On Saturday, Brock Osweiler, who is like if a person had been born with feet for hands, will start in a playoff game for the Texans against Connor Cook, who is the starting quarterback for the Raiders now because their first-string QB, Derek Carr, broke his leg in Week 16 and their second-string QB, Matt McGloin, injured his shoulder in Week 17.
Even though it will likely result in some not all-the-way stellar football, this matchup is decidedly interesting. Now, I’ll admit that a significant part of why I’m interested is because the Texans are my favorite football team. But there are reasons beyond my purview that make it exciting (and even historic). There are six, in fact, two of which are huge. In question form, they are:
1. HUGE: Is this the least-experienced quarterback matchup in playoff history?
No, but barely. This is easy to answer because it’s just some numbers you have to look at and that’s it. (It’s also easy to answer because in the playoffs following the 2011 season, the Texans started T.J. Yates in a game against the Bengals, and Yates had only five starts to his name then. People in Houston noticed.) Osweiler has started only 21 games in his NFL career, which is crazy because it’s felt like at least 30, 35 easy. Cook, a rookie fourth-round pick, has started exactly zero games in his NFL career. That’s a combined total of 21 starts between the two of them. Look:
21 + 0 = 21
In the Super Bowl era, this is the first time that a starting quarterback will have started zero regular-season games. Three passers have started a postseason game with three-games-started experience (Paul McDonald for Cleveland in the playoffs after the 1982 season, Kelly Holcomb for Cleveland in 2002, A.J. McCarron for Cincinnati in 2015), one player has done it with two-games-started experience (Joe Webb for Minnesota in 2012) and four players have done it with one-game-started experience (Ron Jaworski in 1975, Gifford Nielsen in 1979, Doug Flutie in 1986, Todd Marinovich in 1991). Connor Cook is the only QB to have done it with zero-games-started experience. And no one mentioned above (or even anyone who had four or five or six starts) ever played against each other in the playoffs.
So the Brock + Connor 21 Combined Starts is tied for the second lowest in history. The lowest happened in 1971, when Bob Lee and Roger Staubach played each other in a Vikings-Cowboys playoff game. (At the time, Lee had just six starts and Staubach had 14.) Tied for second place was the aforementioned Texans-Bengals game after the 2011 season. (Yates had five starts. His opponent, Andy Dalton, started all the games for the Bengals that season, but it was just his first season, so he had a total of just 16.)
So, yes: This is tied for the second-least-experienced quarterback matchup in playoff history.
Two things stand out: (1) Bob Lee is the name of Mark Wahlberg’s character in Shooter, so you can imagine my surprise when I read about Bob Lee the football player and found out that he isn’t in the Hall of Fame. (2) Osweiler has started 14 games this season, which is the same number of career starts Roger Staubach had when he faced off against Bob Lee. Staubach’s Cowboys ended up winning the Super Bowl that year. I’m just connecting the dots here.
2. Does experience even matter?
May I tell you a short anecdote? I’m going to tell you a short anecdote.
Last summer, I decided it was very important that I play an entire season of Tecmo Super Bowl on the original Nintendo over the course of a weekend. I was home and I think my wife and children were gone and I had some time, so that’s how I spent it.
I used the Raiders, and I played all 16 games to get to the playoffs, and after each one I would check the stats the computer kept to see where I ranked in sacks (first, Riki Ellison), rushing (first, Bo Jackson), passing (last place because I ran on nearly every possession), offense (first), and defense (first). It was a great time, and I was very confident heading into my first playoff game (against the Bills). But then the game started. And everything fell apart.
It wasn’t just that the Bills were better than me (they weren’t). It’s that — and this is a thing I’d forgotten — the background music that the game plays during the regular season on Tecmo Super Bowl gets replaced in the playoffs by a slightly faster, slightly more intense song. I was completely caught off guard. I wasn’t ready for it because I wasn’t expecting it. I was, in a word, shook. It was the first time in my life I’d ever taken seriously the idea that experience in a sporting contest was important.
At any rate, what I’m saying is, yes, experience matters.
Brock Osweiler has spent a good portion of this season getting humiliated by just about everyone. When things begin to fall apart in Houston on Saturday, he will be in his element. It will not even be a tiny bit foreign to him. He’s expecting that music. He’s got the advantage here.
Sidebar: My favorite stat about Cook is that in 2012 his team won the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, which is a bowl game that I didn’t even know existed but instantly became my favorite. I’m a very big fan of food-based bowl games. The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is the A1 food-based bowl game. A2 is the Outback Bowl, which is sponsored by Outback Steakhouse. A3 is the Sugar Bowl. Last place is the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
3. Whose coach trusts him more?
This is Jack Del Rio, coach of the Raiders, talking about trusting Connor Cook in the game Saturday: “He won a lot of big games at Michigan State. I know this is a different level, but he’s got that kind of unflappable feel about him. We’re going to trust him to go out and lead us.’’
This is Bill O’Brien, coach of the Texans, talking about trusting Brock Osweiler in the game Saturday:
This was the closest I could find: “I thought that he did a nice job. We have a lot of confidence in him that he’s going to go out there and play well on Saturday.”
Is there a trust controversy in Houston????????????
4. HUGE: Is this the worst quarterback matchup in playoff history?
This one is a bit trickier to answer, but not impossible.
For Cook, as mentioned earlier, there’s just no information yet, so we have to bypass him here. For Osweiler, it’s much clearer.
There’s a stat they keep on Pro-Football-Reference called adjusted net yards per pass attempt index (ANY/A+). It seems like a lot — there’s this long formula that goes into calculating it — but mostly it’s just a beefed-up version of the regular yards per attempt stat. (The main difference is that it inserts values for things like touchdowns and reverse values for things like interceptions and sacks.) An average score is 100. Anything over that is above average; anything below it is below average. Brock’s score this season: 71. If you’re like, “Well, at least that’s a passing score,” let me tell you something: It’s super not.
This season, if we look at quarterbacks who threw at least 150 passes, only Jared Goff, who started half as many games as Osweiler has this season, and Blaine Gabbert, who is Blaine Gabbert and also started only five games, had lower scores (Goff had a 47, and Gabbert had a 67). And if we look at all the seasons through to 1969, only one other time has anyone finished with a score lower than Osweiler’s 71 and started a playoff game (Scott Brunner had a 67 when he started for the Giants in 1981). That’s very nuts.
On one side you’ve got the least-experienced quarterback to start a playoff game of all time. And on the other side you’ve got the quarterback with the second-lowest ANY/A+ rating ever among guys who have thrown at least 150 passes in a season to start a playoff game that season. So, yes: This is the worst quarterback matchup in playoff history.
Here’s a fun thing, though: If we toggle the settings a bit and change it from 150 pass attempts to 200 pass attempts for a season, Osweiler gets to be the worst (Brunner had 190 pass attempts in 1981). And guess who he leapfrogs over to get into first place there. 2015 Peyton Manning, who had a 75 that season. And guess what else. Peyton’s Broncos ended up winning the Super Bowl that year. I’m just connecting the dots here.
5. Shouldn’t the fact that Osweiler had, statistically, one of the worst seasons in the Super Bowl era tilt that last category toward Cook?
Yes. You’re right.
6. OK, but so who’s going to win the game?
May I tell you a second short anecdote? I’m going to tell you a second short anecdote.
In June 2014, we had a birthday party for my twin sons. It was a backyard party at my house, and we had one of those bouncy-house water slides in the backyard and there were video game consoles, among other things, in the house to keep the kids entertained. Two of the guests — friends of my sons — were dropped off by their parents. One of the kids, when his mom dropped him off, she said, “Keep an eye on him. He’ll do some bad shit if he knows you aren’t watching him.” The other kid’s mom, she didn’t say anything. She just came in, gave him a hug, said she’d be back in two hours, and left.
Now, the first kid, the badass one (let’s call him Pat), I watched TF out of him. Everywhere he went, I was on him. I was on him like when you’re in a store and they think you’re going to steal something. Every time he reached for something I was like, “Can I help you, sir? What do you need? What are you reaching for?” I was like that the whole time. And things were mostly fine. The one time I stopped paying attention to him, he knocked a smaller kid down, but I was on “That’s just Pat being Pat” mode by then so it didn’t bother me.
The party ended, everyone went home, and it was great. Then the next day I got a phone call. It was from the mom of that second kid (let’s call him John). She told me that she’d found three Nintendo 3DS games in John’s pockets. I asked my sons if they were missing games and, sure enough, they were. John had stolen them. Come to find out, he’d also spilled a juice box and just kicked it under a bed rather than clean it up.
The point is this: I knew what I was getting with Pat when Pat showed up. I had his scouting report — it was given to me by his mom. John caught me off guard. I wasn’t ready for that.
With these quarterbacks, it’s the same thing. I know what we’re getting from Brock on Saturday (probably something close to 18-for-33 for 68 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions). With Cook, things are less clear. There’s less to go on, less knowledge. I’m hoping he shows up and is terrible. But I can’t definitely rule out the possibility that he goes into Kurt Warner In His First Playoff Game Mode and throws for 400 yards and five touchdowns.
Raiders get the edge here on uncertainty.