Unquestionably, Anderson’s statistics were solid. He outperformed any season Bernie Kosar ever put together and was right on par with the record-setting year Brian Sipe had in 1980 when he threw for 4100+ yards and 30 TDs. And with that, he was rewarded this offseason with a three-year contract extension from the Browns.
But, while his overall numbers were very good, when you dig below the surface questions emerge as to whether Anderson is the right quarterback for this team as it pushes to the next level to be a legit playoff and Super Bowl contender. For example, after a torrid start in his first seven games when he threw for 17 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions while putting up a very good 95.5 quarterback rating, reality hit in his last nine games when he threw 18 interceptions against 18 touchdowns while putting up a very pedestrian 75.5 quarterback rating.
Digging even deeper, Anderson put up a rating of 75.4 or lower in nine of his 16 games, and in two others the rating was in the low 80s. In fact, Anderson’s overall numbers are greatly skewed by three great games: against Cincinnati in game two, against Miami in game six and, against St. Louis in game seven. Combined, he completed 67% of his passes, threw for 821 yards and had 11 touchdowns and 1 interception with a 138.7 rating. But, in the other 13 games he was mostly average and inconsistent, completing only 54% of his passes, throwing for 2966 yards and had 18 touchdowns, 18 interceptions and a 71.1 rating. When you look at what happened over the course of last season, a lot of things went Anderson’s way. He benefited from a great surrounding cast of skill players all season headlined by running back Jamal Lewis, tight end Kellen Winslow, and wide receiver Braylon Edwards. He benefited from a rebuilt offensive line that is now one of the best units in the league, and as a result he was rarely pressured much less sneezed on by rushing defenders. And, he had a mastermind first year offensive coordinator in Rob Chudzinski who has proven to be one of the top offensive coordinators. Anderson also benefited from one of the easiest schedules a team will ever play. Outside of playing the Steelers (twice), the Patriots and the Seahawks, the Browns schedule was pretty average. In only five games did the offense match up against a team ranked better than 18th in scoring defense or ranked above 15th in total defense.
For most of the season Anderson was inconsistent and erratic, and the numbers show it. Considering what he did against some weaker defenses last season, especially down the stretch in crunch time, how can anyone be comfortable with him as the incumbent going into 2008, especially when the defenses he will face look to be much tougher next year? The Browns play the AFC South and NFC East next year, two divisions loaded with good defenses, and on the schedule 11 of their 16 games are against defenses who finished the 2007 season ranked in the top 12 in the NFL. With Anderson, you have a quarterback who got his shot, came out gunning and took the league by storm his first several starts last year. But based on his performance in the last nine games of the season it certainly seemed like the book was out on him as teams began to compile more film. Opposing defenses seemed to limit Anderson’s propensity to go for the home run ball and forced him to throw more underneath. Anyone who watched Browns games last season knows that Anderson is not as comfortable when he has to check down to his secondary receivers and rely on a short passing game. His strength is the downfield passing game and when forced to adjust to a more controlled style his accuracy issues give him fits. As for the whole Pro Bowl thing, Anderson’s statistics warranted the recognition, but his performance in the game made it look like he didn’t belong there. Here the statistics bare that out as well. The quarterback ratings for the other quarterbacks voted to the Pro Bowl were: Tom Brady (117.2), Ben Roethlisberger (104.1), Peyton Manning (98.0), Tony Romo (97.4), Brett Favre (95.7), and Matt Hasselbeck (91.4). As great a season statistically as Anderson had, only three quarterbacks in the NFL threw more interceptions, and all of those threw just 20, which is just one more than Anderson. Anderson is still only 24, so there is room for improvement and for him to make adjustments. But, for a quarterback who has had accuracy and consistency issues since college it is difficult to believe that he will suddenly show significant improvement in either going forward. Like a rookie in any professional sports league who breaks onto the scene his first year, caution is warranted, mainly because young, inexperienced players lack a proven track record. The optimism many have with Anderson may be warranted, but it shouldn’t be blind optimism. Anderson’s past performance may allow him to come into camp as the starter, but the Browns and their fans need to see him for at least another half season as the starting quarterback before they can really starting judging whether he is a star or just another statistical fluke.