clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

You don’t need a superhero quarterback to win in the playoffs

Is it helpful? Of course. Mandatory? Nah.

Syndication: The Enquirer Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

In the spirit of Let’s Remember Some Guys, let’s remember some Internet:

Remember when Paris Hilton fixed poverty?

That’s what people sound like when they say, “If I were the Patriots I would simply move on and draft a quarterback with a laser rocket arm that can throw a 70-yard frozen rope on the move and also runs a 4.6 and just so happens to be built like prime Gronk”.

(Like, if you want to move on from Mac Jones and don’t think he’s The Guy, that’s fine. But let’s not act like prime Big Bens and Donovan McNabbs and Josh Allens and and Mike Vicks are one of those commodities you can pick up on your next Costco run)

Going into the divisional round of the playoffs this season, if you were only given a list of the starting quarterbacks, you’d think every game was a chalk pick.

Trevor Lawrence vs. Patrick Mahomes? Let’s not laugh too hard.

Daniel Jones vs. Jalen Hurts? Whatever you think of Jalen Hurts, he is unequivocally better at playing quarterback, and probably most other football things, than Daniel Jones. Don’t let Jones’ fantasy points fool you.

Joe Burrow vs. Josh Allen? Heavyweight fight but surely Playoff Josh will be there.

Dak Prescott vs. Brock Purdy? Two-time Pro Bowler vs. Mr Irrelevant. Self-explanatory.

And yet, if you had done your picks that way, you’d have gone 2-for-4.

(yes, yes, quarterbacks don’t play against each other like Giannis and LeBron, but when you’re overwhelmingly responsible for your team’s ability or lack thereof to score points, it’s more than fair to attribute the team’s success to the passer accordingly)

Before we go any farther, this isn’t about having the umpteenth steel cage match on whether or not Mac Jones is the quarterback for the next 10 years or not. If you all want to hash that out in the comments, be my guest. I’m far more interested in the general premise that an average-to-pretty-decent quarterback, if they do their job, is more than capable of leading their squad deep into the playoffs. Maybe even win a Super Bowl or two. But playoff success, first and foremost, specifically in the context of the way we play football these days.

Let’s focus on the latter two QBs in the previous scoreboard, because like we implied earlier, only a Florida Man would’ve said Trevor Lawrence and the Jags had a prayer against the mighty Chiefs, and the Giants probably should’ve been playing golf by now, if not for Brian Daboll’s witchcraft and wizardry.

So, how did all the QBs on the winning side of the upsets get it done? Surely Brock Purdy just dinked and dunked his way down the field and let his BAMFs at (checks notes) pretty much every skill position on the 49ers do all the work, while Joe Burrow put on a laser show en route to the Bengals’ three-score punking of the Bills, in Orchard Park no less?

Not quite. While Joe Burrow certainly has a knack for making all the throws look easy and processing 22 dudes’ worth of chaos with the speed of a Terminator, and Brock Purdy fluctuates wildly between looking relatively in-control and Street Fighter button-mashing, the tale the numbers and end results tell is surprisingly similar.

Burrow ended his day going 23-for-36 for 242 yards, two touchdowns, and crucially, only took one sack and kept the football safe, avoiding a single interception or fumble.

Purdy, meanwhile, went 19-for-29 for 214 yards, and didn’t throw a touchdown, but only took two sacks and also kept the turnover column clean. No picks, no fumbles.

Those are completion percentages of 63.8 and 65.5, respectively.

How about whether either guy was bombing it down the field or just checking it down? We all know the Captain America QBs always sling it deep and the boring JAGs always just throw for the sticks, right? Playing quarterback is all about how well you execute Da Bomb play from Blitz, everyone knows that!

(yes, heavy sarcasm intended)

Turns out, both guys look shockingly similar in a blind taste-test there as well. You know those people at the tailgate that swear they can tell the difference between Bud Light, Coors Light, and Miller Lite blindfolded? Have them try this one on for size:

  • QB1: 249 Intended Air Yards, and 138 yards after the catch that his skill players racked up for him.
  • QB2: 218 Intended Air Yards, and 83 yards after the catch from the receivers, backs and tight ends.

(For those who don’t regularly nerd out on Pro Football Reference, Intended Air Yards means what it sounds like; it’s the yards the ball travels in the air on every pass attempt, whether they’re actually caught or not)

Keep our sarcasm about how great QBs are measured by always throwing it deep in mind: QB1 above is Joe Burrow, and QB2 is Brock Purdy. Burrow’s guys actually helped him out significantly more after the catch than the 49ers’ pass-catchers. Put another way, Brock’s guys got him 4.4 yards after the catch per completed pass, while Joe Burrow’s guys — who were probably all rockstars on your fantasy team — got a svelte 6.0 yards after the catch per completion.

At the risk of getting too far into narratives about QBs and systems like Kyle Shanahan’s, aren’t we told that the Bengals are frequently hucking go-balls to their uber-talented duo of beast receivers, while the 49ers prefer to get the ball to their playmakers in space and let them make hay with the ball in their hands?

The point here isn’t to diminish Joe Burrow, or to talk up Brock Purdy as (barf) The Next Tom Brady. The point is that, for all the time we as football fans spend awestruck at the And-1 mixtape throws that Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers and Justin Herbert and (insert QB of the week here) can conjure out of thin air, once you get to the postseason, physical ability and superhuman strength quite frequently take a backseat to smart, efficient quarterbacking. All the old Football Guy cliches still apply. Take care of the football. Take what the defense gives you. Don’t force throws that aren’t there. Be aggressive when you get the looks you like, and don’t be a hero when you realize you’re screwed as soon as the ball is snapped.

In the meantime, let’s not act like it’s not even worth gunning for a Super Bowl unless you have a Madden created player at quarterback. If that was actually the case, the 49ers probably would have tanked out for draft position the minute Trey Lance broke his ankle in Week 2. If that was actually the case, the Bengals probably wouldn’t have even bothered drafting Joe Burrow — who, for all his widely-recognized bad-assery now, was criticized by NFL scouts and draft analysts as “below-average arm strength and average release quickness” and “doesn’t offer much in terms of athleticism”.

If it was actually true that the baddest, most athletically gifted, most made-for-TikTok quarterbacks were a guaranteed W, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen would be splitting half a dozen Super Bowls between them, not to mention Justin Herbert crashing the party.

This year’s playoffs have given us some incredible games, and hopefully a lesson or two in how having a god among men at QB isn’t everything. Honestly, as amazing as all the freak athletes playing the game of football are these days, it kind of brings to mind another old Belichick-ism; the more situations a team can master, the better chance they have to win any given Sunday.

Don’t laugh too hard. You think the Chargers wouldn’t do unholy things for a coach that understands how to even play the most replacement-level situational football?

Enjoy seeing the NFL’s best duke it out this weekend, and in the meantime, let’s keep in mind that just because the Patriots don’t have Patrick Mahomes doesn’t mean the 2023 season is over before it even starts.