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An Abbreviated History of Unproven Backups

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Rookie Dak Prescott is making the Dallas Cowboys’ brain trust look very good thanks to his first-half performance against the Rams on Saturday night. Jameill Showers had one very nice play to salvage a third-down. His overall performance was weak, however, compared with Prescott.

The Cowboys historically had good backups ready to take over in case injuries occurred to their starters. This has continued to be the case for the most part under Jerry Jones, but Jones is less willing to develop younger players.

Here is a quick look at situations where Dallas had to roll the dice with unproven backups.

1964, John Roach: During the Cowboys’ first four seasons, they had both Eddie LaBaron and Don Meredith. When LaBaron retired, though, the backup job went to John Roach, an SMU graduate who had started 16 games in six years for the Cardinals and Packers. Roach started four games for the Cowboys that year but lost all four. One year later, the Cowboys drafted Craig Morton, and Roach was out of football.

1975, Clint Longley: I’ll go ahead and throw this one in here. The Cowboys traded Morton midway through the 1974 season, leaving only Clint Longley as the backup. We all know that Longley was the savior on Thanksgiving Day in 1974, but he was still relatively unproven when he served as the backup in 1975. He started one game that season, leading Dallas to a 31-21 win over the Jets.

1980, Glenn Carano: Carano had been the team’s third-string quarterback since 1978, but he had never thrown an NFL pass in a regular season game. The Cowboys drafted Gary Hogeboom in 1980, but Carano was the team’s second-string QB in 1980 and 1981.

1986, Steve Pelleur: The Cowboys traded Hogeboom to the Colts in 1986, leaving Steve Pelleur and his eight career passes as the backup.  When the 6-2 Cowboys lost White for the season with a broken wrist, Pelleur led the team to a 1-7 finish.

1988, Kevin Sweeney: White was the backup to begin the 1988 season, but he had nothing left in the tank. Sweeney was Tony Romo before there was a Tony Romo in Dallas—exciting to watch in preseason, and fans wanted to see what he could do as the starter. Well, two starts, two losses, and a passer rating of 40.2 ended the Sweeney era.

1990, Babe Laufenberg: The Cowboys entered the 1990 season with Steve Walsh as the backup, but Dallas traded Walsh to New Orleans early in the season. This left Babe Laufenberg and his 2-4 career record as a starter with the Chargers. When Aikman went down with a season-ending injury and the playoffs were on the line, Laufenberg’s performance guaranteed that the Cowboys would watch those playoffs from home.

1993, Jason Garrett: This one falls under the same category as Clint Longley. Dallas had success with Steve Beurlein as the backup in 1991 and 1992, but he signed with the Cardinals. That left Jason Garrett. Although most fans remember Garrett for leading Dallas to a comeback win on Thanksgiving Day in 1994, he first served as the second-stringer in 1993. With the Cowboys trying to defend their Super Bowl title, Jones signed Bernie Kosar midway through the season, and Kosar came through in the playoffs to help Dallas secure a win over the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. Garrett needed a few more years to develop.

2001, Anthony Wright, Ryan Leaf, Clint Stoerner: The starter named to replace the retired Troy Aikman was Quincy Carter. When Carter was injured, Dallas went through a cycle of players who had no business starting, including the infamous first-round bust Leaf and former Arkansas Razorback Stoerner. Of course, Wright and Stoerner both one games that season, and their two wins were one more than Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Kellen Moore managed in 2015.

2002, Chad Hutchinson: The Cowboys signed former baseball player Hutchinson as something akin to buying a lottery ticket. He wasn’t ready to start in 2002, but the Cowboys decided to start him anyway after Carter struggled. Dallas went 2-7 with Hutchinson, and he threw only two passes the following season as Carter’s backup.

2004, Drew Henson: Dallas was not finished buying lottery tickets in the form of former baseball players. Henson had started at Michigan, and when Dallas went 3-7 under Vinny Testaverde, Bill Parcells decided to start Henson on Thanksgiving Day. Henson completed only four passes, and Parcells decided he had seen enough and sent Testaverde back in.  Henson never threw another pass for the Cowboys.

2005, Tony Romo: Yes, Romo worked out quite well, but he had never played a down in a regular season game before becoming the backup to Drew Bledsoe in 2005. He did not play a down in 2005, either, but he was firmly entrenched as the starter by the middle of the 2006 season.

2015, Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, Kellen Moore: Weeden and Cassel don’t quite fit the “unproven” label, but I’ll throw this summary in here. The Cowboys had brought in several veterans to back up Romo between 2007 and 2014, including Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna, and Kyle Orton. Weeden was a veteran, but he was generally unproven even though he had started 20 games for the Browns. After he led the Cowboys to three losses, the team signed Cassel, another veteran, but Cassel went 1-6. Moore finished out the season but could not lead the Cowboys to a win in two starts.

2016: Dak Prescott (presumably): Unless Prescott really falls apart in the remaining three preseason games, it looks if the backup job is his to lose. Hopefully, we see much more of this…

Romo Has a Record-Breaking Day, but Not in a Good Way

No Tebowing in Dallas, but if there were Romoing, it would look something like this.

Tony Romo set a record for passing attempts on Sunday against the Giants and came close to setting a few more. However, nobody will want to remember these numbers. The stat line was as follows:

  • 62 attempts (team record)
  • 36 completions (2nd highest total in team history)
  • 437 yards (3rd highest total in team history)
  • 4 interceptions (tied for the second highest total in team history)
  • 22,907 career yards (now the second highest total in team history, surpassing Roger Staubach)

It stands to reason that the Cowboys have not fared well when quarterbacks have thrown multiple interceptions. However, in the history of the Cowboys, days with big passing yards have also been bad.  Consider these statistics:

Attempts

Only three Dallas quarterbacks have had at least 50 passing attempts in a game. This includes Romo, Troy Aikman, and Vinny Testaverde. The Cowboys’ record in those games: 1-7. Here’s a look:

Passing
Rk Player Age Date Opp Result Att ?
1 Tony Romo 32-190 2012-10-28 NYG L 24-29 62
2 Troy Aikman* 32-005 1998-11-26 MIN L 36-46 57
3 Tony Romo 29-229 2009-12-06 NYG L 24-31 55
4 Troy Aikman* 31-023 1997-12-14 CIN L 24-31 53
5 Troy Aikman* 30-318 1997-10-05 NYG L 17-20 52
6 Tony Romo 30-151 2010-09-19 CHI L 20-27 51
7 Tony Romo 27-170 2007-10-08 BUF W 25-24 50
8 Vinny Testaverde 40-304 2004-09-12 MIN L 17-35 50
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/29/2012.

Completions

Romo is the only Cowboys quarterback with at least 36 completions in a single game. He holds the team record with 41, set in 2009 against the Giants. The result in both games? Losses, of course.

This is the fifth time that Romo has completed at least 34 passes. His record in those games is 1-4. Aikman completed 34 passes twice and lost both games. Jon Kitna completed 34 passes in 2010, and the Cowboys lost.

Yardage

Romo, Aikman, and Don Meredith are each on the list of QBs with 400 yards passing in a game. Their combined record: 1-4.

Passing
Rk Player Age Date Tm Opp Result Yds ?
1 Don Meredith 25-214 1963-11-10 DAL SFO L 24-31 460
2 Troy Aikman* 32-005 1998-11-26 DAL MIN L 36-46 455
3 Tony Romo 32-190 2012-10-28 DAL NYG L 24-29 437
4 Tony Romo 30-172 2010-10-10 DAL TEN L 27-34 406
5 Don Meredith 28-217 1966-11-13 DAL WAS W 31-30 406
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/29/2012.

Interceptions

Not surprisingly, the Cowboys have a terrible record when QBs have thrown at least four interceptions. Romo has now done it three times and has a 1-2 record in those games.  The Cowboys’ historic record when QBs have thrown at least four picks is 5-19.

Danny White had the most games with at least four picks with six. Strangely, though, he had a 4-2 career record in those six games.

Staubach’s Numbers

No surprise that Romo surpassed Staubach in passing yardage.

The comparisons end there. Period.

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The Worst Backup in the History of the Dallas Cowboys?

On October 13, I optimistically suggested that the Cowboys could have good fortune with Brad Johnson coming off the bench. That was dumb.  We’ve since been treated to quarterback play worse than what we had endured for much of this decade prior to the arrival of Tony Romo.

The Dallas Observer’s blog ran a piece today listing the worst quarterbacks in the history of the Dallas Cowboys. Here are the results from that story:

10. Tony Banks
Heralded as Troy Aikman’s successor in ’01, was beat out by Quincy Carter and cut in training camp

9. Ryan Leaf
Ugly ’01 stint included one TD, three picks and a 57.7 rating

8. Reggie Collier
Spot duty in ’86 resulted in two interceptions and a 55.8 rating

7. Drew Henson
Former Michigan star was harmless in short Dallas gig, throwing only one TD and one interception

6. Kevin Sweeney
’87 scab hero faltered in ’88 with 42-percent completions, five interceptions and 40.2 rating

5. Anthony Wright
’00 cameo littered with no TDs, three interceptions and a 31.7 rating

4. Clint Stoerner
Threw four picks in the second half of an ’01 loss at the Giants

3. John Roach
Filled in for Don Meredith in ’64 with one TD, six interceptions and a 31.1 rating

2. Babe Laufenberg
Backed up Aikman in ’90 with one TD, six interceptions and a woeful 16.9 rating.

1. Brad Johnson
Sunday’s repulsive performance, equipped with a 27.3 rating, set a new standard for Dallas dysfunction.

I personally disagree that some of these QBs should be on a list such as this.

* Banks never really played for the Cowboys, so I don’t see how anyone could add him to the list. There are quite a few busts who played for Dallas in training camp.

* Leaf only played because of injuries to Quincy Carter. The same is true of Wright and Stoerner. None of them were good quarterbacks by any stretch of the imagination, but they were really third-stringers (or in the case of Leaf, a player the Cowboys hoped could be rehabilitated and were willing to pay a small price to give him a shot).

* Collier was a third-stringer who saw action after Danny White broke his wrist in 1986.

* Sweeney only saw action in 1988 because the team was so bad and fans thought he showed some magic when given the chance in the scab games in 1987 and the preseason in 1988.

I would prefer to focus on those quarterbacks who backed up established starters on the Cowboys. So I would add the following two players:

Wade Wilson

Wilson was only 36 when he became Troy Aikman’s backup in 1995. He only had to start one game, but he hardly struck fear into opposing defenses. In three years as a backup, he threw one touchdown and four interceptions, earning a passer rating of 63.9.

Jerry Rhome

Rhome is better known now as a quarterbacks coach than for his pro football career. There wasn’t much to remember about his playing days. In four seasons with Dallas, he started three games, going 1-2 as a starter. He threw a total of one touchdown pass for the Cowboys along with three interceptions and finished with a 60.7 passer rating. There is no reason to wonder why Craig Morton emerged as the primary backup.

Gary Hogeboom

Hogeboom seldom played before being thrown into the starting role in 1984 in one of Tom Landry’s worst moves (at least in the 1980s). Hogeboom won half of his starts, but he could only manage a 65.4 career passer rating with the Cowboys (thanks to 13 touchdowns and 23 interceptions).

For good measure, let’s also throw in the names of Quincy Carter and Chad Hutchinson.

So who was the worst? Let’s have a poll.

Worst Backup Quarterback in Team History

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My vote: Laufenberg

Babe Laufenberg

The original can’t-complete-a-pass-to-save-my-life-or-my-team backup was Laufenberg, who came off the bench in 1990 when the Cowboys needed one win to secure a playoff berth. His one start came against the 4-11 Falcons, who held the Cowboys to 151 total yards of offense in a 26-7 win over Dallas.