This website has been pretty light on coverage of Colin Kaepernick, despite his name turning into a traffic boom for the rest of the football world. The last time Kaepernick’s name appeared in a headline was over a year ago, when I wrote about him declining for three straight years (that ended last season). In fact, Kaepernick’s name has appeared in the text of just three articles at FP in 2017, where his name was used in passing in each case.
And I’m not interested in getting into the usual Kaepernick debate. But there is something that Football Perspective is well-equipped to address: the citing of Kaepernick’s 16/4 TD/INT ratio as evidence of his productive play. Regular readers know that I’m not a fan of TD/INT ratio, and Kaepernick is a pretty good case study in why TD/INT ratio is a poor way to judge a quarterback. A 4.00 TD/INT ratio is very good, no doubt: but in the abstract, it doesn’t mean much. And what do I mean by the abstract?
For starters, it only tells us what happened on 5% of all dropbacks Kaepernick had last year. The much more predictive measure of passing performance is Net Yards per Attempt, and there, Kaepernick ranked 29th out of 30 qualifying passers.1 And, for what it’s worth, he has the worst NY/A average over the past two seasons among the 35 passers with at least 400 attempts since 2015.
So we have a pretty significant disconnect, with Kaepernick ranking 2nd from the bottom, ahead of only Brock Osweiler, in passing efficiency, but tied for 6th with Sam Bradford but in TD/INT ratio. The best thing to do, of course, is to combine the two metrics as we do in ANY/A. There, Kaepernick ranks 23rd out of the 30 qualifying passers. That’s bad, but not horrible, for a starting quarterback. [click to continue…]
- Neither the Bears nor Browns had a single passer finish with 224 attempts. [↩]
Here is Colin Kaepernick’s ANY/A average in each of the last four years:wrote about how Kaepernick, Cam Newton, and RG3 were a unique trio of young quarterbacks who had declined in two consecutive years. Well, 2015 was where those quarterbacks diverged: Newton won the MVP, Griffin did not take a single snap, and Kaepernick continued his decline.
Kaepernick’s 2012-2015 represents just the 44th instance where a quarterback saw his ANY/A decline in three straight seasons (minimum 100 pass attempts each year). But he’s even an outlier in this group. He was one of just six quarterbacks who was younger than 25 at the start of the first season, joined by Pat Haden, Jeff Blake, Bernie Kosar, Rick Mirer, and Ken O’Brien. And he and Aaron Brooks are the only two players to have a dropoff of at least 0.5 ANY/A in each season.
Here’s how to read the table below, using Philip Rivers as an example. His four-year stretch began at the age of 28 in 2009, when he had an ANY/A average of 8.3. Over the next three years, that dropped to 7.77, 6.64, and then 5.45. His lowest decline in any of those seasons was 0.53 ANY/A, and this is the column by which the table is sorted. His total decline from Year 1 to Year 4 was 2.85 ANY/A. Finally, in the next season — what would be 2016 for Kaepernick — Rivers rebounded with a 7.79 ANY/A average. For players who did not have 100 pass attempts (and for Kaepernick) in season N+4, that cell is blank. [click to continue…]
Colin Kaepernick made his first NFL start less than three years ago, on a Monday night in November 2012 against the Bears. His 10th career start came for the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, when he threw for 301 yards and rushed for 62 and nearly led San Francisco to a fourth-quarter come-from-behind victory. In his first 16 career starts — the equivalent of a full regular season — he accumulated the following stat line: 259 completions in 433 pass attempts for 3,627 yards, with 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, along with 674 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. At that point, Kaepernick was still three weeks shy of his 26th birthday, and appeared to be one of the game’s most valuable assets: a young, talented quarterback.
You can read the full article here.
It’s Carroll-Harbaugh X! Okay, the Whats Your Deal Bowl may not have quite the hype of Brady/Manning XV, but don’t tell that to folks on the West Coast. Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh are longtime rivals who have managed to alienate 31 other fanbases in the NFL. For the record, Harbaugh holds a 6-3 record over Carroll, including a 4-2 mark in the NFL. Of course, Carroll’s Seahawks won the last two games at CenturyLink Field, the site of the NFC Championship Game.
Let’s begin our preview by analyzing each team’s passing offense:
Picking between Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson feels like an exercise in hair-splitting. Over the last two seasons, these two have nearly identical passing numbers, ranking 4th and 5th in ANY/A. Kaepernick was slightly better last year, Wilson slightly better this year, and then Kaepernick has been better in the playoffs. By ANY/A standards, this is a complete wash.
What about the weapons? That’s one area where it at least appears like the 49ers have the edge. Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, and Vernon Davis are legitimate stars who combine to give Kaepernick three versatile weapons on every play. A healthy Percy Harvin changes things for Seattle, but with Harvin declared out for the game, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, and Zach Miller represent a clear downgrade from the 49ers bunch.
But remember, when we look at the passing statistics of Kaepernick and Wilson, those numbers already incorporate the quality of each quarterback’s targets. After all, a quarterback’s ANY/A or NY/A averages are not mere reflections of the passer, but of the passing offense as a whole. On the other hand, Kaepernick hasn’t had those three players together for most of his career. In fact, the trio has only been available in 7 of Kaepernick’s 28 career starts. In 10 starts, only Crabtree and Davis were on the team, and in another 10, Kaepernick had just Boldin and Davis.1 The table below shows Kaepernick’s numbers as a starter depending on the availability of his three weapons: [click to continue…]
- There was also one start, against Indianapolis, where both Crabtree and Davis were out. [↩]
At least 400 total yards were gained in every game this season. When Nick Foles threw 7 touchdowns against the Raiders, Oakland actually out-gained Philadelphia, and the two teams combined for a season-high 1,102 yards that day. On the other end of the spectrum was San Francisco/Carolina I, when the two teams combined for just 401 yards. That first game was essentially the NFL’s version of LSU/Alabama, and I don’t think the rematch will be very different.
When these two teams take the field on Sunday, the opponent will feel familiar for a couple of reasons. One, of course, is because of the week ten match-up. But these teams are also mirror images of each other. Consider:
- Each team is led by a young quarterback with a rocket arm and an unfair amount of athleticism. Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton might be the two best running quarterbacks in the league, at least until Robert Griffin III fully recovers, but both are more than capable passers, too. Over the last two years, Kaepernick and Newton rank 4th and 6th in yards per attempt among all quarterbacks with 600 pass attempts.
- Only three running backs in 2013 were 30 years or older and rushed for at least 800 yards. Frank Gore, DeAngelo Williams, and Fred Jackson.
Before we get to my preview, I feel the need to point you to some excellent Super Bowl previews I saw this week:
- Bill Barnwell at Grantland with his excellent Super Bowl preview
- Chris Brown on the Ravens defense against the 49ers offense and the Ravens offense against the 49ers defense, both also at Grantland
- Aaron Schatz brings his Super Bowl Preview to Football Outsiders
- Sam Monson at Pro Football Focus also previewed the 49ers offense (and how to stop it) and the Ravens plan of attack
- Scott Kacsmar picked the Ravens in an upset and updated his impressive library of career playoff drive stats for quarterbacks
- Brian Burke is a big Ravens fan, but his model gives them only a 38% chance of success
- Last but not least, my old comrade Jason Lisk has been chronicling all things Super Bowl at the Big Lead
The Ravens can stop the zone read, but at what cost?
In Colin Kaepernick’s nine starts, the 49ers have averaged 159 rushing yards per game on 4.9 yards per rush and have rushed for 14 touchdowns; at the same time, they’ve averaged 8.1 ANY/A through the air. That makes them close to unstoppable, much like the Seahawks when Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch were dominating defenses over that same stretch.For San Francisco, their dominance starts up front, and their offensive line needs only sustained success to rival what the lines of the ’90s Cowboys or ’00 Chiefs delivered. According to Pro Football Focus, left tackle Joe Staley is the best tackle in the league, while right tackle Anthony Davis is the second best run-blocking tackle in the league (behind only Staley). PFF ranks both Mike Iupati and Alex Boone as top-five guards in the league, and places both of them in the top three when it comes to run blocking. Center Jonathan Goodwin also ranks as an above-average center, and the 34-year-old veteran is more than capable of anchoring a line filled with Pro Bowl caliber players. As if that wasn’t enough, Vernon Davis is one of the top two-way tight ends in the league, while TE/H-Back/FB Delanie Walker and FB Bruce Miller provide excellent support in the run game.
Without any schematic advantage, the 49ers have enough talented beef up front to have a dominate running game. But add in what Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman have been able to do with the Pistol formation and the zone read, and you have a running game that borders on unstoppable.
We saw that against the Packers, as Colin Kaepernick broke the single-game rushing record by a quarterback. The beauty of the zone read is that it gives the offense an extra blocker, an advantage the 49ers didn’t need. After the Packers were shredded by Kaepernick, the Falcons focused on containing the quarterback. Take a look at the photograph below, courtesy of Ben Muth of Football Outsiders.
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Randy Moss turns 36 in a couple of weeks, and he’s caught just 56 passes over the last three years. Super Bowl XLVII may not be his final game, but it probably will be Moss’ last chance to give us one final “Randy Moss” moment. Moss will one day be in the Hall of Fame, despite the fact that he rubbed many fans, sportswriters, teammates, coaches, owners, and a few referees the wrong way. But Moss is a six-time Pro Bowler, a four-time first-team AP All-Pro, and ranks 9th in career receptions, 3rd in career receiving yards, and 2nd in career receiving touchdowns. He’s had 64 100-yard games in his career, second only to Jerry Rice. He’s produced despite a relatively unstable quarterback situation for much of his career (admittedly, some of this was due to Moss): over one-third of his career receiving yards came from Daunte Culpepper, and no other single quarterback was responsible for even twenty percent of his yards. When he finally got a HOF-caliber quarterback, Moss broke the single-season record for receiving touchdowns in a season. But even before New England and Tom Brady, Moss had established himself as one of the greatest receivers in NFL history. If the 49ers win on Sunday, he’ll be like a modern Lance Alworth, who won a forgettable ring with the Dallas Cowboys in 1971.
It’s fitting that Patrick Willis and Ray Lewis are in the Super Bowl together. Willis was only 11 years old when Lewis entered the NFL, and Willis has modeled his game and his uniform number after Lewis. And in turn, if any linebacker has resembled Lewis over the last decade, it’s Willis, and there will be a figurative passing of the torch on Sunday. Even if he isn’t the next Ray Lewis, Willis has paved his own path towards Canton: he has been a first-team All-Pro choice by the Associated Press in five of his first six seasons. Lawrence Taylor, Eric Dickerson, Jerry Rice, Gale Sayers, and Reggie White are the only other NFL players since 1960 to be selected as a first-team AP All-Pro five or more times in their first six seasons. Absent a serious injury or a shocking career turn, Willis will one day be a Hall of Famer himself, but it sure can’t hurt to add a Lombardi Trophy to the resume.
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Assume that it is within a quarterback’s control as to whether or not he throws a completed pass on any given pass attempt. However, if he throws an incomplete pass, then he has no control over whether or not that pass is intercepted.
If that assumption is true, that would mean all incomplete pass attempts could be labeled as “passes in play” for the defense to intercept. Therefore, a quarterback’s average number of “Picks On Passes In Play” (or POPIP) — that is, the number of interceptions per incomplete pass he throws — is out of his control.
After doing the legwork to test that assumption, I reached two conclusions. One, interception rate is just really random, and predicting it is a fool’s errand. Two, using a normalized INT rate — essentially replacing a quarterback’s number of interceptions per incomplete pass with the league average number of interceptions per incomplete pass — was a slightly better predictor of future INT rate than actual INT rate. It’s not a slam dunk, but there is some merit to using POPIP, because completion percentage, on average, is a better predictor of future INT rate than current INT rate.
So, why am I bringing this up today, at the start of Super Bowl week? Take a look at where Sunday’s starting quarterbacks ranked this year in POPIP (playoff statistics included, minimum 250 pass attempts):
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To be fair, only three quarterbacks have done anything of note on the ground against the Falcons this year. Michael Vick rushed 7 times for 42 yards in a 30-17 loss. Vick had two first down carries that went for four yards, two third and long carries that went for 10 total yards but no first downs, and then three runs on 3rd and 3 or 4 where he picked up the first down. That’s not good, but not too alarming.
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Q: How similar was the stuff the 49ers were running to what you ran for Kaepernick at Nevada?
Ault: The read plays that they’re running, that’s what we ran. That’s what we did and what we still do. The play-action passes, which I was really excited to see out of the pistol, are things that we did here in Kaep’s senior year. The routes, I can’t tell you the routes are the same, but I thought that was the one thing I had not seen the Niners do, that I saw the Redskins do, was throw the ball with play-action out of the pistol. I thought the play-action passing really helped with the read itself out of the pistol.
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The Best Weekend of the Year lived up to its reputation this weekend, as the divisional round of the playoffs gave us three outstanding games. Here is my reaction, with a disproportionate amount of time spent on the Denver-Baltimore game, because, well, if you saw it, you’d understand.
One of the best playoff games in NFL history, and an instant classic. This game could be analyzed for hours and there are countless talking points (Fox playing not to lose, Manning’s playoff failures, Ray Lewis’ retirement tour making at least one last stop, Tim Tebow anyone?) that will fill up the schedules of ESPN and talk radio for weeks. But let’s start with a big picture review of the game from the perspective of the team I expected to win the Super Bowl.
If you want to assign credit and blame to Denver, this is how I would rank the five Broncos units on Saturday, from best to worst.
1) Special teams. Sure, Matt Prater missed a long field goal, but Trindon Holliday’s two return touchdowns were a thing of beauty — especially for fans of excellent blocking. Holliday’s runs were more about textbook blocking by the return unit and poor coverage by the Ravens than Holliday himself, but in any event, the Broncos special teams had a great day. In fact, here is how Pro-Football-Reference broke down the game by unit in terms of Expected Points Added:
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I was on vacation last week, so I provided just a bare bones set of NFL playoff predictions. Technically, my picks went 4-0 on Wildcard Weekend, but that doesn’t count for much when you pick the favorite in every game. With a little more time on my hands, here’s an in-depth preview of Saturday’s games. Tomorrow I’ll be previewing Sunday’s action.
Baltimore Ravens (10-6) (+9.5) at Denver Broncos (13-3), Saturday 4:30PM ET
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