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Comparing the capabilities of Zach Mettenberger to Landry Jones as Steelers backup quarterbacks

Zach Mettenberger was signed recently by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Here's how he stacks up to the man ahead of him on the depth chart, Landry Jones.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

I am not going to argue that Zach Mettenberger should be the Pittsburgh Steelers second string quarterback. That job clearly belongs to Landry Jones. Jones knows the playbook, and despite his shortcomings he does have moments where he shows real promise. Look at the Steelers preseason game against the New Orleans Saints. Jones went 19-of-22 for 206 yards and a touchdown, and landed a passer rating of 120.8. He started two games last season too, so clearly there is promise for him.

On the other hand, the Mettenberger signing was necessary for the team moving into this season, due to the loss of Bruce Gradkowski. Yes, Dustin Vaughan and Byrn Renner spent time on the team's preseason roster, and yes Mettenberger does have a lot to prove, but despite all this, he is the clear choice for number three because of his starting experience.

To further prove that Mettenberger is capable of holding this position if Roethlisberger and Jones are unable to play, I'm going to compare some of his stats to the man ahead of him on the depth chart - Landry Jones. Again, I am not arguing that Mettenberger should be number two, and I think anyone who thinks that might be a bit crazy.

Let's start off with their history in the NFL. Mettenberger was taken in the 6th round, with the 178th pick by the Tennessee Titans in the 2013 draft. He's a sixth rounder. He's played for the Chargers in the time since then, and there must be a reason that he has played for two other teams between now and then after being taken so late in the draft. Jones, in contrast, has only played for one team - the Steelers. He was taken in the 4th round with the 115th overall pick in the 2013 draft by the Steelers. In that time he has played behind Roethlisberger and Bruce Gradkowski, so it's safe to say that he has had two good players with him to learn from, and the fact that he hasn't been moved around shows that he must be taking at least a good portion of it in.

Their physical stats are remarkably similar. Jones is two years older than Mettenberger, Jones being 27 years-old and Mettenberger 25 years-old. Their height and weight are almost identical. Mettenberger is 6"5' and 224lbs and Jones is 6"4' and 225lbs. Being as they are physically similar, Mettenberger should, in theory, be able to fill the position behind Jones well because their physical performance would be similar. The only difference of note is their age, and all of the physical differences that being two years younger than Jones would bring for Mettenberger. However, with age comes experience, and Jones will have a year of knowing the NFL and three years of knowing the Pittsburgh Steelers over Mettenberger.

Despite the fact that Jones will know the playbook far better than Mettenberger, as well as the NFL as a whole, Mettenberger actually has more on field experience than Jones. Mettenberger played 14 games in his time with Titans, where as Jones has only played 8. That's nearly double. Further to that, Mettenberger has 10 starts in his shorter tenure with the NFL, where Jones has just 2 (both in the last season). This means that Mettenberger could potentially act under pressure better due to this experience. Regardless, neither player has started a playoff game, and Jones has only played in one - again, that was this year. Neither player is particularly experienced, but Mettenberger's handful of starts and games over Jones could mean that he is more ready to take the number three spot at the Steelers than Jones is the number two spot.

All of this is just speculation however - it all boils to how well they play on the field. Looking at statistics on their career, both have moderate passer ratings, with Mettenberger at 75.4 and Jones at 77.3. Their completion percentages are similar too; Mettenberger at 60.3 and Jones 58.2. These men actually seem quite similar statistically.

Going off of that, when comparing the two stats again, looking just at the season where each player played the most games yields little difference. For Mettenberger that season is 2014, and for Jones its 2015. The completion percentage is even closer, with Jones staying the same at 58.2 and Mettenberger's falling to 59.8. But, when looking at passer rating, they actually start to separate. Jones' passer rating on 2015 is 77.3 (the same), but Mettenberger goes up to 83.4.

This is interesting, considering what were the main weapons for each of these players in those seasons. For this, I'm going to look at pro football reference's starting lineup for the 2014 Titans and the 2015 Steelers. When looking at running back, I'm only looking at receptions for the sake of simplicity and to show the two players' ability throwing the ball.

According to pro football reference, the starters Zach Mettenberger had around him in 2014 were as follows:

  • Bishop Sankey (RB), who had 18 receptions for 133 yards
  • Justin Hunter (WR) who had 28 receptions for 498 yards and three touchdowns
  • Nate Washington (WR) who had 40 receptions for 647 yards and two touchdowns
  • Kendall Wright (WR) who had 57 receptions for 715 yards and six touchdowns
  • Delanie Walker (TE) who had 63 receptions for 890 yards and four touchdowns
The starters Landry Jones had around him in 2015 were:
  • DeAngelo Williams (RB) who had 40 receptions for 367 yards (this surprised me, you'd expect Le'Veon Bell, but due to the fact that he had the suspension and then an injury at either end of the season, Williams actually started more games and is therefore a more representative comparison)
  • Antonio Brown (WR) who had 136 receptions for 1834 yards and ten touchdowns
  • Markus Wheaton (WR) who had 44 receptions for 749 yards and five touchdowns
  • Martavis Bryant (WR) who had 50 receptions for 765 yards and six touchdowns (I added him to the pro football reference starters list for the Steelers to keep the comparison fair, as this way I'm comparing five players to five players)
  • Heath Miller (TE) who had 60 receptions for 535 yards and two touchdowns.
The only position that Mettenberger had over Jones in this comparison is tight end - Delanie Walker had more receptions for more yards and touchdowns than Heath Miller when comparing Walker's 2014 season to Miller's 2015 season. This means that Jones, in his 2015 season, had better options available to him than Mettenberger  did in his 2014 season. Therefore, you'd expect that Mettenberger to have performed worse - but again there is very little difference between the two. Up until this point, everything points to the fact that Jones is categorically a better player than Mettenberger, but when looking at these two seasons, this gets a little more complicated. My point here being, Mettenberger is a capable player (not that Jones isn't a capable player).

This is demonstrated further by looking at the stats of these starters and the quarterbacks themselves in the game where each player played the entire game and got their highest passer rating. For Mettenberger, this is 2014's week 11 matchup, Pittsburgh at Tennessee; and for Jones this is 2015's week 7 matchup, Pittsburgh at Kansas City.

The statistics for the Steelers at Titans game are:
  • Zach Mettenberger (QB) threw 15 completions out of 24 attempts, for 263 yards, two touchdowns, one  interception for a passer rating of 110.2
  • Bishop Sankey (RB) had 1 reception for 7 yards
  • Justin Hunter (WR) had 2 receptions for 48 yards
  • Nate Washington (WR) had 1 reception for 80 yards and one touchdown
  • Kendall Wright (WR) had 4 receptions for 70 yards
  • Being as Delanie Walker didn't play, I'll be using the stats for backup TE Chase Coffman which are: 3 receptions for 32 yards and one touch down
The statistics for the Steelers at Chiefs game are:
  • Landry Jones (QB) threw 16 completions out of 29 attempts, for 209 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions for a passer rating of 60.8
  • Le'veon Bell (RB) was healthy for this game, so I'll being using his stats instead of Williams', which are: 4 receptions for 16 yards
  • Antonio Brown (WR) had 6 receptions for 124 yards
  • Markus Wheaton (WR) had 2 receptions for 16 yards
  • Martavis Bryant (WR) had 3 receptions for 45 yards and one touchdown
  • Heath Miller (TE) had 0 receptions
Here, it's obvious who had the better game. However, it is important to remember that Mettenberger was the starter in Tennessee and so would have more synergy with his players. Its also to remember that Mettenberger lost this game, and has lost every one he has started.

Where do all these statistics leave us? Well, one thing is for sure: Mettenberger can play football. Considering who else the Steelers could have picked up, he was the right choice. Given time, he may do well as a Steeler. His stats, on the whole, are actually quite comparable to Jones', and both quarterbacks show moments of greatness. From this, some might say that Mettenberger should take the number two spot - but I go back to what I started with: number two is Jones' job, as it should be. This is because he has had more time with the Steelers, plain and simple. Regardless, Mettenberger has got what it takes to fill the number three quarterback spot.