The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been a public relations disaster for the past few seasons. From Raheem Morris' "Youngry" Bucs to the Greg Schiano/Josh Freeman debacle to Lovie Smith's call for a quick return to relevance followed by some of the worst performances in team history, the message and the on-field product simply don't line up.
This PR nightmare lives on this season in the person of Mike Glennon, named the "future" of the franchise by Lovie Smith despite the team's decision to replace him as the starter as soon as free agency opened up.
Glennon's play continues to throw wrenches into discussions about his future, as his involvement in the team's offense is hotly debated among fans and analysts in Tampa and elsewhere. So where is Mike Glennon after his first 16 starts, and what must he do to earn a job in 2015 and beyond?
The soon-to-be 25-year-old Glennon started his 16th football game under center in the NFL on Sunday against Baltimore, giving him a "season's worth" of games to assess. Those 16 starts (this excludes his appearance in the Atlanta blowout) have produced the following stat line:
311 of 534 passing, 58.24% completion percentage, 3473 yards (6.5 yards per attempt), 25 touchdowns, 12 interceptions
On the surface, that seems like a perfectly fine stat line. He's throwing more touchdowns than interceptions, and not making huge mistakes. But the underlying statistics tell more of a story.
Because ultimately, 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions are only 37 of Glennon's 534 pass attempts. That's just under 7% of his career plays singled out and put on a pedestal for evaluation and assessment. And that's a really bad way to analyze a player, especially a player we get to watch every weekend.
So what does Glennon do on an every-play basis? He has a completion percentage that's well below league average (the middle-of-the-road quarterbacks in 2013 were a full two completion percentage points higher than Glennon), and his per-attempt efficiency is among the lowest in the NFL (half of the NFL's quarterbacks last season had 7.0 or more yards per attempt).
And so far in 2014, he's the least accurate quarterback in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus' Accuracy Percentage statistic. This takes away drops, throwaways, "hit as thrown" passes and spikes to determine how many aimed passes find their intended target.
There are outside factors that contribute to his poor play under these circumstances, such as a lack of talent at receiver and poor play of the offensive line. And while those factors are certainly viable to factor into assessments of his play, he's only under the same duress as many other NFL quarterbacks who handle the situation much better.
Undrafted rookie Austin Davis, currently starting for the St. Louis Rams, plays for an offensive line that Pro Football Focus has determined to be less efficient in pass blocking than the Bucs when considering total pressures allowed. This isn't based on their grades, but rather on their charting of "pressures allowed" versus total pass blocking snaps.
|Player||Under Pressure||Not Under Pressure|
|Glennon||48.3%, 6.4 YPA||63.4%, 7.4 YPA|
|Davis||54.9%, 7.4 YPA||75.0%, 8.2 YPA|
And according to their numbers, Davis' play while under pressure is fairly close to Glennon's while not under pressure, while Glennon's play under pressure is a far cry from anything the Southern Miss product has done this season.
This is, admittedly, just one anecdote, but it speaks to the underlying issue with many assessments of Mike Glennon based on the players around him. There are other quarterbacks who are able to do more with a similarly weak supporting cast, under different coaches, in different situations.
Which is why numbers can only paint part of the picture when it comes to Glennon.
So how can we accurately assess Mike Glennon if numbers don't tell the whole story? We judge him based on tape, which leaves nearly everything up for interpretation based on preferred play style and the amount of blame placed upon teammates.
When I watch Mike Glennon, I see a player who is easily rattled and knocked off his spot. When he's blitzed or pressured, he often crumbles under that pressure. During his first two starts this season, he showed signs of improving under pressure, but when faced with an avalanche of pass rushers against the Ravens, he fell apart.
His interception (and his second, near-interception) were awful throws made while facing a pass rush. He has a tendency to throw off of his back foot and float the ball toward receivers when facing a blitz or a rusher, and that's one of the most dangerous throws a quarterback can make.
But it's also on his coaches and teammates, who aren't doing anything to help him on blitzes. Coaches aren't calling plays to get the ball out of Glennon's hands quickly (as the Ravens did to great effect on Sunday), and teammates aren't picking up blitzes or getting open quickly on plays where the QB is under pressure.
Yet it's still on "the most important position in football" to make plays and bounce back, because when a player touches the ball on every down, he's going to be victimized by the poor play of teammates. How he responds will dictate what kind of player he becomes.
And for Glennon, that ability to bounce-back has been extremely inconsistent over his career. During his first season under center, he was awful during the second half of games, but has shown improvement as games have worn on this season.
But so far this season, he has started games poorly, and improved later (in the case of the Ravens game, he improved as Baltimore stopped blitzing with a huge lead). But the same issues still pop up: the backfooted throws, the lack of mobility, the struggles under pressure.
And those are the issues that must improve for Glennon to become a viable, every-week starter in the NFL. As it currently stands, Mike Glennon has been a capable, but flawed, fill-in, playing well enough to move an offense down the field when everything goes right, but unable to make a special play or rise above his circumstances and make a big play in a key moment on anything resembling a regular basis.
Statistics won't tell us if Glennon improves in these areas. Nor will Pro Football Focus data, Football Outsiders metrics, or ESPN's QBR rating. This is improvement Glennon must show on tape, even with a bad offensive line and stone-handed receivers.
Because things aren't always going to be perfect for an NFL quarterback. There will be days when even the best lineman allows pressures. There will be plays when even the best receiver drops the ball. The job of the quarterback is to press on, despite these letdowns, and continue to provide catchable passes and leadership for the offense.
Hopefully Lovie Smith and company allow Glennon the chance to work on these flaws for the rest of this season by keeping him under center. The team will not benefit at all by returning Josh McCown to the starting position, because he's quite clearly not the future of the franchise at QB.
It's unlikely that Glennon is, either, if we're basing our judgments solely on what Glennon has done through 16 NFL starts. He has been a below-average quarterback with easily identified flaws that smart defenses will exploit. But there are moments of brilliance, and allowing him time to attempt to recreate those moments more regularly, while better handling and hiding his flaws, is the only way to truly assess Glennon before a crucial 2015 offseason.
Because as confident as I am about his poor level of play through 16 games, I will readily admit that he's shown that he's capable of making high-level plays under center. Those plays simply need to come more often, and he needs to eliminate the bad habits and mistakes that hamstring him and the Tampa Bay offense.
The only way he can do that is by watching his film every week, and working on improving, regardless of the play of those around him. And he has earned the chance to do that for the rest of the season, in what should be an extended audition for the most divisive player among Buccaneer fans.