Commentary

Quick Reads: Patience, grasshopper

In Week 9, Kurt Warner and David Garrard showed why hasty judgments are wrong

Originally Published: November 9, 2009
By Bill Barnwell | Football Outsiders

Want to be a smarter fan without taking any remedial classes in math?

It's easy. Just be patient.

Too often, fans and media take one small sample of data and use it to back up their opinion or further their narrative. It's a perfect example of how statistics aren't supposed to be used.

Take Kurt Warner. His six-turnover day against the Panthers led to talk that the veteran's days behind center for the Cardinals were numbered -- and that the team needed to consider giving Matt Leinart an opportunity.

Having such an awful day wasn't a sign of anything beyond a bad game, though. Warner rebounded against the Bears on Sunday with five touchdowns in a dominant performance. Warner's dismal game against Carolina, only a week old, is all but forgotten.

The other quarterback that experienced a huge upswing in performance this week was Jacksonville's David Garrard, who went from awful against Tennessee to excellent versus Kansas City. Garrard's job security has been questioned since this offseason, when draft pundits suggested that the Jaguars might shoot for Mark Sanchez with their first-round pick. (They'll say the same things about Florida favorite Tim Tebow this year.)

The reason why Garrard was considered a disappointment last year, though, was absurd. He'd earned a $60 million contract extension after the 2007 season because of his ability to avoid mistakes, having thrown only three interceptions in 325 attempts while leading the Jaguars to the playoffs. Expressed as a percentage, it means Garrard threw interceptions on 0.9 percent of his attempts -- a ridiculous, unsustainable percentage. Over the previous 30 years, only a handful of quarterbacks had put up an interception rate below 1.5 percent. Not a single one of them had come close to doing so in the subsequent season, and neither did Garrard; that interception rate rose to 2.4 percent (slightly above average), and when you consider that he played four additional games in the 2008 season, Garrard's raw interception total went from three to 13. The idea that Garrard had some sort of magical ability to avoid turnovers was foolish.

Now, apply that to another quarterback expected to lose his job sooner rather than later, the Redskins' Jason Campbell. Campbell had average interception rates of 2.9 percent and 2.6 percent during his first two years as a pro, but last year he threw picks on a league-low 1.2 percent of his throws.

This year, he's at 3.5 percent through eight games, and it's seen as a sign of his poor performance. We'll discuss Campbell's half-season later on in Quick Reads, but there's no reason to believe that Campbell has experienced some dramatic decline in his decision-making or isn't cut out to be an NFL quarterback. (The difference between a rate of 3.5 percent and 2.9 percent, over a full season, is three interceptions.) His interception rate has just regressed to the mean.

When you've got three hours of talk radio to fill or a bar argument to win, speculating wildly and groping for any fact on the wild ride to the conclusion is the name of the game. Maybe that will never change. But if you actually want to reconcile what's happening on the field with reality -- and be right in advance instead of after the fact -- have a little patience.

Here are the Week 9 Quick Reads from Football Outsiders. Click here to learn more about what DYAR numbers mean and how they are computed. Note that our opponent adjustments are currently at 90 percent strength.


To see the skill position analysis charts for all key Week 9 players, you must be an ESPN Insider.

Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) is a staff writer for Grantland.