Mason's Mailbag: What to expect from the quarterback position

I wonder if you have data that compares teams’ success rate when changing coaches after three years or less vs teams that allow a coach to build a culture over five or more years. My own experience in management is that it takes at least three years for a notable leadership culture shift to take hold and frequent changes only leads to a sense of transience and confusion. “Who cares, it will only change again in a few months.”

-- Erick Reynolds

Any data would be skewed. This is because in most instances, the coaches who stay five or more years do so because they guide the franchise to immediate improvement -- if not Super Bowl contention -- within three years. Examples in the salary-cap, free-agent era of the NFL in which a team stuck with a coach for three years or more without some measure of immediate success are scarce.

In the modern NFL it takes only two years to know if the coach has what it takes. Every team to participate in the last 18 Super Bowls was coached by someone who led that team to the playoffs at least once in his first two seasons on the job. To take it further, we can examine the 12-team playoff era (since 1990). In that span, just three of 58 teams (1999 Rams, 1999 Titans and 2000 Ravens) had a coach who failed to get that team to the postseason in his first two full seasons on the job. (So -- for example -- Marv Levy's first full season in Buffalo was 1987, since he was hired at midseason of 1986. He guided Buffalo to an AFC East title in 1988.)

Another example calls for looking at the 33 coaches to guide teams to the Super Bowl in the last 25 years. Just five of these coaches -- Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, Bill Cowher, Mike Holmgren and Andy Reid -- got their team to the sport's biggest stage in their sixth season or later coaching that club. All of them were responsible for immediate turnarounds that got their teams to the postseason within their first two years of being hired.

Stability is nice, but the coach and his philosophy must prove they are worthy of it within the first two years.

The other factor that matters is the quarterback. Last year, eight teams opened the regular season with the same quarterback that guided them for their season opener 10 years earlier. Five of the eight had the same head coach. Now, you can have a chicken-and-egg debate, but the case of those five -- Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco -- you have four sure-fire Hall of Famers and four Super Bowl MVPs. Coaching matters, but in the NFL of the 2010s, it's all about the quarterback.

Only six QBs have beaten Tom Brady in the playoffs. By reportedly trading for Joe Flacco, the Broncos will have now employed three of them (Peyton Manning, Jake Plummer). Should we be focusing more into Flacco's success against the dominant team of the past two decades more than any stat?

-- Jose Borrero 

First, teams beat teams, and quarterbacks (with their offenses) beat opposing defenses. The notion of a quarterback-vs.-quarterback duel makes for good headlines and billboards, but it is not at the actual heart of the matter. The teams that defeated Brady-led Patriots clubs in the playoffs did so with pressure defenses that effectively disguised their pre-snap intent and forced Brady off the spot. This made him uncomfortable and led to mistakes.

With Flacco -- for whom the Broncos will trade next month, according to multiple reports -- you lean on the fact that he is simply better in the postseason than the regular season. In the regular season, he averages one touchdown pass every 26.7 attempts; in the postseason, that rate is one every 17.9 attempts. His regular-season interception rate is one every 41.7 attempts; in the postseason that improves to one every 44.7 passes. His average per attempt goes from 6.7 yards to 7.2.

When evaluating his 10 playoff starts since 2010, the difference is even more striking, as he has a 24-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio in those games, since six of his 10 career postseason interceptions came in his first two years. Furthermore, he hasn't had a playoff single-game passer rating below 92.1 in his last eight postseason starts, six of which they won. It is also not a coincidence that the Ravens went unbeaten in the playoffs when Flacco posted a rating of 97.0 or better; he hit that mark seven times.

(While passer rating is a flawed metric, it can offer longer-range insight, such as this: Including playoffs, Baltimore went 56-11 when Flacco's rating was 97.0 or better; the Ravens went 50-61 when he didn't.)

This data matters more than simply asking, "Did he beat Tom Brady?" The question regarding Flacco now is simple: Can he recapture that form? The most recent of those playoff performances is more than four years in the rear-view mirror. If the Broncos can get Flacco back to that, they have an answer who can restore them to playoff contention this year. If they can't, and his performance is comparable to the last four seasons, the offensive issues of recent years will continue.

What is the likelihood of the Broncos picking up C.J. Mosley in free agency and going cornerback and defensive and offensive line in the draft and maybe even a wide receiver?

-- Stacy Poll

The market for Mosley will be robust -- if he hits free agency. New Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said at a press conference on Jan. 30 that his team would attempt to "do everything we can to make sure C.J. is back on the team."

"I think everything's on the table right now," DeCosta said Wednesday in his first news conference as Ravens GM. "I certainly hope that C.J. is back. I believe in my heart that he will be. Talent wins in the NFL, and he's a Pro Bowl linebacker, so we're going to do everything we can to make sure C.J. is back on the team."

So if the Ravens slap a franchise tag on him, that means you're looking elsewhere to a market that is projected to include Tampa Bay's Kwon Alexander, Minnesota's Anthony Barr, Seattle's K.J. Wright, Denzel Perryman of the Los Angeles Chargers and Philadelphia's Jordan Hicks, to name a few.

As for the other positions, I would expect all of them to be addressed in free agency, the draft or both.

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