Adam Steele is back for another guest post. You can view all of Adam’s posts here. As always, we thank him for contributing.
Previously, I introduced my new metric — Adjusted Points Per Drive — for measuring team offense. I thought it would be fun to apply the same methodology to quarterbacks, which I what I’m doing today. I highly encourage you to go back and read the previous post if you haven’t already, because I don’t want to clutter today’s post by repeating all of the calculation details.
Unfortunately, I don’t have drive stats for individual games, so there’s going to be some approximation here. To calculate a quarterback’s career Adjusted Points Per Drive (AjPPD), I simply take his team’s AjPPD from each of his playing seasons and weight those seasons by games started. This will give us a measure of a quarterback’s scoring efficiency, but it doesn’t account for volume or longevity. That’s where Adjusted Offensive Points (AjPts) comes in handy.
I assign each QB a portion of his teams’ Adjusted Points, then compare that to league average to calculate Points Over Average (POA). The formula for calculating a given season’s POA = (Tm AjPts – 315) * (GS / 16). The 315 figure is derived from multiplying my normalized baselines of 1.75 AjPPD by 180 drives per year, meaning the average team scores 315 Adjusted Points per season.
I’ll use Ben Roethlisberger’s 2015 season as an example: Pittsburgh scored 400 Adjusted Points and Ben started 11 games, so his 2015 campaign is worth (400 – 315) * (11 / 16) = 30 POA. Do this for every season and we have Career POA, which is the primary metric I’ll be using here. However, some people prefer to rank quarterbacks based on their peak years rather than their entire career, so I added the “Peak” column which is the sum of each quarterback’s three best POA seasons.
This study includes all QB’s who started their first game in 1997 or later, and made at least 40 starts between 1997 and 2015 (partial numbers from 2016 are not included). These criteria leaves us with 56 quarterbacks. Before we dig into the results, it’s worth noting that the correlation between Career POA and ANY/A+ is a healthy 0.92. We all know that the NFL is a passing league, but drive efficiency is even more dominated by the passing game than I thought. According to r2, 85% of the variance in Adjusted Points Per Drive is explained by a basic measure of passing efficiency. That doesn’t leave much room for the running game to have an impact. In fact, I’ll go as far to say that rushing efficiency has no appreciable impact on scoring for the majority of teams. That’s not to say running the ball is useless; offenses must run occasionally to keep the defense honest, and running comes in handy for converting short yardage and bleeding the clock. But, to quote Ron Jaworski, “Points come out of the passing game!”
Time for the rankings…
There’s not much left to say about Peyton Manning’s greatness that hasn’t already been said, so I’ll just give you one amazing stat: Manning’s offenses have scored more points above average than the offenses of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers combined. The top five rounds out with Brees, Brady, still-criminally-underrated Philip Rivers, and…Trent Green? It’s safe to say that Green was a good QB, very good if we’re being generous, but he was never truly great. Green’s offenses were the exception to the rule; with Priest Holmes, Tony Gonzalez, and the most dominant offensive line of the 21st century, those Chiefs teams used the running game as their primary weapon, with Green’s passing providing a strong compliment. This is the squad that scored eight (!) rushing TD’s in a single game during their 2004 demolition of the Falcons. Speaking of rushing, the offenses of Cam Newton and Michael Vick significantly outperform what we’d expect from their ANY/A+, in large part due to the historical running prowess provided by these two unique players. The other notable overachiever is Eli Manning, which jives with the common sentiment that he plays better than his stats would indicate.
The most surprising result of this exercise is the lack of surprises. Most of the QB’s spent their career leading offenses that produce points in lockstep with their passing efficiency, so there doesn’t appear to be any secret sauce in scoring points that isn’t accounted for with basic passing stats. Frankly, this is a welcome result for us analytical types, as it validates the robustness of the passing metrics we like to employ in our studies.
What stands out to you? Is there anything else you’d like to see me do with this data?