QBR ranks: Wilson, Smith near front of line

October, 30, 2012
10/30/12
4:45
PM ET
The Seattle Seahawks ditched their usual run-first formula on offense against the Detroit Lions in Week 8.

Seattle dropped back to pass 35 times and handed off to running backs 17 times. The Seahawks took this approach by design. After all, they were leading or tied for more than 53 minutes. It wasn't like they were forced into catch-up mode for long stretches.

The Seahawks dropped back to pass seven times on their first nine plays. Then came three runs in four plays, with the final rush springing Marshawn Lynch for a 77-yard touchdown run. By all appearances, the Seahawks used the pass to set up the run, and they did it on the road with a rookie quarterback.

This was a new test for Russell Wilson. He proved ready for the challenge on this day.

Wilson completed 71.4 percent of his passes, staked his team to an early lead and led his offense 87 yards to the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Wilson took zero sacks. He made no errors in setting protections or changing plays at the line of scrimmage, according to coach Pete Carroll.

Detroit scored the winning touchdown in the final minute to prevent Seattle from fully enjoying Wilson's performance. This was clearly a step forward for Wilson, however. He finished the game with a career-best 93.7 out of 100 in Total QBR, the metric ESPN developed to measure quarterback play beyond traditional passing stats. Only Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan scored higher among NFL quarterbacks in Week 8. The San Francisco 49ers' Alex Smith was right behind.

With that, let's take a look at how NFC West passers graded out for Week 8 in relation to Total QBR, with NFL passer ratings in parenthesis as a reference point (thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for the charting info):
  • Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (93.7 QBR, 96.8 NFL rating): Wilson completed 25 of 35 passes (71.4 percent) for 236 yards with two touchdowns, one interception and zero sacks. He gained nine yards and a first down on his lone rushing attempt. Wilson has shown improvement against the blitz. The Lions appeared reluctant to come after him. Detroit sent five or more pass-rushers against Wilson four times. Wilson completed three passes on those plays, all from within the pocket. That included a 16-yarder on third-and-5 and a 10-yarder on second-and-4.
  • Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers (92.0 QBR, 157.1 NFL rating): Smith completed 18 of 19 passes (94.7 percent) for 232 yards with three TDs, zero INTs and four sacks. He gained six yards on his lone rush, but did not convert a first down. The 92.0 QBR is an outstanding score. Anything around 65 or higher for a full season would generally equate to Pro Bowl-caliber play (single-game scores can be more volatile because QBR is a rate stat, not a cumulative one). Smith's score would have been even higher had he not taken four sacks. Also, the 49ers' receivers gained 107 yards after the catch, their second-highest total in the last five seasons. QBR gives receivers considerable credit for yards gained after the catch. Quarterbacks get less credit for shorter passes than for longer ones, all else being equal.
  • Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (65.7 QBR, 88.9 NFL rating): Bradford completed 22 of 30 passes (73.3 percent) for 205 yards with one TD, one INT and two sacks. He gained three yards on three carries, with no first downs rushing. Bradford played well early in the game, when the score was close. His 50-yard scoring pass to Chris Givens gave the Rams a 7-0 lead. The Patriots scored touchdowns on their first five possessions, however. The plays a quarterback makes while the score is lopsided have less effect on QBR. That partly explains why Bradford has a relative high score even though his team lost the game, 45-7. He was good early in the game, and the rest was largely irrelevant.
  • John Skelton, Arizona Cardinals (25.9 QBR, 68.6 NFL rating): Skelton completed 32 of 52 passes (61.5 percent) for 290 yards with zero TDs, one INT and four sacks. He gained one yard on his lone rushing attempt. Skelton had no help from his ground game, which managed only seven yards. He frequently had 49ers defenders bearing down on him. Skelton also threw without accuracy, even on some plays when pressure wasn't as bad. The interception he threw right before halftime extended to 11 Skelton's league-long streak of games with at least one pick. The turnover did not factor significantly into his QBR score, however, because it came on a Hail Mary pass as the first half ended. There's little expectation for a successful play when quarterbacks make such throws. QBR was designed to recognize this, diminishing the negative impact for Hail Mary picks.

The chart below shows how quarterbacks from games involving NFC West teams fared in Total QBR for Week 8, provided they played enough to qualify for inclusion.

The column showing point above average reveals the "number of points contributed by a quarterback over the season, accounting for QBR and how much he plays, above the level of an average quarterback."

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