The Steelers loss to the Patriots, frustrating and disappointing as it was, highlighted something that’s been building for a while: Landry Jones critics need to chill. Cue Aretha Franklin because it’s time to give the beleaguered Steelers backup quarterback some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
What’s this? Didn’t the Patriots loss precisely highlight, as Steeler Addicts suggests, Landry Jone’s deficiencies as a backup?
- No it doesn’t and these numbers illustrate the point: 14, 3, 21, 24, 7 and 13.
Since entering the league in 2004, Ben Roethlisberger has faced off against Tom Brady 8 times, including the playoffs. The Steelers record in those contests is 2-6. The numbers you see above represent the margin of the Steelers loss in each of those games. Mathematically, they work out to an average of 13 points per game.
- For those of you taking notes at home, the last week the Steelers lost 27-16 or by 11 points.
So measured purely by point total, the Steelers lose less badly to the Patriots with Landry Jones under center than Ben Roethlisberger. Ah, but the Steelers 16 points was the lowest point total of all the Steelers losses to Tom Brady’s Patriots, save for the ’07 infamous “Anthony Smith Game.” True, but the Steelers offensive output vs. the Patriots in 2010, 2013 and 2015 benefited from some garbage time glory.
- None of this remotely suggests that the Steelers are better off against the Patriots with Landry Jones than with Ben Roethlisberger.
Trying to argue that would be like trying to say that Neil O’Donnell or Kordell Stewart was a better quarterback than Terry Bradshaw based on passer rating. But if Steelers low point total with Landry Jones under center vs. the Patriots shows us some of his limitations, the fact that the Steelers stayed in the game as long as they did reveals some of his strengths.
What Landry Jones Did Well Against the Patriots
The first thing responsibility of any backup quarterback is to not lose the game for his team. Fans who can remember Kent Graham immediately throwing a pick-six upon entering the 2000 matchup vs. Raiders remember what I’m talking about. Yes, Landry Jones interception in the end zone cost the Steelers, but it was hardly a game-ender.
Landry did a lot of things right against the Patriots including:
- Protecting the ball – other than the interception, Jones didn’t try to force it
- Getting rid of the ball – OK, Jones enjoyed EXCELLENT pass protection, but he shares credit for zero sacks
- Finding receivers – Coverage was tight, but Jones avoided leaning on Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell, hitting
- Running the two minute drill – Jones played competent, confident football during the final drive of the ½ half
Aside from early interception one very legitimate critique of Landry Jones’ performance vs. the Patriots is on his play at the end of the game, particularly on the Steelers second to last drive when a quick score could have gotten them back into the game. Unquestionably, Jones wasn’t playing with same level of comfort that he’d had at the end of the first half and it showed.
But when you’re playing the New England Patriots, you generally don’t expect to win when you ask your backup quarterback to win the game for you.
Welcome to the New NFL Order of Backup Quarterbacks
While the criticism of Landry Jones late play against the Patriots is legitimate, it also highlights the fact that Landry Jones is a different breed of backup quarterback than has been seen in Pittsburgh for close to two generations.
- Mike Tomczak, Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich each had started 46 games for other teams before setting foot in Pittsburgh.
Bruce Gradkowski had 20 games of starting experience before arriving in Pittsburgh in 2013 and his experience is likely why the Steelers brought him back this summer.
Would the Steelers have been better suited by a ‘94’s Tomzack, ‘08’s Lefwich, ‘10’s Batch or even ‘14’s Gradkowski than Landry Jones late in the Patriots game? Of course they would have, but for whatever reason, ex-starting quarterbacks don’t see second acts as backups in the NFL as much as they used to. The trend began in the early in the 00’s and seems to have picked up steam.
- What you see is what you get with Landry Jones.
And in real action, when the games count, Landry Jones has shown he can play fairly well as he did vs. the Cardinals and Raiders last year, he’s also capable of looking clueless as he did vs. the Bengals in the playoffs, or he can play as a workman like game manager as he did vs. the Patriots.
And that’s fine. The Steelers didn’t draft Landry Jones to become a franchise quarterback. They drafted Landry Jones to develop into backup quarterback, and Landry Jones has proven he’s capable of fulfilling that role.
So Landry Jones critics should chill, and give him the respect he’s earned.