Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

13 Oct 2010

Rookie QBs vs. Top Defenses (or, Colt McCoy Beware)

Because of ankle injuries to starter Jake Delhomme and backup Seneca Wallace, third-string quarterback Colt McCoy will make his NFL debut on Sunday.

Unfortunately, he's drawn the Pittsburgh Steelers. On the road.

The Steelers currently have the league's second-best defense. Against the pass, they rank fourth in the league, with a -17.2% DVOA.

How have rookie quarterbacks fared on the road against such strong defenses? Well, I never thought you'd ask! Since 1993, 41 quarterbacks have gone on the road to play a pass defense with a DVOA of -15% or lower.

Those quarterbacks' average line: 14-of-29 (49.2 percent) for 160 yards, with 0.7 touchdowns, 1.4 interceptions, and 2.7 sacks. Their teams went a collective 7-35, and in the seven wins, their defenses allowed an average of just 14.3 points per game.

As for a quarterback making his career debut on the road against such a tough defense? There's only one example of a rookie doing that: Drew Bledsoe, whose first NFL start came against the Buffalo Bills in 1993. Bledsoe went 14-of-30 for 148 yards, but he did have two touchdowns against just one pick.

We wish young Mr. McCoy the best of luck.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 13 Oct 2010

28 comments, Last at 15 Oct 2010, 7:36am by Mr Shush


by MJK :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 11:30am

Welcome to the NFL, kid!

by jklps :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 11:30am

After the bye week, Steelers D now back in the fantasy lineup with a great matchup.

by Quincy :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 6:09pm

I'm in the same situation. I don't think I've ever been this excited about a fantasy matchup.

by MJK :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 11:40am

I actually remember the Bledsoe game... It was fantastic finally seeing the Patriots have a good QB, after years of sucktitude at the position. Non-New England fans may find it odd to believe that we were so excited about Bledsoe, but you have to remember that until Brady came along, Bledsoe was hands down the best QB that had ever donned a Patriots uniform (apologies to Steve Grogan), and for most of his career with New England was a darned good QB.

1993 was also the year of Scott "Missin' Sisson", an ill-fated attempt at a kicker who made just 53.8% of his kicks that year, including going just 8 for 13 between 20 and 29 yards. He cost the Patriots at least one or two games that season, and they finished 5-11 (the Pats that year lost six games by a FG or less, and Sisson missed at least one kick in a few of those).

OK, sorry, off topic divergence down memory lane now completed. So, Colt McCoy...

by Thok :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 11:54am

I always find it weird to imagine that Grogan was a decent QB. I was introduced to him through Tecmo Bowl, and he was awful in that game (Marc Wilson, the backup was clearly a better player in the game.)

To be fair, all of the Patriots in that game were awful; it was fun to try to play a season with them and try to win a Super Bowl with a horrible team.

by piratefreedom (not verified) :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 3:30pm

With Bruce Armstrong to protect him, Ben Coates as a safety valve and Bill Parcells screaming at him to get rid of the ball he looked like he would be a HOF QB on a Marinoesque yardage pace in those early years.

It *was* a big deal after the dark days that led up to having the first overall pick and I'm glad his play against the Steelers was a part of that first superbowl

by Michael LaRocca (not verified) :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 11:49am

Suddenly the Browns just got a whole lot better.

Yeah, I know he's a rookie and the Steelers are going to hand him his liver. The Browns might be calling up Bernie Kosar before it's over.

But still. I'm from Carolina. Jake Delhomme? Really? If I ever have to leave the house and get a real job again, I wanna work for John Fox.

by Doug Farrar :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 11:50am

I'm thinking more of Charlie Frye's Game 1 against the Steelers in 2007. He went 4 for 10, was sacked five times, and was removed from the game for what eventually became the (believe it or not) All-Pro version of Derek Anderson. A nice debut for Mike Tomlin. Pretty much the end of Frye. Given that Joe Thomas was schooled by John Abraham last week, this has all the earmarks of that.

by Southern Philly :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 1:40pm

Then they shipped him out the next day. Nice to know you kid!

But that wasn't his rookie year, 2005 was.

by Michael LaRocca (not verified) :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 11:51am

Do you like how I ignored Seneca Wallace? I do.

by iwatt :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 12:01pm

I think Colt McCoy is the real deal. But this is just one of the toughest things you could do to a rookie QB.

- You can't run against the Steelers
- You have no experience and have to go against a 3-4 run by
Dick LeBeau.
- You have no experience and have to go against a 3-4 with Polamalu pulling the trigger.
- You can't even lean on the defense because Mike Wallace is for real, and now it's Big Ben with a chip on his shoulder throwing the ball. (Cleveland is ranked 26th in Passs Defense DVOA)
- And Mendenhall is ranked 8 in DYAR, playing against the 11th ranked run defense. That's your best matchup.

by Theo :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 7:28am

The average Steelers fan doesn't like matchups like these. Because it means it will be a 12-10 punt fest.
I will probably be close because of a kick return by Joshua Cribbs.

by Mr Shush :: Fri, 10/15/2010 - 7:36am

As an outside observer, I do not think this will be a 12-10 punt-fest. I think it will be at the low-scoring end of a stomp - maybe 24-3, or something. The Browns defense is not great. The mit-Roethlisberger Steelers offense is pretty decent, and will have outstanding field position all day. The game will be over by half time or soon after.

by drobviousso :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 12:11pm

I feel sorry for him.

Do you have aggregate stats for all rookie QB's against the Steelers w/ Dick as the defensive coordinator?

by theosu :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 12:25pm

I'm wondering if this is the impetus for the Browns bringing on the Wildcat (or Golden Flash) offense that Browns fans have been clamoring for. To have any chance to win this game will require significant creativity, something that as a Browns fan I fear is sorely lacking in the management of our offensive personnel.

by Zach81 :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 1:47pm

Mangini + Holmgren does not equal significant creativity. I'm with you, but I don't see either of these two going all-in on a offensive makeover. I think both would rather play it conservative than risk being blamed for trying something different and it failing. Think punting on 4th and 2 versus going for it; same dynamic.

by BJR :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 12:48pm

To be precise: Steelers, on the road, off a bye.

by Rocco :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 1:01pm

As a Steelers fan, I'm terrified they'll faceplant and we'll hear about how McCoy is the greatest QB ever. Stuff like this terrifies me. I guess I'm a natural pessimist.

by Theo :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 7:31am

See my reaction above... hadn't read yours yet.

by IsraelP (not verified) :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 1:06pm

"We wish young Mr. McCoy the best of luck."

Speak for yourself, sir.

Though we all wish him no serious injury.

by Dunbar :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 10:09pm

[quote] Though we all wish him no serious injury. [/quote]

Speak for yourself, sir. *Cackles maniacally

... But no, seriously, hopefully he doesn't get injured.

by The Ninjalectual :: Fri, 10/15/2010 - 12:30am

Well done!

by chemical burn :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 3:16pm

Hey - at least the Browns just shipped out the man FO believes to be their best RB...

by huston720 :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 3:41pm

The FO wirters may believe that but their numbers diagree with them, since Hillis has a DVOA of 0.4% and Harrison has the second worst. And it isn't like Harrison had a great DVOA last year either since it was only 1.1%. Hillis to Browns fans is clearly the better rb, but unfortunately he is battling an injury.

by huston720 :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 3:41pm

The FO wirters may believe that but their numbers diagree with them, since Hillis has a DVOA of 0.4% and Harrison has the second worst. And it isn't like Harrison had a great DVOA last year either since it was only 1.1%. Hillis to Browns fans is clearly the better rb, but unfortunately he is battling an injury.

by JMM* (not verified) :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 3:32pm

Josh Cribbs is the only thing about the Browns that worries this Steeler fan.

Polamalu should spend the entire game within 5 yards of him, even when he is on the bench.

by cantbeartowatch (not verified) :: Wed, 10/13/2010 - 7:19pm

we beat the steelers last year at home with myoplex quinn at QB and cribbs wildcatting all over them. of course, i'm certain polamalu was out that game, so let's all just never mind.

by erniecohen :: Thu, 10/14/2010 - 9:30am

The key injury wrt last year's game was Smith.