Last week, I ran a teammate analysis that showed that, among top quarterbacks of the previous decade, Peyton Manning had the best offensive teammates on average, and Donovan McNabb had the worst. You’ll want to look through that to see how I measured it, but in that post, I only summarized the final teammate rankings on average across all seasons.
Today, we’ll dig a little bit deeper into the yearly performances, using Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt Index (ANYA+), relative to the teammate value. The Index, much like OPS+ in baseball, sets a league average score to 100. A score above 100 is above average, then, while scoring below 100 means a below average season by passing statistics. A season above 130 is an elite season, often reserved for league MVPs.
It shouldn’t exactly be a shocking statement to say that teammates matter. We see every year when injuries claim starters and backups are forced into action, and teams that go through a rash of injuries have a harder time competing. “You can’t use it as an excuse” is the common refrain, but as an explanation, it will often do just fine. It’s a lot more reasonable than “he just suddenly forgot how to play quarterback.”
The best season, by ANYA+, for the years 1999-2013 was Peyton Manning in 2004 (153). That is also the season with the highest average offensive teammate score among the 172 seasons recorded. This is not to say that Manning’s performance was entirely due to teammates, but rather, when he had his best teammates, in their prime, he put up historically ridiculous numbers, even by his standards.
The other top seasons by ANYA+ were Aaron Rodgers in 2011 (147), Tom Brady in 2007 (139), and Kurt Warner (137 in 2000 and 134 in 1999). It is no accident that all had an average teammate score above 60. The Greatest Show on Turf Rams from 1999-2001, Manning’s Colts with Harrison, James, Wayne, Saturday, and Glenn, and the Patriots in the years with Moss and Welker occupy the highest single season teammate scores. The 2011 and 2012 Packers rank in the Top 25 seasons for teammate score.
While there is plenty of variation, the relationship between the teammate ratings in a given season and the quarterback’s ANYA+ is positive. For example, there are only 24 seasons (out of 172) where the quarterbacks sampled had a teammate score under 40. Exactly half of those seasons, the QB posted a ANYA+ below 100. In contrast, in only 15% of all remaining seasons, where the QB had teammates with an average score higher than 40, did the QB post a below average passing efficiency rate.
So let’s go to the bottom of that list, and the title of this post. The lowest teammate rating among the group belonged to Jeff Garcia and the 2004 Cleveland Browns. Earlier this year, I put Garcia among my most underrated quarterbacks in NFL history, and said, half in jest, “He spent one year in Cleveland and put up near-league average numbers, which in retrospect, probably should get him Hall of Fame consideration.”
The best player, by Career Weighted AV, on that unit was center Jeff Faine, who started 124 career games. Ross Verba was next, and he had missed the entire previous season due to injury, was 31, and would start 7 more NFL games for his career. After that, it was the receiving duo of Dennis Northcutt and Antonio Bryant (Bryant would later have his career season in Tampa Bay with Garcia at QB). The running backs were William Green and Lee Suggs, and the offensive line featured two players who would start 5 total games in all other NFL seasons. None of the players on that offense–besides Garcia–would ever or had ever played in a pro bowl.
Here’s a list of the bottom 15 seasons among the 20 quarterbacks used in teammate rating. The 2004 Browns are significantly below everyone else, and Garcia’s final season as a starter checks in at 3rd lowest.
So yes, in retrospect, Garcia putting up near league average passing numbers at age 34 on that team was a minor miracle. In fact, if you look at the list and the ANYA+ versus teammates, Garcia stands out as making the most with the least.
The other name that stood out from the first post was Joe Flacco, who I included because, well, is he elite? As it turns out, his teammates are not so poor that they explain his numbers. Flacco–compared to what other top quarterbacks have done–was below average every year once we adjusted for teammate quality. His average ANYA+ was 11.7 points below expected. That equates to about 0.9 more adjusted net yards per attempt than his career numbers.
When Flacco’s supporting cast fell apart in 2013, after winning the Super Bowl, he put up an ANYA+ of 80, lowest on the list, while Jeff Garcia still put up pretty good numbers and twice led teams to the postseason.
Garcia had a unique career. He was undersized and didn’t look the part. He made his NFL debut at age 29, after playing in the CFL. When he did so, he took over in San Francisco following the legendary Joe Montana-to-Steve Young run. This probably led to him being under appreciated when he took talented teams with Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice and put up great numbers. Then, at the other end of the spectrum, when those teams fell apart and he moved to other teams in his mid-to-late thirties, he played with an awful, expansion-level Browns offense, revitalized the Eagles for a playoff run in 2006, and then twice led Tampa teams to winning records, on units that didn’t have great talents now that we can look back at their careers.