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Note: The data in today’s post is current through week 10 but excluding the Monday Night game between Carolina and Miami.

The Jets, behind Josh McCown, rank 3rd in the NFL in completion percentage this season, with a nominally impressive 69.1% rate. However, as noted last month, that was pretty misleading — and it still is.

The Jets are one of just four teams that have picked up first downs on fewer than half of their completed passes, and the other three teams are a who’s who of ugly quarterback play this year (Ravens, Dolphins, and Giants). The Bears and Browns round out the bottom six, while the Texans (RIP Deshaun Watson) lead the NFL in this metric.

But if first downs per completed pass is akin to yards per completion — an interesting statistic but better used to describe style than competency — than first downs per pass play (including sacks) is the more useful metric (this is similar to Net Yards per Attempt). After all, on a dropback, if a quarterback throws for a first down, it’s a good pass play; if a first down is not picked up, it usually wasn’t a good pass play.

So first downs per pass play (again, including sacks) is a good measure of an offense’s success rate. And you probably won’t be too surprised to see that the Patriots and Saints lead the NFL in that metric this year. Apparently, Tom Brady and Drew Brees are pretty good at keeping their offenses on schedule. The Chiefs, Falcons, and Rams rank in the top 5 in this metric as well.

Let’s use the Patriots line to explain how to read the table below. New England has completed 234 of 346 passes, a 67.6% completion rate that ranks 4th in the NFL. The Patriots have taken 22 sacks but picked up 142 first downs. New England has picked up a 1st down on 60.7% of its completed passes, and 38.6% of its pass plays. That ranks 1st in the NFL, and is the metric by which the table below is sorted.

TmCmpAttCmp%Cmp % RkSk1st Down1D/Cmp1D/PP1D/PP Rk
New England Patriots23434667.6%42214260.7%38.6%1
New Orleans Saints21530071.7%1811553.5%37.3%2
Kansas City Chiefs20429469.4%22411857.8%37.1%3
Atlanta Falcons19929966.6%51511658.3%36.9%4
Los Angeles Rams17528461.6%191310861.7%36.4%5
Tampa Bay Buccaneers20634160.4%231812962.6%35.9%6
Washington Redskins20831366.5%62312057.7%35.7%7
Minnesota Vikings20230666%71011255.4%35.4%8
Philadelphia Eagles17729260.6%222411062.1%34.8%9
Oakland Raiders20031363.9%121411155.5%33.9%10
Jacksonville Jaguars16728858%291410261.1%33.8%11
Detroit Lions20632962.6%153012058.3%33.4%12
Houston Texans17029757.2%303110964.1%33.2%13
Los Angeles Chargers19432360.1%251111056.7%32.9%14
Seattle Seahawks21033662.5%162311856.2%32.9%15
Pittsburgh Steelers18830761.2%211110455.3%32.7%16
Dallas Cowboys18429163.2%141810154.9%32.7%17
Arizona Cardinals20835858.1%282612359.1%32%18
Green Bay Packers20331564.4%83010953.7%31.6%19
Buffalo Bills17026464.4%9289052.9%30.8%20
New York Jets21731469.1%33210347.5%29.8%21
Cincinnati Bengals16827162%17258852.4%29.7%22
Denver Broncos19132259.3%272810454.5%29.7%23
New York Giants21533564.2%102210649.3%29.7%24
Tennessee Titans17929061.7%18209251.4%29.7%25
Carolina Panthers18129461.6%20239451.9%29.7%26
Miami Dolphins18529063.8%13178948.1%29%27
Baltimore Ravens19730864%11199246.7%28.1%28
San Francisco 49ers22039156.3%313211954.1%28.1%29
Indianapolis Colts18831260.3%24389751.6%27.7%30
Chicago Bears15425759.9%26247750%27.4%31
Cleveland Browns18934754.5%32279550.3%25.4%32

The Jets are the team whose completion percentage is most misleading: New York ranks 3rd in completion percentage, but 21st in success rate. The Ravens aren’t too far behind: Baltimore ranks 11th in completion percentage, but 28th in first downs per pass play! The Giants (10th, 24th) and Dolphins (13th, 27th) stand out, too

On the other side, we have the Jacksonville Jaguars. It’s easy to make fun of Blake Bortles, but the Jaguars are picking up first downs on over one-third of their pass plays. Sure, the team ranks 29th in completion percentage, but 61% of a smaller pie can yield better results. Jacksonville ranks 11th in first downs per pass play, making them a sort of Bizarro Ravens.

The Texans rank 30th in completion percentage, but 13th in success rate. The Bucs rank 23rd in completion percentage, but 6th in first downs per pass play. And the Rams (19th, 5th) and Eagles (22nd, 9th) also are much more effective in the passing game than their raw completion percentages would indicate.

  • Deacon Drake

    So this has been pretty enlightening and confirming.

    First, I feel like this illustrates the relationship between coach/OC and QB. The play caller is responsible for the completion %, and the QB is responsible for the yards gained. Basically, a correct play call is going to be successful against a particular defensive call, and the QB is responsible for executing it. A poor play call will result in an incomplete pass, sack, or int. Poor execution results in sack, int, or failed completion.

    Interesting that the QBs at the bottom (Flacco, Cutler, McCown, Manning) are all veteran QBs with a reputation of being, uh, uninspiring. Manning and McCown have the excuse of no weapons, but Flacco and Cutler are just straight bad.

    At the top? Watson, Winston, Wentz, Goff, and Bortles (whose weapons are questionable at best)… all young guys with their eyes down the field. There is a happy balance between aggressive passing and avoiding negative plays that these coach/QB combos need to work on, and yes, Nick Foles once happened, but these guys all bring a little swagger to get excited about.

    • Richie

      “Watson, Winston, Wentz,”

      Wow. What a wonderful wealth of tongue-twister QB’s we’ll watch over the next decade.

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  • Adam

    I believe David Carr in 2006 holds the record for worst 1D/Comp ratio in history. Can McCown or Flacco grab the crown for themselves? Should be fun!