Friend of the program Bryan Frye is back for another guest post. As regular readers know, Bryan operates his own fantastic site, http://www.thegridfe.com. You can view all of Bryan’s guest posts here, and follow him on twitter @LaverneusDingle.
Five weeks of regular season football have come and gone. Those five weeks have seen quarterbacks attempt 5,470 passes and take 5,817 dropbacks. Throw in rushes, and quarterbacks have been involved in 6,184 action plays thus far.1 That seems like a large number, but it is only a fraction of the average 20,764 action plays quarterbacks have been involved in over the last two seasons.2 There are still 358 games left in the regular season (69.9% of the schedule), and we cannot know with epistemic certainty what is going to happen between now and January 3.
However, it is still fun to take the plays we have seen (and the stats those plays have produced) and use them to assess the quarterback landscape of this young season. The following tables present raw, rate, and adjusted stats for the 35 quarterbacks who have attempted at least 70 passes this season.3 I’ll provide some brief commentary, but I’d like to let Chase’s educated audience come up with their own points. Without further ado, here are the raw stats…
The table below contains raw passing and rushing stats and is presented in alphabetical order. Read it thus: Aaron Rodgers has attempted 153 passes (excluding spikes) on 161 dropbacks. He has gained 1,236 yards and thrown 13 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He has taken 8 sacks for 52 yards, and his passes have picked up 53 first downs. He has carried the ball 23 times for 150 yards (excluding kneels and their attendant yardage losses), 0 touchdowns, and 9 first downs. Between pass and rush plays, he has 1 fumble.
Despite nursing an injured, old shoulder, Drew Brees leads the league in dropbacks per game (46.0 through five weeks). It would be nice to take some pressure off Brees, but his inept defense all but guarantees the Saints will be involved in high scoring affairs.
Despite having Lamar Miller on the roster, Ryan Tannehill ranks second in the league with 45.0 dropbacks per game. If you adjust for average Game Script, the Dolphins rate as the third pass-happiest team in the league.4
Tom Brady leads the most pass-happy offense in the league, but I’d rather talk about his rushing. If you look at his official statistics, you’ll see 10 carries for 4 yards and a touchdown (he also has 2 fumbles, but they both came on pass plays). Brady has kneeled 4 times, losing 6 yards in the process, so it’s fairer to say Brady has 6 carries for 10 yards. That’s doesn’t look very impressive until you break it down further. On those six carries, Brady has picked up a touchdown and 4 non-TD first downs. His only failed carry was a 2-yard tote on first and 10 versus the Cowboys.
The combination of Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett has dropped back to pass 251 times (50.2 per game). The tandem of Matthew Stafford and Dan Orlovsky has dropped back 240 times (48.0 per game). I don’t know how fans of Houston or Detroit can feel good about teams so reliant on Bryan Mallyer and Mathan Staffovsky.
Basic Rate Stats
This table contains some basic passing rate stats and is sorted by adjusted net passing yards per dropback (ANY/A). All numbers are calculated with spikes removed from the denominator.5 I imagine you know what most of these mean, so I’ll explain the potentially ambiguous columns: Andy Dalton throws for a first down on 38.8% of his attempts and 57.4% of his completions. His average completion gains 14.1 yards, and he completes passes on 65.1% of his dropbacks. His passer rating is 115.6, and his Passing Equivalency Rating is 98.76.
The dropoff from Ben Roethlisberger to Michael Vick was a significant one. The sample size is small, but Roethlisberger was on his way to contending for his first MVP award. Cincinnati may be too far ahead of the pack for the Steelers to win the division, but Big Ben’s return (in concert with a surprisingly not bad defense) could mean a wild card spot and a chance to terrify a home team with a dynamic offense.
I keep waiting for Andy Dalton to turn back into a tiger-striped pumpkin, but each week he keeps playing at an MVP level. He is at or near the league lead in most important passing categories. Perhaps Josh McCown is the only pumpkin in the AFC North patch this year.
Jameis Winston is what happens when you trust Lovie Smith with a promising rookie quarterback. I am generally skeptical of quarterbacks from national championship winning college teams, but Winston is playing better than the traditional numbers indicate. His 13.65 yards per completion indicates the Bucs aren’t handling him with kid gloves in a dink and dunk offense; they’re trusting him to put those massive receivers to use.
Ryan Mallett and Matthew Stafford have two of the strongest arms in the NFL, so you would expect them to air it out regularly. However, they occupy two of the bottom three spots in yards per completed pass. Kirk Cousins is the only other qualifying passer under 10 yards in the metric.6
With a 22 sacks and a 12.87% sack rate through five games, Russell Wilson is on pace for just over 70 sacks. That would hold the dubious rank of third all time. Although he ranks sixth in the NFL with a 71.1% completion rate, his rank drops to fourteenth when you sort by completions per dropback.7 I’m not going out on a limb saying sacks are killing the Seattle offense.
This table is based on Total Adjusted Yards (TAY) and is sorted by value over average. Read it thus: Andy Dalton has turned 184 action plays into 2,187 TAY at 11.89 per play. This is 3.37 TAY/P better than the average of the rest of the league, giving him (187 * 3.37 =) 620 marginal adjusted yards of value (124 per game).
Brady, Dalton, Carson Palmer, and Aaron Rodgers are the frontrunners for league MVP right now. Dalton leads the league in total value, while Brady is tops in value per game. Palmer’s career resurgence is based on trusting both his coach’s scheme and his receivers to make plays. His high variance style has worked out thus far, and it will be interesting to see if he can maintain his gaudy stats for the rest of the season. Rodgers has had to relearn how to play quarterback in the only offense he has ever known as a pro. With deep threat/preternatural route runner Jordy Nelson out of the lineup, Rodgers has had to focus on shorter routes. He has cut down on his once high sack rate while maintaining superb completion, touchdown, and interception rates, but his passes have not traveled nearly as far in the air as we’ve seen in previous years.
Cam Newton has his share of supporters as an early season MVP candidate, and not without reason. He is directly responsible for every offensive touchdown the Panthers have scored this season. He is producing decent stats even with a number one wideout who is tied for the league lead in drops.8
Blake Bortles and Derek Carr are not currently great NFL quarterbacks. However, this season they have shown me that I may soon have to eat my words for writing them off prior to the season.
- Keep in mind this was written before the Thursday night game featuring Matt Ryan and Drew Brees. [↩]
- Quarterbacks are currently on pace for just over 21,000 plays, which would be the highest total in history by a small margin. [↩]
- The NFL official requirement for rate stat qualification. [↩]
- Chicken or egg? Would the Dolphins have a better Game Script if they weren’t so reliant on an inefficient passing game? [↩]
- This doesn’t make a big difference right now, as Blake Bortles and Carson Palmer are the only quarterbacks with more than one spike, but it adds up over the course of a career. [↩]
- I have seen the numbers, and I have watched the tape. I do not see how any sane person can start Mallett over Hoyer. [↩]
- He also drops from tenth to eighteenth when you move from Y/A to NY/A. [↩]
- Ted Ginn has 12 catches and 5 drops. If that sounds bad, it’s because it is bad. [↩]