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.
|Tm||Cmp||Att||Cmp%||Cmp % Rk||Sk||1st Down||1D/Cmp||1D/PP||1D/PP Rk|
|New England Patriots||234||346||67.6%||4||22||142||60.7%||38.6%||1|
|New Orleans Saints||215||300||71.7%||1||8||115||53.5%||37.3%||2|
|Kansas City Chiefs||204||294||69.4%||2||24||118||57.8%||37.1%||3|
|Los Angeles Rams||175||284||61.6%||19||13||108||61.7%||36.4%||5|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||206||341||60.4%||23||18||129||62.6%||35.9%||6|
|Los Angeles Chargers||194||323||60.1%||25||11||110||56.7%||32.9%||14|
|Green Bay Packers||203||315||64.4%||8||30||109||53.7%||31.6%||19|
|New York Jets||217||314||69.1%||3||32||103||47.5%||29.8%||21|
|New York Giants||215||335||64.2%||10||22||106||49.3%||29.7%||24|
|San Francisco 49ers||220||391||56.3%||31||32||119||54.1%||28.1%||29|
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.