Players with poor or average numbers don’t like numbers. This is not a coincidence.
There are great stats to use while judging a player, and there are also poor stats, decent stats, and tremendous stats. Alex Smith had a now rather infamous comment earlier this week explaining this phenomenon, and it’s become a shining example of the Internet’s ability to isolate and berate one section of a quote.
In case you missed it, here’s the dynamite dropped by the 49ers quarterback on Wednesday:
“I could absolutely care less on yards per game. I think that is a totally overblown stat because if you’re losing games in the second half, guess what, you’re like the Carolina Panthers and you’re going no-huddle the entire second half. Yeah, Cam Newton threw for a lot of 300-yard games. That’s great. You’re not winning, though.”
The Cam Newton reference was odd and random, and predictably that section of the quote has received all the attention in the two days since. But that’s just driven by the same hysteria which caused the ridiculous obsession over Tim Tebow’s blinks, breaths, and interceptions during his first practice with a new team. We’re in the doggiest dog days of the football calendar, so fans need something to talk about, and writers need something to write about (Hi!).
The Newton name drop has blinded us from something that’s difficult for many to see since fans have been trained for decades to worship certain stats. So brace for this.
Smith is right. Very right.
Passing yards matter, but they don’t matter nearly as much as every other available quarterback metric. The reason is so absurdly simple, that it’s difficult to understand why passing yards still have such a prominent place any discussion when we’re evaluating and comparing quarterbacks. Bad or average teams will trail in games, giving quarterbacks a chance to become yardage compilers. Meanwhile, good teams will lead games, often making a handoff the quarterback’s primary function in the second half.
Drew Brees had a tremendous season, but three’s no better case for the over emphasis on the passing yards stat in today’s NFL than the fact that two QBs broke Dan Marino’s single-season passing record this past season, and two others were within 150 yards. Smith had only 3,144 passing yards to Cam Newton’s 4,051 in his rookie season, but as NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah points out, Troy Aikman never had a 3,500-yard season, and he averaged just 2,745 per season over a 12-year career.
So Smith is right on that front. Very, very right. But Jon Beason would like to explain a flaw in his argument…
Since focusing on one section of a quote is so much fun, Beason highlights another interesting part of Smith’s mini rant while defending his quarterback. If winning is all that matters, why did the 49ers seriously pursue Peyton Manning after Smith “won” 13 games? Taking that further, why was Manning such a highly coveted commodity in Denver if all Tim Tebow does is win?
Smith and the Tebowmaniacs during Tebow’s time in Denver conveniently omit the elite supporting casts that did more than just help the two quarterbacks. The defenses and running games in Denver and San Francisco were pretty much the leading cause of their success, and their wins.
On the other side of the ball, Smith was supported by what was essentially the poor man’s 2000 Ravens defense, a unit that didn’t allow a rushing touchdown until Week 16 against the Seahawks and caused 35 turnovers (23 interceptions and 12 fumbles) while allowing just 77.2 rushing yards per game (1st). Then there’s the running game, with Kendall Hunter and Frank Gore leading an attack that averaged 127.8 yards per game (8th), and had 14 rushing touchdowns (12th).
Meanwhile, Smith averaged just 27.3 passing attempts per game (28th). He was clutch at times, managed the offense efficiently, and made few mistakes by throwing just five interceptions. But he was put in a position to be clutch by a defense that routinely kept the opposition’s score low, allowing just 14.3 points per game (2nd).
Smith didn’t win 13 games. The 49ers won 13 games.