One of the talking heads on ESPN – I can’t remember which, they all look the same at this point – noted that Michael Vick should be the MVP of the league over Tom Brady because of…wait for it…Matt Cassell.
Matt Cassell you say!?
Here is the argument: Cassell won 11 games in 2008 when Brady was injured. So how valuable can Brady be to the Patriots if they just kept on ticking with some backup quarterback?
It’s a reasonable place to start, but as I will explore in many future posts, evaluating an NFL quarterback is just about the hardest task in sports analysis. It’s a complex interaction of 11 offensive players and 11 defensive players and the two respective coordinators playing chess with those pieces. So I won’t be too dogmatic here.
But let’s look at this claim more closely. The 2008 Patriots had an offfensive SRS of 2.3 (11th in the league) against a weak schedule (-2.4). They scored 25.6 ppg and averaged 5.3 yards per play…which happened to be the league average.
Here’s how the 08 Patriots stack up against the 07 and 10 Patriots:
The New England personnel was similar from 07 to 08, but the results weren’t in the same stratosphere. And Cassell’s rushing attack in 08 netted 142 yards/game on 4.4 ypg. That’s better than Brady’s running game from the previous year, which yielded 115 yards per game on 4.1 yards per carry.
Comparing 08 to this year, Brady isn’t throwing to Randy Moss anymore, but to Deion Branch and two rookie tight ends. There is no Kevin Faulk. Two former practice players – BenJarvis Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead – comprise the backfield. And they’ve all been quite good, but it’s pretty hard to argue that they’re better than the 07 or 08 supporting cast.
The real kicker is that Cassell isn’t just some backup. He’s emerged as one of the better QB’s in the league this year, posting a 96.2 QB rating (fifth in the NFL after week 15) with 24 TDs. He’s even fifth on Peter King’s MVP ballot this week. So, at least by these standards, Brady’s offenses are That Much Better than what an elite QB did in the same organization.
Matt Cassell isn’t evidence for Michael Vick’s MVP candidacy.* He’s evidence for Tom Brady’s.
*The case for Vick: Philadelphia’s 7.8 Offensive SRS and the Eagles are 8-2 in his full games, averaging 31.6 ppg, 414.7 yards per game and 6.5 yards per play (!). The case against: 2-2 v Sagarin’s top 10 and he missed almost a quarter of the season, which means he’d have to be 33% more valuable than Brady to exceed his contributions.