Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

15 Dec 2006

FO on BSMW: The David Carr Conundrum

This week: is David Carr a failure? Will he be? Why does the Houston media believe he is? Sadly, no Ken Walter content.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 15 Dec 2006

36 comments, Last at 19 Dec 2006, 12:55pm by Mr Shush


by Mnatr (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 12:32am

All I want to know is what the hell is going on with their passing game? His completion % is through the roof, but he must be completing insanely short passes, because his YPA is hella low. I'm guessing this is a Kubiak idea. Anyone know what's up?

by Ryan Harris (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 12:42am

Im telling you all you heard it hear first, David Carr will be a Minnesota Viking next season and he will be incredible!

by sippican (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 12:55am

Note to Texans:
Please do not figure this out by the weekend.

The Patriots

by kevinNYC (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 12:59am

#1... Just from their game against the Giants, I see they don't/won't throw down the field. They went 3, 4, and 5 WRs ALL GAME LONG, yet only attempted 1 pass to a target 10+ yards down the field (if my memory is any good). They were doing rollouts and two step drops. Everything is short, so they complete a high percentage of passes and still don't get first downs sometimes.

by Travis (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 1:37am

I posted this on a different thread, but check out Carr’s passing splits, and you can see why some people (myself included) consider him a subpar QB.

Behind by 22+ points: 24 of 28 (85.7%), 243 yards (8.68 ypa), 5 TD, 0 INT
Behind by 15-21 points: 28 of 37 (75.7%), 234 yards (6.32 ypa), 0 TD, 1 INT
All other situations: 209 of 311 (67.2%), 1914 yards (6.15 ypa), 5 TD, 7 INT

315 of his 376 passes (83.8%) of his passes have been thrown 10 or fewer yards from the line of scrimmage, and none over 40 yards. From spot checks, no other QB comes close to those numbers.

As post #4 said, it's short passes all day long. When the other team is in umbrella coverage, Carr excels at completing the 6 yard pass over the middle, so his overall stats look decent.

by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 1:59am

Except that DVOA says Carr is decent too, so some of those 209 completions in meaningful situations must be doing some good. The Texans ASR rank of 27 is a mirage - their pass protection is not as good as 27th in the league, but the playcalling calls for nothing but quick throws, which is why the passing offense is so much better this year than last. Kubiak: half-decent offensive brain. Joe Pendry: staggeringly inept in every way, shape and form.

What people also need to realise is that to adequately evaluate the passing game of the 2006 Texans you need to split the season in two. Up to and including the second Jacksonville game, the protection was bad, but just adequate for Carr to successfully run the very short passing offense which was allowing them to get around the problem. Then, Wiegert went down and Eric Winston came into the starting lineup at right tackle. Winston may or may not develop into a good player, but right now he is getting killed and getting Carr killed, and Carr's stats have been abysmal ever since. To make matters worse, starting C Mike Flanagan has now also gone down.

On the Ferguson vs. Williams question, bear in mind that the Texans did draft a left tackle, Charles Spencer, at the top of the 3rd. He started from opening day, but broke his leg in week two. Nevertheless, Kubiak et al. remain extremely high on him as the long term solution at that position. Also, check out Houston's defensive ALY. The one type of run they are good at stopping is runs over left tackle - ie. right at Williams. He might also have a few more sacks if Texans opponents had to pass more than they do.

by Travis (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 2:13am

Except that DVOA says Carr is decent too, so some of those 209 completions in meaningful situations must be doing some good.

I don't know how much DVOA adjusts for garbage time, but I believe those stats are counted at least somewhat.

by Basilicus (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 2:37am


The fault in your statistics lies in their small sample size. Out of 28 passes when below 21 or more points, he's completed many of them and has a lot of touchdowns. Could that be because defenses loosen up severely when in those situations so as not to allow the big play?

Comparing a data set of 311 attempts to data sets of 28 and 37 won't tell you a thing.

He has severely better stats when defenses are giving him more? I'm sure that doesn't happen with any other good QB.

by Travis (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 2:43am

Could that be because defenses loosen up severely when in those situations so as not to allow the big play?

Exactly, and he takes the short pass (which improves his statistics), but kills the clock (which makes the other team happy).

He has severely better stats when defenses are giving him more? I’m sure that doesn’t happen with any other good QB.

Here are the ESPN pages for all current NFL quarterbacks. Try to find any whose stats when down big are close to Carr's, and show such an extreme split.

by Disco Stu (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 3:16am

Re KevinNYC- when an offense goes 4 or 5 WRs, they throw a lot of short passes by design. If the WR runs a route that takes a while to develop the QB won't have the time to hit him... the protection just won't be there. So it looks like Kubiak is calling pass plays that require as little help from the OL as possible. Maybe a good strategy this year, but it doesn't let us get a read on Carr as a QB in a regular offensive scheme. Given a full year to assess Carr, though, I fully expect Kubiak to make some kind of "this is our guy/we're going in another direction" signal in the offseason.

by sam_acw (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 4:05am

Carr is not a bad QB. He has had next to no protection so far in his career and no running game all season as well. I don't think many people would look great in that situation. His biggest problem is having outbreaks of fumblitis

by Brad (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 6:58am

Behind by 22+ points: 24 of 28 (85.7%), 243 yards (8.68 ypa), 5 TD, 0 INT

8.68 ypa is insanely good, your assertion that he takes the checkdown every time he's behind big and kills the clock doesn't seem to jive with your stats.

the 10 ypc isn't that great but he's getting that consistently enough to where it's not bad. But really, as basilicus said, not enough attempts.

by Steve Greenwell (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 7:17am

Carr has always been such an enigma to me - His teams have been so consistently awful that it's hard to know how good he really is. Is he an above average QB restrained by his team, or is he part of the problem?

I was going to type, "Maybe he'll turn it around like Joey Harrington did this year," and then I noticed Harrington's QB rating is 26th in the NFL. Weird how perception works.

Carr's rating is 9th on a crummy Houston team, so maybe he is worth picking up. I could see him pulling a Plummer - Going to a good playoff / near-playoff team and playing well enough to remain a Pro Bowl quality player for a year or two.

by Josh (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 11:13am

I think it's somewhat impressive that Carr has success throwing short, when at this point defenses know the Texans do so much of it.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 11:18am

I remember Aaron addressing the 'Carr garbage time' phenomenon earlier this year. His garbage time #'s do impact his FO metrics (every play counts) but they are compared only with similar situations. And compared to the league norm, Carr is doing extremely well at garbage time. Now whether that is really helping his team is a separate question.

Some QBs will attempt to force the ball down field when way behind. This high risk/reward strategy rarely pays off and is penalized in FO metrics. I haven't looked at the data, but intuitively, Farve seems like this sort of QB. I think I bunch of his picks have come when way behind.

It's fair to point out the relatively few of his attempts have come during 'garbage time', but it's also fair to point out that an absurd number of his TDs have come then (5 of his 10 if the numbers above are correct).

I'm not sure how good Carr is either, but I'm becoming convinced he's no better than an average starter (which is still pretty good). I do think Kubiak knows the position and if he concludes Carr isn't good enough, that's probably right.

by Travis (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 11:27am

Re: 12

The 8.68 ypc is a result of the 85.7% completion percentage, not long passes. It's only slightly over 10 yards a completion, which is really, really short - only Carr, Frye, and Gradkowski average less on all their passes. Occasionally, he'll mix in a long pass, but it's short passes nearly all the time.

Here's the PBP when down 26-3 to the Jets:

Before the TD, 7 of 8 passes that counted were both short and in-bounds. The TD drive took 4 of the remaining 8 minutes, and the final drive was just as bad.

And against the Colts, a 43-24 loss. 3 4th quarter drives, every pass but 2 described as "short."

by Travis (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 11:29am

That should be "ypa" in my first sentence, not "ypc".

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 12:07pm

Well, if all he's doing is throwing short passes, then his TD totals are going to be, from his perspective, almost entirely random, right? Most of those passes are going to require a lot of YAC to produce a TD, and there isn't too much Carr can do on a short pass to help, other that to hit a guy in stride.

I think the impression of Harrington turning it around exists because the team that he is on is winning. (His DVOA and DPAR are up a touch from the last couple of seasons, but they still aren't great.) Also, perhaps, because he lit up the Lions, which puts him in a select group of QBs: pretty much everyone except for Michael Vick.

by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 12:29pm

Just to re-iterate, I don't think the low ypc is anything to do with Carr. It's the product of a system designed to compensate for atrocious pass protection. In Scientific Football 2005, I believe I'm right in saying that KC Joyner concluded that Carr actually threw the best deep ball in the league in 2004. It is simply very difficult to realistically evaluate a quarterback who has never played behind an NFL calibre offensive line.

Don't get me wrong: Carr is not and likely never will be an elite QB. He was not worth the first overall pick. However, he is a decent QB, and would have been worth a later first round pick. There are only so many areas that one team is likely to be able to address in the off-season. For the Texans, CB, OLB, RB, OL and most of all FS should all be higher priorities than quarterback.

by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 12:31pm

Also worth noting in the pro-Carr column are his skills as a runner: his DPAR of 5.1 ranks 4th in the league, behind only McNabb among quarterbacks who can actually pass.

by Steve Greenwell (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 12:55pm

20: But he's a white guy, you mean he can run? He's no rusher like Byron Leftwich, I can tell you that, now that guy is probably like #2 behind Vick.

by PackMan (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 1:18pm

Carr would be a star in Denver.

by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 1:49pm

I don't know about a star, but I think Carr would be slightly better than Plummer was, and for slightly longer. Plummer is actually a pretty good comparison, although Carr's completion percentage has trended upwards over his career in a way that Plummer's didn't in Arizona, and was higher in the first place.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 2:03pm


I don't really disagree with your perspective but I think the Texans will need to consider the burden of Carr's salary in deciding what action to take.

In 2005, Carr had a cap hit of almost $8 million. I'm guessing this year was even bigger and next year greater yet. That money would go a long way in helping them address the needs you identified. To this point Carr's play hasn't merited this sort of $$. I think even if the Texans share your POV on his skills they will have to ask him to rework his contract (ala Chad Pennington). If he won't, I think they will be better off cutting/trading him and going in a different direction.

by Richie (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 2:16pm

Why compare Carr against other QB's whose YPA is roughly the same in Year 4 compared to Year 1? Isn't that comparison missing the point that he had 2 years of improvement before regressing back to rookie levels (and then turning it up a big in year 5)?

Wouldn't a better comparison be to look at all QB's who improved in YPA his first 3 seasons, and then in year 4 regressed severely?

by Richie (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 2:54pm

Here is my list of QB's whose YPA increased each of the first 3 years of his career that he attempted at least 100 passes, and then in his 4th year decreased back to within 1.00 yards of his year 1 average.

last name first name Year1 team Yr1 Yr2 Yr3 Yr4
McMahon Jim 1982 chi 7.15 7.40 8.01 7.64
Layne Bobby 1949 nyy 6.01 6.91 7.24 6.97
Kosar Bernie 1985 cle 6.36 7.26 7.80 7.30
Hasselbeck Matt 2001 sea 6.30 7.34 7.49 7.14
Frerotte Gus 1994 was 6.00 6.95 7.35 6.67
White Danny 1980 dal 7.54 7.92 8.42 7.47
Rote Tobin 1950 gnb 5.50 6.02 8.08 5.43
Hogeboom Gary 1984 dal 6.45 7.76 8.01 6.82
Carr David 2002 htx 5.84 6.82 7.58 5.88
Snead Norm 1961 was 6.23 8.27 8.38 6.73

Tobin Rote looks most similar, but comparing to a QB from the early '50s does no good.

These numbers show why Gary Hogeboom was unable to win Survivor.

Gus Frerotte really looks like the most similar comp based on these numbers, based on similar era.

by Richie (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 2:55pm

Man, I wish there was a way to post spreadsheet data nicely in these comment boxes.

by sonofbrocklanders (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 5:07pm

Carr with more than 1.5 seconds to throw the ball, could be effective. Minnesota could be a good fit.

by Duff Soviet Union (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 8:52pm

This article mentions that Carr has taken a ton of sacks as a result of his O-line. Hasn't FO found that sacks are more the quarterback's fault than is typically thought?

by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 12:58am

Carr holds the ball too long, it's certainly true. This is an especially negative trait behind a bad offensive line. But seriously, those offensive lines have been very, very bad, and most of the running backs the Texans have started in the course of their existence have also been lousy at blitz pick-up.

Mawbrew (24) - That is a very fair point, and by far the best one against retaining Carr. The Texans exercised the maximum option on his rookie contract last summer, retaining him through 2008. He received an $8m bonus, which I assume was pro-rated, and base salaries of $5.25m this season and next and $6m in 2008. That means his cap number for this year was probably around $8m once bonuses are factored in, and next year's will be slightly higher (because he will have met more incentives). It would cost $5.3m to cut him, and I sincerely doubt a better player could be had for $3m a season (the difference between the cost of cutting and keeping Carr). Attempting to restructure, however, seems like a pretty good bet if it can be done.

by young curmudgeon (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 11:05am

re 26--any data set that includes Bobby Layne and Tobin Rote deserves credit just for reminding me of those guys--Layne is the second Steelers quarterback I remember and he was an incredibly entertaining player.

by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Sun, 12/17/2006 - 5:19pm

Ok, I'll say it before anyone else does. Carr has flat out stunk today, bad protection notwithstanding. However similar it may look, no-one should confuse this performance with other recent bad statistical showings by Carr: this one has featured some truly horrible reads and throws (though I wouldn't especially blame him for the Seymour pick) and the responsibility really is primarily Carr's. This doesn't alter my general opinion of his future prospects.

by rodriguez (not verified) :: Sun, 12/17/2006 - 6:24pm

Carr has one touchdown pass in eight weeks, right? That's just one more than me and I'm not in the league. I'm glad Carr had the decency to suck this bad when my fantasy guys were using New England on the other side.

by vijay (not verified) :: Mon, 12/18/2006 - 12:53pm

I believe in FO data and analysis as much as anyone you'll find. But I will tell you that Carr doesn't pass the eye test. His statistics have been hollow stats. Talk to any baseball stats guy and they will tell you that the stats say that Alex Rodriguez is one of the best players in MLB history. Yet when there are 2 on and 2 out in the bottom of the 8th down by 3 runs, you absolutely know for a fact that he'll ground out. He can't make that last hit count. Carr is the same way. I would love to see his DPAR broken down quarter by quarter. If you ask me, I would surmise that his DPAR would be OK in the 1st, horrible in the 2nd and 3rd and then great (among the best in the league) in the 4th. The problem is though that he hasn't lead enough drives and they are way behind. And as some of the numbers have shown, he throws the ball short killing much of the remaining time to come back. The Jets and Colts games that have been brought up are great examples of that.

I sat and watched every game of his over the last 5 years and although the stats say he is one of the better QBs using either DPAR or the convoluted QB rating, I would say that he has none of the intangibles that make a QB great. Can a good QB with great leadership skills and great intangibles make a difference in a defense? I personally say yes. With a great leader like Tom Brady, the defense plays harder for him and you will see things from a Tom Brady led team that had you dropped the current David Carr on the Pats, they would have 0 super bowls. I agree that if you dropped Brady on the Texans, they probably have 0 SBs as well, but they have more than 19 wins in the 5 years that Carr has started.

It's a long diatribe essentially to say that if you throw out all the numbers and just watch him play every game over the last 5 years, you see very little difference between him in 2002 and now, and although the O-line is a cause, Carr must accept some of the blame. He is not a QB that will win in this league. Backup for 2 to 3 games a year, definitely!

by Richie (not verified) :: Mon, 12/18/2006 - 2:28pm


by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 12:55pm

I certainly wouldn't begin to put Carr in Brady's class as a passer, never mind a leader. That's not the point, and it's not the same as saying he can't win in this league. He can't make a team win, but he could win with a good team. If Carr was on the Bears, they might well be my Superbowl favourites.

Current starting quarterbacks (assuming everyone is healthy)who I think are less good than Carr:
QB Buccaneers

And who are not clearly better than Carr:
Culpepper (who the hell knows what level Culpepper will come back to)
E. Manning*

* - Young player likely to improve substantially beyond his current level of play.

If we counted all quarterbacks who have started extensively this season, we could add Bledsoe, Harrington, Brunell Plummer and Johnson to the "worse" list.

Carr is somewhere between the no.11 and no.25 quarterback in the NFL, and likely to remain so for some time, given his age. He will be starting somewhere for the next several seasons. He might even go to a pro-bowl, if he has a career year while one or two good players get injured. The more I think about it, the more apt I think the Plummer/ARI to Carr/HOU comparison is.