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Extreme Outliers: Rookie Edition

Griffining: Playing for a coach that tries to help you.

Both Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III have been very successful this year. Griffin ranks 2nd in Y/A, 2nd in AY/A, 4th in NY/A, and 4th in ANY/A, an incredible performance nearly across the board (he’s 23rd in sack rate) by the Redskins rookie. He also is leading the league with a 69.1% completion rate and ranks 5th in passer rating. Luck ranks only 23rd in Y/A, 22nd in AY/A, 21st in NY/A, and 18th in ANY/A, respectable numbers for a rookie but on the surface, little more than that. He does rank 7th in sack rate, which is an excellent sign, but he ranks last in the NFL in completion percentage (in the non-Mark Sanchez division) and only 25th in passer rating.

But there are some other stats out there that paint a different picture. ESPN’s Total QBR ranks Griffin 11th overall — slightly below most of his other metrics — but ranks Luck as the fourth most effective quarterback so far this season. Also, despite Griffin’s edge in most metrics, the Colts and Redskins are essentially tied in three key drive metrics — points per drive, yards per drive and drive success rate — and I don’t think that’s because Donald Brown is so awesome. As Nate Dunlevy pointed out to me, one reason for this is that Luck has accumulated a large number of rushing first downs: Luck is tied for the league lead with Arian Foster on third down rushes that resulted in a first down. And once you account for strength of schedule, Luck vaults to #1 on the QBR list.

But let’s put aside effectiveness for right now. Some advanced metrics show you that they’ve been skinning cats in very different ways:

  • According to Advanced NFL Stats, Luck has thrown a pass 15 yards past the line of scrimmage on 24.3% of his throws, the 5th highest rate in the league. Griffin ranks 32nd with a deep rate of just 12.2%, ahead of only Matt Hasselbeck.
  • If you completely removed Yards After the Catch from the equation, Luck would rank in the top 10 at 4.5 yards per attempt while Griffin would rank 25th with just 3.5 yards per attempt.
  • Griffin ranks third behind just Christian Ponder and Philip Rivers when it comes to percentage of passing yards that are due to YAC, at 58.7%; Luck ranks 32nd, ahead of only John Skelton and Mark Sanchez, with only 33.4% of his yards coming on yards after the catch by his receivers.
  • According to Footballguys.com’s subscriber content, the Colts have targeted their wide receivers on 72.1% of their passes, the second highest rate in the league behind the Rams. The Colts are also last in the league with only 6.4% of their passes aimed at running backs (this also jives with the numbers from Mike Clay of Pro Football Focus.). The Redskins are more middle of the road in these metrics, but Andrew Luck is being forced to rely on his wide receivers with no real receiving threat in the backfield to help him out. As a result, it’s probably not too surprising that his completion percentage is so low.

Luck has also excelled in the two-minute drill and no-huddle situations early this year, although Griffin has been no slouch in those departments, either. But it’s clear that the Colts — rightly or wrongly — aren’t treating Luck with kid gloves. In fact, one could argue that they’re treating him no differently than they did Peyton Manning. Luck is averaging 44.3 pass attempts per game so far this season, second behind only Drew Brees. With a mediocre defense and a bad running game, the Colts are basically putting each game in the hands of Luck to win. Griffin is averaging only 27.8 pass attempts per game right now, and the Redskins have done a fantastic job molding the offense to to suit Griffin’s strengths.

Griffin’s numbers are better right now — ESPN excluded, of course — but that may be a reflection that the Shanaclan is more nurturing than Bruce Arians. Griffin’s success is outstanding, but Luck has been doing just as well under much more challenging conditions.

Update: Jeff Bennett, one of the creators behind ESPN’s Total QB, e-mailed me some notes this morning:

We break rushing out into two categories, scrambles and designed rushes. The quarterback receives more credit for scrambles then designed rushes – the reason being designed rushes are, well, designed to help the quarterback get more yards on the rush. Scrambles are not. Whatever positive or negative that comes from those is mostly on the quarterback.

So back to Luck. He has nine first down rushes this season on scrambles, most in the NFL. Seven of the nine have come on 3rd down, which generally is more important since the alternative to not picking up a 1st down is likely a punt instead of 2nd or 3rd down. No one else in the league has more than three 1st down rushes on scrambles.

Luck’s average pass is traveling 9.8 yards downfield this season. That is the third longest average pass distance in the league (behind Joe Flacco and Jay Cutler). Griffin averages 7.2 yards, a full yard below league average.

The average quarterback this season is getting 56% of their passing yards via “air yards” (meaning 44% of yards are coming after the catch). Griffin has 43% of his yards through the air. Luck has 68%.