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Chad Pennington and Thomas Jones

Posted by Chase Stuart on March 7, 2007

There are lots of things to write about the Thomas Jones trade, but most of them aren't that interesting to your average sports fan. I heard one comment, though, that piqued my interest. Roughly speaking, the claim was this:

Chad Pennington is going to be helped out a ton by Thomas Jones. Last year, it wasn't fair how the Jets asked him -- while recovering from consecutive arm surgeries -- to carry the entire offense. It was all on him and his arm, and he played through it all. Now, with Jones there, Pennington should be much better this year.

As usual, "much better" can be interpreted lots of ways. I'll look at two, adjusted yards per attempt, and team wins. As I started thinking about how to test this theory empirically, I realized there are quite a few assumptions we'll have to make to really examine this. There are thousands of QB seasons to look at, so here is how we'll narrow down the list.

  • We'll only look at quarterbacks that played on the same team in consecutive years, played in at least ten games in each season, and threw for at least 2,000 yards in each year. Those last two numbers are pretty arbitrary, but they seem to establish a decent floor.
  • The 2006 Jets RBs, as a group, rushed 426 times for 1,449 yards, a 3.40 YPC average. You may remember, this was after a historically bad start, too. Jets RBs, as a group, ranked 26th in rushing yards and 30th in YPC. We'll have to be arbitrary again, but the assumption we're using is that Thomas Jones is good, and this helps Pennington. If the Jets RBs, as a group, stink again next year, this analysis would be meaningless. So I'll only look at QBs that played on teams that moved up at least 10 rankings in rushing yards and 10 ranking spots in rushing YPC average the following year.
  • Only 37 QBs since the merger have met those requirements, but we'll have to narrow the list a bit more. Why? Our system now will spot someone like the 1990 version of Troy Aikman, who played in 15 games and threw for 2,579 yards for Dallas. The next year, the Cowboys RBs improved from ranking 24th and 23rd to 9th and 8th, in rushing yards and rushing YPC, respectively. And Aikman played in 12 games in 1991, throwing for 2,754 yards. But in 1990, his leading receiver was Kelvin Martin (732 yards), while in 1991 Michael Irvin (1523) more than doubled Martin's output. That surely helped Aikman more than anything else, and the key factor here is that we all expect Coles and Cotchery to lead the Jets in receiving in 2007. So I'm going to stipulate that another requirement is that the same two receivers lead the team in receiving yards the same year. I italicized receivers, because I don't mean wide receivers. If a RB or TE ranks first or second, that's fine too. Additionally, the order doesn't matter, because the Jets won't change much if it's Cotchery that leads the Jets in receiving yards next year, or if Coles does it again.

That whittles the list down to twelve. I think that's a pretty good number. There's too much information for one table, so here is how those QBs all did in the first year, Year N. The categories should be self-explanatory, except note that YdRk is how that team's running backs ranked in rushing yards, and YpcRk is how that team's running backs ranked in rushing yards per carry. I also threw Pennington on the top of the list, but did not include his numbers in the averages.

Name Nyr Tm YdRk YpcRk Receiver1 Receiver2 AY/A W-L
Chad Pennington 2006 nyj 26 30 ColeLa00 CotcJe00 5.78 10-6
Matt Hasselbeck 2002 sea 21 22 RobiKo00 JackDa00 6.62 7 -9
Jay Fiedler 2001 mia 24 30 ChamCh00 McKnJa00 5.86 11-5
Kerry Collins 1999 nyg 25 28 ToomAm00 HillIk00 5.73 7 -9
Mark Brunell 1997 jax 22 23 SmitJi00 McCaKe00 7.23 11-5
Brad Johnson 1996 min 18 18 ReedJa00 CartCr00 6.36 9 -7
John Elway 1994 den 28 27 MillAn00 SharSh00 6.48 7 -9
Wade Wilson 1988 min 20 23 CartAn00 JoneHa00 7.50 11-5
Ken O'Brien 1987 nyj 19 17 ToonAl00 ShulMi00 6.27 6 -9
Warren Moon 1986 oti 26 27 HillDr00 GiviEr00 5.02 5-11
Ron Jaworski 1980 phi 16 21 SmitCh00 CarmHa00 7.23 12-4
Jim Hart 1978 crd 23 25 TillPa00 GrayMe01 5.18 6-10
Ron Jaworski 1977 phi 24 24 CarmHa00 KrepKe00 4.10 5 -9
Average 22 24 6.13 8 -8

To be clear, the above table should be read as follows: Chad Pennington played for the 2006 Jets, whose RBs ranked 26th in rushing yards and 30th in rushing yards per carry, and his top receivers were Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery. He averaged 5.78 adjusted yards per attempt, and his team went 10-6.

The rest of the above table list is filled with QBs on bad rushing teams, who played a lot in Year N and Year N+1, and whose top receivers remain unchanged. Here's how those QBs did in Year N+1:

Name N+1yr Tm YdRk YpcRk Receiver1 Receiver2 AY/A W-L
Matt Hasselbeck 2003 sea 7 9 JackDa00 RobiKo00 6.68 10-6
Jay Fiedler 2002 mia 1 3 ChamCh00 McKnJa00 6.02 9 -7
Kerry Collins 2000 nyg 5 15 ToomAm00 HillIk00 6.13 12-4
Mark Brunell 1998 jax 6 4 SmitJi00 McCaKe00 6.77 11-5
Brad Johnson 1997 min 7 5 ReedJa00 CartCr00 5.96 9 -7
John Elway 1995 den 15 3 MillAn00 SharSh00 6.64 8 -8
Wade Wilson 1989 min 6 11 CartAn00 JoneHa00 5.78 10-6
Ken O'Brien 1988 nyj 4 6 ToonAl00 ShulMi00 5.67 8 -7
Warren Moon 1987 oti 13 5 HillDr00 GiviEr00 5.99 9 -6
Ron Jaworski 1981 phi 4 2 CarmHa00 SmitCh00 5.26 10-6
Jim Hart 1979 crd 3 2 TillPa00 GrayMe01 3.72 5-11
Ron Jaworski 1978 phi 8 10 CarmHa00 KrepKe00 4.84 9 -7
Average 7 6 5.79 9 -7

I wasn't sure what before running the numbers what the results would tell us, but the results are clear: don't bump up Chad Pennington's 2007 projections just yet. Not surprisingly, team winning percentage went up with improved running games. But while half of the dozen QBs technically saw an increase in their adjusted yards per attempt ratio, only two of them, and none in the last 19 years, saw significant increases. So the next time you hear someone tell you how Chad Pennington's efficiency numbers should increase this year with an improved rushing attack, ask them why, because it didn't help Wade Wilson or Jim Hart.

Because like Pennington, Wilson and Hart were the starting QBs on the same team for two straight years. And like Pennington, Wilson and Hart had the same top two receivers (Coles/Cotchery, Tilley/Gray, and Carter/Jones) both years. Pennington, Wilson and Hart all had really bad running games the first year, and then added a marquee RB in the off-season (Thomas Jones, Ottis Anderson and Herschel Walker). And they have it even better than Pennington's projections, because we know that the receivers stayed healthy and the RBs did very well, and the rushing game became very good. Yet both quarterbacks saw significant decreases in their passing efficiencies.

I'm not saying that will happen to Pennington, but it's clear that it's incorrect to assume that the addition of Thomas Jones will help Pennington's statistics. By weighing the deck as much as possible -- assuming Pennington plays at least 10 games and throws for 2,000 yards next year, assuming that the Jets running game improves significantly, and assuming that Coles and Cotchery are healthy enough to lead the Jets in receiving -- there's still no evidence to expect Pennington to play better. He might play better because he's finally not recovering from off-season surgery, the offensive line has improved with experience, and he's got a year in this new system under his belt, but I'm not sure his numbers will improve because of Thomas Jones the runner. (I say the runner, because if someone like Reggie Bush came over and the Jets running game improved, Pennington's numbers would likely go up because of Reggie Bush the receiver. But Jones isn't in that class as a receiving back, so it's a moot point in this example.)

I'm filing this post under "Fantasy", so I should include some fantasy football information as well.

|==============Year N==============| |=============Year N+1=============|
QBID Rk Att Yards TD/INT FP Rk Att Yards TD/INT FP
HassMa00 19 419 3075 15/10 230 4 513 3844 26/15 306
FiedJa00 10 450 3290 20/19 282 26 292 2024 14/ 9 176
CollKe00 25 332 2316 8/11 152 8 529 3610 22/13 268
BrunMa00 8 435 3281 18/ 7 267 15 354 2601 20/ 9 220
JohnBr00 19 311 2258 17/10 186 13 452 3036 20/12 234
ElwaJo00 5 494 3490 16/10 276 5 542 3970 26/14 312
WilsWa00 14 332 2746 15/ 9 214 20 362 2543 9/12 170
OBriKe00 12 393 2696 13/ 8 185 18 424 2567 15/ 7 184
MoonWa00 12 488 3489 13/26 228 7 368 2806 21/18 236
JawoRo00 5 451 3529 27/12 288 13 461 3095 23/20 240
HartJi00 9 477 3121 16/18 215 26 378 2218 9/20 128
JawoRo00 5 346 2183 18/21 203 13 398 2487 16/16 180
Average 12 411 2956 16/13 227 14 423 2900 18/14 221

The numbers are pretty similar, with quarterback efficiencies going slightly down, TD/INT ratios going slightly up, and fantasy rankings going slightly down, after significantly improving their running games. (While not shown here, rushing yardage is included in fantasy points and fantasy ranking. E.g., Jay Fiedler rushed for 322 more yards the year before Miami added Ricky Williams than the year after. Once again, don't rush to bump Chad Pennington up your fantasy draft board just because the Jets added Thomas Jones.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 7th, 2007 at 12:07 am and is filed under Fantasy, History, Statgeekery. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.