The Electric Commentary

Monday, November 28, 2005

Brad Johnson's Big Advantage

First and foremost, Daunte Culpepper is a better QB than Brad Johnson, make no mistake about it. Last season Daunte led one of the best offenses in the history of the NFL, and he has been consistently great for his entire tenure. One bad season does not a bad QB make.

Moreover, Brad Johnson isn't even primarily responsible for the current (and inexplicable) Viking winning streak. In the Vikings' recent win over the Giants, the Vikings only managed to score on returns and on a game winning FG by Paul Edinger. Johnson was terrible in that game.

That said, Johnson is a better fit right now because of his field vision, and because of his immobility.

I've watched Culpepper play for a long time, as the Vikings are the Packers' fiercest rivals. Culpepper has a tendency to focus on one receiver. When that receiver was Randy Moss, this strategy worked well.

I'm willing to bet that if you looked at QBs who run on a regular basis, that you would see a disproportionately high percentage of their passes thrown to their number one receiver. If you're a running QB, it's in your best interest to spend some time waiting for #1 to get open rather than checking down to a second option. At some point it makes sense to throw to the inferior 2nd or 3rd option, but the more often you get the ball to your best receiver, the more productive you will be. If you can buy some time with the run you can wait basically forever, because you always have the option to take off running, and when you're the enormous Daunte Culpepper that may frequently be the best strategy.

If, like Brad Johnson, you can't run, you are forced to spread the ball around. You are forced to go through your progressions to prevent yourself from getting killed by the oncoming rush. The only other option that you have is to throw the ball away, but if you spend life in the pocket, even that option may not be there for you.

When Randy Moss was a Viking it made sense for Culpepper to largely ignore his other options, and to keep plays alive for Moss. Moss could outfight almost anyone for a ball, and when defenses rolled coverage in his direction it would often leave Nate Burleson and Kelly Campbell uncovered.

Now that there is no "dominant" receiver on the Vikings, Culpepper's tendency to focus on one player resulted in a steep increase in turnovers. It also exposed Culpepper to more punishment, as he waited for plays that never developed.

Culpepper is not a "running QB" in the Michael Vick sense. He scrambles when necessary to buy time, and when the defense gives him some room he will take advantage, but he is a pass-first QB, and a fine pocket passer. His problem this season was that he never adjusted to having 2nd and 3rd options that were the equal of his 1st option.

Brad Johnson is old, and to me it looks as if he has a dead arm, but the guy is smart, and he goes through his reads meticulously. He makes the defense spread itself out, and makes them pay for double teams.

As a general rule, if you have a QB with the ability to keep plays alive, it is in your best interest to have a dominant #1 receiver. If, on the other hand, you have an immobile pocket passer, it is strategically better to have a more balanced corps of wide receivers.


  • You make a good point. Favre said in the year after Sharpe was gone that it forced him to be a better QB because he couldn't just rely on one guy all of the time. So Moss could have stunted Culpepper's development. All those lobs that would be intercepted, but for Moss certainly didn't help him any.
    I have long been wary of running QB's because they tend to suck at NFL passing, especially their first 4-5 years. I never decided if this was more because as you said they don't learn to go through their reads because they can run so successfully on the lower levels OR if it is because they can get away with less QB intelligence because they can run. I think having a top WR is good if you have a QB who is already a disciplined passer. Perhaps even a developing QB wouldn't be stunted if your best WR was often a 3rd or 4th read. Steve Young could run very well, had Jerry Rice, and still could make reads.

    This all fits with my general observation that QB intelligence (field intelligence) is vastly underrated compared to that physical gifts that most NFL QB's have anyway.

    By Anonymous Scott, at 12:13 PM  

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