Putting it in Perspective

Recapping the Antonio Brown off-season

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Antonio Brown's off-season has been one for the record books. From getting frost bite on his feet, to retirement talk over his helmet, to showing up for training camp in a hot air balloon, to publicly posting his fines from Raiders management… it's been quite the ride. That quick summary I just gave doesn't even mention Brown's appearance on the TV show the Masked Singer, his trade demands from Pittsburgh (and Oakland), or his war of words with Ben Roethlisberger.

At the time of writing this article it appears that the story has finally reached its conclusion as Brown signed a 1-year deal to join the Patriots. However, there appears to be a lot of misconceptions out there regarding what happened. In the world of Instagram, twitter, and TMZ; it appears we focused so much on Brown's childish antics that we lost track of some important facts. So, to counteract that I offer the following to help put things in perspective.

1. Antonio Brown was certainly cocky, but did he deserve to be? How good is Antonio Brown really?

On August 19th Brown posted an image on Instagram which shows him to be the #1 wide receiver for receptions, yards, and TDs since 2010. While his stats are true, the approach of "since 2010" is a strange way to compare yourself to your competition. Instead let's look at Brown's first 9 seasons and compare it to some of the all-time greats.

Stats for first 9 seasons in NFL:

  • Antonio Brown - 837 Rec - 11,207 Yards – 74 TDs
  • Larry Fitzgerald -764 Rec - 10,413 Yards – 77 TDs
  • Jerry Rice - 708 Rec - 11,776 Yards – 118 TDs
  • Randy Moss - 676 Rec - 10,700 Yards – 101 TDs
  • Terrell Owens - 669 Rec - 9,772 Yards – 95 TDs
  • Isaac Bruce - 619 Rec - 9,480 Yards – 63 TDs
  • Tim Brown - 495 Rec - 7,180 Yards – 55 TDs

Brown's numbers are in line with and in most cases ahead of some the best to ever play the game. To put this in perspective for us Houstonians; DeAndre Hopkins would need to average 103 Rec – 1,257 Yards – 9 TDs for the next 3 years to match what Brown has already accomplished. Possible, but not easy.

2. Brown threatened to retire over his helmet. Is he insane?

The majority of America heard this story and laughed. The NFL adopted a rule that would force Brown (and other players such as Rodgers and Brady) to wear a newer model helmet to meet updated safety standards. While most players complied, Brown fought back and threatened to retire. He ended up skipping a few Raider's events leading to fines and his eventual leaving of the team. Yes, for most of us this sounds like a stupid reaction. Personally, I thought he had a point.

To offer up a comparison: In 1979 the National Hockey League (NHL) enacted a rule requiring the wearing of helmets for anyone entering the league after that date. This meant that all the current players were grandfathered in and had a choice if they wanted to continue to play without one. Why do this? Because change isn't easy. The league wanted to be safe, but they also wanted to keep up the level of play and knew there might be adverse side-effects to this change.

Now that you have that comparison, try to put yourself in Brown's shoes. Imagine that after 9 years of playing in the league you are told that not only is the helmet you wore not safe (meaning you could have long lasting problems) but that this new helmet could affect your range of vision and comfort on the field. Then when you complained about it, imagine you were basically ignored by NFL management. Wouldn't you feel disrespected? In the end the situation worked out for Brown financially with a helmet company stepping up and paying him to wear their brand. However, Brown's reputation has taken a hit that may one day affect his Hall of Fame chances.

3. Now that he signed with the Patriots, why should we care?

Wide receivers usually get better with age. In the first section I compared Brown to some of the all-time greats. While I was busy manually adding up 9 years of stats one thing became clear, most of those wide receivers had their best statistical season in year 10 or after. Here are a few examples:

  • Jerry Rice (year 11) – 122 Rec – 1848 Yards – 15 TDs
  • Tim Brown (Year 10) – 104 Rec – 1408 Yards – 5 TDs
  • Randy Moss (Year 10) – 98 Rec – 1493 Yards – 23 TDs

The scariest comparison on that list is Randy Moss who Brown appears to be emulating. In 2007 Moss left Oakland, joined Tom Brady and the Patriots, and then went on to be part of the 16-0 patriots. And by the way, Moss' 23 TDs remain the single season record today.

Final verdict - Brown may have come off as crazy in the media (and he certainly might be) but he is a great player who should still have a lot left in the tank. The league should be worried that the aging Belichick/Brady dynasty just got the player they needed to fight off father time.


Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

When I think of Bill O'Brien I often think back to a movie we've all seen but may not admit to - the 1996 film Matilda. Matilda's dad (played by Danny DeVito) must have had a profound impact on O'Brien as a young man. I imagine a then-27-year-old Bill sitting down and hearing the line that seemingly guides him to this day, which is when Matilda's dad looks down on her and tells her: "I'm smart, you're dumb; I'm big, you're little; I'm right, you're wrong, and there's nothing you can do about it."

It's all about perspective. As we all know, DeVito is a micro man and he seized his one opportunity to accurately use the "big-little" line on his young, tiny co-star. I get the sense Bill's perspective is that he thinks he's the dad in this scenario and the rest of the league is sweet little Matilda, but a detailed look into the list of quarterbacks he's beaten as a head coach loudly suggests that he's more likely to be the one with the little blue dress and red ribbon in his hair.

I recently argued that Bill O'Brien has only beaten two quarterbacks that (in most people's minds) would be considered "elite." That would be Drew Brees and Andrew Luck. However, since the term "elite" is so subjective, I instead decided to state my case using Total QBR (Quarterback Rating), a widely accepted measuring stick for individual quarterback performance.

I took a look at every QB Bill O'Brien has beaten since the start of his head coaching career in 2014 and their corresponding QBR. Since his career spans five seasons and each quarterback's performance varies year to year, I used the QBR for the corresponding season in which that QB lost to the Texans. Per ESPN.com (the creators of Total QBR), a rating of 50 is considered "Average" while a rating of 75 and above is considered "Pro Bowl Level" (Keep that in mind). I've divided the results into four tiers to give a better idea of the 'quality' of quarterback play O'Brien has had most of his success against. For added perspective, I've also included what BOB's win-loss record is against each tier. This will give the complete picture of how much success he's had against every QB he's faced, based on which tier they fell into at the time.

Not counting the first two games of the 2019 season, his career win-loss record (including postseason) is 43-41. Does that not perfectly sum up what the Texans have seemingly always been, the Kings of Average? Well what's NOT average is his record against high quality quarterbacks. Take a look.

Note*: Each QBR is season-based, so some quarterbacks (i.e. divisional foes) will be listed numerous times since they've been beaten across multiple seasons.

TIER 4 (<50 Total QBR - The "Below Average" Class): Record vs. Tier 4 level QBs: 20-10

Connor Cook - 14.7

EJ Manuel - 26.0

Jay Cutler - 28.1

Robert Griffin III - 28.7

Blaine Gabbert - 34.0

Brock Osweiler - 34.5

Brian Hoyer - 38.7

Kevin Hogan - 39.4

Derek Carr - 42.1

Case Keenum - 44.5

Andy Dalton - 44.8 in 2017

Matt Hasselbeck - 45.1

Sam Darnold - 45.9

Alex Smith - 46.9 in 2018

Josh Allen - 49.8

Zach Mettenberger - 33.7 in 2014, 20.3 in 2015

Blake Bortles - 28.0 in 2014, 43.0 in 2016, 43.4 in 2018 (Really Jags, you extended this guy?!)

Summary: Bill O'Brien makes sweet, soft love to rookies, broken things, and happy-just-to-hold-a-clipboard guys. Oh, and Andy Dalton.

​TIER 3 (50.0 - 59.9 Total QBR - The "Just Good Enough to Keep a Starting Job" Class): Record vs. Tier 3 level QBs: 8-8

Baker Mayfield - 51.2

Blake Bortles - 51.4 in 2015

Andy Dalton - 52.3 in 2016

Dak Prescott - 55.2

Jameis Winston - 57.2

Marcus Mariota - 59.1 in 2016, 58.6 in 2017, 53.2 in 2018

Summary: O'Brien can generally handle the over-hyped but still-developing young QBs. And of course, Andy Dalton.

TIER 2 (60.0 - 69.9 Total QBR - The "Flashes of Greatness" Class): Record vs. Tier 2 QBs: 7-18

Alex Smith - 60.8 in 2016

Ryan Fitzpatrick - 62.0

Matt Stafford - 65.2

Andrew Luck - 65.9 in 2016, 69.6 in 2018

Drew Brees - 66.8 (*Sustained* Greatness)

Joe Flacco - 68.6

Summary: So Bill CAN beat some guys that aren't total trashcans, but ratings under 70 suggest they weren't at their best in those seasons, or that even their best is still not "Pro Bowl Level".

Hmm, no Andy Dalton?

TIER 1 (>70.0 Total QBR - The "Cream of the Crop, Best of the-What?!" Class): Record vs. Tier 1 level QBs: 1-5

Andy Dalton - 72.5 in 2015

END. BLEEPING. LIST.

Summary: The Red Rifle?! Put some respect on that man's name! Making Katy proud!

Conclusion: Andy Dalton is the only quarterback Bill O'Brien has EVER beaten with a QBR over 70 for that particular season in which he won. Andy. Freakin'. Dalton.

Not so good

Interestingly enough you may notice that not one single quarterback on the list was considered a "Pro Bowl Level" quarterback when O'Brien faced him. No, your mighty leader of the Texans has never beaten the likes of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, or Matt Ryan, just to name a few.

Other things of note.. let's take a look at how my original argument for Brees and Luck fared. The 66.8 QBR for Brees is tied for his second lowest rating since 2009, so the Texans did beat him but clearly in a year where he wasn't at his best (but let's be fair, 66.8 is still very respectable). As for the late, great Andrew Luck, his 69.6 QBR from last season is his best, but the win O'Brien got to claim? Hardly a win at all. You may recall a first time head coach (looking at you, Frank Reich) gift-wrapping that game in OT for the Texans. If not for that, last season's version of Luck would be removed from this list, further strengthening the point.

That being said, his 65.9 rating in 2016 is his second best career rating, so that win over him is legit.

Here's where it gets ugly. Of all the QBs O'Brien has beaten, only three of those teams went on to win their division in that respective season. That is to say, three out of his 42 regular season wins (a whopping 7.14%) were against eventual playoff-bound teams in his five seasons as head coach. And only four other teams beyond that were able to snag a wildcard (that's still only 16.7%). As for the postseason, you may remember his only win being against rookie Connor Cook who, if you refer back to Tier 4, is your winner for worst QBR of any quarterback O'Brien has ever faced, with a dismal 14.7.

The bottom line

For a look at how the above mentioned quarterbacks fared against their peers for each of the past five seasons, here's a quick glance at who all cracked the top 10 in Total QBR in their respective season that they were beaten by BOB.

2014- Joe Flacco - 8th in Total QBR

2015- Andy Dalton - 3rd, Ryan Fitzpatrick - 7th, Drew Brees - 10th

2016- Andrew Luck - 7th, Matt Stafford - 8th, Alex Smith - 10th

2018- Andrew Luck - 5th

That's a grand total of eight. And only ONE of them cracked the top 3 in a season (we see you, Andy). So if last year's 11-win season felt phony, it turns out that only 1 of their 11 wins was against a top 10 QB that season, and that was the (not) win over Andrew Luck in OT.

As a Texans fan, this is a hard pill to swallow. To see so glaringly, that the leader of your team, your organization really, is the little girl with a red ribbon and psychokinetic abilities. The silver lining? If he's willing to accept who he is, then maybe he can tap into those superpowers and magically navigate the Texans to their first AFC Championship game this season. Either that, or hope he faces Andy Dalton 18 times.

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