, you come up often. Only a few QBs in NFL history have been as good as soon as Wilson and Warner were good. Only a few won Super Bowls that early in their careers. But Wilson doesn’t play the game like Warner did. He’s in many ways his own breed. And he, like most any other QB, is better when his team is better.
Don’t downgrade him because he’s got good coaches and teammates and Derek Carr doesn’t. Upgrade him — and ALL QBs — for making the most out of the meal they are given.