Matt Moore: Worth Sticking With

| March 19, 2012

I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong, and when it comes to Matt Moore, I was wrong.

Back after the 2009 season I saw many a storied media pundit predict big things for the Carolina QB. Charting his ‘hot’ finish to the year, he was the guy that was going to lead the Panthers to big things … only, it didn’t quite work out like that.

Completing just 55.2% of passes and earning a -10.6 grade, Moore was benched as the starter for Carolina as he did his part in leading them to the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft. He stunk, and as someone who saw it coming I was pretty damn smug.

Then he fell into the starting line-up for Miami and, by the end of the year, I wasn’t quite so smug. Now my transformation from hater to lover is complete because I can’t quite believe the Dolphins think that Alex Smith represents an upgrade.

 

Moore Than Expected

When Chad Henne went down after taking 10 snaps against the San Diego Chargers, the Miami Dolphins had nowhere to turn. They made some attempts to bolster the position by looking at free agents such as David Garrard, but when all was said and done they were left with Moore. I did not like their chances.

I felt vindicated in my belief that Moore didn’t have what it took to be a franchise quarterback after his first two starts for Miami. His horror show against the New York Jets, in particular, was proof enough to me that he was out of his depth.

But then slowly he started to win me over. Firstly with a competent display against the New York Giants, and then with a superb performance against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 9. Moore had put me firmly on the back foot with a series of showings that left me doing some serious soul searching. Had I given up on him too quickly?

The remainder of the season answered that question as Moore ended up Pro Football Focus’ ninth-ranked quarterback for 2011. A man who would have been on my Pro Bowl ballot, but for a late season surge from Philip Rivers. I had no choice but to accept it; Matt Moore could start in this league and do a job. It just seems a shame that the Dolphins don’t think the same given their interest in Alex Smith.

 

Moore Than Equal

I’m not someone who has an irrational dislike of Alex Smith. Sure, there’s enough reason–given how he’s played over the years and he doesn’t always help his receivers–but he’s not the sole reason the San Francisco 49ers’ passing attack has sputtered since he was made the first overall pick of the 2005 NFL draft. Heck, he’s even coming off a decent year in which he finished above Moore in our QB rankings. His eight place ranking was one spot higher than the Dolphins’ QB (though he did have over 100 more dropbacks). But, while the ratings are similar, the environments both men played in are very different. Smith had the top-ranked defense in the league (according to us) and a far more competent rushing attack as the table below shows.

Team
Team Run Block Grade
Ranking
Defense Grade
Ranking
SF-1.97th240.31st
MIA-33.213th-6.122nd

 

You only need to look at the 49ers’ victory over the New Orleans Saints, to see how much he needed them. It took constant stops from that defense to give Smith enough opportunities to put points on the board, even if he did come up with the key plays when needed late. He wouldn’t be afforded that luxury in Miami; he’d be forced to work with a poorer running game, both in terms of push from the offensive line, and work after contact from backs. The 49ers didn’t often win because of Alex Smith–those final minutes against the Saints were an anomaly–they won because their head coach understood their quarterback’s severe limitations, and hid them with an extremely talented roster.

 

Moore Than a Match

Of course there were areas that Smith excelled in last year. In throwing just five picks he avoided the mistakes that would cripple a team like San Francisco, though he was helped by the in-built check downs in Jim Harbaugh’s system (if you go back three years the numbers are vastly different). Moore was no slouch in this regard (just nine interceptions), but it’s fair to say he wasn’t as careful with the ball as Smith this year, though it should be noted Smith hasn’t done such a great job of looking after the ball in the past. Therein lies another problem with the former Utah Ute; he’s so cautious that he’s never going to get the best out of his receivers. The table below compares the two and what they were like when going deep.

Team
Att.
Att%
Rank
Acc.%
Rank
Matt Moore5917%4th47.50%9th
Alex Smith439.70%28th46.50%12th

 

It may not seem like a huge difference, but in ‘upgrading’ from Matt Moore to Alex Smith, the Dolphins would be significantly impacting the variety of their passing attack. This may be what Joe Phillbin wants from his quarterback, but it’s worth bringing up the fact that Aaron Rodgers threw a very healthy 12.2% of all attempted passes further than 20 yards. Nobody is going to get Moore confused with Rodgers, but Miami fans may get Smith mixed up with Chad Henne. Those numbers are similar to Henne’s, who finished 2010 attempting just 8.1% of passes downfield, with a 30% accuracy percentage (where drops are added to the completion figure totals).

That’s not the only area where Moore has an advantage. If we look at how he performed under pressure we see that he’s at the very least no downgrade on Smith.

Team
Pressure %
Rank
Sack %
Rank
Acc.%
Rank
Matt Moore32.5%9th27.3%36th66.2%3rd
Alex Smith37.5%19th22.7%26th60%16th

 

Clearly there are areas that Moore needs to work on. He allows too high a percentage of pressure to turn into sacks. But he’s more accurate than Smith when pressured, and not afraid to challenge a defense. In key areas of quarterback play, Moore is at least every bit the equal of Smith, and in an offense that needs to get (pardon the pun) more out of him.

 

Moore Than Derisory

I understood why the Dolphins wanted Peyton Manning; possibly the greatest quarterback of all time. I even understood the pursuit of Matt Flynn as someone who has a potential upside worth exploring. But you have to draw the line somewhere and accept that you’re no longer seeking to upgrade the position, rather just looking to replace Moore for the sake of it.

If you watched Matt Moore last year, you’ll know that the Miami Dolphins really don’t need to. Which begs the question: just what were they watching?

 

 

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