Thu Oct 07 03:19pm EDT
These are truly desperate times in Winnipeg, but the question is if they call for the desperate measures the Blue Bombers are taking. After rumours earlier this week that the team might be making a change at quarterback before their crucial game against B.C. Monday, the organization announced yesterday that they would replace Steven Jyles as their starter with rookie quarterback Alex Brink (shown at right celebrating a Sept. 12 touchdown against Saskatchewan).
This is pretty unusual, as Brink has only thrown seven CFL passes (completing two of them) in limited duty this year. He's rushed 12 times for a lacklustre 18 yards, but that does include the aforementioned touchdown. He was terrific at Washington State, finishing with plenty of school records, but he then spent a couple of years trying to crack the NFL without much success. He only joined the Bombers in April, so it's not like he's been hanging around the game for a while and observing, and even that isn't always a ticket to success: Chris Leak had an even more successful NCAA career, joined Montreal in 2008 and spent two years learning from Anthony Calvillo, but still proved an abject failure when an injury to Calvillo gave him his first CFL start. Brink is going into a game where the stakes are much higher without any of the advantages Leak was given; talk about a baptism by fire.
What makes this more curious still is that Jyles has been reasonably effective. His quarterback rating of 100.7 is second only to Calvillo, the gold standard of CFL quarterbacks. His other numbers are solid, too; 15 touchdowns against five interceptions, 166 completions on 267 attempts (a 62.2 per cent completion percentage) and 2,296 passing yards. He's also rushed 56 times for 399 yards (7.1 yards per carry). The raw numbers might not be as impressive as many of the league's other starters, but it's worth remembering that Jyles came into the season as Buck Pierce's backup and didn't play much in the early going. In the time he's started, he's done pretty well.
It seems appropriate that I compared Jyles to legendary Winnipeg quarterback Tom Clements in my post on the state of the league's quarterbacks. Much like Clements, it took Jyles a while to establish himself, and he was shuffled around from team to team. Also like Clements, though, Jyles seemed to be finding his greatest success in Winnipeg. It's curious that the team's abandoned him in favour of an untested rookie at perhaps the most crucial moment of their season.
What's Winnipeg's logic? According to Ed Tait and Randy Turner, it's about Jyles' lack of wins. The team has gone 2-6 with him as a starter, and by their management's logic, that seems to be enough to indicate that he isn't getting the job done. Here's the key part of Adam Wazny's news piece on the move:
"Handing the reins to Brink comes on the heels of another disappointing loss, a 16-14 heartbreaker to the Lions last Saturday. Jyles was the starting quarterback again, and once again, the 28-year-old out of Louisiana turned in his usual solid effort, 21-of-37 for 258 yards, one TD, one interception.
But numbers haven't been the problem with Jyles. Though one of the more efficient QBs in the CFL he's 2-6 as a starter, with all of those losses contributing to Winnipeg's dismal 1-8 record over the last nine games.
And that's why the move to Brink comes now, days before another 'must-win' game with the Bombers' playoff hopes still dangling by a thread. The team is gambling Brink's skill set -- a big, mobile passer with a strong, accurate arm -- will outweigh the fact that he's short on pro experience, and hopefully provide the right formula for a win.
That's the sales pitch, anyway.
"We have to find ways to score more points...that's why we made the change," head coach Paul LaPolice offered, unwilling to address any scenario of white-flag waving or notion of desperation the QB switch could signal from Bomberland."
LaPolice's line later in that piece, "I feel that if we (would have) won one or two more games with him as the starter, we don't make this change," points out one of the huge problems with talent evaluation in football. Yesterday, I talked a bit about how yards receivers gain after the catch affect their quarterback's stats, and that approach can be applied more broadly. A pass is never just about what the quarterback does; it's about the blocking his offensive line gives him, it's about the pressure the defence is able to apply, it's about if any of his receivers are able to get open and it's about if defensive backs can make plays on them.
Similarly, quarterbacks may be the most important part of a football team, but they don't win or lose games on their own. When a CFL quarterback's on the field, his success is to a large degree dependent on the actions of his 11 offensive teammates and the 12 defenders opposing him. When he isn't on the field, his team's success is determined by the actions of their defensive and special-teams players; he has no control of that part of the game at all. Applying a win or a loss to a quarterback is an oversimplification in most cases, and there's no real reason to keep track of their win-loss records when we don't do the same for any other position.
For example, consider Winnipeg's 16-14 loss to B.C. last weekend. The Bombers led 10-0 at halftime, but the game turned on a crucial touchdown leap by Lions' quarterback Travis Lulay and some key field goals from B.C. kicker Paul McCallum. Jyles had nothing to do with any of those plays or the drives that led to them, as he wasn't even on the field. Meanwhile, if Bombers' kicker Justin Palardy had made a 29-yard field goal to tie the game at 13, the ending might have been quite different. Jyles certainly didn't have his greatest game, but concluding that he's the sole reason the Bombers lost is highly unfair.
There's always a chance this could pay off for Winnipeg. There is the saying that fortune favours the bold, and this is certainly a bold move. They've got plenty of talented receivers, including Terrence Edwards and Terrence Jeffers-Harris, so it's not like Brink won't have anyone to throw to. Fred Reid also gives them a solid running game that should take some pressure off the quarterback, and their defence pitched a first-half shutout against B.C. Saturday, so there's some room for optimism there.
Moreover, Brink's college success does speak very well for him; he's pictured at right with the Apple Cup after Washington State's win over the University of Washington in 2007, just one of the highlights of his NCAA career. The Canadian game is quite a different animal, but if he can find a way to translate his college success to the CFL, this might just pan out.
Still, it looks from here like the Blue Bombers are going away from Jyles too quickly (and perhaps destroying his future with the club), and they're certainly throwing Brink into the fire. He might turn out to be a solid rock, or he might just be headed straight for his own Armageddon. This doesn't seem likely to end well for the Bombers, and if it fails, they might find the quarterback wasn't the only reason for their win-loss record.