Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Few Thoughts on Derek Anderson

Football folks, especially fantasy football folks, are now full of questions for Browns fans on the subject of our strange QB situation. The most common thing I'm hearing/being IMed is "so is DA good again now?"

This is a situation that happens with a lot of players, especially QB's, when they come into the league. They put up a couple of extraordinary performances, leading fans to believe "this guy is God." Then reality hits.

The truth is, even the best QB is going to have situations in which he's good, and situations in which he struggles. A consistent, high-quality player has few situations that bother him and lots that excite him. A lesser player has more of the former and fewer of the latter (that's tongue-twisty.)

Last year, Derek Anderson benefited from some key advantages. The two most important were:

1) Better than expected offensive line play
2) Low-quality opposing defenses.

These are two advantages that any quarterback would love to have. In Derek Anderson's case, they become even more important because of the type of QB that he is - a tall, athletically limited pocket passer with little game experience.

In the NFL, the quarterback position is particularly difficult because of the athletic abilities of defensive linemen. Imagine walking into a large ballroom and finding it packed with enormous, fantastically athletic men who can all easily outrun you AND outweigh you by 50+ pounds. Half of the men want to kill you, and the other half are going to try to get in their way for a few seconds first.

In the middle of the dance floor is a small object. Your task is to pick up this object, perform a short but technically tricky series of dance steps to wind up in a predetermined spot (that is, a spot where all those giants know in advance you are required to run to) then look around for an open area of the ballroom to toss the object.

Note that we've left out the element of actually completing passes. If you're an immobile QB, just the task of setting up is a tricky proposition, unless you have fantastic protection from the line. That's what DA got last season - both because his offensive line really was quite good and because most of the defenses the Browns faced were not that good.

Indeed, if you look at DA's signature performances last year, most of them came against struggling defenses. Cincinnati, St. Louis, Miami, Seattle, all had horrible defenses last year, and DA and his line were able to expose them.

This season, of course, the Browns play a slew of very good defenses - Steelers twice, Ravens twice, Eagles, Washington, Giants, Jags and Titans. Three of those games have already happened, and the Browns' offense has looked terrible in the first two (Ravens and Steelers) and exemplary in the third (Giants.)

The reason the Giants got handled so easily by the Browns is that while the Giants are a very good defense, by far their strongest unit is their defensive line, and the D-line was totally neutralized by the Browns O-line. Without penetration by the front four, the Giants defense lacks playmaking ability.

This week, playing at Washington, Anderson and the line get a big test. The Washington pass defense is pretty good, but they don't rely on a great pass rush to get it done - they are oriented more toward forcing incompletions than getting sacks (this is the modern Bill Belichick theory of pass defense, which evolved from the more pass rush-focused ideas of his predecessor Bill Parcells.)

That means Anderson will have to focus this week on something he traditionally hasn't been especially good at - going through progressions and making the easy throw to an open receiver rather than trying to muscle the ball into a small seam in coverage. If he has a couple of bad series, he can't get impatient - he has to stick to the game plan and trust that things will open up. If he forces the ball, the defense will pounce, and we'll be back to "Bad Derek" again.

If you look at the Vegas line, this matchup issue seems to be priced in - the Browns are considered a two-score underdog despite the great performance on Monday night. That's correct - DA still hasn't shown he can execute against solid defense.

All of which is a long way of saying I'd keep DA benched this week if you have a decent second option, but if he does manage to put up decent numbers in Washington, the sky's the limit the rest of the way.

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