Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Triple overpass

A recent thread at Football Outsiders discussed players with the greatest potential for a breakout year in 2005. My pick would be Carson Palmer, and I wanted to do a little research about Cincinnati's quarterback carousel in the 12 seasons since Boomer Esiason split as a free agent. That research led me to look at every team's quarterback carousel since the '93 season. Which is all a roundabout way of introducing today's topic: The Three-Headed Monster.

Start with the 2002 Eagles. Donovan McNabb breaks his leg in Week 10. Koy Detmer dislocates his elbow before Week 11 is out. Third-stringer A.J. Feeley goes 4-1 in five starts, and Philly's season is saved. Who's the hero? The numbers don't lie: Koy Detmer. It breaks down like this: McNabb finished the regular season with 361 pass attempts. Feeley had 154 attempts. Detmer, by virtue of getting hurt after just three quarters, threw the ball just 28 times. Thus the Eagles avoided having three passers with more than 100 attempts each. That's the Three-Headed Monster, a leading indicator of a lost season.

Technically, Chicago did not actually field a Monster last season. But the poor bastards it threw out there after Rex Grossman went down -- Chad Hutchinson (161 attempts), Craig Krenzel (127) and Jonathan Quinn (98) -- were close enough to merit special consideration. Because all three were backups, it really wouldn't be fair to declare the 2004 Chicago QB corps as the absolute worst of the past 12 years. I'd drop that honor on the 1998 New Orleans Saints: Billy Joe Tolliver (199), the not-yet-cleaned-up Kerry Collins (191) and Danny Wuerffel (119). The '98 Saints Monster gets an honorary fourth head in Billy Joe Hobert (28 completions). Actually, make it five: Despite this collection of numb arms, Mike Ditka decided that the best thing to do with all his 1999 draft picks is use them on one running back. And the Saints went from 6-10 to 3-13. Two guys named Billy Joe!

The Three-Headed Monster can be born in several ways. A team could just not have an NFL-caliber starting quarterback ('98 Saints, '94 Redskins). Or it could have a decent or even great QB, but he gets hurt and the team can't replace him ('04 Bears, '03 Falcons). Or maybe the team just rips itself apart midseason ('93 Browns). A subjective look at the Three-Headed Monsters of the past dozen years (in descending order, with the most gruesome creatures listed first):

1998 Saints: Billy Joe Tolliver (199),Kerry Collins (191), Danny Wuerffel (119)
1994 Oilers: Billy Joe Tolliver (240), Bucky Richardson (181), Cody Carlson (132)
1996 Jets: Frank Reich (331), Neil O'Donnell (188), Glenn Foley (110)
1994 Redskins: Heath Shuler (265), John Friesz (180), Gus Frerotte (100)
2001 Lions: Charlie Batch (341), Ty Detmer (151), Mike McMahon (115)
1999 Bears: Shane Matthews (275), Cade McNown (235), Jim Miller (174)
1997 Eagles: Ty Detmer (244), Bobby Hoying (225), Rodney Peete (118)
2003 Falcons: Michael Vick (100), Kurt Kittner (114), Doug Johnson (243)
1993 Eagles: Bubby Brister (309), Ken O'Brien (137), Randall Cunningham (110)
1993 Browns: Vinny Testaverde (230), Bernie Kosar (138), Todd Philcox (108)
2002 Rams: Kurt Warner (220), Marc Bulger (214), Jamie Martin (195)
1993 Dolphins: Dan Marino (150), Steve Deberg (188), Scott Mitchell (233)

Some answers: 1) Yes, there are some fine quarterbacks on this list. 2) No, it's not a coincidence that Tolliver and Ty Detmer are on there twice. 3) Yes, the '96 Jets had a much worse record than the '98 Saints. That's not the point.

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