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Is Joe Flacco elite?

Just a guess, but I think that question will be asked quite a few times over the next couple of weeks. While the inanity of the discussion that usually follows that question is not something I wish to emulate, there’s no particular reason not to take an in-depth look at Flacco’s career. The table below shows Flacco’s performance in six key metrics — all relative to league average (1.00) — for each season of his career:

Flacco career

As you can see, with the exception of his great interception rate — which justifies its own post during this pre-Super Bowl period — Flacco’s career performance has been rather average. His touchdown rate, like those of many quarterbacks, has bounced up and down throughout his career. His sack rate was below average during his first three years, improved significantly in 2011, and landed right at the league average in 2012.


That is an elite Fu Manchu.

In the three main statistics — Y/A, NY/A, and ANY/A — Flacco has consistently finished in a tight window around the league average. His ANY/A has been slightly better than his NY/A thanks to that lofty interception rate, but suffice it to say Joe Flacco is, and has been for years, a league average quarterback.

If we look at ESPN’s Total QBR, Flacco ranked 27th as a rookie in 2008, 15th in 2009, and 12th in 2010, signaling a young quarterback improving and on the rise. In 2011, he ranked 14th, perhaps signaling a leveling off, and then this past season, he finished 25th. The positive spin would be that he’s a league-average quarterback, and the negative one (at least prior to this post-season) would have been that he was regressing.

On the other hand, here is how Flacco has performed in the playoffs in each game, as measured by AY/A:

Flacco playoffs

Flacco has been oustanding in the playoffs over the last three years. In seven games, he has averaged 8.8 AY/A and 7.8 Y/A, while throwing 15 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

Let’s not forget, however, that from 2008 through 2010, his poor play in the postseason caused Jason Lisk to compare him to Kyle Boller, despite his team’s impressive record. That said, perhaps that was just a new version of the SI cover jinx, as Flacco has been great in the postseason since Lisk’s article, at least, for Flacco. How great?

In the regular season this year, Flacco averaged 7.17 AY/A, but in three playoffs games in January he’s averaged 10.89 AY/A; he’s thrown 93 passes this postseason, and since he’s averaged 3.72 AY/A more than we would expect (based on his regular season performance), we could say that he’s gained 346 Adjusted Yards over expectation. Among all quarterbacks with at least 50 regular season passes (to exclude players like Frank Reich), that is the second largest amount of Adjusted Yards over expectation of any quarterback in a single postseason since 1970. The table below shows each quarterback’s number of playoff games, regular season pass attempts, regular season AY/A, and then his cumulative playoff statistics for that year. The final column shows the number of Adjusted Yards provided over average.

12003Jake Delhommecar44496.41029876110.4408
22012Joe Flaccorav35317.2938538010.9346
31992Troy Aikmandal34736.9897958010.7339
41993Jeff Hostetlerrai24197.3395244015.5318
51986Phil Simmsnyg34686.2584948011.3292
61980Jim Plunkettrai43206.192839739.2287
71988Joe Montanasfo33977.3908238110.4283
82007Eli Manningnyg45295.5119854617.8278
91979Vince Ferragamoram31103.969585337.4242
101985Jim McMahonchi33137666363010.5233
111989Joe Montanasfo33869.58380011012.3228
121991Erik Kramerdet22655.671590418.8224
131978Terry Bradshawpit3368778790849.9224
142009Kurt Warnercrd25137.1595845110.8220
151981Don Strockmia11305.1434034110.2219
161974Terry Bradshawpit31483.850394318.2218
171981Scott Brunnernyg21903.151386637.3215
181995Rodney Peetephi23754.9302983011.9210
191985Tony Easonnwe42995.448367509.7208
202008Kurt Warnercrd45987.613511471139.1204
212000Trent Dilferrav42265.573590318.3202
222011Tim Tebowden22716.3474522010.5197
232009Mark Sancheznyj33644.968539427.8196
241976Terry Bradshawpit21925.153440318.6187
251982Lynn Dickeygnb22186.459592539.4178
261970Johnny Unitasclt33215.256478428.4174
272010Matt Hasselbecksea24445.681530717.7173
281990Jim Kellybuf33468.4828515210.5173
291989John Elwayden34166.382732438.3164
301979Terry Bradshawpit34726.682758648.5156
311994Dan Marinomia2615767519509.2152
321982David Woodleymia41794.676625556.6152
331993Brett Favregnb2522571535537146
342008Ben Roethlisbergerpit34696.389692317.9144
351997Randall Cunninghammin288576534426.9143
361995Troy Aikmandal34327.780717419.4139
371996Brett Favregnb35437.571617519.5137
382010Mark Sancheznyj3507689616517.5136
392002Kelly Holcombcle11067.3434293110.3132
401986Pat Ryannyj2556.134256409.9128
412007Philip Riverssdg34606.386767447.8125
421982Paul McDonaldcle11494.937281108.1119
431991Warren Moonoti26556.476596528118
442003Peyton Manningclt35667.8103918948.9118
451994Neil O'Donnellpit23706.277535307.7117
462011Joe Flaccorav25426.463482418.2114
471975Roger Staubachdal33486.679670748111
482001Vinny Testaverdenyj14415.540268308.2108
491982Eric Hippledet1863.238298126108
501999Jeff Georgemin23298.375635719.7106

I assume Ravens fans hope that he’s the next Aikman and not the next Delhomme, but such is the danger of three-game sample sizes. Of course, Flacco has now excelled in consecutive postseasons. He gained 114 Adjusted Yards over expectation in 2011, giving him 460 AY over expectation the last two years in the playoff. That’s the second most by a quarterback in consecutive postseason appearances:

RankYearsQBTmsAY ov Exp
11988;1989Joe Montanasfo;sfo511
22011;2012Joe Flaccorav;rav460
32008;2009Kurt Warnercrd;crd424
41978;1979Terry Bradshawpit;pit380
51990;1993Jeff Hostetlernyg;rai339
61992;1993Troy Aikmandal;dal335
72009;2010Mark Sancheznyj;nyj332
82003;2005Jake Delhommecar;car325
91989;1990Joe Montanasfo;sfo297
101991;1992Troy Aikmandal;dal297
111980;1982Jim Plunkettrai;rai294
122006;2007Eli Manningnyg;nyg283
131985;1986Tony Easonnwe;nwe268
141986;1989Phil Simmsnyg;nyg233
151985;1986Phil Simmsnyg;nyg228
161981;1982Don Strockmia;mia213
171994;1995Troy Aikmandal;dal205
181979;1981Don Strockmia;mia204
191987;1989John Elwayden;den197
201973;1974Terry Bradshawpit;pit192
211994;1995Rodney Peetedal;phi191
221995;1996Brett Favregnb;gnb191
231993;1994Neil O'Donnellpit;pit189
241974;1975Terry Bradshawpit;pit180
251989;1990Jim Kellybuf;buf178
261991;1993Erik Kramerdet;det172
271979;1982Terry Bradshawpit;pit169
281970;1971Johnny Unitasclt;clt168
292009;2010Aaron Rodgersgnb;gnb168
301995;1997Randall Cunninghamphi;min165
312007;2008Eli Manningnyg;nyg162
321975;1976Terry Bradshawpit;pit148
331987;1988Joe Montanasfo;sfo145
341991;1992Warren Moonoti;oti141
351977;1980Ken Stablerrai;oti125
362004;2005Tom Bradynwe;nwe125
371989;1991John Elwayden;den116
381989;1991Warren Moonoti;oti115
391982;1983Joe Theismannwas;was108
401985;1987Jim McMahonchi;chi105
411976;1977Ken Stablerrai;rai100
421981;1982David Woodleymia;mia98
432010;2011Drew Breesnor;nor92
442007;2010Matt Hasselbecksea;sea85
451979;1980Vince Ferragamoram;ram84
461993;1994Brett Favregnb;gnb83
471982;1987Tommy Kramermin;min80
482006;2007Philip Riverssdg;sdg72
491978;1979Ron Jaworskiphi;phi72

So yes, Flacco has been great this postseason, especially compared to his mediocre self. Of course, Jeff Hostetler and Mark Sanchez exhibited similar traits, too. It’s fair to give Flacco a pass for his first couple of seasons, but over the last three seasons, he ranks 14th among the 23 quarterbacks to throw 1,000 passes during that time. Winning the Super Bowl won’t change that fact, and I don’t think Flacco’s reputation will change significantly unless and until he improves in the regular season. Jim Plunkett was outstanding in the 1980 postseason after a mediocre regular season (and for that matter, career), culminating in a Super Bowl victory. But even with a second Super Bowl in ’83, Plunkett’s career is more remembered as a talented quarterback who played well in big moments but was far from a great player. That’s not such a bad reputation. The other obvious comparison is Eli Manning, who seemed to use his first Super Bowl victory as a spring board into a better career. More on him later this week or next, too. Apollo Creed once said to Rocky Balboa, “You fight great, but I’m a great fighter.” Flacco has played like an elite quarterback during these playoffs, but that doesn’t make him one until he does it again and again.

  • Richie

    Nice. I’ve never noticed Flacco’s interception stats before. He has had either 10 or 12 interceptions in each year of his career.

    He has had 12, 12, 10, 12, 10 interceptions. So I think that pattern indicates he will have exactly 10 interceptions in 2013.

  • Richie

    Fun with the play finder.

    I was curious to see how various QB’s compared their regular seasons vs post season for AY/A. So I looked up all QB’s with 100+ pass attempts in the post season (since the merger) and compared their AY/A between regular and post season.

    Winner: Jeff Hostetler (by a huge margin)
    Loser: Billy Kilmer

    Rk Player Play Att Play AY/A Reg AY/A Diff
    1 Jeff Hostetler 115 10.21 5.54 4.67
    2 Kurt Warner 462 8.53 5.38 3.15
    3 Wade Wilson 185 6.44 3.71 2.73
    4 Drew Brees 392 8.27 5.54 2.73
    5 Vinny Testaverde 189 6.43 3.71 2.72
    6 Warren Moon* 403 6.40 3.71 2.69
    7 Joe Theismann 211 8.00 5.38 2.62
    8 Jeff George 129 8.11 5.54 2.57
    9 Joe Montana* 734 7.80 5.38 2.42
    10 Mark Sanchez 157 7.64 5.38 2.26
    11 Frank Reich 104 7.58 5.54 2.04
    12 Ken Anderson 166 7.42 5.38 2.04
    13 Erik Kramer 130 7.57 5.54 2.03
    14 Troy Aikman* 502 7.06 5.21 1.85
    15 Jim Plunkett 272 7.25 5.41 1.84
    16 Terry Bradshaw* 456 7.16 5.38 1.78
    17 Jake Delhomme 226 7.24 5.54 1.70
    18 Marc Bulger 113 7.07 5.38 1.69
    19 Peyton Manning 761 7.06 5.38 1.68
    20 John Elway* 651 7.00 5.38 1.62
    21 Ken Stabler 351 6.94 5.38 1.56
    22 Joe Flacco 340 6.90 5.38 1.52
    23 Philip Rivers 229 6.88 5.38 1.50
    24 Eli Manning 356 7.01 5.54 1.47
    25 Steve Young* 471 6.67 5.38 1.29
    26 Matt Hasselbeck 406 6.64 5.38 1.26
    27 Tom Brady 887 6.54 5.38 1.16
    28 Jim McMahon 155 6.66 5.54 1.12
    29 Trent Dilfer 135 6.45 5.35 1.10
    30 Vince Ferragamo 188 4.75 3.71 1.04
    31 Michael Vick 141 6.36 5.38 0.98
    32 Mark Rypien 234 6.35 5.38 0.97
    33 Rich Gannon 240 6.28 5.38 0.90
    34 Daunte Culpepper 134 6.83 6.02 0.81
    35 Randall Cunningham 365 6.19 5.38 0.81
    36 Brett Favre 791 6.81 6.02 0.79
    37 Tony Romo 135 6.09 5.38 0.71
    38 Matt Ryan 187 5.86 5.38 0.48
    39 Donovan McNabb 577 6.01 5.54 0.47
    40 Roger Staubach* 405 5.81 5.38 0.43
    41 Johnny Unitas* 113 5.80 5.38 0.42
    42 Phil Simms 279 5.77 5.38 0.39
    43 Neil O’Donnell 275 5.56 5.38 0.18
    44 Dave Krieg 282 6.06 6.02 0.04
    45 Kerry Collins 241 5.40 5.38 0.02
    46 Jim Kelly* 545 5.55 5.54 0.01
    47 Jeff Garcia 217 5.45 5.54 -0.09
    48 Dan Marino* 687 5.92 6.02 -0.10
    49 Ron Jaworski 271 5.24 5.38 -0.14
    50 Dan Pastorini 116 5.81 6.02 -0.21
    51 John Brodie 143 5.16 5.38 -0.22
    52 Rex Grossman 133 5.14 5.38 -0.24
    53 Aaron Rodgers 292 8.38 8.63 -0.25
    54 Dan Fouts* 286 5.75 6.02 -0.27
    55 Jake Plummer 197 5.23 5.54 -0.31
    56 Mark Brunell 307 5.07 5.38 -0.31
    57 Chad Pennington 216 5.64 6.02 -0.38
    58 Steve Bartkowski 111 4.79 5.38 -0.59
    59 Jim Harbaugh 163 4.91 5.54 -0.63
    60 Danny White 360 5.18 6.02 -0.84
    61 Doug Williams 169 4.70 5.54 -0.84
    62 Steve McNair 311 4.47 5.38 -0.91
    63 Tommy Kramer 140 4.42 5.38 -0.96
    64 Joe Ferguson 120 4.41 5.38 -0.97
    65 Jim Everett 176 4.35 5.54 -1.19
    66 Fran Tarkenton* 292 4.31 5.54 -1.23
    67 Richard Todd 140 4.04 5.38 -1.34
    68 Stan Humphries 228 3.87 5.38 -1.51
    69 Brad Johnson 224 4.48 6.02 -1.54
    70 Elvis Grbac 133 3.82 5.54 -1.72
    71 Mike Tomczak 143 3.63 5.38 -1.75
    72 Ben Roethlisberger 409 6.81 8.63 -1.82
    73 Bernie Kosar 270 6.75 8.63 -1.88
    74 Drew Bledsoe 252 3.63 5.54 -1.91
    75 Bobby Hebert 102 3.85 6.02 -2.17
    76 Jay Schroeder 158 3.36 5.54 -2.18
    77 Jay Fiedler 110 3.23 5.54 -2.31
    78 Kordell Stewart 142 2.99 5.38 -2.39
    79 Craig Morton 177 3.32 6.02 -2.70
    80 Pat Haden 123 2.18 5.38 -3.20
    81 Bob Griese* 208 5.42 8.63 -3.21
    82 Billy Kilmer 178 5.08 8.63 -3.55

  • Keith

    When all’s said and done, people will look at this stupid elite discussion and remember one thing, all that really matters is getting to and winning the Super Bowl. Joe can have all the average regular seasons just as long as he continues to excel in the playoffs. That is one area that cannot be denied and I doubt that Plunkett or Delhomme had to face off against the 2 best QB’s of the modern era ON THE ROAD! To me, elite means standing above the rest on football’s biggest stage- and Joe is doing that.

    • Richie

      I think Flacco was facing off against Rahim Moore, not Peyton Manning.

      • Chase Stuart

        I would have gone with “Joe Flacco is doing a wonderful imitation of Mark Sanchez by beating Manning and Brady on the road.”

  • Mud

    What goofy put this together. And yes, the term Elite should be placed where the sun doesn’t shine. That chart is the most bogus piece of rubbish I have seen on Flacco. Flacco has 102 TD’s, 56 Int’s. That chart makes it look like he throws lots of Int’s which is more rubbish.
    Aikman, Plunkett, Delhomme? Does this guy know what the hell he is talking about?
    Instead of coming up with the Republican Economic Plan he needs to go back and look at some numbers instead of dreaming up these statistical fantasies. I am sure with a bit of effort I could slant something to seem completely opposite.
    Flacco is a solid QB. No, he is not a top five QB. Yes, he has been average, to above average, who seems like he is on the verge of at least breaking in to the top ten statistically.
    Cameron’s half ass play calling certainly hurt Flacco through out his early career. That and having Mason double teamed, and the fantastic play of Mark Frigin Clayton on the other side of the ball. And a very average offensive line. Rice only played in four games in Flacco’s rookie season (107 Att’s for 454 in 13 Games not that you couldn’t look it up).
    To say that a team that makes the play offs five consecutive years, wins at least one play off game every one of those years, plays in three AFC Championship Games, wins one, and was a whisker away from winning two, the QB has the most wins in a five year span to start his career then any QB since 1970, the most play off road wins in history is mediocre is pure BS.
    You should be making excuses why a guy like Tony Romo is so great when you look at regualr season stats, and plays like crap when it’s all on the line!

    • Richie

      Flacco has 102 TD’s, 56 Int’s. That chart makes it look like he throws lots of Int’s which is more rubbish.

      Actually, that chart is showing that Flacco’s interception rate has been much better than league average the past 3 or 4 years.

      • Chase Stuart

        Since I know that Richie is the only one still reading the comments and also the only one that would care, this gives me a good opportunity to let you know that I’ve got a very interesting (to me) post on Flacco’s INT rate coming on Monday.

        • Richie

          You think I am the only one interested in Flacco’s interception rate?

          • Richie

            …just wait until media day when the reporter from Italy starts asking Flacco how he can seem to be pretty average at being a QB, except very good about avoiding picks!

  • kaz

    A Qb is part of a team and works for an offensive coordinator. How would you rate Flacco in the first half last Sunday when Caldwell got stuck on Hey Diddle Diddle Ray Rice up the middle on every first down? In the second half they turned the game over to Flacco and the results showed pretty clear who was the best QB on the field. Over the years he hasn’t had a great receiver corps and the offense in general has been weaker than the defense. This year the Ravens have depended on the offense and they are pretty strong with Boldin, Smith and Pitta. How Flacco rates doesn’t mean much to me as long as the team plays as well as they have the last 3 games.

  • I couldn’t agree more with this assessment…but those who are true NFL heads can come to this conclusion without the metric explanation. Just watch enough games and it’ll come to you. However, he’s playing great now, and the Ravens are better for it.