The Oakland Raiders are creeping toward Week 1 with Matt Flynn as their starting quarterback. Barring a huge surprise from Terrelle Pryor or Tyler Wilson during the preseason, Flynn will get the first crack at securing the job during the regular season.
It’s an audition of sorts for Flynn because he has just two career starts to his name. With Pryor improving this offseason and the rookie Wilson slowly getting up to speed, the team has other options should Flynn falter.
There are at least 15 different possible outcomes, but at least one of them includes Flynn becoming the long-term answer at quarterback for the Raiders. That may not be the best bet depending on your perspective, but it’s also not totally absurd.
Prove Arm Strength is Overrated
Flynn may not have a big arm, but if anybody understands that arm strength isn’t everything, it’s the Raider Nation. NFL fans have been conditioned to think that only first-round draft choices with big arms can be good quarterbacks in the NFL, but that’s not always the case.
Since the Raiders’ last long-term starter Rich Gannon, the team has started a string of strong-armed quarterbacks like Kerry Collins, JaMarcus Russell, Andrew Walter, Daunte Culpepper, Jason Campbell and Carson Palmer without so much as one winning season.
Gannon didn’t have a strong arm and neither do NFL starters like Alex Smith, Matt Schaub, Andy Dalton and Christian Ponder. Flynn will have to prove, like many have before him, that arm strength is overrated.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the majority of quarterbacks in the league attempted deep passes between 11 and 13 percent of the time, including players like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.
The difference between Manning and Dalton on deep passes is their ability to complete them. Just about every quarterback who is considered a long-term option completed 39 percent of their deep attempts or more.
Flynn has attempted 15 deep passes in 141 total attempts in his career, according to Pro Football Focus data. Flynn completed three of those passes for 114 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
From what I have seen at training camp, Flynn has struggled on deep throws and is often underthrowing his wide receivers. If he can’t complete a decent amount of his deep passes, it’s going to be hard for Flynn to become the long-term option.
If Flynn wants to be more than a game manager, he must figure out how to be successful throwing deep. One way he can do that is by picking his spots wisely, using play action and getting some help from his wide receivers.
If Flynn attempts between passes 556-629 passes, he’ll need to throw deep about 61-69 times and he'll need to complete 24-27 of them in a season, or roughly four deep attempts and one or two deep completions per week.
The reality is that the short and intermediate passing game is almost 90 percent of the passing offense,and that’s where Flynn really has a chance to thrive.
Find the Tipping Point
Different types of quarterbacks can be successful, which makes comparing Flynn to a guy like Jay Cutler difficult. Some quarterbacks will thrive on their ability to avoid bad plays, while others will thrive on making big plays.
Flynn has to get to a certain performance level when it comes to touchdown rate, interception rate, yards per attempt and sack rate before he is going to be considered a long-term option for the Raiders. However, these statistics are all interconnected, so analyzing them separately doesn't always tell the whole story.
There is one statistic that attempts to capture all the key elements of quarterback play called adjusted net yards gained per pass attempt (ANY/A) by Pro-Football-Reference.com. It’s not perfect (no statistic is), but it does take into account touchdowns, interceptions, passing yards and sacks.
To be in the top half of the league last year, a quarterback would have needed an ANY/A of 6.30. For sake of this argument, Flynn isn't the long-term answer for the Raiders if he can't get to this threshold or above it.
Matt Flynn’s career ANY/A is 6.34, which is very good. Unfortunately, Flynn’s career is a very small sample size (141 attempts). Flynn’s touchdown and interception rates are likely to regress toward the mean and Oakland’s receivers aren’t nearly as talented as the group Flynn played with in Green Bay.
Flynn—like Aaron Rodgers—was sacked a lot behind a porous Packers offensive line. If Flynn is sacked at the same rate in Oakland, he’s probably going to struggle to perform because the receivers aren't going to be there to bail him out as often. Higher sack rates can also result in a higher rate of turnovers.
That said, an ANY/A of 6.30 can be achieved in any number of ways. One example would be 4,000 passing yards on 556 attempts with 27 sacks, 24 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. If Flynn can put up those types of numbers, the Raiders would probably be thrilled.
Flynn would sitting in a territory with quarterbacks like Eli Manning, Matt Schaub and Josh Freeman with numbers totaling out to 6.30 ANY/A. The Raiders would naturally have to consider Flynn is more than a game manager if he can even get in the neighborhood.
If Flynn can get to around 6.30 ANY/A, that may be the tipping point for him to become more than a game manager. Gannon achieved a 6.13 ANY/A in his first season with the Raiders and got them to 8-8, but the passing game is even more important now than it was 13 years ago.