The Last Golden Age of the Blooperino
The year is 2021, but dinosaurs still walk among us. I’m not kidding.
I’m not talking about mahoosive reptiles (like your mum) – I’m talking instead about those statuesque, bronze age pocket passer QBs you see clinging for their lives in the modern NFL.
Only last week in fact, Philip Rivers announced his retirement from Pro Football. If rumours are to be believed, we will lose Drew Brees to the mists of time too, and behind him the other gridiron quadragenarians will soon follow, and then we will be left in an age where ‘the pocket’ is more or less a throwback term. These players’ statistical footprints will likely never be matched again.
Take for example Lamar Jackson, the youngest ever NFL MVP. Despite his clearly prodigious talent, he will never break any passing records. Dual threat QBs have shorter shelf lives – look at Randall Cunningham, at Michael Vick (just don’t look in his basement). Even if Lamar’s body miraculously holds up and he plays into his forties, he’s already well down on his passing yards. Here is a graph I done did to demonstrate:
This graph uses a bit of (admittedly) woolly maths based on these player’s best and worst statistical seasons (discounting those early seasons where they were finding their feet for Phil and Kirk (incidentally both also contenders for ‘The Whitest Man Alive’, 2021)). I assumed each player would play until his 20th season, then used a random number generator to average their net yards over the course of seasons as yet unplayed. I’ll include my reference data for this at the end, as well as for the other graphs in this piece.
This makes two critically important assumptions: A. the players do not lose games due to injury, and B. evolution of the league does not cause the run/pass numbers to artificially inflate. Jackson isn’t going to get anywhere close to these numbers. Honestly, Matty Ice might just do it. Looking at this graph you can tell that he is a perennially underrated player and will likely go down as one of the league’s greatest “almost” guys – ironically along with big Phil himself. You can make a case for Russ, Deshaun Watson or Pat Mahomes making a run for it, and you’d be credible, but what then? What comes after? The future of the sport will grind to a statistical halt until we realise that adjusted total yards is a much more apt metric of QB talent in this day and age.
There is another record that will likely never be broken too. Hold onto your hats with one hand and your butts with the other, and grow a third and fourth hand to hold onto those hands, for we are about to pass through a scary, scary door.
Welcome to the pass yardage record’s twisted, mutated cousin. I discovered these hideous statistical outliers whilst gathering data for the Mr Caviar Fingers Article, and I was so fascinated by them I decided I had to delve deeper and really stitch the bones of this corpse together to work out how she died. This is the Gridiron Xtra version of Blood Spatter analysis. This is a post-mortem.
Gruesome, eh? That’s every qualifying QB’s rushing yards amassed between 2011 and 2020. There are 106 of them. It hurts the eyes. It doesn’t tell us much as it is, so let’s dig into it a bit.
That’s a bit better. I imagine you can tell who these guys are. Up there in the blue, that is Cam Newton. He’s basically been in a league of his own in the 2010s. Next in Seahawk green, that’s Russell Wilson. Then in the gold, Colin Kaepernick, whose line stops a damn shame earlier than it should. In purple, taking the league by storm, that’s Lamar Jackson. Pass yards be damned. Down the bottom, in grey, that’s Kyler Murray poised to do just the same. That is quite the splatter to analyse. A horrible, brutal crime must have taken place here. All of these dots, all of these lines are stories in their own right. But they aren’t this story.
Other than the fact that they have all played in the NFL, there is seemingly nothing that links these players. We have the footprints of future hall of famers like Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, alongside lesser known guys like T.J. Yates and Charlie Whitehurst (100% never heard of him before in my life). If you looked at their careers in isolation, there is nothing to tie these players together. Or so it would seem…
The general rule of thumb in zoology is that when you discover a thing, you get to name it. I therefore introduce into the vernacular the word ‘Blooperino’. Bloops for short. The official definition: seasons with negative rushing yards.
Cue X-files music spike.
This is the insidious nature of the Blooperino – each and every one of these players suffered seasons between 2011 and 2020 where they actually, over the course of a season, managed to rush the ball backwards. That is pure insanity. Surely in football the only time a QB is on the field the objective is literally to take the ball and move it forward to get more opportunities to take it forward. Surely then, it is a complete impossibility that they somehow manage to move backwards? It goes against the very laws that govern football. It’s like going to bed on a Monday and waking up the previous Sunday.
For the record, this stat does not include yards lost due to sacks, but does include things such as kneeldowns or failed QB sneaks as well as designed QB runs that didn’t make it back to the line of scrimmage and scrambles that went out of bounds, pursued by defenders. Unforced fumbles also count, although those are rare, and even then they’re only measured to the point that the QB lost the ball. And hey, if the Dan Orlovsky safety came in 2018 rather than 2008, that would’ve heckin’ counted too.
The average starting QB plays between 800 and 1,100 snaps per year. That’s between 800 and 1,100 opportunities to move the ball forwards. In the modern NFL between 30% and 60% of those are designed runs conducted by a running back, meaning the ball stays in the average starting QB’s hands 522 and a half times per season. That’s 552 and a half opportunities to run the ball.
Even if your movement is as glacial as Big Phil Rivers, there are still opportunities there to look upfield, find all your targets blanketed by the coverage, find a seam and rush forward a yard or two. No team, no matter how awful, how hellish, how “2008 Lions” they are has ever finished a game with negative offensive yards since the NFL-AFL merger.
The Blooperino is the evil twin of the pass yard; the hideous, twisted ghoul that the NFL keeps in the attic. It has to exist, by the laws of the sport. But nobody wants to talk about it. Who would admit they actively regressed. But it is now vitally important that we draw attention to the Bloop. It is an endangered species.
Alongside the immovable soviet artillery of NFL Quarterbacks, it is dying too. As the skillset of the QBs entering the league gets more and more diverse, and the spread offense continues to proliferate into the college game, the age of the true pocket passer is over. Interesting thought experiment: who was the last pure pocket passer drafted into the NFL? I don’t know, I honestly don’t. As the players become more and more proficient scramblers, we may see the Blooperino, ignominious, calamitous as it is, lost to the mists of time too; unbreakable records of negative rushing yards.
You see that blue line on that graph, there? That’s Blake Bortles. He’s currently buried on the Rams depth chart, but for a while he was the starter down in Jacksonville. His 2019 Bloop reduced his career rushing yards from 1766 to 1757. This is a real world effect. This is something Bortles will have to live with for the rest of his life. The green line poking out there belongs to Matt Hasselbeck. Playing for the Colts in 2014, after Andrew Luck’s injury and Peyton Manning’s blockbuster free agent move to the Broncos, Matt Hasselbeck rushed for -11 yards on 8 carries. His last career appearances occurred in 2015.
So I lied to you before. A bit. A little white lie. These were indeed sufferers of the 2011-2020 Bloops. But they weren’t the only ones…
This is the Ultimate Blooperino Graph. I promise, it’s the last one. These five players share something so embarrassing, so heinous, that they have banded together to purge it from the Football’s emotional zeitgeist. These five players share a shameful legacy – these are the players who have net negative rushing yards this decade. Over ten years and ten potential seasons, these men have combined to rush backwards. 3 of these guys have never even broke even in their entire careers – Ryan Mallett, Matt Flynn and Nick Mullens. Look at poor Nick Mullens. Even with a positive season last year, he’s still a ways to go before he gets back to where he started. Matt Barkley just kissed the zero before dropping below it.
Oh wait. There’s one more. That blue one there – the one with -55 rushing yards. Who is that, there? Those other guys are backups, so is this guy a backup too? Must be right?
Let me check…
Hold on a sec…
This can’t be right.
So that’s five-time NFL MVP, Peyton Manning. I’m not making this up. See that big drop between 2012 and 2013? En route to his final MVP award in 2013, Peyton rushed for a whopping -33 yards – exactly one third of the field in the wrong direction. Why are you doing this to me Peyton? I’m trying to make an article that makes sense here…
So there you have it. Possibly the greatest to ever play the game rushed backwards in possibly his greatest season. I’m going to be honest, this is not what I envisioned happening when I started this. Can someone pass me the coroners report please? I’m calling time of death on this decade.
The Blooperino is dying. This is a snapshot of the careers of 106 players who played Quarterback this decade. Of those guys, 42 rushed us the wrong way. 21 were drafted between 2011 and 2020. Just three were drafted between 2015 and 2020. I would say that, in order to be fair we need to adjust this for QBs reaching the end of their careers. Even so, the numbers drop wildly. The age of the true pocket passer is almost over.
The golden age of the Bloop might be drawing to a close too.