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This year, Blake Bortles has thrown just one touchdown while playing with the lead. That’s part of a larger development: over his three-year career, Bortles has thrown just four touchdowns while playing with the lead, with half of those coming in what looked like the Jaguars breakout game against the Colts last December.

Bortles has thrown 6 touchdowns while tied, which means his other 58 touchdowns have come while the Jaguars were trailing.  If we count a TD pass while tied as half a TD pass while trailing, and half a TD pass while leading, that would give Bortles 7 touchdown passes while “leading” and 61 touchdowns while “trailing” since he entered the NFL in 2014.  As you might imagine, that’s a pretty significant outlier.

The graph below shows quarterback data since 2014; the X-Axis shows touchdown throws while “trailing” and you can see that Bortles leads the NFL in that category.  The Y-Axis shows TD passes while “leading” and as you could have guessed, Tom Brady leads in that category.  Brady and Bortles represent the two biggest outlier in the entire graph:

Now, you might be thinking, hey Chase, Blake Bortles happens to play on a team that’s almost always trailing. So of course he would have this crazy split. And that’s true, but it doesn’t tell the story. Bortles has thrown 1,199 pass attempts while trailing, and 58 of those have been for touchdowns. That’s pretty good: a 4.8% touchdown rate while trailing is better than average, although you will have to decide whether that’s due to garbage time inflation or clutch performance (probably depending on your view of the quarterback in question).

But while leading, Bortles has thrown only 4 touchdowns on 205 attempts: that’s just a 2% rate, which is the worst of the 40 quarterbacks in this study. And that difference of 2.9% (difference due to rounding) is the biggest decline of any quarterback, too:

QBTrailing AttTrailingTD Rate TrailLeading AttWinningTD Rate LeadDiff
Marcus Mariota501193.8%197178.6%4.8%
Carson Wentz33061.8%16274.3%2.5%
Ryan Tannehill984373.8%336216.3%2.5%
Ben Roethlisberger618243.9%687436.3%2.4%
Drew Brees1012454.4%546366.6%2.1%
Nick Foles37182.2%21394.2%2.1%
Ryan Fitzpatrick661274.1%357215.9%1.8%
Tom Brady401205%905586.4%1.4%
Kirk Cousins690294.2%361205.5%1.3%
Jameis Winston678304.4%252145.6%1.1%
Aaron Rodgers672365.4%664436.5%1.1%
Alex Smith610203.3%549244.4%1.1%
Andrew Luck669416.1%499367.2%1.1%
Matthew Stafford821283.4%557254.5%1.1%
Cam Newton560264.6%562315.5%0.9%
Peyton Manning381205.2%379236.1%0.8%
Matt Ryan924434.7%508275.3%0.7%
Joe Flacco901313.4%445184%0.6%
Russell Wilson600325.3%559335.9%0.6%
Teddy Bridgewater389133.3%279103.6%0.2%
Tony Romo207167.7%201168%0.2%
Trevor Siemian296113.7%7833.8%0.1%
Josh McCown529203.8%12953.9%0.1%
Derek Carr1017474.6%383184.7%0.1%
Eli Manning969485%481245%0%
Andy Dalton627304.8%507244.7%-0.1%
Case Keenum19752.5%16742.4%-0.1%
Colin Kaepernick643253.9%24493.7%-0.2%
Blaine Gabbert296103.4%6323.2%-0.2%
Tyrod Taylor393194.8%266124.5%-0.3%
Sam Bradford585223.8%26593.4%-0.4%
Kyle Orton23793.8%12343.3%-0.5%
Philip Rivers982525.3%523224.2%-1.1%
Carson Palmer515316%476234.8%-1.2%
Jay Cutler767385%21883.7%-1.3%
Dak Prescott16095.6%20894.3%-1.3%
Mark Sanchez19694.6%15353.3%-1.3%
Brock Osweiler356123.4%25052%-1.4%
Brian Hoyer576264.5%29672.4%-2.1%
Blake Bortles1199584.8%20542%-2.9%
Average58825.84.3%356.32518.2254.7%0.4%

What does this mean? Well, we all can have our interpretation. I’m just presenting the data. What do you think it means?

  • sacramento gold miners

    Bortles took a step backward this season, and isn’t a lock to be the long term answer to QB for Jacksonville. Interestingly, he’s declined despite taking much fewer sacks than before. But this could also mean he’s making wrong decisions faster to avoid potential sacks. Whether Jacksonville has the owner and front office to eventually build a winner is also unknown. The Brown’s current owner was a minority owner of the Steelers years ago, and it was assumed he had insight on how to build a consistent winner, but it hasn’t been evident in Cleveland.

    QB play can also be evaluated by lack of mistakes and taking advantage of opportunities early in games. Part of the reason a QB is mediocre or worse is problems in this area, and this does impact the won/loss record. It is usually easier to accumulate numbers when trailing by double digits, defenses gladly take the third down completion for eight yards every day of the week. And leading a TD drive later in games while consuming too much clock is problematic as well.

    Clutch performance has to result in winning, at least part of the time. And the elite QBs can even overcome turnovers, and have have a so-so statistical game, while still pulling out the win. And successful postseason QBs make those timely plays which often make the difference between advancing or not.

    Bortles will either become the answer to a trivia question, turn around his career, or become a long term QB bouncing around with different teams, with little team success to show for it. That’s the Norm Snead/Vinny Testaverde model.

  • Adam

    I think Bortles really is padding his TD’s in garbage time; there’s no other logical explanation. Frankly, Bortles is not a starting caliber NFL quarterback, and hopefully the next Jags coach realizes this and drafts or trades for someone else. Bortles is the classic case of a big, tall, strong armed QB who lacks the refined skills to play at a high level.

    • Chase Stuart

      How does age factor in to this? Bottles is still really young – do you think it’s that unlikely that he turns things around? 2016 has been bad, and 2015 was overrated, by it seems like lots of great QBs take a step back at some point early in their career.

    • Richie

      His rate while trailing is not much higher than league average.

      His problem is the low rate while leading.

      I’m not sure it’s something we can draw a conclusion from. Is he folding under the pressure of having a lead? That seems unlikely to me.

      • Richie

        I guess the size of lead or trail would be relevant.

        Throwing TD’s while down by 7 is a good thing to do. Doing it while trailing by 28 is likely garbage time stats.

        • Yeah, I think that’s the key. I’ll note that Bortles has thrown 68 touchdowns. 25 of those came when his team’s win probability was at 10% or lower, and Jacksonville did lose all of those games. But I don’t have the context for that (i.e., is 10% the right number? What percentage of his throws came with a WP of 10% or less? What’s the average QB at? Etc.).

          • Adam

            Thanks, that’s really what I was getting at. It’s fair to define <10% WP as garbage time, so to have more than 1/3 of his career TD passes come in that scenario is alarming.

    • Adam – how much does age play into this? At age 24, he’s still really young. Most great QBs were either bad or on the bench at age 24. But most also didn’t have 40 starts under their belt, either. What do you think?

      • Also, and I hesitate to use him as an example, but what about Tannehill? He didn’t even start playing until age 24, and had four “meh” seasons before I guess maybe kind of breaking out in 2016?

        There are two errors teams can make on QBs: giving up too soon, and not giving up soon enough. I don’t know where to go with Bortles.

        • Adam

          Does this year count as a breakout for Tannehill? His Y/A improved significantly, but that’s somewhat inflated by a spike in YAC, which is not usually sustainable. His INT% went up, although it’s entirely possible that that’s nothing more than randomness. Honestly, I think his play improved only slightly compared to his previous four seasons, but Miami’s very lucky 10 win season gives people the impression that he made a big leap this year.

          • Richie

            Yeah, I’m still not ready to count Tannehill as broken out. The team has played better, but I think they’ve gotten some lucky breaks and an easy schedule.

      • Adam

        If his 2015 and 2016 had been flipped, I’d be inclined to agree that he’s still young and has time to improve (Brees is a good example). But Bortles took a major step backward between year two and year three, which gives me a pessimistic outlook on his future. I’d give him the first half of 2017 to see if he improves with a new coach; if he still looks bad at that point, it’s time to cut bait.