Former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer has strong opinions about current franchise icon Joe Burrow, believing that he is the best in the game and even better than reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes. While there is no denying that both quarterbacks are among the best in the league, this is a hard case to defend, especially when you consider the points Palmer was trying to make.
Carson Palmer: Joe Burrow Is Better Than Patrick Mahomes
Speaking on The QB Room Podcast, Palmer said that “I believe Joe [Burrow] is the best quarterback in the league. I know Patrick [Mahomes] is phenomenal, but I just think Joe’s more consistent. He’s more consistent. He’s more accountable to run the system and play that’s called and not feel like, ‘Well, he didn’t win last time and get open for me, so I’m gonna do it with my feet,’ and then before you know it, you’re sacked for a four-yard loss because you tried to make two or three guys miss.”
To be fair to Palmer, there is a case to be made about play style here. There is no denying that Mahomes is a more theatrical player compared to Burrow, but Palmer seems to believe that Mahomes’ preference to make plays on his own ultimately hurts his offense and leads to more negative plays, and it’s hard to back up that point.
According to Pro Football Reference, Joe Burrow was sacked on 41 of his 651 dropbacks, good for a 6.3% sack rate. Mahomes, meanwhile, only took 26 sacks on 667 dropbacks, leading to a dramatically lower sack rate of 3.9%. We know that sacks are largely a quarterback stat, so we can blame the vast majority of this disparity on Burrow’s tendency to hold on to the ball and invite unnecessary pressure. Even though Mahomes can bail from clean pockets and make life a little more difficult than it needs to be, what he’s doing is clearly working better than Burrow.
FIFTY (!!) touchdown passes for Patrick Mahomes pic.twitter.com/1A7hkthNgj
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 30, 2018
Adjusting For Outside Factors
Quarterbacks play the largest role in determining sack rate, but they’re far from the only factor at play. Obviously, a good offensive line will provide more time, and reliable weapons get open quicker so quarterbacks don’t have to hold on to the ball as long. So, could either one of these factors be poisoning the data enough to skew the data this dramatically?
At first glance, this is a plausible explanation. According to Pro Football Focus, the Chiefs finished the season with the fourth-best offensive line in football, while the Bengals were all the way down at 28th. This discrepancy can explain a portion of the gap between Burrow and Mahomes’ sack rate, but it can’t explain all of it. The teams in the same tier as Cincinnati at the bottom of that list are the Seattle Seahawks (one better) and New Orleans Saints (one worse). The primary quarterbacks of those teams had sack rates of 7.4% and 6.2%, respectively. This implies that Burrow took sacks about as often as expected given his blocking.
When using the same process for Mahomes, we can see that he actually avoids sacks at a higher rate than his peers. The Green Bay Packers came in at third on the list, yet quarterback Aaron Rodgers took a sack on 5.6% of his dropbacks. Marcus Mariota, meanwhile, took a sack on 8.5% of his dropbacks behind Atlanta’s fifth-ranked offensive line. Mariota’s astoundingly high figure speaks more about him than anything else, but the fact that Mahomes is so much lower than Rodgers speaks to his elite ability to avoid negative plays.
And when it comes to the weapons, there is no competition. Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd form arguably the best offensive trio in football, and their elite ball skills mean that they’re never truly covered. Burrow should be able to avoid sacks just by having these two get open so early, yet he still takes sacks at a high rate. Mahomes, meanwhile, only had Travis Kelce as an elite weapon.
Joe Burrow is a great young quarterback that is going to terrorize the league for years to come, but he’s no Patrick Mahomes. Not only is Mahomes a more gifted thrower of the football, but he’s better at avoiding negative plays.
Main Photo: Kareem Elgazzar – USA Today Sports