Fast forward to early September. Assume the Arizona Cardinals have just named a starting quarterback. Fans are debating the decision. They know John Skelton had a better won-lost record than Kevin Kolb as a starter last season, but beyond that, there isn't much to go on.
Meanwhile, fantasy football general managers are wondering what the choice means for them. They know Larry Fitzgerald will put up his usual Pro Bowl-caliber numbers, but they're less sure what the decision might mean for Andre Roberts, Early Doucet or some of the other receivers on the team (tight ends, too).
The truth is that we won't know for certain. The dynamics could change from 2011 as Kolb gains a firmer grasp of the offense in his first full offseason with the team. But in taking a closer look at the Cardinals' passing game last season, we can say the following:
Skelton was more likely than Kolb to target Fitzgerald.
Skelton was more likely than Kolb to target Roberts.
Kolb was quite a bit more likely than Skelton to target Doucet.
We touched on a related subject last season and revisited it Friday after Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said the team frequently failed to find open receivers, notably Roberts, during the 2011 season.
Kolb and Skelton played roughly the same number of snaps last season. They completed and attempted a similar number of passes. Each played about the same number of snaps with Fitzgerald and Roberts. Skelton played more snaps with Doucet. Kolb played more with tight end Rob Housler.
To find out how frequently each quarterback targeted specific receivers, I totaled the snaps each receiver played with each quarterback, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information. I then divided those totals by targets per receiver. Next, I multiplied that figure by the number of offensive snaps in a typical game (about 65 for Arizona last season).
The results appear in the first chart below. Skelton targeted Fitzgerald and Roberts a combined 5.4 more times than Kolb did in a typical game. Kolb targeted Doucet about 4.5 additional times per game.
There could be hidden factors at work here. The chart isn't definitive. And, as noted, the dynamics will change. Michael Floyd's addition as a first-round draft choice will likely push Roberts into the slot, where Doucet flourished last season. Housler is expected to play a more prominent role as well.
2011 Cardinals: Targets Per 65 Snaps
The second chart shows yards per attempt by receiver and quarterback.
Kolb averaged 7.7 yards per attempt last season, compared to 7.0 for Skelton.
While Kolb was less likely than Skelton to target Fitzgerald, the results were better on average by about 2.1 yards per target. These figures should give Cardinals fans some hope for Kolb if the quarterback can reduce sacks (one per 9.4 dropbacks, compared to one per 12.9 for Skelton) and become more efficient overall.
Each quarterback targeted tight end Jeff King 17 times. King caught 48- and 21-yard touchdown passes in the first two games, both from Kolb. That explains the 4.8-yard difference per attempt.