The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a situation at quarterback.
It's not quite a controversy, but nothing is settled under center as the Buccaneers approach their first year under new head coach Lovie Smith and new GM Jason Licht. Mike Glennon, the incumbent starter with a year of experience under his belt, was unseated immediately once free agency opened with the signing of Josh McCown, who was named the starter.
But as we know, comments made during the offseason as worth almost as much as the bandwidth costs to store them on Twitter or on this website (maybe even less). So how can we know which quarterback Lovie and Licht prefer? Their philosophical comments this offseason may shed some light on the subject.
Unlike specific player comments, which are usually full of hot air because no team knows what the final product will look like in March or April, comments on philosophy and "what we look for" tend to have a bit more honest to them, as they don't call out any particular player, but rather inform the fans of the thought process behind many of the team's moves.
And over the course of this offseason, there have been four quarterback traits specifically mentioned by either Lovie or Licht. Those qualities are: Toughness, intelligence, accuracy, and athleticism.
The first three come from a recent satellite radio interview with Jason Licht, while the last one comes from multiple occasions, but can be specifically traced to a Lovie Smith press conference, where the Bucs' coach said "We want to be a fast football team... so we like athletic ability and a little bit of quickness and speed at every position, even at the quarterback position."
So how do the two men battling for the starting job in Tampa compare using these qualities? Let's take a look.
Toughness is a tough trait to measure using tape or statistics, because there really isn't a standard, nor is there really even a specific definition. What kind of toughness does Jason Licht want in his quarterbacks?
If battling through adversity is what he looks for, both of his current options at QB pass with flying colors. Mike Glennon was in a horrible situation last year and handled it beautifully, while McCown has waited for his turn as a backup for his entire career, and handled his quick rise and subsequent benching in Chicago with nothing but grace.
But how does toughness translate onto the field? At the quarterback position, toughness can be either physical or mental.
Physically speaking, a QB has to handle the beating he's going to take over 16 or more games. Both McCown and Glennon have the right frame to handle a few hits, so this shouldn't be a big issue for either.
Mentally, QB toughness manifests in multiple ways, but two of the more meaningful examples of QB toughness are response to pass rush and response to in-game adversity.
McCown, mostly thanks to his experience in the NFL, wins both of those categories easily. Let's take a look at how the numbers detail McCown's in-game "toughness."
|Rating 4th +/- 7 pts||119.2||70.8|
|Rating 3rd Down||108.5||76.5|
|PFF Under Pressure||112.2||55.7|
|PFF No Pressure||107.5||101.4|
(Rating splits courtesy of ESPN.com. PFF stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus.)
Obviously, every number on McCown's side is higher than those on Glennon's. That's not the point. What we're looking at here is the difference when under duress.
According to Pro Football Focus, the quarterbacks are on fairly level ground when not facing pressure. But for McCown, his "not under pressure" rating (153 attempts) is actually lower than his overall rating (224 attempts total). For Glennon, being not under pressure (263 attempts) represents a big leap in rating as compared to his overall rating (468 attempts).
McCown excelled in the second half, while Glennon saw a massive drop in production. McCown was just fine in the fourth quarter of close games, while Glennon was below average.
There is clearly a sample size discrepancy here, one that I'm willing to admit does skew the results just a bit. But the results back up what I've seen on tape from both players.
Glennon is capable of standing tall in the pocket and stepping up against the rush, he just doesn't do it with any sort of consistency. He tends to duck out of the back of the pocket rather than stepping up into it when facing pressure. He also drops his eyes and throws from poor footing when under pressure, as seen in attempt three in this breakdown of Glennon's game against Buffalo this past season.
McCown, on the other hand, showed a very strong ability to handle pressure in 2013, highlighted by his performance against the St. Louis Rams and their fierce pass rush. On multiple occasions, McCown hung in the pocket to make a throw only to be immediately hit by Robert Quinn or Chris Long, and showed a continued willingness to stay in, or step up in, the pocket.
So for this trait, the advantage goes to McCown.
Like toughness, intelligence isn't easily defined for a quarterback. We can interpret it to mean quite a few things, but the first things that come to mind are comprehension and command over an offense, and decision-marking and defense diagnosis during the game.
And rather than taking my word for it, let's consider what Bleacher Report had to say about the two quarterbacks during their NFL 1000 series this summer.
The veteran quarterback deserves a lot of credit for his awareness and obvious comfort level on the field in relief of Jay Cutler. It's not easy for backups to step in and allow the offense to not miss a beat. The biggest reason for McCown's success was his patience in the pocket and his ability to diagnose coverages quickly.
He was a rookie in 2013, but he rarely looked like one. As with any quarterback, Glennon missed a number of potential big plays down the field, but he was smart in his approach to risk-reward plays. When his team needed to take a shot and the opportunity was there, he typically took it. When the opportunity wasn't there, he played it safe and didn't force a bad throw into coverage.
McCown received a 27/30 while Glennon received a 28/30 using B/R's grading scale.
And while I disagree with the reasoning behind Glennon's score, I understand that it comes down to personal preference. Some would rather see their quarterback take a check down than step up and extend a play, and it seems that's simply going to be a point of disagreement on this particular issue.
Joe Bussell, otherwise known as Twitter's @NFLosophy, posted a scouting report of returning Bucs players earlier this year, and it included these two bits of information on Glennon, which resonate with me when recalling his tape:
Lacks anticipation and needs to see the receiver open before pulling the trigger... Doesn't seem to grasp how route concepts can exploit difference coverage schemes as he too often makes the wrong read.
Glennon was safe and careful, but did miss out on bigger plays due to his reluctance or inability to see the more explosive play available. McCown's average pass netted an average of nearly two more yards than those from Glennon, and even though McCown had better weapons, some of that difference can also be attributed to deciphering the defense.
Regardless, there are enough points for either side in this category that I will declare it a draw.
Accuracy can be simply defined, or it can be defined in more broad terms. But compared to the previous two traits, we already have plenty of ways to measure accuracy.
In my opinion, accuracy can be defined three ways: How often is a pass on target, how often is a pass thrown with good ball placement, and how well does a QB set up his target to run after the catch?
The first standard is already measured by the fine folks at Pro Football Focus, who use a metric they refer to as "Accuracy Percentage," which accounts for drops, throwaways, balls batted down at the line and spikes when considering how often a QB is on target. Among passers who played 25% or more of their team's snaps, McCown finished fourth in this statistic with a 77.8% accuracy rate, while Mike Glennon finished 28th with a 70.2% mark.
When it comes to setting up receivers for yards after the catch, even with admittedly superior talent at receiver, McCown comes out well ahead again. Advanced NFL Analytics measures QB Air Yards, which helps define how many yards credited to a QB came through the air, and how many came as yards after the catch.
Mike Glennon finished last among 40 qualified quarterbacks in the percentage of his total yards which came from yards after the catch from his receivers. Jay Cutler, who played with the same receivers as McCown in Chicago, finished 38th. McCown finished 22nd. Glennon's receivers' YAC only accounted for 35.5% of his total yards, while McCown saw 48.1% of his production come via YAC.
And while neither of the two Bucs quarterbacks have great ball placement, McCown's is certainly better than Glennon's. As Gur pointed out in Josh McCown versus Game Film, McCown has shown the ability to hit receivers in stride for greater YAC opportunities, something that Glennon struggled with mightily.
This category goes to McCown as well.
If you made it this far, you're probably a pretty smart person. So I'll not waste your time in explaining this one, and will instead let visual media do the talking, for your enjoyment.
Mike Glennon (via Buzzfeed by way of SB Nation)
Example B: Josh McCown (via Buccaneers.com by way of Bleacher Report)
I admit that McCown's 2013 campaign is a smaller sample size, and came with a better surrounding cast. I'll also admit that McCown's 2013 breakout was a departure from his normally quite average play throughout his career.
But there's enough there to show us why he fits what the new regime in Tampa was looking for. He's tough, he's accurate, he's smart, and he's athletic. Mike Glennon, to his credit, shows signs of being all three of the first three items on that list, but he fails miserably at the fourth.
So while McCown is almost certainly not going to maintain his record-setting QB Rating pace from a year ago, even a reasonable step back in production would be an upgrade over the mediocre (not bad, not good, mediocre) statistics put up by Glennon, some of which were fairly unsustainable given his inaccuracy and inefficiency, as well.
But more than just statistically, McCown fits what the Bucs are looking for philosophically. And that's why it's nice to hear that Mike Glennon is the future, but until he finds a way to unseat Josh McCown, his future will be spent with a clipboard in his hands rather than a football.