A critical(ly positive) review of Rex Grossman as Redskins quarterback.

I’m not sure if you’ve realized this, but Rex Grossman has a chance to be a winning quarterback on the Redskins this year.  He’s currently 5-6 as a starter this year with two games to play.  When Redskins Hog Heaven went through and did our predictions for the year, both Tony and I thought the Redskins would finish 7-9.  However, neither of us believed that Grossman would be responsible for all seven wins.  If the Redskins are to meet our predictions this season, it will have to be behind Rex Grossman.

Grossman, perhaps beyond all odds, is on pace to start his 12th game of the season, and also has played well enough to prevent the Redskins from adding another quarterback to the roster, which is really the best thing that could have happened to John Beck’s career at this juncture.

Grossman’s statistical performance has been below average, whether by yards per attempt index, DVOA rating, Total QBR, or whatever you want to look at.  Of late, Rex Grossman has stopped taking sacks entirely.  While I wouldn’t recommend to use Grossman’s 71.4 passer rating as an evaluation tool (with a 4.8% INT rate and a 58.3% completion percentage, Grossman’s doing about as well as a Redskins QB can do).

Predictive measures of quarterback play suggest Grossman’s below average play in this system with these receivers and an improved offensive line is still a risky play, but that if he could just go back to the INT rate he showed in Chicago while keeping the gains made in this system, Grossman would be a perfectly average quarterback rate.  We know two things about interceptions as a stat and the Redskins offense:

  • Interceptions are notoriously fickle from year to year (Alex Smith has 5 passing INTs this year! Who saw that coming?) even though they correlate fantastically well to wins and losses (Hey, the Niners are 11-3 this year! Who saw that coming?)  You can become a better decision maker, but the game situations, downs, distances, and teammates will prevent you from becoming better at not throwing interceptions.
  • Kyle Shanahan has not been an offensive coordinator for very long, but with him calling offensive plays, quarterbacks under him have shown an increased interception rate of roughly one-half percent (or 1 pick every 200 attempts).

Rex Grossman has not shown any signs of being a better decision maker with the football now than he was in 2006 with the Chicago Bears.  In fact, Grossman has gone out of his way to justify the interceptions he has thrown this year as being part of the game, whether his fault or someone elses.  Grossman views the interceptions as a necessary evil.  This doesn’t mean Grossman cannot significantly improve as a decision maker prior to next year.  For a guy who is already in his ninth year, Rex Grossman is remarkably inexperienced in terms of live game reps.  Grossman has 45 career NFL starts, and 14 of those have come for the Washington Redskins.  For context: Jason Campbell started 52 games.  As a Redskin.

I think that if the Redskins coaches knew that if they could do the best possible job in their coaching arsenal with Grossman over two to three years as a Redskin and a year with the Texans and that he would come out the other side as a potentially average quarterback, I cannot imagine that he would have been Plan A for the Washington Redskins this year.  On this level, the Redskins reliance on Grossman has been a great example of the inability of the Redskins to critically evaluate their options at the quarterback position.  Grossman as Plan B may not have been ideal, but it would have been more than acceptable if the Redskins had gone out and tried to sign Vince Young, Caleb Hanie or someone with upside as Plan A.  John Beck as Plan A or B was just depressing.

But we should at least consider the merits of average quarterback play for the Washington Redskins.  The Redskins have not proved, recently at least, that they could win with mediocre quarterback production.  But after sitting through a sharp decline from Donovan McNabb in the second half of 2010, some really poor starts by Rex Grossman, and finally the John Beck world tour, it has been discussed in Redskins circles that the decline in quarterback performance from the decidedly average levels under Patrick Ramsey, Mark Brunell, and Jason Campbell to what we’ve had the last two years may have obscured the fact that the team has made some significant improvements elsewhere.  For the first time in the last ten years, average QB play might finally be a viable vehicle for the Redskins to ascend up the charts in the NFC East (it helps for sure that the rest of the NFC East is doing what it can to lower the standard in the division).

What stinks for Ramsey, Brunell, and Campbell is that their efforts came at the wrong time to help the Redskins ascend as a franchise.  But for Rex Grossman?  The book is not closed on his efforts as Redskins quarterback.  He will be a free agent after the season, but the Redskins are the only franchise in the NFL who will sign him to be their starter in Week 1 next year.  Maybe that tells you something about the Redskins.  But it also suggests the Redskins may believe that with a ten year veteran behind center, they’ll finally be ready to compete in the NFC East next season.

Even the most optimistic projections for Grossman would suggest that the Redskins cannot be a favorite in the division as long as he is the quarterback.  But Grossman has never been pushed by a quarterback of the future before.  And if we can make the assumption that Grossman can be pushed either into a career year in 2012 or to the bench for good, we could be looking at a very optimistic offensive season for the Redskins next year.

The Washington Redskins did not hire Mike Shanahan to foster over kind of average quarterback play; they already had that under Al Saunders and then Jim Zorn.  But under Shanahan, if the Redskins can just find a way to get that average quarterback, the Redskins might be able to prove that the future is now.  Rex Grossman is not the best option in the league for the Redskins to obtain average production out of all their options.  He might not even be better than a first round rookie on a throw for throw basis in this system.  There are four or five guys I would take in the 2012 draft over Grossman next year.  But because the Redskins may be looking at one of the two or three first round talents outside of that group, Grossman may be the easiest avenue by which the Redskins make the playoff in 2012.

I don’t think the chances that Mike Shanahan leaves a positive legacy with the Washington Redskins are very good, but it is still possible: if Rex Grossman proves his faith in the gunslinger correct, the Redskins will be able to roll a potential late season winning streak into next season, and possibly lead the NFC East at a meaningful juncture in 2012.  If Grossman cannot continue to produce (or struggles given more opportunity), the Redskins are bound to struggle through a couple of poor months next year, and be playing another lost season.  And with a third lost season on the ledger, I’m not sure anything Shanahan can do — short a super bowl appearence — will make his hire look like a good idea.  

Shanahan’s legacy as Redskins head coach remains tethered to Grossman’s legacy as Redskins quarterback.  And that’s why these last two games matter for the Washington Redskins heading into next year.

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