Backup Quarterbacks Under a Microscope


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(Jimmy Garoppolo Photos courtesy of the New England Patriots/David Silverman)

By Rick Gosselin

Talk of Fame Network

Tom Brady came off the bench in 2001 and steered the New England Patriots to an 11-3 record and a Super Bowl championship.

He was an exception.

Ben Roethlisberger came off the bench as a rookie in 2004 and steered the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 13-0 record and a spot in the AFC title game.

He was an exception.

Nick Foles came off the bench in 2013 and steered the Philadelphia Eagles to an 8-2 record, winning an NFL passing title.

He was an exception.

Now it’s Jimmy Garoppolo’s turn to try and be an exception.

But the deck is stacked against him.

When NFL teams started their quarterbacks of choice last season, they won 53 percent of their games. Your starting quarterback — the best quarterback on your roster, your first option at that position _ gives you a chance for a success on any given Sunday.

Not so the backups.

So here’s what Garoppolo is up against as the starting quarterback of the Patriots for the opening four games of the 2015 season while Brady sits his “Deflategate” suspension: When NFL teams had to go to their bench last season to replace an injured or struggling starter, those backup quarterbacks managed to win only 37.5 percent of their starts.

Sixteen teams had to go to the bench a year ago to replace their starting quarterback. Six teams even went three-deep at quarterback to start games. Of those six, only one made the playoffs — the Arizona Cardinals.

Of the 16 teams that were able to keep their starting quarterbacks in good health and on the field for all 16 games of the regular season, nine made the playoffs. So only three teams that went to their bench for a passer managed to play on into January — Arizona, Carolina and Dallas.

The Panthers snuck into the playoffs as the NFC South champion with a 7-8-1 record. The Cowboys played Brandon Weeden one game for an injured Tony Romo and lost it. But the Cowboys went 12-3 with a healthy Romo on the way to an NFC East title and a 12-4 record.

Let’s take a look at the numbers over a longer stretch. Since 2000, NFL starting quarterbacks — the first option of every team — have won 52.5 percent of their games. Second-stringer quarterbacks have won 44 percent of their starts, third-stringers have won 28.6 percent and fourth stringers 26.6 percent.

The deeper you dip into your depth chart at quarterback, the less chance you have of winning.

There’s a reason that Romo starts, and Weeden backs him up. There’s a reason that Brady starts, and Garoppolo backs him up. There’s a reason that Carson Palmer starts fort Arizona, and Drew Stanton backs him up. The Romos, Bradys and Palmers are elite quarterbacks. Their backups are not. That’s why they carry a clipboard on most Sundays. When you ask them to play and to win, you’re asking a lot of them.

This won’t be the same New England team in September without Brady — and history says Garoppolo will have his hands full trying to keep the Pats afloat until Brady comes back.

 

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