Most young, inexperienced quarterbacks are going to struggle on the road against top NFL defenses.
John Skelton's performance for the Arizona Cardinals against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 11 undercut even the most guarded expectations. Skelton finished the game with a 10.5 NFL passer rating and 0.9 Total QBR that ranked among the lowest recorded since ESPN began tracking the stat for the 2008 season.
The performance came at a time when the Cardinals' ability to develop quarterback talent was already inviting tough questions. Injured starter Kevin Kolb has struggled and arguably regressed during his first seven starts with the team, while ex-Cardinal Matt Leinart has a shot at taking the Houston Texans to the playoffs.
The questions we discussed when the Cardinals acquired Kolb linger:
Was Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt a driving force behind Ben Roethlisberger's historic rookie season in Pittsburgh, or mostly a beneficiary of it?
Was Whisenhunt pivotal in restoring Kurt Warner's career by persuading Warner to reform his Mike Martz-coached penchant for the daring? Or did Whisenhunt luck into a Hall of Famer, with former coordinator Todd Haley taking the lead internally?
These questions might not have clear answers. But continued struggles at quarterback will amplify them, particularly if Leinart appears vastly improved under Gary Kubiak in Houston.
Total QBR, which measures how quarterbacks affect their teams' chances for winning, shows Kolb and Skelton lagging badly. Their scores are in the 30s out of 100, with 50 being average and 65 over a full season representing Pro Bowl-caliber play. Warner was at 66.5 for the 2008 season and 64.5 the following year.
The first chart shows QBR scores for NFC West quarterbacks by week and for the season.
Rich Bartel's low score in Week 5 reflects, in part, the hopeless circumstances he inherited late in the game at Minnesota. There was nothing he could do to improve the Cardinals' win probability in a meaningful way.
2011 NFC West: Total QBR by Week (0-100 scale, with 50 being average)
Quick thoughts on how NFC West passers graded out in Week 11 according to Total QBR, with NFL passer ratings in parenthesis as a reference point:
Alex Smith, 49ers (69.5 QBR, 81.8 NFL rating): Smith completed 20 of 38 passes for 267 yards with two touchdowns, one interception, no sacks, no fumbles and seven carries for 17 yards. Smith was right when he said the 49ers squandered multiple opportunities in the passing game. The interception he threw came after the game was well in control, however, and there was never a point when the 49ers appeared in danger of losing. Those factors helped Smith post a strong QBR for the second week in a row, the third time in four weeks and the fifth time in seven weeks. Taking no sacks helped his cause. Smith did a very good job putting both hands on the ball when the Cardinals got enough pressure to force a scramble.
Tarvaris Jackson, Seahawks (41.3 QBR, 55.6 NFL rating): Jackson completed 14 of 24 passes for 148 yards with one touchdown, two interceptions, four sacks, no fumbles and two carries for 10 yards. Jackson tossed interceptions on his first two passes, which is no way to start a game. His QBR score was below average, but still much better than the score for his Rams counterpart. Jackson played well enough to win under the circumstances, even if he didn't play well overall. Jackson continued to show a strong rapport with rookie receiver Doug Baldwin, finding him for third-down completions covering 35, 15 and 10 yards -- all for first downs.
Rich Bartel, Cardinals (23.8 QBR, 52.5 NFL rating): Bartel completed 8 of 16 passes for 64 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions, one sack, no fumbles and one carry for 9 yards. The game felt out of reach by the time Bartel entered to start the fourth quarter. His 23-yard scoring pass to Larry Fitzgerald stands as a career highlight so far. It made no difference in the game, however. Note: I updated the stats for Bartel in this paragraph. They previously included the six passes he attempted against Minnesota earlier in the season.
Sam Bradford, Rams (13.7 QBR, 60.5 NFL rating): Bradford completed 20 of 40 passes for 181 yards with one touchdown, one interception, five sacks, two fumbles (both lost) and no rushing attempts. This game marked the third of the season for Bradford with a QBR score between 12-14, and he has yet to post one higher than 55.3 this season. Bradford's QBR last season was 41.0. It featured a 94.7 against Denver, an 80.5 at home against San Francisco and a 69.4 against Washington. Unfortunately for the Rams, Bradford was better when Josh McDaniels was trying to stop him than he's been with McDaniels trying to help him. That is confounding even though injuries have affected the offense quite a bit, including Bradford.
John Skelton, Cardinals (0.9 QBR, 10.5 NFL rating): Skelton completed 6 of 19 passes for 99 yards with no touchdowns, three interceptions, one sack, one fumble (Arizona recovered) and no rushing attempts. Whisenhunt criticized him for missing reads, setting up wrong in the pocket and playing like a rookie. Skelton will likely remain the starter against St. Louis in Week 12 if Kolb's foot and toe aren't sufficiently healed. Otherwise, Kolb gets the start.
The chart below shows how quarterbacks from games involving NFC West teams fared in Total QBR for Week 11.