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RG3 and Failed Completions

Since 1940, there have been 616 times where a team rushed for at least 125 yards and completed at least 75% of its passes. On Sunday, when Washington pulled off that feat against the Texans, they became the first team to fail to score double digit points in the process.

In the second half, both RG3 and Niles Paul lost fumbles inside the Houston 10-yard line; that obviously contributed to the team failing to score more than 6 points. But Griffin’s 78.4% completion percentage was also pretty misleading. Griffin’s average throw went just 5.8 yards in the air, and his average completion covered just 3.9 yards before including his receiver’s yards gained after the catch. Both of those averages put ranked 30th among 32 qualifying passers. But while short throws can be part of an effective offense, on Sunday, that wasn’t the case for Washington. Consider:

  • A 4th and 10 completion to Roy Helu for 6 yards
  • A 3rd and 16 completion (on the Washington 15) to Helu for 9 yards
  • A 3rd and 13 completion to DeSean Jackson for 0 yards
  • A 2nd and 25 completion to Jackson for 0 yards
  • A 2nd and 19 completion to Pierre Garcon for 3 yards
  • A 2nd and 14 completion to Logal Paulsen for -3 yards
  • A 2nd and 8 completion to Garcon for 3 yards
  • A 2nd and 1 completion to Jackson for 0 yards
  • Four 1st and 10 completions to Jordan Reed, Paulsen, Paul, and Darrel Young for 4, 3, 2, and 1 yard(s), respectively.

Sure, Griffin completed 29 of his 37 passes, but 12 of his completions did little or nothing to help his offense.  He also was sacked three times.  As a result, just 17 of his 40 dropbacks — or 42.5% — were successful completions.

To be fair, this isn’t as much a knock of Griffin as the Washington offense as a whole, or perhaps just a counter to those who like to rely on completion percentage or its brother, passer rating.  If Griffin’s targets could have gained more yards after the catch, things would have looked a lot different.  And against the frightening pass rush of J.J. Watt and company,1 short passes make some sense.  But looking at Griffin’s completion percentage and concluding he had a good game is kind of silly. Again, more a knock on the misuse of statistics than the player.

Football Outsiders considers a completion that fails to gain a first down on 3rd or 4th down, a completion that fails to gain at least 60% of the distance needed on 2nd down, or a completion that fails to gain at least 45% of the needed yards on 1st down to all be failed completions. Those cut-offs seem reasonable enough to use for theses purposes. Looking at the numbers, Griffin led the NFL in failed completions in week one.

Here’s how to read the table below. In week 1, Griffin completed 29 of 37 passes, producing a completion percentage of 78.4%. However, 12 of his completions were failed completions, as identified above. That means 41.4% of his completions were failed completions. He also took 3 sacks; as a result, just 42.5% of his dropbacks were successful completions. The difference between his raw completion percentage and his SCmp/DB average was 35.9%. [click to continue…]

  1. While Jadeveon Clowney went out early, Whitney Mercilus, Brooks Reed, and Brian Cushing all got to Griffin several times. []
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Scott Kacsmar recently wrote about Robert Griffin III’s struggles on third downs last season. Despite Griffin’s otherworldly rate stats, that was one area where he really struggled in 2012. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how all quarterbacks fared on “third downs” last season. I put that in quotes because I’m including fourth down data, but don’t want to write third and fourth down throughout this post. Regular readers may recall I did something similar last November, but now we can work with full 2012 season numbers.

To grade third down performance, I included sacks but threw out all rushing data (not for any moral reason, just in the interest of time). The first step in evaluating third down performance is to calculate the league average conversion rate on third downs for each distance. Next, I came up with a best-fit smoothed line based on the data, which is based off the following formula:

Conversion Rate = -0.0001 * Distance^2 – 0.0224 * Distance + 0.5301

Take a look at the table below. For example, there were 309 passes (i.e., pass attempts or sacks — scrambles are not included) and the league-wide conversion rate was 51.1%. Using the best-fit formula, the smoothed rate is 50.8%. There is nothing groundbreaking here — the conversion rates drop as the “to go” number increases, but it helps to quantify what we already know.

To Go
Passes
First Downs
Rate
Smoothed Rate
130915851.1%50.8%
241520850.1%48.5%
348720742.5%46.2%
451222744.3%43.9%
555922640.4%41.6%
654122842.1%39.2%
752118134.7%36.8%
842614333.6%34.5%
936511631.8%32%
1072822030.2%29.6%
112137133.3%27.2%
121533925.5%24.7%
131352417.8%22.2%
141072220.6%19.7%
151432215.4%17.2%
166258.1%14.6%
17681217.6%12%
185036%9.5%
195335.7%6.8%
204836.3%5%

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Russell Wilson is too awesome for snide comments.

Russell Wilson is too awesome for snide comments.

Since 1990, there have been 48 rookie quarterbacks that threw at least 224 pass attempts, the necessary amount to qualify for the league’s efficiency ratings. There are many conventional ways to measure rookie quarterbacks, but the off-season lets us play around with more obscure measures.

For example, have you ever considered how rookie quarterbacks performed compared to how their teams passed in the prior year? David Carr, Tim Couch, and Kerry Collins took over expansion teams, but we can compare the passing stats of the other 45 rookie quarterbacks to the team stats from the prior season. To compare across eras, I am grading each individual and team relative to the league average each season.

Let’s start with Net Yards per Attempt. Ben Roethlisberger averaged 7.41 NY/A in 2004 when the league average was 6.14; therefore, Roethlisberger was at 121% of league average. Meanwhile, the 2003 Steelers under Tommy Maddox were at 99% of league average. For each of the 45 rookie quarterbacks, I plotted them in the graph below. The Y-axis shows how the quarterback performed as a rookie, while the X-axis shows how his team performed in the prior season. Because it makes sense to think of “up and to the right” as positive, the X-axis goes in reverse order. Take a look – I have an abbreviation for each quarterback next to his data point:
[click to continue…]

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NYT Fifth Down: Post-week 7

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote the differing rookie seasons of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. The numbers still hold — Griffin dominating in all traditional stats, while Luck throwing more passes downfield than any other quarterback — so I sat down with ESPN’s Jeff Bennett to figure out why Luck ranks ahead of Griffin in ESPN’s QBR.

After seven weeks, Robert Griffin III of the Redskins has exceeded even the most optimistic expectations. He leads the N.F.L. with a 70.4 completion percentage, and could become the first rookie to lead the league in that category since Parker Hall with the Rams in 1939.

Griffin also ranks first in yards per attempt with an 8.5 average, and could become the first rookie since another Ram, Bob Waterfield in 1945, to lead the N.F.L. in that statistic. Only two rookies in professional football history have ever led the league in both completion percentage and yards per attempt. The first was another Redskin, Sammy Baugh, in 1937; the last was Greg Cook, in the American Football League in 1969 (his career was ruined by a shoulder injury that year).

Griffin’s statistical domination of the record book has been astounding. And that’s before we get to the fact that he has 468 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns in seven games, putting Cam Newton’s rookie rushing records in both categories (706 and 14) in jeopardy.

Griffin will always be compared to the man selected one spot before him in the 2012 draft, Andrew Luck. And on the surface, there’s no comparison. Luck ranks 32nd in completion percentage (53.6) and 25th in yards per attempt (6.7). Whereas Griffin ranks third in traditional passer rating (101.8) behind Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning, Luck is tied with Brandon Weeden (72.3) and ahead of only Matt Cassel for last place.

But traditional statistics don’t always tell the full story, especially when we’re dealing with a sample size that’s smaller than half a season. Those watching Luck have usually come away thinking that he’s the next great quarterback, despite the raw numbers. Fortunately, there’s a way to fill in the rather large gap between perception and statistical production. One of those tools is ESPN’s Total QBR, which ranks Luck as the sixth-best quarterback in the N.F.L. this season. That’s even ahead of Griffin, who is eighth in QBR.

Jeff Bennett of ESPN Stats & Information, in a telephone interview, was able to help explain why Luck was not only the best rookie quarterback this season, but also perhaps the most underrated quarterback in the N.F.L.

Difficulty of Throws

It’s a gross generalization, but Luck plays in a vertical offense while Griffin plays in a horizontal one. Griffin ranks first in completion percentage while Luck ranks 32nd, but that has as much to do with the throws they’re asked to make as each quarterback’s accuracy. Luck‘s average pass attempt has traveled 10.2 yards past the line of scrimmage, the longest average pass distance in the league (this was before “Monday Night Football”; Jay Cutler was second at 9.9 entering the game). Griffin averages 7.9 yards downfield per pass attempt, slightly below the league average of 8.2.

And Luck’s long average pass distance isn’t simply a product of throwing lots of incomplete passes down the field. His average pass distance on completions is 8.6 yards past the line of scrimmage, also highest in the N.F.L. (Cutler was fourth at 8.3 entering Monday night). Griffin’s completions come an average of 5.8 yards from the line of scrimmage, well below the league average of 6.5.

Those numbers agree with Brian Burke’s data at Advanced NFL Stats, which show that Griffin has thrown only 14 percent of his passes 15-plus yards past the line of scrimmage, the lowest rate in the league. Luck has thrown only 11 percent of his passes at or behind the line of scrimmage, while Griffin is in an offense that has let him throw 44 passes at or behind the line, accounting for 23 percent of his attempts. Coach Mike Shanahan and his offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, deserve credit for molding an offense that fits Griffin’s strengths. Unfortunately for Luck, nothing is being made easy for him in Indianapolis.

Yards After the Catch

Casting Luck as a downfield thrower is true, but only half the story. Unlike many rookie quarterbacks, whether through design or lack of talent, Luck rarely has a running back as a checkdown option. According to Footballguys.com, Colts running backs have been targeted on just 7 percent of all Indianapolis passes, the lowest mark in the league. Conversely, Colts receivers have been targeted on 72 percent of Indianapolis attempts, the highest mark in the N.F.L.

In the same vein, much of Griffin’s production has come via yards after the catch. On average, passers in 2012 have gained 56 percent of their yards through the air and 44 percent on yards after the catch by their receivers. For Griffin, 51.4 percent of his yards have come via his receivers after the catch, the fifth-highest mark in the league. Luck, in large part because of his downfield passing, has gained 68.9 percent of his yards through the air, the highest percentage in the league, and therefore has been helped the least in terms of yards after the catch.

However, simply putting the stats in this context does not mean that Luck has been a better passer than Griffin; rather, it is to simply close the extraordinary gap created by traditional statistics. Griffin’s completion percentage and yards per attempt average are still more impressive even after adjusting for the difficulty of his throws. If we looked simply at their passing numbers, even ESPN’s Total QBR would rank Griffin ahead of Luck, by a score of 68.7 to 60.7. And while you know there is more to being a quarterback than just passing, you might be surprised to learn that looking at those things actually vaults Luck ahead of Griffin.

You can read the rest of the article here.

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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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