It's "Game On" for Siemian/Lynch…Sam Bradford may have been better than most folks thought in 2016…Lance Lynn isn’t as good as most folks think this season...
Point Blank – August 10, 2017
Yesterday the focus here was on a key aspect of QB play during the NFL pre-season, the fact that mobility is a major plus. That was evident as nearly 800 yards of total offense got compiled between the Texans and Panthers, much of that coming with DeShaun Watson and Joe Webb at the controls.
One should never over-react to a single pre-season game for any sub-set of thought process, but in this instance there is a perspective about what the ability of a QB to move in the pocket can mean in August. Let’s go to the good folks at Pro Football Focus to help establish the general point –
Watson indeed bought himself a lot of time in the pocket, and it is something that should be a part of your handicapping conscousness. Tonight there is a different aspect of QB play that comes front and center, which will play out in front of the NFL Network cameras in Chicago, so let’s start there.
There is a legit QB battle taken place for the Broncos between Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, one of those rare cases in which it will likely be decided on the field over the next three weeks. Let’s go right to Vance Joseph to set the stage - “It’s an open competition. The games matter. The games start Thursday. I want to start the games so I can get to the bottom of this.”
There is an obvious notion here that the two QBs will compete hard to win the job, but also a subtle one beneath it. But before getting too excited there is a reality in play – neither of these two are anything all that special at this stage.
I understand that ever so well; my first real experience with the NFL came in 1968 when my father and I, along with two brothers that were bookmakers, had Pittsburgh Steelers season tickets. It was the year before Chuck Noll came on board to turn things around, and it was an autumn that brought one of the most dubious QB battles in the annals of the league play out, Dick Shiner vs. Kent Nix. They combined to complete only 47.0 percent of their passes, with more interceptions than touchdowns, and the Steelers went 2-11-1. Ironically their ineptitude helped to set up the early draft positioning that turned the franchise into a powerhouse just a few years later.
Siemian/Lynch may be a little better than Pittsburgh’s undynamic duo, but not so much as to generate excitement about their potential upsides just yet. What can matter is the second factor in play – the fact that it is an open competition changes the player rotations, and will likely lead to the Denver offensive starters being on the field longer than their opponents in this pre-season, many times Bronco starters competing against reserve defenders. The gist is easy to understand – if Joseph wants to get the best read as to which QB should get the #1 slot, it means surrounding them with the same personnel as much as possible.
Let’s go to the coach for more – “It’s going to be more than most starting quarterbacks would play the first couple of weeks. It’s going to be a mix of both. Obviously when the first guy leaves, we’re going to keep some ‘ones’ in just to keep the offense intact so the guy can play his best.”
This has not been lost on the markets, of course, and something that will be discussed here often is that some of the early money in the NFL pre-season is among the sharpest of any sport at any time. I do have a value target on #261 Denver at pick’em for the First Half tonight, which we are unlikely to see, although someone quick on their feet just might see it for a flash – as always the first major pre-season board of any season brings answers to the notion of how much liquidity will be out there (Texans/Panthers out-wrote everything on the MLB board except for Dodgers/Diamondbacks last night). It isn’t just the Denver rotation in play here, but also the fact that Mike Glennon has not been having a good camp for the Bears, and may struggle in his stint.
Now time to continue the team-by-team preview cycle by keeping the focus on QB play, and whether one particular performer may be an under-rated item as the new season approaches.
Was Sam Bradford better than most folks thought in 2016
The Minnesota offense was abysmal in 2016, rating #27 overall (as always the references here are from the Football Outsiders efficiency ratings), #31 overland and #19 through the air. That is what happens when injuries take away the guy expected to be the starting QB (Teddy Bridgewater), the best playmaker (Adrian Peterson), and wreck an OL that might have only been ordinary with all hands on deck, and was simply terrible (six different tackles were on the field for at least 49 snaps). To further muddle matters was a change in OC as the season was in progress. Yet throughout all of that, might the case be made that Sam Bradford was actually pretty darn good?
Bradford did not have a lot working for him. He was brought late to the party and did not have much time to learn the system or the players around him, and neither the system nor those players were very good anyway. Let me start with this table, which many will object to quickly, and then I will deal with the objections:
2016 Passer Rating
1. Ryan 117.1
2. Brady 112.2
3. Prescott 104.9
4. Rodgers 104.2
5. Brees 101.7
6. BRADFORD 99.3
And I already know the objections, because Bradford has such a reputation as a “checkdown” guy, completing a high percentage of passes that don’t actually gain much. There is some legit truth to that – his 71.6 completion percentage led the league, but even with all of those completions the yards per attempt were only #18.
But what if Bradford also threw the ball well down the field? Let’s go to completion percentage on long passes, those on which the ball was thrown at least 16 yards beyond the line of scrimmage:
You weren’t expecting that, were you? The NFL average was 10 completions of more than 30 yards, Bradford had 17. And this was an immobile QB playing behind a weak OL and just learning his way around a skill group that was below average in 2016.
Mike Zimmer laid it out this way early in training camp - “Bradford, when he’s got time, he can throw the heck out of the ball. If we give this guy time, he’s got a chance to be good.’’
In terms of the learning curve here is a key – Bradford is re-united with now full-time OC Pat Shurmur, who drafted him in the first-round back in 2010. They know each other well, which can bring so much more into the playbook than the limited 2016 options.
From Bradford on that front, after referring to last season’s offense as “basic level” – “[Shurmur] has given us, as quarterbacks, more freedom at the line of scrimmage to go up there and change plays. To get in and out of plays or save ourselves from a play that’s a bad look…Obviously it’s a little more on our plate this year, but I think it can put us in some good situations.”
The OL will be a little better this season in adding Riley Rieff, Mike Remmers and rookies Pat Elfein and Danny Isidora. The RB corps adds Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook, which makes Jerick McKinnon better by simply reducing this role to the specialist that he should be. If Laquon Treadwell can get healthy the WR corps will have some versatility as Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen develop more of a rapport with Bradford.
There is some upside here, even though the OL still projects as a weak link. What can make it all come together is if Bradford turns out to be good, now that he is at full health and is in a second go-round with the rest of the huddle. He may well have been “good” in 2016, and could be a tick above the market perceptions.
While on the subject of market perceptions, time to head to the Thursday diamonds because there is a prime example…
Lance Lynn’s 2017 run hasn’t been all that special
The Cardinals and Royals have generated 14, 13 and 13 runs in their three encounters so far this week and I do not believe that flow changes all that much on Thursday, in particular a sizzling St. Louis offense going into the mediocre Jason Hammel and a worn-down KC bullpen. Why is the price sitting in such a favorable spot? Because there are folks that are attaching more weight to Lance Lynn than I believe they should.
As he works his way back from an injury that cost him all of 2016, Lynn is sporting a 10-6/3.21, which looks so much like his previous performances that not many appear to have altered their grading of him. But the 2017 Lynn has not been the same pitcher that won at least a dozen games across each of the 2012-15 campaigns. His velocity is down more than a mile and a half from his peak, and sitting at a career low. His K/9 is a career low, and both GB% and SWS% are at the second low.
The better metrics are not even closer to Lynn’s 3.12 run allowance, with FIP reading him at 4.84, xFIP 4.59 and SIERA 4.56. What has been happening is a tight-rope walk across some of Baseball’s fine print, with Lynn sitting on a .221 BABIP and an 82.9 LOB%. How fortunate has he been on those fronts? Of the 94 pitchers that have worked at least 100 innings no one has a lower BABIP, and only four have a higher LOB%. And no, this is not a skill set item for him – Lynn’s career BABIP of .297 and LOB% of 76.8 are right around MLB average.
We don’t need an offensive explosion to cash a ticket in this one, getting each team to four runs is mission accomplished, so it will be #922 St. Louis/Kansas City Over (7:15 Eastern) as part of the portfolio, with the starting time moved up an hour because the Royals have to travel afterwards also a subtle plus factor, an increased heat for Hammel/Lynn in the early stages.
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