Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

06 Feb 2013

Greg Knapp: A Retrospective

The Denver Broncos made a surprising coaching hire last month. It flew under the radar because the playoffs were still going on, but the Broncos named Greg Knapp as quarterbacks coach. It was a surprising move, considering Knapp's prior stints as offensive coordinator in Atlanta, Oakland (twice), and Seattle hardly set the world on fire. On the other hand, he had more success as a quarterbacks coach in Houston, and especially early in his career in San Francisco. Here's a look at Knapp's NFL resume, the quarterbacks he has played with, and how they performed under his watch compared to the rest of their career:

Years Team Position Primary QB DVOA DVOA, rest of career
1998-00 SF QB coach Jeff Garcia 19.9% 9.2%
2001-03 SF Off. Coordinator Jeff Garcia 13.5% 10.9%
2004-06 ATL Off. Coordinator Michael Vick -20.4% 1.3%
2007-08 OAK Off. Coordinator JaMarcus Russell -25.5% -62.1%
2009 SEA Off. Coordinator Matt Hasselbeck -24.8% 2.6%
2010-11 HOU QB coach Matt Schaub 16.3% 13.7%
2012 OAK Off. Coordinator Carson Palmer -2.4% 13.0%

Knapp clearly got the best out of Jeff Garcia. Of course, Garcia also enjoyed throwing to Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens with the 49ers. Garcia's leading wideouts in each of his seasons with five or more starts after leaving San Francisco: Dennis Northcutt, Roy Williams, Reggie Brown, Ike Hilliard, Antonio Bryant. It's not surprising that Garcia's numbers declined. And for the record, he was better when Knapp was his quarterbacks coach than he was when Knapp was OC.

Michael Vick showed a lot of promise early in his Atlanta career, but his production plummeted as soon as Knapp and Jim Mora arrived, and his best season came with Andy Reid in Philadelphia. We now know, though, that Vick basically half-assed his way through his Atlanta career, devoting most of his time to running a multi-state dogfighting ring. Obviously, nobody is more responsible for Vick's struggles than Vick himself. The Falcons coaches deserve some blame for not holding Vick accountable for his poor work ethic (for three years!), but I'm not going to tell you that Knapp was holding Vick back or anything.

In 2007 the Raiders' leading passer was Josh McCown. His DVOA that season was -32.9%. The rest of his career: -24.9%. JaMarcus Russell was awfully bad in his first year as a starter in 2008. Then Knapp left and Russell became completely inept, with one of the ten worst DVOA seasons a quarterback has ever had. Like Vick, Russell had horrible work habits and an illegal off-field distraction (in his case, cough syrup abuse). Knapp got the best out of Russell, but it's hard to say he did a good job when his quarterback ranked 34th in DVOA.

Knapp reunited with Mora in Seattle. Matt Hasselbeck had already started to decline by that time, so it's obviously not accurate to say Knapp was the cause of Hasselbeck's lousy season in 2009. However, for the record, Hasselbeck's DVOA was higher in each of the next three seasons (one in Seattle and two in Tennessee) than it was in his one season with Knapp.

Matt Schaub ranked 13th and fifth in DVOA in his two seasons under Knapp. He was sixth in each of the two prior years, and fell to 12th in 2012. Really, there was no substantial change in Schaub's performance with or without Knapp.

Carson Palmer actually had a lower DVOA in 2012 than he did in 2011, and that included his 8-of-21, three-interception debut just a few days after the Raiders acquired him in a midseason trade. Still, the biggest difference between Cincinnati Palmer and Oakland Palmer is the guys he's throwing to — from Chad Johnson/Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh to Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey.

All in all, there's no obvious pattern for Knapp. Some quarterbacks have played better with him, some worse. The real lesson from this short little study: A change in receivers will have a much greater effect on most quarterbacks' numbers than a change in coaches. And since Peyton Manning's receivers in Denver will still be Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, we shouldn't expect much change in Manning's numbers either.

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 06 Feb 2013

19 comments, Last at 09 Feb 2013, 2:48pm by Mr Shush


by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 02/06/2013 - 1:34pm

I assume OCs decide the system that will be used? Knapp made a poor choice in how he used Darren McFadden in Oakland. That suggests to me that the reason why there is no pattern is down to an inflexibility to change the playbook to match the personnel.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 02/06/2013 - 1:47pm

Being Peyton Manning's qb coach is like being Jack Nicklaus' swing coach, when Nicklaus was the best golfer on earth for about 20 years. Yes, the coach can be helpful, but it is clearly a very subsidiary role, even compared to the coaches for other Hall of Fame performers.

Going from coaching JaMarcus Russell to coaching Peyton Manning is like going from teaching math at a reform school to delivering the donuts to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

by Independent George :: Wed, 02/06/2013 - 2:17pm

I think it's more difficult than most people assume. No, you're not going to be spending time on mechanics or reads, but you still have a lot to do in terms of game planning and scouting the opposition. Just because Peyton can do a lot of the things in his OC's job description doesn't mean it's a good use of his time to do it. I actually think Manning could be even more effective if he spent less time doing a coach's job. Is there a word for the upwards version of 'delegating'?

by Will Allen :: Wed, 02/06/2013 - 2:37pm

Oh, my last sentence was hyperbole, intended to convey the gap between the planet JaMarcus, and the planet Peyton. Knapp will earn his pay, no doubt, but let's just say that the challenge of trying to get a guy to try to do a little less, with all the tools, is a bit different than the challnge presented by a guy who gives you, as step one, keeping his weight below 300 pounds, and laying off the Codeine.

by Independent George :: Wed, 02/06/2013 - 3:29pm

Agreed - clearly I overreacted a bit. You made a good point - I just think people tend to overstate the "Peyton is the real OC" bit.

I never get tired of JaMarcus jokes, though.

by Ryan D. :: Wed, 02/06/2013 - 4:14pm

Is it too soon to say "purple drank" and giggle?

by Briguy :: Wed, 02/06/2013 - 4:25pm

I think people have been giggling about purple drank since he first said it.

by Vincent Verhei :: Wed, 02/06/2013 - 4:45pm

It is never a bad time to say "purple drank" and giggle. It is rarely a good time to DRINK purple drank and giggle though.

by IB (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2013 - 6:58pm

Good for the Broncos. The Bears just hired a guy with almost the exact same NFL resume as head coach.

by andrew :: Wed, 02/06/2013 - 10:08pm

How good is he at having his quarterbacks avoid Knappsacks?

by MC2 :: Wed, 02/06/2013 - 10:35pm

I would actually put quite a bit of the blame for Vick's poor performance on the Falcons coaching staff, although less on Knapp and more on Mora, as he was the guy (along with Arthur Blank) who really seemed intent on coddling Vick, often to a ludicrous extent (e.g. the infamous image of Blank pushing Vick around in a wheelchair, or the even more ridiculous statement by Mora that he would rather have Vick than any other quarterback in the history of the game).

by Mr Shush :: Thu, 02/07/2013 - 5:19am

I don't know - I think Vick was partially held back by refusal to build the scheme around him, and while I think Knapp is a good coach within the context of the West Coast/zone stretch framework, the above criticism of inflexibility strikes me as fair.

by Dean :: Thu, 02/07/2013 - 9:16am

That's always been a fallacy, though.

They installed the West Coast Offense, which is predicated on having a mobile QB. If you look at the greatest practitioners in WCO history, almost to a man, they're mobile. Steve Young, Donovan McNabb, Lord Farve. Even The Great Joe Montana Himself was something of a running threat early in his career. Go back to the drawing board and you see that even Ken Anderson, while certainly no Tarkenton, was somewhat of a scrambler.

If you look at successful QBs who stand in the pocket, they're guys who play in some version of the Sid Gillman offense.

The idea that this offense was somehow a bad fit is absolutely absurd.

Funny how it wasn't such a bad fit for that 6 week stretch in Philly 3 years ago. Same system. The problem wasn't the system. The problem was the QBs lack of work ethic.

by MC2 :: Thu, 02/07/2013 - 9:52am

I totally agree that Vick's lack of work ethic was the root cause of the problem, but that lack of work ethic was greatly exacerbated by the way he was treated by virtually the entire Falcons organization, right from the moment Mora was hired.

After all, how much would you be motivated to get better at your own job, if every one of your superiors, from the CEO down to your direct supervisor, constantly told you how awesome you were, and blamed all of your shortcomings on your coworkers?

by Dean :: Thu, 02/07/2013 - 1:10pm

I completely agree with you.

The one thing I will not blame the Falcons for, however, is installing the West Coast Offense. The idea that this somehow was a poor match for his skillset is absolutely absurd. They installed a scheme that catored to him, and when he still failed apologists nationwide suddenly decided that it was the system, not him. THAT is where I take issue, and it wasn't even you that made that claim.

by jackiel :: Fri, 02/08/2013 - 6:12pm

To be fair, the talent around Vick in ATL was significantly inferior to the talent around him in PHL.

Brian Finneran, Warrick Dunn, and Alge Crumpler, how soon we forget you!

by Mr Shush :: Sat, 02/09/2013 - 2:48pm

I never said mobility wasn't useful in a WCO. I do however believe that accuracy is pretty damn important.

Vick is inaccurate. He has a great arm, but (especially early in his career) questionable touch and placement. Short timing routes are (even more so then) not his forte. The offense should have been built to fit him, probably based on a college scheme (with option plays etc.), or they shouldn't have drafted him (the real right answer).

by JWDIII (not verified) :: Wed, 02/06/2013 - 11:25pm

A-Peyton's performance won't depend on his QB coach.
B-Denver now has a recent insider's perspective on Oakland.
C-Maybe he (and Peyton) can bring along Denver's backups.

by jackiel :: Fri, 02/08/2013 - 6:09pm

Will someone explain to me why there's so much horsetrading going on in the AFC West? This strikes me as much odder than the run on NE coaches and front office types a few years back.