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Monday, November 26, 2012
QBR ranks: Wilson, Kaepernick set pace

By Mike Sando

The most athletic quarterbacks in the NFC West played the best in Week 12.

Seattle’s Russell Wilson (league-high 90.7 Total QBR) and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick (72.3) repeatedly made "wow" plays, both with their arms and their feet.

Wilson showcased instincts, elusiveness, arm strength and accuracy on a third-and-12 play at Miami.

The Dolphins attacked with five pass-rushers. One of them rushed up the middle unblocked. Wilson spun away, scrambled to his left and threw a pass across his body 26 yards past the line of scrimmage. Sidney Rice caught the perfectly placed ball along the sideline for an improbable first down.

Few NFL quarterbacks can make that play. Kaepernick probably could. His feel for the pocket might not be as fine-tuned just yet, but Kaepernick showed against New Orleans he can escape trouble. The Saints pressured him, but they could not sack him even once. When Kaepernick did escape the pocket, he completed 5 of 7 passes for 54 yards with one touchdown and four first downs.

Wilson was similarly effective outside the pocket. He completed 8 of 9 passes for 68 yards with one touchdown and six first downs on these throws.

Pro quarterbacks still must operate inside the pocket to succeed. Wilson and Kaepernick were just as good or better inside than outside the pocket Sunday. Both can move, but that doesn't make them running quarterbacks or even wholly unconventional ones.

Wilson completed 13 of 18 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown from inside the pocket. He also scrambled twice for 28 yards. Kaepernick completed 11 of 18 passes for 177 yards and his lone interception on these throws. His QBR score was higher inside the pocket (85.0) than outside it (69.2).

Anyone watching Wilson or Kaepernick could tell they were playing at a high level. Anyone watching Arizona’s Ryan Lindley toss four interceptions, two returned for touchdowns, knew he struggled.

Sam Bradford’s day for the St. Louis Rams defied easy categorization.

Bradford completed only 8 of 17 passes. He took two sacks and threw an interception in the end zone. But when Bradford did connect, he connected for huge gains. Bradford averaged 12 yards per attempt. His passes traveled 14.3 yards past the line of scrimmage on average, a high number. His completed passes gained 25.6 yards on average. His NFL passer rating was 106.3.

Bradford and the Rams won, 31-17. That’s all that matters, right? Not necessarily. If winning were all that mattered, Tim Tebow would be starting for the Denver Broncos. Alex Smith would be starting for the 49ers. Baltimore would have held onto Trent Dilfer following its 2000 championship season.

A 34.1 QBR score for Bradford runs counter to his triple-digit passer rating. It tells us the contributions attributed to Bradford weren’t critical to the game’s outcome, based on how Bradford’s actions affected the Rams’ probability for winning. It suggests the Rams won mostly because Janoris Jenkins returned two interceptions for touchdowns.

Three of the interceptions Lindley threw against the Rams cost Arizona a total of 9.2 expected points, measured by how similar plays affected games over a 10-year period. Bradford’s expected-points contributions for rushing, passing, yards his receivers gained after the catch, interceptions, sacks, fumbles, scrambles and penalties were nearly a wash, working out to minus four-tenths of a point.

By my reading, that explains why QBR didn't smile upon Bradford the way NFL passer rating did.

With that, let's take a closer look at NFC West quarterbacks in relation to Total QBR for Week 12: