Are the Cardinals Toast With Blaine Gabbert at the Helm?

With Drew Stanton still dealing with the sprained knee he suffered against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 10, it looks like Blaine Gabbert will likely draw the start this week for the Arizona Cardinals as they take on the Houston Texans.

Gabbert will be the third man up at quarterback for the Cardinals in 2017, following Stanton and Carson Palmer, who was lost to injury after starting the first seven games. Truth be told, neither Palmer nor Stanton have been very good, either.

So, could Gabbert be an improvement and save the Cards' season?

Riding the Cardinals Quarterback Carousel

We'll use Net Expected Points (NEP), our in-house metric that tracks the expected points added on each play throughout the season to show just how inefficient Stanton and Palmer have been. We'll also look at Success Rate, which is the percentage of a passer's drop backs that result in positive NEP. You can read more about Success Rate and NEP in our glossary.

There have been 39 quarterbacks with at least 80 drop backs in 2017. The table below shows how Stanton and Palmer stack up with their passing peers this season.

Player Drop Backs Passing NEP/Drop Back Rank Success Rate Rank
Palmer 289 0.01 26th 45.33% 20th
Stanton 95 -0.04 29th 37.89% 36th

For reference, the 2016 league averages for Passing NEP and Success Rate were 0.12 and 47.02%, respectively. So the Cardinals haven't been getting much from the quarterback spot this season.

Can Gabbert change that?

Gabbert Time

Since being drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011, Gabbert has had three seasons in which he has had at least 300 drop backs. These were the 2011, 2012 and 2015 seasons (the last of which was spent with the San Francisco 49ers). In these campaigns, there were 29, 30 and 31 quarterbacks with at least 300 drop backs. Here is how Gabbert fared, according to our metrics.

Season Drop Backs Passing NEP per Play Rank
2011 453 -0.19 29th
2012 300 -0.12 29th
2015 307 -0.03 30th

Suffice to say, these are terrible numbers. Gabbert has never had a season in which he added expected points, on average, on a per-drop-back basis.

In fact, his 2011 performance is the 10th-worst single-season effort among all quarterbacks with at least 300 drop backs in a season since 2000, which dates back to the beginning of our database. While he was somewhat better a season later, his -0.12 Passing NEP per drop back was still good (bad?) for the 34th-worst single-season clip in our database. That is not good.

I'm almost afraid to do so, but we should probably take a look at Gabbert's Passing Success Rate for the above seasons, as well. I warn you -- they do not make for any prettier viewing.

Season Passing Success Rate Average
2011 35.54% 45.91%
2012 40.67% 46.55%
2015 42.02% 46.87%

In all three seasons, he finished with the second-worst Passing Success Rate in the league that year. He was saved from the bottom spot by this trio of Canton-bound stars -- Tim Tebow, Jake Locker and the St. Louis Rams' version of Nick Foles.

Looking Ahead

If Gabbert is able to somehow able coax a victory out of his charges at Houston on Sunday, there is a chance he will be given an extended run for Arizona. The teams remaining on the Cardinals' schedule offer quite a mixed bag, at least in terms of their Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, which is adjusted for strength of schedule.

Here's how Arizona's future opponents rank against the pass, per our metrics.

Team Defensive Rank
Houston 17th
Jacksonville 1st
L.A. Rams 4th
Tennessee 28th
Washington 15th
New York Giants 27th
Seattle 5th

On paper, there are at least four games in which Gabbert may be able to move the ball decently well, but there are some brutal matchups in there, too, including a potential cover-your-eyes tilt with the Jacksonville Jaguars next week.

But, as the 2017 season has shown, bad quarterback play is something Arizona has grown accustomed to.

The team's playoff hopes are fading fast. Per our models, the 4-5 Cards have just a 1.0% chance to make the playoffs. Arizona is pretty much finished for this year, and their assumed 2018 starter (Palmer) will turn 38 next month, so maybe seeing if pass-game guru Bruce Arians can work some magic with Gabbert isn't a terrible call.

It's just unlikely to go well.