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Clowney vs Bridgewater: An Experiment Starring WhatIfSports.com

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Jadeveon Clowney is this generation's Lawrence Taylor.

The combination of Clowney, J.J. Watt, and the devious minds of Romeo Crennel and Bill O'Brien will be the equivalent of every other NFL Quarterback hearing "The Brown Noise."

Okay, what now?

The debate between Jadeveon Clowney (or Khalil Mack) over a QB like Teddy Bridgewater (or Manziel or - God help us - Bortles) is that Clowney, despite being a likely All-Pro defensive player, may or may not provide the upgrade in overall team play that can be found by upgrading to an above-average QB.

Let me back up a moment and restate the "above-average QB" part because I'm pretty sure back when Teddy was the consensus #1 QB and most big boards had him in the clear-cut top 4 with Jake Matthews, Sammy Watkins, and Clowney, that no one had a problem with hanging our future on the former Louisville signal caller. But times have changed, and Teddy is ranked in the 10-20 range depending where you go, and a prospect once viewed as a taller Russell Wilson was now recently compared by BRB alum Rivers McCown as Chad Pennington.

Which brings us to our discussion. Team Clowney argues that Clowney's ceiling justifies passing on a pro-ready quarterback. I, a member of the Board of Directors at "Tank for Teddy Enterprises", argue that even if Bridgewater fails to be anything more than the next Chad Pennington, that that worst-case-scenario would still justify his selection based on the exponentially superior positional value held at the QB position.

If only there was a way to determine which scenario would be better...

Thanks to the hard work of the folks at Football Outsiders and What If Sports, I have devised an imperfect method of comparing the Clowney ceiling with the Bridgewater floor to see which version of our fate would be superior.

Finding our Team Teddy was easy. Though drafted in 2000, 2002 was the first year Pennington saw action. In that year, the Jets started off slow, going 2-5 before Vinny Testaverde was benched for Chad, whose high football IQ made up for his weak physical traits (sound familiar?) and his execution of Herm Edwards' West Coast offense propelled the Jets to a 9-7 record, a Division crown, and a Playoff win in the wildcard round (over the Colts no less!) before succumbing in the Divisional Round. I've made no bones about my insistence that making the playoffs this year is a reasonable expectation after the Colts and Chiefs made the same "awful team + new coach/QB = playoffs" model. Furthermore, a broad examination of the '02 Jets shows a team with a middle-of-the-pack offense and defense, the latter of which a moderately talented unit who struggled to get sacks because only one player could muster double-digit sacks.

A team with a decent defense and a physically weak but mentally outstanding young QB who goes 9-7, wins a weak division (Brady was not Brady yet), and makes the playoffs.

As they say in the Army, "good enough for government work".

Team Clowney was a different ball game. Using the 2000 Ravens struck me as too easy, so I consulted Football Outsiders to see if there was a better fit to the narrative. Well, it turns out that, by the DVOA metric, the greatest defense of all time (and it's not even close) was the 1991 Philadelphia Eagles, led by Defensive Player of the Year Reggie White and a defense that had plenty of Pro Bowl/All-Pro talent. Okay, so if we're buying into the "Clowney makes our defense an all-time great unit" narrative for the purpose of this study, then I suppose we can't go wrong with the best defense of all time, right?

So what about the rest of the '91 Eagles? Let's see...went 10-6 but missed the playoffs. Well, I mean that's still a success to have a +8 turnaround, right? But, how did the best defense of all time not manage to achieve postseason success?

Oh. Randall Cunningham got hurt in Week 1 and the offense sputtered behind a has-been QB that was only meant to be the backup. Is it fair to compare Ryan Fitzpatrick to Jim McMahon at that point in his career? Well, the whole point to drafting Clowney is that a team with Clowney is better than a team with a good quarterback, so let's put that to the test with a defense that Clowney supporters are hoping for...with an offense that probably won't be much worse than Ryan Fitzpatrick.

My methodology for this test was simple: have the '91 Eagles and '02 Jets run through the Texans' 2013 schedule via WhatIfSports.com's SimMatchup simulator. Normally, when the website is making predictions, it does 1,001. I did not have that kind of time/patience, but I didn't want to just do one match and let luck decide our results. The compromise I found what to go with tennis rules (score 6 points AND win by at least 2 to get the set). The scores below will have the "tennis score" of each match, and also I'll post the final score and some of the box score highlights from the "match point" simulation.

Let's begin!

Team Clowney - 1991 Eagles

Week 1: @ San Diego – WIN (6-3) 19-16

In a game featuring seven field goals for each team, it was Jim McMahon having an efficient game going 15 of 20 for 278 yards, a touchdown and a pick. The Chargers got good production from the run (30 carries for 160 yards), but a 14-for-32 outing by Philip Rivers made it impossible for the Bolts to sustain drives and consistently find the end zone.

Week 2: vs Tennessee – WIN (6-2) 16-3

There was a 52-0 win that I wish I could use, but oh well. Ryan Fitzpatrick – playing for the other team, this time – spits out the kind of performance I am positively DREADING, going 7 for 19 for 72 yards. But Chris Johnson managed 3.0 YPC, so the defense failed.

Week 3: @ Baltimore – LOSS (4-6) 10-14

Despite Fred Barnett playing a great game for the Eagles (4 catches, 123 yards), Jim McMahon threw 3 picks and the running game only amassed 75 yards on 37 carries. The Eagles defense did their part – seven sacks on Flacco, holding him to an awful stat line (8 of 14, 139 yards, 1 TD), and limiting the Ravens rushing game to 72 yards. However, the Eagles offense couldn’t take advantage and suffer their first loss of the season.

Week 4: vs Seattle – LOSS (1-6) 0-33

The defense tried. I swear it did. The Seahawks did not score an offensive touchdown through the first two-and-a-half quarters of the game. Then, a third quarter Eagles drive went from their 32 to the Hawks 14…when Richard Sherman got an interception. He didn’t take it to the house himself, but a demoralized stop unit surrendered an 88-yard reverse to Golden Tate (credit them for stopping him at the 6-yard line), and Lynch punches it in the next play. One QB went 9 of 20 for 102 yards. The other QB was Jim McMahon.

Week 5: @ San Francisco – LOSS (4-6) 9-22

Looking at the box score, I’d have to see this game to understand it. Vernon Davis is your player of the game with a stat line of 3 catches, 31 yards, and 2 touchdowns. The two QB’s combine for 260 yards, and the leading rusher was Frank Gore with 74. Aside from an early safety, all points are based on the offense, meaning that somehow two AWFUL offensive performances led to 29 points. I’m dumbfounded.

Week 6: vs St. Louis – WIN (6-1) 23-6

Whew! The Losing Streak stops 11 games ahead of schedule! (Though in all fairness, losing to Baltimore, Seattle, and San Fran is nothing to be ashamed of). The Rams got a good game out of Zac Stacy (16-91) but an AWFUL one from Bradford (9-of-25, 126 yards and a pick). McMahon had about the best game you could expect from him, going 17-of-27 for 235 and three touchdowns. The defense held firm and the offense eventually broke the game open.

Week 7: @ Kansas City – LOSS (5-7) 7-23

This game came down to two plays, a Jamaal Charles 43-yard TD run, and another 50-yarder that set up another TD. Take that away, and Charles – the ONLY offensive player on either team to do anything – only gets 65 yards on 17 carries. Meanwhile, Alex Smith went 9 of 12 for 77 yards. So don’t blame the defense, because they are making folks look like Tebow.

Week 8: BYE

Week 9: vs Indianapolis – WIN (7-5) 38-11

To tell you how bad the Colts defense was, there were a few 40’s in the simulator mix to for this one. The Colts got an early safety, but 2-0 was the closest this one ever got. Luck threw 12-of-25 and 2 picks. He sucks. They should’ve totally gone best player available instead of reaching for a QB. Trent Richardson would’ve TOTALLY helped them win this one.

Ha Ha just kidding he went 13 yards on 12 carries.

Week 10: @ Arizona – LOSS (3-6) 3-13

This game actually came down to the bitter end. It was 3-3 with 11:00 left in the game when McMahon throws an interception on his own 19-yard line, but the Cards offense gets exactly zero yards on three plays and settles for a field goal to go up 6-3. The next series the Eagles three-and-out. The Cardinals get down to the Eagles 10 yard line thanks to a couple nice passes, but the Eagles defense holds firm, including a fourth-down stuff at their 9-yard line. But, with 1:53 left on the clock, the Eagles go no gain, pass dropped, incomplete, incomplete, and the Cardinals score an icing touchdown on the next play. It’s not over yet for the Eagles as they have 1:23 and two timeouts, but at midfield, their drive is halted when Daryl Washington (the guy who caught McMahon’s interception earlier) gets a sack. Two Hail Marys later, the Cards win despite Palmer barely throwing 200 yards and the rushing game averaging 1.5 yards a carry.

Week 11 – vs Oakland – WIN (6-2) 18-3

Matt McGloin wasn’t necessarily awful. 13-of-23 for 136 is game manager-y but not terrible…until you throw in his three picks. But McMahon ALSO threw less than 200 yards and three picks. This game featured 7 field goals. Zero touchdowns. Despite kicking 6-of-6, Roger Ruzek is denied Player of the Game in favor of Eagles RB Heath Sherman, who amassed 83 total yards.

Week 12 – vs Jacksonville – WIN (6-1) 27-10

That one Jags win is why I refused to do this as just one simulation per week. Chad Henne actually had a pretty good game,all things considered. He went 21-of-35 for 276, a TD and a pick. Maybe the Jags could have done something if Maurice Jones-Drew hadn’t had arguably the worst game in history for a running back. Sixteen carries…for six yards. BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE! HIS LONG WAS SIX YARDS! That’s right, folks! One play aside, he goes 15 carries…for ZERO yards. Take away a seven yard reverse by Ace Sanders, and the Jaguars rushing attack went 22 times for negative two yards. Go Glitter Kittens.

Week 13 – vs New England – WIN (7-5) 23-13

The Pats led 3-0 and 5-3 in the series, so this was a surprise to post a W for the team here. The defense sacked Brady four times and nabbed a pick-6 that put the game at 23-6 early in the fourth quarter. Considering that with one minute left in the third, it was 9-6, I’d say the game was closer than the score indicates.

Week 14 - @ Jacksonville – WIN (6-1) 20-0

Chad Henne goes 12 for 30 for 130 yards and two picks. The Jaguars ran 21 yards on 23 carries. You’re welcome.

Week 15 - @ Indianapolis – WIN (6-1) 24-23

(I guess the SimMatchup doesn’t know that the Texans are contractually obligated to lose in Indy every year)

The Colts avoided a series sweep at the last second. They had a few big plays, but the main storyline here is the three Colts field goals. The third one make it 23-17 Indy with 11 minutes to play. Their inability to find the end zone consistently haunted the Colts, as they sputtered after that field goal, and the Eagles managed to pull off a touchdown drive after a Colts punt put them at their own 44. The Colts got the ball back at their own 18 with exactly 1:00 left and all three timeouts, but the Eagles defense held firm, giving up a first down, but ultimately only surrendering eight yards in eight plays including a crucial third-down sack that made the last play of the game a 4th-and-14 that Luck couldn’t convert.

Week 16 – vs Denver – LOSS (1-6) 22-19

How nice of the simulator to have the single non-blowout be the one that gets printed. At the half, it was 13-0 Eagles. Then Peyton happened. Eff that guy.

Week 17 - @ Tennessee – WIN (6-4) 16-10

Not much to talk about. No one really stood out, and after the teams exchanged early touchdowns, it was a field goal fest. The kind of snooze fest you might expect in Week 17. Note: Ryan Fitzpatrick – playing for the other team, in this case – went 13-of-20 for 143 yards, a touchdown and a pick. Oh, and CJ2K went 24 yards on 15 carries, with a long of 5. Enjoy.

Final Record: 10-6

The team got to a 4-5 start navigating the difficult part of the schedule before winning six of their last seven (including four division wins and a Pats win in that span). Given the way the Colts and Titans played, I’d say ten wins would’ve probably scored us the division. (Keep in mind that if the Colts season goes exactly as it did, save for the two wins against the Texans turning to losses, they’re 9-7).

To keep it going, I simulated a series hosting the Chiefs in the Wildcard Round. Like the Colts, the Texans got off to a 4-1 hole before coming back and winning the series 6-4 (the final game being a 15-6 snoozer that I’d rather not talk about). In the divisional round, we played New England and lost the series 6-4 (the final game being a 35-16 loss in which we were leading at the end of the third quarter)

So Team Clowney survived mediocre QB play (and overall poor offensive production as a whole) to win the division and a playoff game.

Team Teddy - 2002 Jets

Week 1 - @ San Diego – WIN (6-2) 33-27(OT)

In his first game representing Team Teddy, Pennington earns Player of the Game honors going 15-of-25 for 235 yards and 2 Touchdowns. Rivers played well also, but the Jets got the ball first in overtime and the Bolts forget how to play run defense. Two twenty-yard runs by Curtis Martin plus a ten-yard draw play (holy hell, those plays WORK???) seals it with a touchdown.

Week 2 - vs Tenessee – LOSS (4-6) 21-23

This one is all about the fourth quarter. The Jets open by missing a 45-yard field goal to make the game 24-17, and the Titans chew up a ton of clock on a field goal drive to cut the lead to one. The Titans led by a 3-sack performance from Derrick Morgan, stifle the Jets offense and get the ball back, only for Fitzpatrick to throw an INT on second-and-goal. But the Jets can’t take advantage, and the Titans get the ball back with no timeouts and 1:04 left at the Jets 45. They make it to the 26 before Bironas kicks a game winner as time expires. This feels like the kind of game that will have people who overreact to claim that drafting Teddy over Clowney was a HUGE mistake. Week 3 - @ Baltimore – WIN (6-4) 24-10

Pennington has another efficient and effective game, but the main storyline was that in this particular game, the Ravens played like crap. Outside of the TD drive, the offense was stagnant (only 11 first downs), and the defense neither sacked Pennington nor picked him off.

Week 4 - vs Seattle – LOSS (1-6) 3-20

The Hawks completely bottled up the Jets running attack, forcing Pennington to be one-dimensional. His stat line wasn’t horrid, but this is another game that would have some fans up in arms about his ability to put the team on his back and win the big one. For what it’s worth, the Seahawks did not sack Pennington. I don’t know how many hits he’s gotten, but he’s very rarely been sacked so far despite playing some stout defenses. It’s early but the "he’s smart enough to avoid hits" theory is growing legs thus far.

Week 5 - @ San Francisco – LOSS (0-6) 13-34

So far, the NFC West model has been to focus on stopping Curtis Martin, then let Chad Pennington try to beat them. Chad’s stat line is unspectacular (16 of 31, 182 yards and a touchdown) but not the kind of thing that says "He lost it for us." Just more the kind that says "Can he help us win games like this in the playoffs?"

Week 6 - vs St. Louis – LOSS (5-7) 13-27

Pennington continues to fail to reach 300 yards passing. No one seems to be bothered by Russell Wilson having this problem, so maybe everything’s okay. Pennington took 3 sacks in this one, but has still only thrown 1, maybe 2, interceptions.

Week 7 - @ Kansas City – LOSS (2-6) 10-24

Most of the games were closer, as you might expect. Pennington went from being generally clean to taking 7 sacks in 2 games, all four in this one coming from Tamba Hali. I know this is the tough part of the 2013 schedule, but as the team falls to 2-5, I’m sure a lot of anti-Teddy’s would be coming through the woodwork.

Week 8 – BYE

Week 9 - vs Indianapolis – LOSS (6-8) 9-34

Since it took 4 extra games to decide the series, obviously the result should have been closer. The only blowout on either side is the one I’m stuck with reporting. Oh well. The QB’s stats are almost identical. They both threw 17 times and got 140-something yards. But Luck threw 3 TDs because he was set up by his running game amassing 259 yards on the ground. (Trent Richardson still went 19 yards on 12 carries because of course he did).

Week 10 - @ Arizona – LOSS (3-6) 7-28

This game was the opposite of Indianapolis. The Jets running game was decent, getting 127 yards on 40 carries, but Pennington went 16 of 32. He didn’t throw a pick but he ended up with a ton of incompletions, and took 4 more sacks.

Week 11 - vs Oakland – WIN (6-3) 30-17

The Jets snap a 6-game skid but still find themselves in quite the hole at 3-7. The offense fired on all cylinders here and as a result, Pennington nabbed his first 300-yard game of this fictional season, going 18 of 25 for 309 and two touchdowns. However, he took 5 sacks. As a QB that was labeled as "fragile", those numbers have to be alarming.

Week 12 - vs Jacksonville – WIN (7-5) 41-28

That was scary for a moment there. Losing to Jacksonville at home was inexcusable when our season was in the toilet, much less in an experiment to try and prove which model is more logical to use. Pennington threw four TDs, but then again, so did Chad Henne. Week 13 - vs New England – LOSS (3-6) 28-38

A close game in which the Jets led at the end of the third quarter, but let the Patriots take it back. Chad’s line is good but only 56% completion rate, which doesn’t look like the guy we’d’ve drafted. The team is now 4-8 and is clinging to a wildcard run that might not be there.

Week 14 - @ Jacksonville – WIN (6-4) 34-13

This simulation series definitely has me thinking we need to make sure we get a damn good running back to pair with Arian Foster, because Chad’s number seem linked to how well the run was able to set up his passing.

Week 15 - @ Indianapolis – WIN (6-3) 26-14

This defense, the one that is designed to operate like the one we have now without drafting Clowney, held Luck to 102 yards passing. In Indy. Week 16 - vs Denver – LOSS (1-6) 6-13

Incredibly low scoring by the Broncos standards, but enough to get the job done. Moreno runs for 151 while Manning doesn’t have to do much to ensure victory.

Week 17 - @ Tennessee – WIN (6-3) 16-13

Chad Pennington is awarded Player of the Game, but he’s had better stat lines this season than this one.

Final Record: 7-9

Color me shocked. The bright but physically limited QB was solid, but showed limited ability to put the team on his back and win when the running game sputtered. Meanwhile, the great defense actually managed to cover up for the offense’s weakness.

Conclusion

Knee-jerk? I’ve never been closer to accepting Jadeveon Clowney over Teddy Bridgewater. I think Teddy is going to be a great QB in this league, but I want the Texans back in the playoffs more than I want any single guy, and this experiment gives Team Clowney supporters reason to believe that the best player ACTUALLY CAN be more helpful to a franchise than the best quarterback. Sure, this was Clowney’s ceiling versus Teddy’s floor, but that was the actual point. Those supporting drafting the QB that is an inferior prospect support doing so based on the importance of the QB position. I think this experiment at least allows someone to call that assumption into question. Feel free to sound off in the comments on how you feel about this information and what it could mean for the Texans.

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