Derek who? After watching Cleveland Browns quarterback Derek Anderson come out of nowhere to stun the fantasy football world with some outstanding top-10 passer numbers last season, nobody is asking that question nowadays. As you probably know by now, Anderson had struggled last preseason, losing a training camp battle to former Cleveland quarterback Charlie Frye (Seattle Seahawks). After Frye played very poorly during a Week 1 home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Browns head coach Romeo Crennel gave the starting gig to Anderson, and Anderson didn’t give the job back. After starting just three regular-season games prior to the 2007 season, the 25-year-old Anderson, to the surprise of many, fearlessly led the National Football League’s No. 12 passing attack, rolling up a 10-5 record as the starter and throwing for 3,787 yards with 29 touchdowns passes and 19 interceptions. Anderson topped the 200-yard passing mark and tossed at least two touchdown passes in 10 contests. The Oregon State product also tacked on 70 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. In addition, he was sacked just 14 times all season, thanks to playing behind a smartly rebuilt offensive line. Anderson’s shockingly outstanding season earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl, and the Browns rewarded him with a three-year, $24 million contract extension.
Heading into the new season, however, the Anderson mania has disappeared in a huge number of fantasy football circles. Why are numerous websites and magazines
predicting that Anderson will go from being the biggest fantasy surprise of 2007 to the biggest fantasy bust of 2008? Is it because of his alleged second-half slide last season? Is it because of Anderson’s reckless gunslinger approach to the game? Is it because much-heralded backup quarterback Brady Quinn is waiting in the wings? Is it because Cleveland’s 2008 schedule is more difficult? Is it a combination of all of the above?
Anderson’s Infamous “Second-Half Slide”
Fantasy owners who are down on Anderson are quick to point to his statistical struggles during what many insist was Cleveland’s more difficult second-half 2007 schedule. Were the Browns’ late regular-season matchups really tougher? The answer is no. Between Week 1 and Week 9, the club’s opponents had accumulated a combined record of 56-72 (0.430 percent) based on 2007 win/loss records. Between Week 10 and Week 17, Cleveland’s opponents had amassed a combined record of – get ready for a surprise – just 54-74 (0.420 percent), also based on 2007 win/loss records.
Although the Browns’ second-half schedule was not a murderer’s row, there is no denying that Anderson’s passing yardage and touchdown numbers dropped off noticeably, and there was a slight uptick in his interceptions. Between Week 1 and Week 9 (We’ll count Anderson’s Week 1 numbers, even though he didn’t start that game), Anderson passed for 2,108 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions, which averaged out to 264 yards, 2.1 touchdowns and 1.1 interceptions per contest (37 pass attempts per game). During that span, Anderson faced four top-10 pass defenses and three bottom-10 pass defenses. Between Week 10 and Week 17, he threw for 1,679 yards, 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, which averaged out to 210 yards, 1.5 touchdowns and 1.3 interceptions per outing (34 pass attempts per game). Surprisingly, during this stretch, Anderson faced just two top-10 pass defenses and six bottom-10 pass defenses.
Why the lower passing numbers against some statistically softer pass defenses? Let’s take a brief look at Cleveland’s passing and rushing performances in all eight second-half games to get the real story behind the decline in Anderson’s statistics:
Week 10: Pittsburgh 31 Cleveland 28
Anderson completed 16 of his 35 pass attempts for just 123 yards, but he did throw for three scores with no interceptions in a tough road matchup. Running back Jamal Lewis rushed 16 times for 35 yards.
Week 11: Cleveland 33 Baltimore 30 (Overtime)
Facing another challenging road test, Anderson completed 24 of his 38 throws for 274 yards and one interception. He didn’t throw any touchdown passes but did notch one rushing touchdown on a one-yard run. Lewis rushed for 92 yards and one score.
Week 12: Cleveland 27 Houston 17
The Browns relied on a balanced offensive attack with Anderson going 24-for-35 for 253 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, and with Lewis rushing for 134 yards and one touchdown.
Week 13: Arizona 27 Cleveland 21
Anderson enjoyed a good outing, completing 21 of his 41 pass attempts for 304 yards with two scores and two interceptions. Lewis rushed for 62 yards and caught a six-yard score from Anderson.
Week 14: Cleveland 24 New York Jets 18
The Jets offense was never much of a threat, so the Browns were able to mount a balanced attack. Anderson went 16-for-29 for 185 yards with two scores and one interception, and Lewis rushed for 118 yards and one touchdown.
Week 15: Cleveland 8 Buffalo 0
As you recall, this game was played in a snowstorm. Anderson completed just nine of his 24 throws for 137 yards with zero touchdowns and zero interceptions, but Lewis saved the day with 163 yards rushing.
Week 16: Cincinnati 19 Cleveland 14
Anderson threw for 251 yards and two touchdowns while going 29-for-48 on pass attempts. However, four of the 10 interceptions that he threw in the second half of the season came in this game against a revenge-minded Bengals secondary that Anderson had torched for 328 yards and five scores back in Week 2. Lewis rushed for 92 yards but did not score.
Week 17: Cleveland 20 San Francisco 7
Facing an anemic 49ers offense, Anderson and the passing game did not have to do much in this contest. He completed 11 of his 20 pass attempts for 152 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Lewis rushed for 128 yards.
You can blame game circumstances, not a tougher schedule, for Anderson’s weaker second-half statistics. From a fantasy perspective, he had arguably three genuinely bad games during this stretch, which hardly qualifies as a second-half slide. Anderson and the Cleveland passing game did not have to come up big for the team to win a majority of those contests, because Lewis ran the ball much better, particularly in terms of yardage, during the second half (103 rushing yards, 0.5 total touchdowns per game between Week 10 and Week 17) than the first half (69 rushing yards, 0.85 touchdowns per game between Week 1 and Week 9).
It’s also important to note that during the second half, Cleveland had faced six teams that finished the season ranked close to average or lower in total offense, which obviously means that Anderson and the Browns offense did not have to amass huge numbers to secure victories in five contests (The team went 5-3 during that stretch). In addition, the speculation that enemy defensive coordinators had supposedly figured Anderson out just does not seem believable after a close examination of the second-half game statistics.