The BYE week couldn't have come at a better time for a Chris Petersen team that is really struggling in finding both its identity and a sustainable rhythm on the offensive side of the ball. While there were definitely warning signs all throughout the OOC schedule, the situation hit a crescendo in last week's Stanford game. The Huskies were as anemic as they've been at any time since the disastrous 2008 season and it left Husky fans, the same fans who saw one of the most prolific offenses in program history just one season ago, wondering about the QB position.
Is it time to bench Cyler Miles?
In this BYE week special article, we examine this question in a civilized debate leveraing an old-fashioned "pro" and "con" format. Chris makes the case that Cyler needs more time while Brad takes the opposite view arguing that the BYE week is an ideal time to make the change.
The Con: Benching Cyler Miles Only Complicates the Offensive Struggles
The Boo Birds are out.
Husky fans have had a hard time digesting the offensive ineptitude displayed by their favorite team over the last two weeks against both the lowly rated Georgia State Panthers and the powerhouse Stanford Cardinal. In both affairs, the play from Husky QB Cyler Miles has been completely and unarguably inadequate.
This is not a debatable point. Miles has not been good. But, the debate really centers around whether or not he has been good enough. More precisely, it is about whether or not he will continue to be good enough. I take the point of view that benching Miles in favor of Jeff Lindquist or Troy Williams will only complicate a systemically ineffective situation that involves a lot of variables that include but is not limited to just QB play.
I base this argument on three observations. First, the offensive scheme has changed significantly and represents a learning curve for every player on that side of the ball. Second, the execution errors by all of the other units on the offense are inextricably linked to QB play. Finally, the QB play, no matter how inadquate, has still been good enough to win so far.
When you look at the how the Husky offense has performed all season, and especially the past two weeks, you see a bevy of signs that the playbook is not being executed to its potential. The Huskies are not what they were a year ago schematically. They don't really run a high-tempo affair. There are more formations and options off of them. There are more plays run. The Offensive Line scheme is completely different - both in protection and run blocking. These changes are significant and represent a learning curve for the entire offense. We already saw Lindquist struggle with it in the Hawaii game. It is safe to assume that all of the QBs, just as with everybody else, are struggling with that learning curve.
Because of this learning curve, we are seeing inadequate execution. Petersen was quoted on Monday saying that the staff needs to "tighten up" the play calling in order to reduce the "mental strain" on the players. He cited the offensive line and the receivers specifically as units that are not executing. Without receivers executing blocks or running to the spots that they need to be, it doesn't matter how well the QB throws it. Without protection and blitz pick up that allows the QB to set up in the pocket, it doesn't matter how he manages his reads. The point is that without in-synch play with the other units, you can expect any QB placed in the backfield to fail.
The goal of the team and the coaching staff is, ultimately, to win the game. The goal is not to produce a Heisman-worthy season from a QB who demonstrates mechanics that the average fan finds aesthetically pleasing. The staff believes that Cyler gives them the best chance to win, presumably because he appears to be careful with the ball and he has the ability to make just enough plays between his arm and his legs. The data we have available to us supports this notion. After all, Cyler has only lost one game that he ever started and, even then, he had the ball inside the 20 at the end of the game with a chance to tie or win. What might have happened against EWU or even GSU had Cyler winged it and thrown a couple of INTs in each game? Would the outcomes have been the same?
Whatever his limitations, Cyler is, in fact, giving the Huskies as they are currently constructed an opportunity to win. If our staff is as good as we all think they are, then there is no reason to argue against the notion that he can't continue to grow - along with the rest of his offensive teammates - under the guidance and coaching of Chris Petersen and Co. A one possession loss to a highly ranked Pac 12 team just isn't enough of a reason to roll the dice on a position change that could sidetrack the development of the entire offense.
In his Monday presser, Chris Petersen said unequivocally that it is not time to replace Miles and that he felt strongly on that point. If he is the coach that we all think he is, then he has earned the right to make that call and to be trusted, even if we all feel uneasy and uncertain about the next game.
The Pro: Cyler Hasn't Shown Enough To Justify Keeping Other Options on the Bench
First of all, if Cyler Miles is the quarterback on the roster that gives the Huskies the best chance to win by leading the offense to points, then there's simply no debate here. Making a change would be done simply for the sake of doing so, and would be counterproductive. That's a scary thought, and one I can't help but believe isn't true. Mostly, I'm basing that on the fact that for the past six months, since the start of spring, Chris Petersen and Jonathon Smith have preached ball security above all else from their quarterbacks.
To that end, Miles has done well. Through four starts, he's yet to throw an interception against his six touchdown passes. His only turnover was a fumble. And statistically, he it appears he's had three pretty good games prior to last Saturday. But when you take into account the level of competition he faced, and what actually happened on too many of the passes that he completed, this is a case of statistics lying about the actual level of performance. Just look at the Illinois game, which appears to be his best throwing the ball thus far. He was 15-20 for 191 yards and a TD, for a passer rating of 171.7. Here's how many yards each completion went for: 0, 11, 4, -1, 75, 4, 4, 3, -5, 5, 12, 28, 25, 6, 20. The 75-yard TD to Ross was a very nice ball, but with so few attempts, it skews what Miles actually did throwing the ball that game. Those nine completions for 10 or fewer yards were all plays decided to produce yards after the catch, and each was thrown without enough accuracy, with very poor timing, or both. Against a team with the 90th-rated pass defense (by S&P) in the country.
The Illinois game isn't an outlier. The same issues have existed in every game, but against FCS Eastern Washington, Illinois, and an FBS team that hasn't won an FBS game in its existence, Washington's playmakers have been able to out-talent the defense enough to keep the passing game from looking as inept as it's actually been.
Chris is right, the QB play isn't the biggest issue with the offense right now. It's starting up front with an offensive line that can't protect at all. There's no consistency in the running game. There are questions about the design of the offense. Miles bears a little responsibility in each of those, though. He's shown no propensity to step up in the pocket. He's leaving too early. In the first two games, rolling laterally away from pressure manifested itself in the form of a QB running game that looked somewhat impressive. Really, though, it was masking a deficiency in pocket presence and awareness. Georgia State contained him. Stanford simply battered him.
Chris has posited several times that Miles is practicing better than he's playing in games. That's possible. If it's true, though, then the coaching staff needs to really evaluate how well it and the scout team are preparing the offense to play in games. He's also suggested that Miles is playing tight because of an overwhelming concern to avoid turnovers. That's also possible. If that's true, and the coaches can't get him to strike the proper balance between making plays and protecting the ball, then Miles' value on the field is significantly diminished.
Miles has taken a pretty good pounding the last couple of games. He's been playing with his eyes on the rush instead of down the field looking for receivers. As Keith Price was being broken apart in 2012, it became a season-long issue with him, and there's a danger it could with Miles as well. In that regard, the bye comes at a good time. It's easy to say that the best thing for him in that time is to keep plugging along and try to "coach" that out of him. I'd suggest that trying to find the reset button on him would be a better option. Have him spend a day with the defensive coaches to try and get some insight to what they do to get to a QB. Have him shadow Jonathon Smith or Chris Petersen for a day. Shake him up. Change his perspective. And use that time to get a significant amount of reps for Troy Williams and Jeff Lindquist (and by that, I mean Troy Williams) with the first team offense that they wouldn't normally see.
Chris Petersen has a reputation as a great offensive coach. It's probably well-deserved. But in 9 of the games he coached each year, he could simply out-talent his opponent. He usually had another one or two where the talent level was equal. That isn't going to be the case at Washington. Certainly in the near term, and most likely, ever. It's quite likely that he's going to have to get comfortable living with more risk than he's had to in the past. I think there's a high probability that the lack of risk with Miles is a large part of why he's starting.
Now isn't necessarily the time to make a change. Stanford's defense has made better QB's look worse over the last few seasons. But there's no doubt that the Huskies need to get more out of the QB position. Much more. I've no doubt that if Miles remains the starter, he'll improve. But it's a question of ceiling and trajectory, both on his own and as they compare to the other QB's on the roster. Miles has to take a tremendous stride in two weeks at California. That's the best thing for this team - for the coaching staff's starter to assert himself and take a stranglehold on the job. But the prudent thing for the coaching staff is to start preparing that he won't. Through his first four starts in 2014, he's played the part of quarterback, but he has yet to actually look like one.