Preseason games take a lot of flak, and for good reason.
The on-field action can be, at times, watered down because of bloated rosters and waves of fringe players. And while the roster mainstays do get their time to shine, injuries always threaten to massively ruin the whole experience. All of which is to say, it’s no surprise (even if it’s a bummer) that coaches have stepped in to make preseason even less interesting – especially if you’re interested in quarterbacks.
Over at FiveThirtyEight, Michael Salfino writes about the sharp decline in participation from starting quarterbacks in the preseason, noting that the signal callers you know, love, hate, and love to hate aren’t playing nearly as much as they used to – and they’re definitely not playing in the fourth (and final) preseason game of the summer.
So in an attempt to measure the decline, Salfino analyzed the 10 QBs who’ve thrown for the most yards since 2007, and the results are relatively shocking. Indeed, Salfino’s findings show that this group of quarterbacks* attempted an average of 45 passes in the preseason from 2007 to 2012, but just an average of 26.9 by 2015. Fast-forward to this season, and that number drops all the way down to 18.8.
Clearly, there has been a major shift in the way NFL teams have approached preseason football, but, apparently, the Chicago Bears did not get that memo.
Consider that the Bears’ projected 2017 starting quarterback, Mike Glennon, has thrown 44 passes this preseason, while third-string rookie Mitch Trubisky finished with 53 after Thursday’s preseason finale against the Browns. Those numbers are more in line with how things used to be, but maybe we can understand why the Bears might not be in line with this new plan of attack.
In Glennon, the Bears have a starter who hasn’t started since 2014 and has thrown just 11 passes since the start of the 2015 season. Then there’s Trubisky, a highly touted rookie prospect who had only 13 games of starting experience at North Carolina and no experience running a pro style offense. So, is it really a surprise that head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains put together a plan to allow the team’s two most important quarterbacks to get the most in-game reps? I’d think not. Coincidentally, Mark Sanchez – who is the most experienced quarterback and listed as No. 2 on the depth chart – has received the fewest game snaps.
Pulling back on quarterback pass attempts seems rooted in the logic of keeping the most valuable commodities in sports out of the line of fire and healthy for the regular season. But as Salfino points out, Tony Romo threw only six passes last preseason before being injured, showing that even the best laid plans aren’t quite bulletproof.
It will be interesting to follow this trend in the coming years, or to see whether or not the NFL and NFLPA can finally come to an agreement to cut back on preseason games. Because despite what the Bears are doing as the exception, most fans are going to be less inclined to pay regular season prices to see reserve quarterbacks in exhibition games.
*Which includes: Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, and Joe Flacco.
Michael Cerami contributed to this post.