Can Brandon Weeden Keep the Cowboys Afloat in the NFC East?
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden is clearly not someone you depend on to win games.
I mean, he's won a grand total of five games as a starter (5-18 record), and zero since 2012. The Cowboys know this. That's why they've only had him throw 35 passes in one and a half games. But is that going to work moving forward?
It sure didn't this weekend against the Atlanta Falcons.
After building a double-digit lead, Dallas failed to score a single point in the second half and punted on every drive but one -- and their final drive resulted in a turnover on downs. Weeden threw zero touchdowns and passed for a measly 73 yards in the second half. A third of those yards came on the Cowboys' final drive when the game was already out of reach. Even with the Cowboys trying to mount a comeback, his longest completion in the second half was 12 yards.
Sure the Cowboys defense didn't give him much help, but his performance is not going to get it done on a weekly basis.
One week prior against Philadelphia, Weeden was decent in relief effort, helping the Cowboys to secure a win over their NFC East rivals. He completed all seven of his passes, including a 42-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams.
Those stats however, are a little misleading.
Other than the touchdown, Weeden's completions in terms of yards went like this: 9, 2, 7, 4, 6, 4.
That doesn't exactly instill fear in a defense. Not to mention, the Cowboys drives with Weeden in the game went punt, fumble, and punt before the touchdown. Even on the scoring play to Williams, the Eagles defense was clearly gassed after being on the field all day (40:25 minutes), and cornerback Byron Maxwell (who was covering Williams) said as much to reporters after the game.
So, can the Cowboys confidently move forward with Weeden under center? Is he even their best available option? Let's take a look.
What Do the Metrics Say?
Weeden's Passing Net Expected Points (or NEP, which you can read more about in our glossary) in 2015 is surprisingly not awful.
At 6.42, Weeden's Passing NEP ranks 20th among quarterbacks. In fact, his NEP on a per play basis is even better: 15th among quarterbacks. Keep in mind, these numbers are on a very limited basis, as he's only dropped back 35 times this year. To paint a clearer picture of what he can offer moving forward, it's better to look at his career numbers.
Hint: it's not pretty.
Now, because Weeden is only needed for another month or so until Tony Romo is healthy, it would behoove us to look at his per drop back Passing NEP as opposed to his cumulative Passing NEP scores, as it better illustrates what he can bring to the table on a weekly basis. Keep in mind that his Passing NEP per drop back is 0.18 so far in 2015.
On Weeden's 916 career drop backs, he owns a -34.29 Passing NEP, good for -0.04 per drop back. Excluding his modest success in 2015, he's racked up a Passing NEP of -40.72 on 881 drop backs, -0.05 per drop back.
It's worth noting, though, that on 42 drop backs last year with Dallas, he owned a Passing NEP of 6.75 (0.16 per drop back).
In other words, he was serviceable over a small sample last year and so far this year, but given his awful metrics with Cleveland over a bigger sample (a Passing NEP of -47.47 on 839 drop backs), it's likely that regression is coming. That's especially when it looks like the Cowboys will have to air it out more with the Patriots, Seahawks, Giants and Eagles coming up on the schedule.
Clearly, Weeden's Passing NEP over his career is not good. In fact, it's not even close to being better than another quarterback that is currently available for the Cowboys: Matt Cassel.
Cassel's Passing NEP on a per drop back basis checks in at 0.01. While that certainly isn't earth-shattering, it means that he's contributing positively to his team's score, while Weeden is putting forth a negative impact. Obviously, Cassel is still getting adjusted to the offense, at least according to head coach Jason Garrett. Per the report, there's a decent chance he could be active this weekend.
All he has to do is beat out backup journeyman Kellen Moore.
Now, it's understandable to continue playing Weeden. It's not like the NFC East is a powerhouse division this year, as the three other teams each stand at 1-2. But if he starts to struggle, the move to Cassel would be a justified one according to the numbers.