The Washington Redskins ability to stay mediocre is staggering. Jay Gruden, aside from his 4-12 debut as head coach in 2014, has a 31-32-1 record over the past four years and my colleague (and lunch BFF) Dan Steinberg has devoted many pixels to documenting the team’s remarkable ability to gravitate towards the .500 mark.
Starter Alex Smith suffered a season-ending leg injury in Week 11 and it is uncertain if and when he will return to the field. His backup, Colt McCoy, suffered a season-ending leg injury in Week 13. His backup, Mark Sanchez, was benched in favor of Josh Johnson midway through his first start in Week 14. The final result: 3,287 yards, 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions for a 78.1 passer rating; league average passer rating was 92.9 in 2018.
But you can’t put all the blame on Gruden because this pedestrian performance has been going on for almost two decades due to a quarterback situation that continues to remain in disarray. On top of that, Washington’s collection of signal callers since 2002 has been the definition of mediocrity. For example, since 2002, the first year the league expanded to 32 teams, the Redskins have seen above-average quarterback play, as measured by passer rating, eight times in 16 seasons.
Below-average quarterback play has obvious implications on your overall record, so it is no surprise the Redskins are 113-158-1 since 2002 with four playoff appearances and no postseason wins over that span. The tipping point for passer rating appears to be 90.0 — anything higher than that in an individual game and your team can be expected to win more than half of their games. There is also a big jump between a performance producing a passer rating between 90 and 100 (.575 win rate) and one that results in a passer rating of 100 and above (.798). Before his injury, Smith’s passer rating was 85.7 in 2018. McCoy’s was 78.6 and Johnson finished the year with a passer rating of 69.4.
ESPN’s total Quarterback Rating, a metric that values quarterback on all play types on a 0-to-100 scale, only goes back to 2006 but Washington’s quarterbacks don’t stand out over that 12-year span, either. Among qualified passers, just three of the team’s performances -- Robert Griffin III in 2012 (68.0 QBR), Cousins in 2015 and 2016 (67.8 and 66.5) — make the Top 100. Believe it or not, Johnson’s 50.1 QBR led the team in 2018, meaning his performance would be good enough to guide the team to a 8-8 record.
Again looking back to 2002, we see the same mediocrity when using adjusted net yards per attempt (an updated version of a quarterback’s passer rating which also correlates more with winning). Washington’s passers produced 4,679 total adjusted net yards below average from 2002 to 2018, placing them 17th among the league’s 32 teams.
The best performance in that span was Kirk Cousins' 2016 Pro Bowl campaign, a season in which he threw for 4,917 yards, 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, resulting in 758 adjusted net yards more than an average passer. His 2015 season was the third-best over the past 16 years (456 adjusted net yards over average) and his 2017 performance was the sixth-best for the franchise in that span. It makes you wonder why they let him depart as a free agent that winter.
Todd Collins, a journeyman who never played a game between 1998 and 2000 and never started a game between 2001 and 2006, had the fourth-best campaign for the team since 2002 after adjusting for the league average.
Perhaps help will come in the 2019 draft but the returns on the team’s other selections don’t provide much confidence. Starting with Patrick Ramsey in 2002, the front office has drafted quarterbacks Gibran Hamdan, Jason Campbell, Jordan Palmer, Colt Brennan, Griffin, Cousins and Nate Sudfeld. The team’s three first-round selections, Ramsey, Campbell and Griffin, combined for a 82.1 passer rating during their time in Washington. If you recall the point from earlier, we’d expect them to lose more than they won, which is less than ideal for a first-round pick.
The Redskins have the 15th pick in the 2019, which could net them a future quarterback but the early buzz around this quarterback draft class is not as strong as it was in recent years. For example, the latest mock drafts have either Dwayne Haskins from Ohio State or Drew Lock from Missouri as the first quarterback off the board at No. 6 to the New York Giants and just two passers taken in the Top 10; there were four passers taken with the first 10 picks of the 2018 NFL draft.
Maybe it is simplistic to say Washington needs to fix its quarterback situation if it has any hope of rejoining the ranks of teams that are playoff contenders but it is clear that the situation is a big reason why the team is among the most underwhelming franchises in the NFL.
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