Blaine Gabbert: Has the Jacksonville Jaguars Quarterback Improved?

Nate DunlevyGuest ColumnistSeptember 25, 2012

"Well, am I better or what?"
"Well, am I better or what?"Michael Hickey/Getty Images

There are two ways to measure quarterback play.

The first is the eye test. The second is the numbers.

When it comes to Jacksonville Jaguars starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the eye test says he's clearly better at some things than he was.

He manages the pocket better. He hangs in under a rush better. He generally looks and leads in a more confident, controlled way than he used to.

Are those improvements translating to the field in a statistically measurable way?

A comparison of Gabbert's 2011 season to his 2012 season suggests perhaps not as much as the Jaguars would hope.

Gabbert obviously has a pair of incredible touchdown passes to provide late-game drama, but the rest of his resume has been shoddy.

Gabbert's completion percentage is roughly the same as last year, but that would not matter nearly so much if his yards per attempt (YPA) number were significantly improved.

Even with two long bombs to Cecil Shorts skewing the small sample, he's merely a half-yard a throw better than in 2011.

His pocket presence has resulted in a slightly reduced sack rate, however, and given the state of the offensive line in Jacksonville, that has to be considered a major win.

The significant improvement Gabbert displayed in the preseason has completely dissipated. The one constant has been his yards per attempt. He was more accurate in the preseason but had no huge gainers to buoy his stats. He's hit far fewer passes in the regular season, but 128 yards on two throws have helped prop up his YPA.

The one stat that looks great for Gabbert currently is his passer rating. That's a function of the tight ball-control-style passing game Jacksonville has employed. The upside to the zero-risk strategy is that it minimizes turnovers. The downside is that it results in an untenable YPA.

Gabbert has struggled when his receivers can't get open, but against Indianapolis in Week 3, he missed passes even when they did.

In the second quarter, he airmailed an open Mike Thomas on third down.

In the fourth quarter, he nearly threw a pick on a terrible pass to a triple-covered Justin Blackmon.

On third down on the same drive, he missed a wide open Kevin Elliott in the end zone.

All the passes were thrown too high. It's as if, in his zeal to avoid interceptions, he's putting the ball where no one, not even his own target, can catch it. Not throwing interceptions is a noble goal, but it can also be accomplished by simply not passing at all.

An interception rate of zero is simply unsustainable. When the picks catch up to the touchdowns, the passer rating he currently enjoys will plummet.

Turnover avoidance is important, but it's coming at the expense of running a viable offense.

It may be too soon to write Gabbert off completely, but the improvements to his game have been minimal by any measure.

Perhaps his success in a couple of high-pressure situations will provide a road map for further development moving forward.

If he doesn't improve his accuracy and ability to hit men downfield, however, his tenure as an NFL starter will be brief.