"We need him to win. We clearly need Jeff Garcia."
That had always been an underlying theme this year. Most pro football experts suspected that if Garcia were ever hurt that it would derail the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — or that it at least had the potential to do so.
The evidence shone clearly last weekend against Washington. The offense sputtered with Bruce Gradkowski at quarterback. It even sputtered when Garcia returned to try and rally the troops Willis Reed-style.
Garcia may not be available on Sunday. The role of quarterback may fall to either Luke McCown or Bruce Gradkowski. Heck, they may both play.
But how do you measure Garcia's true impact on the offense this season? Wins and losses help. The Bucs are 7-4 with Garcia as the starter. But the Bucs switched quarterbacks in midseason in 2005 and still won a division title.
Maybe it's confidence. Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said earlier this week that the Bucs are a different team when Garcia isn't on the field.
Or maybe its in the numbers.
By looking at the numbers Buccaneers quarterbacks have put up since 2004, there are several indicating factors relating to Garcia's success in this offense in 2007. Some of these factors weren't as present — or even present — in previous seasons. They may help develop a theory as to why Garcia's Buccaneers are better and more efficient than previous teams.
If you want to identify a clear marker between Garcia and Bucs quarterbacks the past three seasons, here it is. Garcia has thrown only three interceptions this season (and committed five turnovers total). That's one interception every 94 attempts, one of the top ratios in the league.
That contrasts deeply to the Bucs' interception totals after 11 games each of the last three seasons. In 2006 the QBs threw 13 interceptions through the first 11 games. In 2005 that number was 12. In 2004 that number was 9. That's an interception every 30.8 attempts the previous three seasons.
Turnovers mean you're likely playing from behind. And that's perhaps a reason why Garcia's 282 pass attempts also contrast sharply with the number of attempts taken by Bucs quarterbacks after 11 games the past three seasons. The fewest pass attempts during the past three years was 338 in 2005. That came in a winning season. By committing fewer turnovers, the Bucs hold onto the football longer, reduce the opponent's offensive opportunities and give the defense more time to rest.
2. Sacks per pass attempt.
Here's a statistic I never thought of until I saw it used in a recent article at ESPN.com. By figuring this percentage, it allows us to get a clearer view of Garcia's mobility, which is a huge part of his game.
Garcia averages one sack per 18.8 pass attempts. He's only been sacked 15 times through 11 games, a great total when compared to 2006 (21), 2005 (29) and 2004 (31) at this time.
Between Chris Simms and Gradkowski last year they absorbed a sack every 17.3 pass attempts. That's likely a nod to Gradkowski's mobility, which is a big part of the backup's game.
This doesn't necessarily mean that Garcia is getting better protection than past Bucs quarterbacks. You could argue that Simms received great protection, at times, in 2005. But Garcia's combination of mobility and quick decision making allows him to get rid of the ball quickly and avoid sacks that less mobile quarterbacks might take.
In 2004 and 2005 the Bucs used more pocket-oriented passers — Simms, Brad Johnson and Brian Griese. The sack ratio shot up because of that. Bucs quarterbacks averaged a sack every 11.6 attempts in 2005 and a sack every 11.2 attempts in 2004.
The sack ratio may not drop on Sunday, since both McCown and Gradkowski have solid mobility.
3. Quarterback rating.
The formula is pretty arbitrary, frankly. But it's another variable we can use to measure Garcia's impact. His quarterback rating through 11 games is 96.0. That's much better than 2006 (63.2) or 2005 (79.3).
Why? Well, both of the earlier components are key. Interceptions are figured by attempts in the quarterback rating. So Garcia's healthy ratio helps keep his rating near 100. The middling ratio of quarterbacks of past years drives their rating down.
Sacks aren't as clearly defined in the formula. But in the NFL sacks count against a quarterback's passing yardage, not his receiving. So sacks can have an impact on a quarterback's yards per attempt, which is another key part of the formula. Since the quarterbacks in 2004-06 were sacked more often — and lost more yardage — their ratings took a hit.
It should be noted that the combined ratings of Johnson, Simms and Griese through 11 games in 2004 was 92.7. Griese finished the season with a 92.7 rating, but the combined rating was just under 90.0. Why? Griese's touchdowns (20) and passing yardage (2,632) helped drive his rating up. But the Bucs finished 5-11.
4. Rushing yardage.
The final factor is Garcia's mobility. He's already rushed for 116 yards on 34 carries (a 3.4-yard average) and a touchdown. Factor that over the rest of the season and Garcia could be good for around 200 yards rushing.
Garcia said on Wednesday that his mobility isn't for scrambling — it's for keeping drives alive. Still, his presence in understanding when to run and when to slide is a key component of what the Bucs have done in 2007.
Gradkowski has a similar presence. He rushed for 127 yards on 33 carries last year. But in 2004-05, Bucs quarterbacks combined rushed for fewer than 100 yards in each season.
Gruden likes mobile quarterbacks. It's part of the reason why he hangs on to Gradkowski despite his limited arm strength. That's one of the reasons the sack total dropped between 2005 and 2006. It's also another reason the sack total has dropped further this season. Garcia has Gradkowski's mobility, plus nine years of NFL experience. He makes few mistakes once he uses his legs to keep plays alive and he doesn't hang onto the ball for very long.
These factors present Garcia as a quarterback that impacts key parts of the football game. He gives the Buccaneers more consistent play in key areas and can determine whether the team wins or loses. It's these areas — and not necessarily touchdowns — where McCown and Gradkowski will be expected to pick up the slack if Garcia cannot play.
Want the inside scoop on the Buccaneers, from locker room updates to insider information on free agency and the NFL Draft? Click here to subscribe.
Listen to Bucsblitz.com's Matthew Postins every Tuesday with former Buccaneers linebacker Scot Brantley on WHBO 1470 ESPN Radio in Tampa and Clearwater from 3-6 p.m. If you miss the show, check out Bucsblitz.com's exclusive team media center for Postins' archived appearances.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.