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The myth of Pat Shurmur, QB whisperer

Does Pat Shurmur’s influence and tutelage improve the play of the QBs with whom he works?

Denver Broncos Training Camp Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

I read in a protected tweet on twitter that Pat Shurmur sends QBs into the “stratosphere” when he first starts working with them. Any assertion like that sends me looking for the data to either verify or debunk that assertion.

Let’s take a look at Pat Shurmur’s “record” as it relates to team QB play during his years as a QB coach, an offensive coordinator and a head coach in the NFL. He started as a QB coach for Eagles in 2002 after spending the previous three seasons as the tight ends coach and offensive line coach. I looked at how the QBs on his team fared by passer rating and how the team passer rating (PR) compared to the rest of league.

Year Team Coaching Position Team Passer rating Lg Rank
2002 Philadelphia Eagles Quarterbacks 85.9 9
2003 Philadelphia Eagles Quarterbacks 80.5 14
2004 Philadelphia Eagles Quarterbacks 96.4 4
2005 Philadelphia Eagles Quarterbacks 71.5 25
2006 Philadelphia Eagles Quarterbacks 96.7 2
2007 Philadelphia Eagles Quarterbacks 84.6 13
2008 Philadelphia Eagles Quarterbacks 81.4 19
2009 St. Louis Rams Offensive Coordinator 64.0 27
2010 St. Louis Rams Offensive Coordinator 76.5 24
2011 Cleveland Browns Head Coach 72.8 29
2012 Cleveland Browns Head Coach 73.5 29
2013 Philadelphia Eagles Offensive Coordinator 102.7 4
2014 Philadelphia Eagles Offensive Coordinator 84.8 23
2015 Philadelphia Eagles Offensive Coordinator/Interim Head Coach 85.6 22
2016 Minnesota Vikings Tight Ends/Interim Offensive Coordinator 97.7 6
2017 Minnesota Vikings Offensive Coordinator 99.1 4
2018 New York Giants Head Coach 92.7 20
2019 New York Giants Head Coach 86.4 19
2020 Denver Broncos Offensive Coordinator 72.5 32

In six of his 19 seasons his QBs were in the top 10, but in eight his QBs were in the bottom ten. The average rank was 17th.

What I don’t see is improvement year over year. So let’s look at individual QBs and how they played before Shurmur’s influence and immediately after.

In the three years before Shurmur, Donovan McNabb had a passer rating of 77.4. Those were McNabb’s first, second and third years in the league. In his fourth year in the league and his first with Shurmur as his QB coach, McNabb had a passer rating of 86.0. If we compare McNabb’s passer rating in 2002 to his passer rating in 2001, we see that he had a passer rating of 84.3. Improving to 86.0 is marginal.

If we look at how McNabb played in his remaining years with Shurmur here’s the comparison, McNabb before Shurmur - PR of 77.4; McNabb with Shurmur - PR of 89.5. However, this level of improvement in passer rating is not uncommon in QBs who make it beyond their third NFL season as a starter. Okay, let’s look at more of the QBs with whom Shurmur has worked.

So in 2009 Shurmur became the offensive coordinator for the Rams. He had three QBs that started for him in 2009: Marc Bulger (8 starts), Kyle Boller (4) and Keith Null (4). All three QBs were at the end of their runs as NFL starters. Bulger, who had been a Pro-Bowl QB early in his career, was a shadow of his former self at that point. He was terrible in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Boller was a high draft pick that was trying to make it as a backup. He failed as both a starter and a backup. Null was plan C and he was never expected to be a starter in the NFL. He was completely out of his depth and never started another game or played another NFL snap after the 2009 season.

On to the 2010 Rams: Shurmur was given the first overall pick, Sam Bradford, to shepherd. Bradford was okay as a rookie. He ranked 25th of 31 qualifying QBs in 2010 in terms of PR. I would not say that was sending Bradford into the “stratosphere”. Bradford was worse in 2011 after Shurmur left, but I doubt that had much to do with Pat Shurmur.

In 2011 Shurmur moved to the head coach position of the Browns. The 2010 Browns had three QBs start games for them: Colt McCoy (8 starts), Jake DelHomme (4) and Seneca Wallace (4). Both McCoy and Wallace started games for the Browns in 2010. McCoy had a passer rating of 74.5 in 2010 and improved all the way to 74.6 in 2011. Wallace improved from 88.5 to 65.4; oh wait, that’s regression, not improvement. So let’s move on to his time back with the Eagles as the offensive coordinator in 2013 until 2015.

The Eagles in 2012 had Michael Vick (10) and Nick Foles (6) start games at QB for them. They had passer ratings of 78.1 and 79.1 in 2012. In 2013 Foles starting 10 games and Vick 6. Foles had his career year with a passer rating of 119.2 (4th best ever) and Vick had a passer rating of 86.5. So you could possibly attribute Foles’ improvement to the tutelage of Shurmur or you could credit Bill Lazor who was the QB coach for the Eagles in 2013. He had been the OC and QB coach at the U. of Virginia the previous season. Lazor was able to springboard off of Foles’ performance to get himself the OC job in Miami where he lasted two seasons before he was fired.

Back to Shurmur, who became the OC in Minnesota in 2016 after finishing the 2015 season as the interim head coach in Philly. In 2015 Teddy Bridgewater started all 16 games for the Vikings. Bridgewater made the Pro-Bowl in 2015, but Trevor Siemian did in 2016 so take it for what it’s worth. Bridgewater did not play a single snap in 2016 because of his gruesome leg injury. So the 2016 Vikings rolled with Sam Bradford at QB. Shurmur was very familiar with Bradford, having worked with him during Bradford’s rookie year that we discussed above. Bradford actually had his career season with Shurmur as his OC in 2016. Bradford’s PR of 99.3 in 2016 was a significant improvement over has career PR up to the point of 81.0. Bradford led all starters in completion percentage in 2016. Oddly enough, 2016 was Bradford’s last season as a regular starter at QB in the NFL.

In 2017 for the Vikings Bradford would be lost for the season in the second game. Their backup QB was Case Keenum who had a career PR of 78.4 up to the point. In 2017 with Shurmur as his OC, Keenum would lead the Vikings to a 12-2 record and an appearance in the NFC championship. Keenum did so by posting a PR of 98.3 in 2017. That would lead him to getting acquired by the Broncos for 2018 in the hopes that he could reproduce his career season in Denver. Unfortunately for us Keenum regressed to his career form and posted a PR of 81.2 in 2018 in Denver.

Shurmur parlayed getting career years from Bradford and Keenum into a head coaching gig with the Giants in 2018, where he got to work with Eli Manning in his final season as a regular NFL starter. Eli would post decent numbers in 2018 with a PR of 92.4 that was a significant improvement over what he did in 2017 (80.4), but 2018 was not a career year for Eli. If it had been, the Giants probably would not have finished 5-11 and drafted Daniel Jones. Eli would post a career high in completion percentage in 2018 though - 66.0 percent, a significant jump from his previous career best of 63.1 percent.

It should be noted that Shurmur might not deserve the credit for Eli’s improvement in 2018. Mike Shula was was hired by Shurmur to be the Giant’ OC in 2018 and you could argue that he deserves more of the credit for getting a career best in completion percentage from Eli. Either way, Eli was decent in 2018 (4th best year of his career), but he was not good enough. Eli’s PR in 2018 was still 21st of 33 qualifying QBs. So enter Daniel Jones.

In 2019, as a rookie, Jones started 12 games and would finish the season 20th among starters in PR. His PR of 87.7 was better than Kyler Murray, Jared Goff, Josh Allen, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield in 2019. Again, I don’t know how much of the “credit” for this should be given to Shurmur since Shula was still the OC. Either way, things looked fairly positive for Daniel Jones heading into the 2020 season even without Shurmur and Shula.

During 2020 Shurmur and Shula show got to work with three young QBs in Drew Lock, Jeff Driskell and Brett Rypien (and a WR who was forced to play QB, Kendall Hinton). Unfortunately that Broncos would finish the season with the worst team PR in the league. However, if you remove the stats from Hinton the Broncos would finish 31st instead of 32nd. The Eagles would move to last since removing Hinton’s stats gives the Broncos a team PR of 74.9.

That being said, if what we saw from Lock, Driskell and Rypien in 2020 was somehow improved over what it would have been without the influence of Shurmur and Shula, I’m scared to know just how bad they all would have looked otherwise.

Here’s the thing. If you want to give a QB coach, offensive coordinator or even head coach credit for the good play of his QB, you also have to hold him responsible for the bad play of his QB. You can’t have one without the other.

Of course, whether or not a QB improves from year to year, may have little to do with the coaches and much (or everything) to do with the player.