Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

06 Jul 2009

Steve McNair: A Statistical Retrospective

This weekend, I went back and took a look at Steve McNair's career from a stat perspective for the Washington Post's "League" section. The news surrounding his life and death becomes more and more complex, but I wanted to remember the player who, for a period of time in the early part of this decade, was as good as any quarterback in the NFL.

Posted by: Doug Farrar on 06 Jul 2009

3 comments, Last at 06 Jul 2009, 5:31pm by Kibbles


by Bobman :: Mon, 07/06/2009 - 4:18pm

That was a very nice piece. The thing that most worried me about McNair was that he seemed to play best after being held out of practice all week due to injuries. No rust, no busted timing or fuzzy headedness. As a Colts fan, I'd see the injury reports and say "whew, good news" and then Steve shows up to win a game and I'd wonder where the hell that came from....

by Kibbles :: Mon, 07/06/2009 - 5:17pm

Steve McNair is the Brian Westbrook of quarterbacks. Great guy, great teammate, never really gets his due as one of the best in the game despite having more than earned the title with his play on the field, a little bit unconventional compared to the rest of his peers. Always injured but never slowed.

Whenever I think of McNair's playing career, I think of his MVP season. I questioned whether he really deserved the award until Football Outsiders posted some analysis on why teams don't run enough on 3rd and short and I discovered that Tennessee was the only team that was more likely to convert a 3rd and short through the air than on the ground. I don't think McNair thrived because of the advantages that a power rushing attack opened up, I think he thrived despite the handicap that such an ineffectual power rushing attack represented. It's a shame to me that Eddie George is probably more highly regarded as a football player than Steve McNair, despite George's main discernible skill being the ability to carry the ball 30 times a game without any of his limbs spontaneously falling off, and Steve McNair's main discernible skill being the ability to consistently win games when his RB could barely average more than 3 yards per carry.

by Kibbles :: Mon, 07/06/2009 - 5:31pm

To build upon this... McNair's two best years as a passer are without question 2001 and 2003. In those years he put up his best TD:INT ratios, his best YPA totals (an extremely impressive 7.8 and 8.0, respectively), his best yard per game totals, and his best QB ratings. In both seasons, Eddie George was the only Tennessee rusher to eclipse 100 carries (and therefore get ranked by DVOA). In 2001, George's DVOA and DYAR both ranked 42nd out of the 43 backs who were ranked. His success rate was an obscene 34%, and he had 8 fumbles vs. just 5 TDs. In 2003, George was 41st in DVOA and 42nd in DYAR. He managed to hold onto the ball all season, but his success rate was still a putrid 39%.

In 2001, however, Tennessee managed to finish the season ranked 4th in passing DVOA (and 26th in rushing). In 2003, McNair did even better, as Tennessee finished 1st in passing despite finishing 28th in rushing. And McNair himself was the only reason Tennessee's rushing game wasn't ranked even lower, as he finished with 17% DVOA rushing in both seasons despite playing perpetually injured in both seasons.