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Sanchez tries to understand the formula for wins above expectation

Sanchez tries to understand the formula for wins above expectation.

On Friday, the Jets released Mark Sanchez. I don’t have much in the way of a post mortem, but it felt odd not to have at least some post on the subject. And despite watching every Sanchez start for four years, it still takes me by surprise when I see that his career record is 33-29. That winning record came despite Sanchez being one of the worst starters in the league for most of his career. Through five seasons, he has a career Relative Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt average of -1.03. Among the 140 quarterbacks to enter the NFL since 1970 who have started 40 games, only one other passer (who will remain nameless for now) had a winning record with a worse RANY/A than Sanchez; the next worst quarterback with a winning record over that time frame is Trent Dilfer, who finished 58-55 with a career -0.85 RANY/A.

If you grade quarterbacks by #Winz, Sanchez is above-average. If you look at passing statistics — i.e., ANY/A — he’s one of the worst in the league. So I thought I would quantify that gulf and see if Sanchez was the quarterback with the largest disparity between winning percentage and passing statistics.

First, I ran a regression on team wins (pro-rated to 16 games) and Relative ANY/A for every year since 1970. The best fit formula was 8.00 + 1.756 * RANY/A. In other words, for every 1.00 ANY/A above league average, a team should expect to win 1.756 more games. For a team to expect to win 11 games, they need to finish 1.71 ANY/A better than average.

Next, I calculated the career RANY/A — i.e., the ANY/A relative to league average — for every quarterback to enter the league since 1970. For example, Sanchez has a RANY/A of -1.03. This means you would expect his teams to win 6.19 games every season, for a 0.387 winning percentage. In reality, Sanchez’s Jets have a 0.632 winning percentage, which means he has an actual winning percentage that is 0.146 higher than his expected winning percentage. As it turns out, that differential puts him in the top ten, but it is not the best mark.

That honor belongs to Mike Phipps. Here’s how to read the table below, which shows all 140 quarterbacks to enter the league since 1970 and start at least 40 games. Phipps entered the league in 1970 and last played in 1981, starting 71 games in his career. He finished with a career RANY/A of -1.52; as a result, he “should have” won only 23.6 games. In reality, he won 39 games, meaning he won 15.4 more games than expected. On a percentage basis, his RANY/A would imply a .333 expected winning percentage; his actual winning percentage was 0.549, and that difference of +0.216 is the highest in our sample. [click to continue…]

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Projecting the 2013 Jets

Let’s start with a picture showing just how ugly the Jets passing game has been over the last four years. The chart below displays where New York has ranked in Net Yards per Attempt, Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, passer rating, Football Outsiders DVOA, and ANS’s Pass EPA/Play in each season starting in 2009. The black line shows an average of the team’s ranks in those five metrics. On the left, is the team’s rank from 1 to 32.

Jets passing

There are a few things that should be pretty obvious: all data points reside in the bottom half of the picture. New York ranked 18th in passer rating in 2011, its highest ranking in any of the five passing measures over the last four years. The Jets passing game was bad last year and looks to be bad this year, but we’re only talking about measures of degrees. The 11-5 Jets in 2010 ranked 20th in ANY/A and made it to the AFC Championship Game. In Mark Sanchez’s rookie year, the Jets ranked 27th in ANY/A and were leading the Colts at halftime of the AFCCG in Indianapolis.

One interpretation is that Sanchez was steadily improving, as he made gains in most metrics in both 2010 and 2011. I don’t think that’s the correct interpretation, however. Yes, the Jets ranked 18th in passer rating and in the top 20 other three other categories, but the real story is that New York only finished 25th in NY/A. The discrepancy between the statistics is the result of a fluke season with respect to passing touchdowns, which are ignored in NY/A but a part of passer rating, ANY/A, DVOA, and EPA. The Jets ranked 2nd in red zone scoring percentage in 2011, but ranked 17th (2009), 28th (2010), and 25th (2012) in that metric the other three years. Sanchez threw 14 touchdowns from inside the ten-yard line that year, more than double his performance in any other season. Some credited his red zone performance in 2011 to offensive guru Tom Moore’s tenure with the team that year, others believed it was due to the addition of Plaxico Burress, while still more thought it was a sign of Sanchez’ improvement as a passer. In retrospect, I think we can chalk most of that up red zone success up to good old fashioned luck and small sample size.
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Wait, how many USC quarterbacks are starting?

Wait, how many USC quarterbacks are starting?

There was a streak in jeopardy in week 17 of the 2012 season. With former Trojan Carson Palmer injured, the Raiders skipped over his former USC teammate, Matt Leinart, and started ex-Ohio State Buckeye Terrelle Pryor at quarterback for the season finale. Since the Chiefs had previously benched Matt Cassel for Brady Quinn, if it wasn’t for Greg McElroy missing the Jets last game against the Bills — which reinserted Mark Sanchez into the starting lineup for New York — USC’s streak of consecutive weeks with a starting quarterback in the NFL would have ended. Instead, the streak is now up to 81 weeks with at least one of Sanchez, Palmer, Cassel and/or Leinart starting.

As impressive as that might sound, it’s not even halfway to the record. You can take a second to think about which school had the longest run with at least one of its former players starting at quarterback, but first, another bit of trivia: I noticed that in week 12 of the 2009 season, Matt Leinart, Matt Cassel, Mark Sanchez, and Carson Palmer all started. But believe it or not, that’s not a record, either.

In week 13 of the 2000 season, five quarterbacks from the University of WashingtonWarren Moon, Mark Brunell, Damon Huard, Chris Chandler, and Brock Huard — were starting in the NFL. Add in Washington State’s Drew Bledsoe and Ryan Leaf, and seven quarterbacks that played college in the Evergreen State were starting in the NFL that weekend.
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Yesterday, I reviewed how the Jets defense performed in 2012 and previewed the team’s outlook for 2013. Today, the heavy lifting begins, by looking at the offense. If you didn’t feel bad for Tony Sparano before this post, I can guarantee you will by the end of it.

Quarterback

There is no point in ignoring the elephant in the room, so let’s just get it out of the way: Mark Sanchez is a below-average starting quarterback and not the answer for the Jets. After committing 26 turnovers in 2011, Sanchez laughed in the face of regression to the mean and matched that number on fewer plays in 2012. Sanchez also turned the ball over 23 times in his rookie season, leaving 2010 (14 turnovers) as his only season with fewer than 20 turnovers. To be fair, every hand that touched the 2012 Jets passing game deserved criticism, as Sanchez received almost no support from his teammates or coaches.

The past, not the future.

The past, not the future.

Still, the quarterback gets the credit and the blame, and there’s no escaping the fact that Sanchez ranked 30th in Net Yards per Attempt over the last two seasons, a disproportionate performance compared to his bloated salary.1 There are some creative things the Jets could do to lessen his salary cap hit in 2013, but that just delays the bill to 2014. Currently, Sanchez will count for $12.9M against the cap next season, and would count for $17.2M (yes, that means $4.3M of dead money) if released. While it’s not impossible that the Jets could trade him, I’m going to ignore that option for this post. The other problem? His cap hits are $13.1M and $15.6M in 2014 and 2015. You probably didn’t know that — heck you probably thought he was a free agent after 2013 — because it’s so far out of the realm of possibility that Sanchez would be on the team in 2014 that no one mentions it. But as a technical matter, Sanchez is signed through 2016 at superstar quarterback money, and the most likely scenario is the Jets cut him after 2014 (leaving $4.8M in dead money but still saving $8.3M on the cap).

The fact that his contract runs through 2016 is more important than you might think. Even under the best case possible, pigs flying 2013 scenarios, Sanchez still won’t be worth $29M in 2014 and 2015. Sanchez would have to turn in a season like Aaron Rodgers in 2013 to make the Jets want to keep him at his current contract (which, if he played at such a level, he’d have no incentive to restructure) after this season.
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  1. Among Jets fans, there is some argument that Sanchez used to be good but now is struggling; that’s not really the case. In 2010, the year the Jets went 11-5 and made it to the AFC Championship Game, Sanchez ranked 29th out of 32 quarterbacks in Net Yards per Attempt and 24th in ANY/A. Now he tied Matt Ryan for the NFL lead with 6 game-winning drives that season — no asterisk there, this actually happened — but that only served to obfuscate the fact that Sanchez struggled on a play-by-play basis. Sanchez actually peaked in NY/A rank as a rookie in 2009, finishing 21st, although he ranked 27th in ANY/A. []
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Every hand in the Jets passing game is to blame

Not Don Coryell.

It’s a special edition of Saturday rant day at Football Perspective.

I’m no Mark Sanchez apologist. But that doesn’t mean he’s the only one to blame for the Jets’ passing game struggles.

The Supporting Cast

Jeremy Kerley, Dustin Keller, Chaz Schilens, Stephen Hill, and Jeff Cumberland are the team’s leading receivers. Clyde Gates has started two games at wide receiver. Kerley would be a great #3 receiver, but he’s the Jets #1. Schillens and Gates are best left as fifth receivers, while Stephen Hill is incredibly raw and has struggled most of the year. Keller would be a good tight end on a good passing offense, but is overmatched as the team’s #2 target. I don’t think anyone would disagree that the Jets’ receivers (including stone-hands Shonn Greene) rank in the bottom five of the league.

Mike Tannenbaum

Tannenbaum has come under heavy criticism from Jets fans of late. While I think much of that is probably unfair, there are several areas to point the finger at Tannenbaum — starting with drafting Sanchez in the first place. The Jets general manager listens to eternal optimist Ryan too much when it comes to personnel decisions, which led the Jets to start Wayne Hunter at right tackle last year and enter the pre-season with him, somehow, still entrenched at the spot. The Vlad Ducasse pick has been a bust, leaving Matt Slauson to cover at left guard (you know, when he’s not being rotated out of the game). Trades for Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes yielded immediate dividends, but have only added to the disruption in the locker room without helping the 2012 version of the team. Sanchez is playing with one of the worst supporting casts in the league, so the man who picks the talent certainly bears some of the blame.

Rex Ryan

There are very few head coaches who are excellent on both sides of the ball, but Rex Ryan is one of the most specialized head coaches in the NFL. He’s a defensive mastermind — no doubt about that — but he’s as helpless on offense as he is strong on defense. He vowed this year to get more involved in the offense, which should start sending red flags to begin with since 2012 is his fourth season as head coach of the team. To the extent that he has been more hands on in 2012, the results aren’t any better.

Perhaps Ryan is the mirror image of a Gary Kubiak, who took awhile to find the right man to run the other half of his team. But from the standpoint of developing a quarterback, Ryan may even be counterproductive. The red light-yellow light-green light system he gave Sanchez in his rookie season was Ryan’s first attempt to right the ship and a sign of what the coach expects out of the quarterback position. The bottom line is Ryan is focused on playing good defense and running the ball, and as long as his quarterback doesn’t mess up, he thinks his team will win. That’s not the ideal environment for a young quarterback to blossom in, and we learned exactly what Rex thinks about his quarterback when this off-season he chose to hire as his offensive coordinator…

Tony Sparano (hat tip, Brian Schottenheimer)
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NYT Fifth Down: Post-week 8

My post for the New York Times this week takes a look at the triumvirate of Mike Tannenbaum, Rex Ryan, and Mark Sanchez.

Rex Ryan was hired by Mike Tannenbaum on Jan. 19, 2009. Three months later, they traded up in the 2009 N.F.L. draft to acquire Mark Sanchez. Since that moment, the three of them — the general manager, the head coach and the franchise quarterback — have had their fates intertwined. When the Jets made the A.F.C. championship game in their first season together, they far exceeded expectations, reaching that level far sooner than expected.

In the following off-season, Tannenbaum became the toast of the N.F.L. as he acquired four veterans – Santonio Holmes, LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor, and Antonio Cromartie — to help put the Jets over the proverbial hump. In August, it was Ryan’s turn to steal the spotlight, as he became a national sensation and the coach everyone wanted to play for following his appearance on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.” During the season, it was Sanchez’s time to shine, as he led the Jets on game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in six different games, the highest number in the league. The Jets won 11 games and went back to the A.F.C. championship game, but again, were stuck at the Super Bowl’s doorstep.

That was the high-water mark of the Tannenbaum-Ryan-Sanchez era. The Jets regressed to 8-8 last season and with a 3-5 record in 2012, appear to be continuing in a downward spiral. With Tannenbaum, Ryan, and Sanchez forever linked, the question the Jets will have to answer at the end of the season is whether all — or any — of them are the right men to take the Jets back to the Super Bowl.

The Quarterback

Statistically, Sanchez has been a disappointment his entire career with the Jets. On the field, he has struggled with reading defenses and throwing accurate passes, and as a result, he is ranked below the league average in completion percentage and yards per attempt in each of his four seasons in the N.F.L. Only 18 quarterbacks in N.F.L. history have ranked below league average in those categories while playing for the same team in three consecutive years. Perhaps surprisingly, all but three — Joe Ferguson, Mark Malone, and an aging Marc Bulger — returned to the same team for a fourth season.

Of the remaining 15, one was Phil Simms, who tore his knee in the 1982 preseason, ending his streak of mediocre play. It wasn’t until he turned 30 that Simms had his first statistically solid season in 1985. David Woodley returned to Miami but lost his job to Dan Marino. Kyle Boller went back to Baltimore, but Steve McNair was acquired to replace him. Sanchez and Matt Cassel each received a fourth year in 2012 to prove themselves.

That leaves 10 quarterbacks who had three straight years of below average play in both yards per attempt and completion percentage, and were brought back by their team and remained as starters. Five quarterbacks — Donovan McNabb, Tobin Rote, Jim Hart, John Elway, and Drew Bledsoe — responded with above-average seasons in their fourth year in at least one of the two categories.

The other five? All again finished below average in the two categories for a fourth straight season. Mike Phipps in Cleveland, Rick Mirer in Seattle, Trent Dilfer in Tampa Bay and Joey Harrington in Detroit were the first four; the fifth was Eli Manning. I excluded Manning’s rookie season because he did not have enough pass attempts to qualify, but technically, he finished below average in both completion percentage and yards per attempt in each of the first five seasons of his career.

Sanchez currently ranks 33rd in completion percentage and 31st in yards per attempt, so absent Peyton Manning wearing his jersey for the rest of the year, Sanchez is going to finish below average for the fourth straight season in both categories. In Kansas City, Matt Cassel may match his streak, although his days with the Chiefs are numbered.

Can the Jets justify starting Sanchez in Year 5? If previous examples are considered, it’s doubtful. Mike Phipps, like Sanchez, was a top-five pick a franchise gambled on. In fact, Cleveland traded the future Hall of Fame wide receiver Paul Warfield to Miami to acquire Phipps, so the Browns were very hesitant to admit their mistake. In his fifth year, Phipps entered the season as the starter but an injury in the season opener against the Jets allowed Brian Sipe to take the job. Mirer was also a top-five pick, but after his fourth year, the Seahawks traded him to the Bears. Somehow, they were able to package him with a fourth-round pick for Chicago’s first-round selection. Tampa Bay, a team that was able to win despite its poor quarterback play because of a great defense, kept Dilfer as the starter in his fifth year, although an injury paved the way for the team to move on. Detroit traded Harrington after his fourth season to Miami for a late round pick. And while Manning’s individual statistics were not impressive, he had already won a Super Bowl with the Giants, ending any questions about his job security.

If the Jets go into the 2013 season with Sanchez as the starter, they will essentially be giving him as long a leash as any quarterback in N.F.L. history has ever had. There are obviously other considerations with Sanchez. He will cost the Jets salary cap over $17 million if they release him before the start of the 2014 season. As it stands, the Jets will pay him nearly $13 million in 2013. But it’s the extreme exception to the rule for a quarterback to have four consecutive years of mediocre play be given the starting job in his fifth year on a silver platter. When a highly drafted quarterback struggles so consistently and fails to develop, there are usually severe ramifications. And they extend far beyond the quarterback.

For a look at the coach and the general manager, you can read the full article here.

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I spent the weekend in Cortland, New York covering Jets training camp. So what should we expect from the Jets this year? As the team enters its fourth season under Rex Ryan, it’s impossible to look at the 2012 season without putting it in the context of the Ryan’s other Jets teams. And while the Sanchez/Tebow stories will dominate the media’s attention, in reality, the defense and the running game will be the key elements of the 2012 Jets.

Defense

The table below lists the 15 major contributors for the Jets for each year since 2009. Ryan’s defenses are some of the most exotic in the league, and the Jets often have placed six or seven defensive backs on the field at one time. In addition to nickel corner and the third safety, I’m including a fourth defensive lineman slot and a “Designated Pass Rusher” position, a third down specialist and staple of the Ryan defense.

Pos
2009
2010
2011
2012
DEShaun Ellis (32)Shaun Ellis (33)Muhammad Wilkerson (22)Muhammad Wilkerson (23)
NTSione Pouha (30)Sione Pouha (31)Sione Pouha (32)Sione Pouha (33)
DEMarques Douglas (32)Mike DeVito (26)Mike DeVito (27)Mike DeVito (28)
4DLMike DeVito (25)Vernon Gholston (24)Marcus Dixon (27)Quinton Coples (22)
OLBBryan Thomas (30)Bryan Thomas (31)Jamaal Westerman (26)Bryan Thomas (33)
ILBBart Scott (29)Bart Scott (30)Bart Scott (31)Bart Scott (32)
ILBDavid Harris (25)David Harris (26)David Harris (27)David Harris (28)
OLBCalvin Pace (29)Calvin Pace (30)Calvin Pace (31)Calvin Pace (32)
DPRVernon Gholston (23)Jason Taylor (36)Aaron Maybin (23)Aaron Maybin (24)
CB1Darrelle Revis (24)Darrelle Revis (25)Darrelle Revis (26)Darrelle Revis (27)
CB2Lito Sheppard (28)Antonio Cromartie (26)Antonio Cromartie (27)Antonio Cromartie (28)
CB3Dwight Lowery (23)Drew Coleman (27)Kyle Wilson (24)Kyle Wilson (25)
S1Jim Leonhard (27)Jim Leonhard (28)Jim Leonhard (29)Yeremiah Bell (34)
S2Kerry Rhodes (27)Brodney Pool (26)Eric Smith (28)Laron Landry (28)
S3Eric Smith (26)Eric Smith (27)Brodney Pool (27)Eric Smith (29)

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I’ll be spending the weekend in Cortland, New York, covering Jets training camp. The big story there, of course, will be how the Mark Sanchez/Tim Tebow drama unfolds. The party line among media members is that the duo is doomed to fail, because a team with two quarterbacks doesn’t have one.

Last year, Mark Sanchez ranked 27th in Net Yards per Attempt, so the Jets were behind the 8-ball at the quarterback position well before the Tebow trade. Not that he’ll necessarily help things: Tebow averaged even fewer net yards per attempt than Sanchez in 2011, although arguably his numbers should be viewed in a more positive light.

In my view, the Tebow trade simply gives the Jets more chances to succeed, not unlike when a team throws multiple late round picks at the same position. The most tired complaint regarding the situation is that if Sanchez has a bad drive, quarter or game, fans will call for Sanchez’ head and the Jets will bring in Tebow. But such analysis never goes beyond that. If the Jets do make Tebow the starting quarterback, and he does well, that’s a good thing. If the Jets bring in Tebow, and he fails, New York can go back to Sanchez. At that point, even if Sanchez has some struggles, the calls for Tebow will be muted. However, some will argue that if Sanchez is benched even once his confidence will be shot.

You may find it absurd to suggest that benching a professional athlete may be enough to derail a great career; in fact, that’s what I originally thought. But after combing through the annals of NFL history, I’m unable to find any proof in the other direction. Truth be told, I do think having two quarterbacks is essentially the football kiss of death. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

Can you believe McElroy thinks the girls at Alabama are better than the coeds at Florida and USC?


In the early ’50s, the Los Angeles Rams alternated Norm Van Brocklin and Bob Waterfield as their quarterbacks. In 1950, the team averaged 38.8 points per game while each quarterback started six games, and Los Angeles won the championship the next season. But while both Van Brocklin and Waterfield would end up in the Hall of Fame, neither player is well known today by most fans.

A few years later, the Giants would have Don Heinrich as the nominal starter for the first series or two before having Charlie Conerly come in and replace him one the coaching staff had a better read on the opposing defense. Sure the team won the NFL championship in 1956 using this method, but New York ultimately lost the championship to Baltimore in both ’58 and ’59, and neither Heinrich nor Conerly were able to slow down Johnny Unitas in either gmae. In John Eisenberg’s great book on the late ’50s Green Bay Packers, he explained how Vince Lombardi treated Bart Starr like a yo-yo, inserting him and out of the lineup. And while Starr would achieve some success in the ’60s, he ultimately failed as head coach of the Packers in the ’70s and ’80s, going 52-76-3 in 9 uneventful seasons.
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Franchise leaders — passing stats

Happy 4th of July! Before you head to your barbecue, I’d recommend you take a look at the incredible document our founders signed 236 years ago.

As far as football goes, today’s a good time for a data dump. The table below shows the career passing leaders for each franchise, organized by when the current leader last played for that team.

Team
Yards
Quarterback
Last Yr
NWE39979Tom Brady
NOR28394Drew Brees
HOU16903Matt Schaub
BAL13816Joe Flacco
IND54828Peyton Manning2011
SEA29434Matt Hasselbeck2010
PHI32873Donovan McNabb2009
CAR19258Jake Delhomme2009
GNB61655Brett Favre2007
JAX25698Mark Brunell2003
DAL32942Troy Aikman2000
MIA61361Dan Marino1999
DEN51475John Elway1998
BUF35467Jim Kelly1996
TEN33685Warren Moon1993
NYG33462Phil Simms1993
STL23758Jim Everett1993
SFO35124Joe Montana1992
TAM14820Vinny Testaverde1992
SDG43040Dan Fouts1987
CIN32838Ken Anderson1986
WAS25206Joe Theismann1985
ATL23470Steve Bartkowski1985
ARI34639Jim Hart1983
PIT27989Terry Bradshaw1983
CLE23713Brian Sipe1983
OAK19078Ken Stabler1979
MIN33098Fran Tarkenton1978
NYJ27057Joe Namath1976
KAN28507Len Dawson1975
DET15710Bobby Layne1958
CHI14686Sid Luckman1950

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