Upon Further Review: Backup QBs

The Bills are having a quarterback competition.

Not one in the traditional sense, of course. Most of the time, when a football fan talks about a “QB” competition, they’re referring to the starting QB job. This time around, however, the starting QB is not in danger of being knocked off his pedestal (despite the cries of a very vocal Vince Young fan club). And so, with Brad Smith being inked in as the number three QB by head coach Chan Gailey, the focus centers on the backups.

With one preseason game under our belts, there’s not a ton of evidence from which to draw. However, if we start with a stat line and a key moment from the game for each QB, we can begin to paint a picture of how this battle may unfold:

V. Young 5/12 50 yards 4.2 YPA 0 TD 0 INT
T. Thigpen 3/8 38 yards 4.8 YPA 0 TD 1 INT

V. Young 5 rushes 37 yards
T. Thigpen 0 rushes 0 yards

I’m not sure there’s an argument that can be made that the stat line does not favor Young. His completion percentage and total yards are higher, he didn’t throw an interception, and he contributed on the ground. If you’re going to argue that Thigpen having a higher YPA by .6 yards means he wins the stat battle, then I’m concerned for your sanity.

As we all know, though, there is more to football than stats. So let’s look at the defining positive moment in each quarterback’s game:

Photo by Rick Stewart, Getty Images
Photo by Rick Stewart, Getty Images

Thigpen – 7:02 left in 2nd quarter. Ball on WAS 38 yard line. Defense just finished a stand pinning the Redskins deep in their own territory, setting the Bills up with great field position.

Formation is offset I. Clowney is wide left. Graham is tight right. Play action to choice and it’s a two man route with Graham running an intermediate drag across the field and Clowney running a flag. This gives Thigpen two spaces on his left to make the throw: one in the intermediate area to Graham and another in the deep area to Clowney. He makes the throw to Graham for a big gain down to the 17 yard line.

Drive would stall in the red zone.

On paper, this shows up as a good gain and everybody’s happy. Upon further review, though, Clowney was wide open for what would have been a sure-fire touchdown on the same play in the same cone of vision. Clowney has three steps on his man and the viewer can actually see the frustration on Clowney’s face as he knows he could have had six for the Bills. There’s really not much excuse for this subpar read, either, because the route tree is SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED so that Thigpen can see BOTH routes develop on top of one another simultaneously.

So even Thigpen’s best throw came with a caveat.

Young – 14:35 left in 4th. Ball on WASH 38 yard line. 2nd and 13.

Formation is shotgun 4 WR. RB is next to Young iso side and it’s Johnny White. Easley, Roosevelt, and Dickerson on the right. Kamar Aiken is on the left.

Photo by Scott DelleFave, BillsMafia.com
Photo by Scott DelleFave, BillsMafia.com

Young’s first look is Dorin Dickerson, who is open but has a man over him. Young looks to Easley wide open on the slant under the other two right routes. He hits #81 in stride and Easley gets almost the entire yardage needed for the first down. That makes it a manageable 3rd and 1 and the play is a success.

Upon further review, it looks like this was most likely the best possible outcome of the play. Dickerson would have made the catch is the ball was delivered well, but he wouldn’t had gotten as much yardage as Easley did. Roosevelt and Aiken weren’t open.

In conclusion, the stats and the minimal review of tape seem to point to Young leading this chase to back up starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. There are additional factors to consider, as always, and a portion of one preseason game will never be conclusive, but it’s a place to start.