Sleeper Of The Last Six Weeks: Matt Leinart's Time To Prove Himself

"TDC," says the Battle Red Blog denizen, "Who are you fooling here? While there is always a need for Vicks products to keep us healthy, the Houston Texans are on a bye week. Thus, you handing out a Sleeper of the Week nod is pointless, aside from being able to talk about the wondrous healing properties of Vicks (found at all local grocery and drug stores)."

True, especially about the Vicks, but I wanted to get my crack at this projecting the future for Matt Leinart thing and supporting it with some sort of logic – especially since I have done a good job with projections in this weekly post. Take a leap of faith and land on the other side. I’ll be there waiting.

I firmly believe in Matt Leinart. His success came in Pete Carroll’s West Coast Offense, which has a lot of similarities to Gary Kubiak’s. The rollouts, play-actions, and concepts are all familiar to Leinart – unlike the offense that was run in Arizona with Ken Whisenhunt and Todd Haley. Furthermore, neither of those men has a stellar reputation as a great quarterback developer.

Leinart’s situation is a great one, as he has a top offensive line in front of him to give him time to find his All-Pro wide receiver, All-Pro running back, Pro Bowl tight end, or someone else who will not be covered tightly. He also has the best running back duo in the league behind him to help make that play-action a deadly weapon and take the focus off of him.

The best thing going for Leinart? Greg Knapp, Rick Dennison, and Gary Kubiak.

Knapp is a quarterback coach who knows how to develop a West Coast quarterback. After all, Knapp is the guy who helped develop Pro Bowlers out of former back-ups Jeff Garcia and Matt Schaub.

Dennison is the offensive coordinator who has really taken this offense to the next level with a focus on improved running offense over the past two seasons. This year, he has shown that he is committed to the run and building everything off those stretch zone runs, which leads to great play-action passes where, it seems, receivers are open (even if they are overthrown, as they have been). The improved first half play also shows a script design that shows a knowledge of the offense’s strengths and an understanding of how to attack each defense.

Kubiak is the fabled quarterback whisperer. Aside from being the guy to help fine tune Denver’s offense to get John Elway to his championships and handpicking a backup named Matt Schaub to lead his top-ten offense, Kubiak was the guy who got something out of David Carr.

Pre-Kubiak, Carr had a quarterback rating of 73.7 (equivalent to Seattle’s Tarvaris Jackson) and a 57.8 completion percentage (on par with Washington’s Rex Grossman). With one year of Gary’s guidance, Carr turned in a 82.1 QB rating (in the neighborhood of Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton) with 68.3% completion rate (hello, Tom Brady). Carr was still hot garbage, but that was still a show of significant improvement and Kubiak's abilities.

What Leinart has is three guys who understand the West Coast system, the technique needed by a quarterback to succeed in it, and offensive playcalling. I am not saying Matt Leinart is going to go Aaron Rodgers on anyone, but you have to like this situation on every level for him. You have to like it more when you hear Greg Knapp talking about how he puts in extra time with Leinart to improve his technique or how Schaub and Leinart have been talking as Leinart prepares as a starter.

So what do I see Leinart doing the rest of the way? Based on the situation, coaching, talent around him, and his preseason numbers (namely the ~62% passes complete) with third string talent (given the number of injuries to the second team), I’ll peg Leinart for these per game averages in the final six games:

16/25 (64%) for 198.6 yards per game with 1.3 TDs and 0.8 INTs.

Very modest, non-season killing numbers (in both realms fantasy and reality). I imagine there won’t be as many deep shots called (especially early on), but that the passing game will focus on short to mid-range passes to make things easier for Leinart. Any large gains will come from the receiver’s yards after the catch.

I feel like Leinart will do enough, and that’s all that will be needed to keep the running game going. It also doesn’t hurt that Houston only plays two top-10 DVOA defenses down the stretch.

That’s what I see for Leinart. You? What do you expect Ol’ Matty Light to put up?
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