NFC West: QBR ranks

QBR ranks: Kaepernick living in the 90s

January, 22, 2013
1/22/13
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Two young NFC West quarterbacks became bowl eligible this week: Seattle's Russell Wilson for the Pro Bowl and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick for the Super Bowl.

Not bad for two players drafted outside the first round and projected to serve as backups when training camps opened.

Two first-half throws from Kaepernick stood out to me during the 49ers' 28-24 victory over Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game. Both were notable because they continued Kaepernick's tendency to play well following a setback.

The first throw found tight end Vernon Davis for a 27-yard gain on third-and-7.

Kaepernick had taken a delay penalty on third-and-2 amid intense crowd noise in the Georgia Dome. The 49ers trailed, 17-0, and every possession was precious. That delay penalty easily could have derailed the drive. Instead, Kaepernick stood strong in the pocket while Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon barreled toward him on a delayed blitz. The quarterback waited for Davis to come open across the middle and led him with an accurate throw. The play gained 27 yards and set up the 49ers' first touchdown.

The second pass in question found Davis for 19 yards on second-and-16 from the San Francisco 12-yard line with 5:12 left in the second quarter.

Officials had flagged 49ers guard Mike Iupati for holding a couple plays earlier. The Falcons led, 17-7, and field position was threatening to give Atlanta more points before the half. The 49ers picked up the Falcons' five-man pressure, giving Kaepernick time to rifle the pass through coverage. Safety Thomas DeCoud broke on the ball and tried to intercept it, but the pass had too much velocity.

Kaepernick added a 23-yard scramble later in the drive, followed by a 25-yard strike to Davis. Those plays set up another 49ers touchdown. The 17-0 deficit was down to 17-14 and the 49ers were back in the game.

Those types of plays help explain why Kaepernick has the NFL's highest Total QBR score (94.1) and second-highest passer rating (105.9) in the playoffs this season.

Kaepernick has a 7-2 record in nine regular-season and postseason starts. No player since at least 2001 has a higher winning percentage or average gain per pass attempt (8.6 yards) than Kaepernick through his first nine starts. No player has a higher QBR score through nine starts (84.0) since 2008, the earliest year for which charting data is available.

Kaepernick posted a 92.6 out of 100 QBR score in the victory over Atlanta. He was at 94.7 against Green Bay a week earlier. No other quarterback in the playoffs this season -- Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Wilson, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Matt Schaub among them -- has posted even one score in the 90s this postseason. Kaepernick has done it in each of his two career playoff games. He owns two of the 11 postseason scores in the 90s since 2008. Kurt Warner is the only other player with two 90-plus playoff games over that five-year span.

The chart below shows QBR scores for championship-round quarterbacks. Thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for the charting info.

QBR ranks: Young QBs set high standard

January, 16, 2013
1/16/13
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Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers were the NFL headliners at quarterback entering the divisional playoffs.

Two young NFC West quarterbacks played as well or better than all of them. They did it in different ways.

San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards, an NFL record for a quarterback. He was most effective as a passer on third down, completing 5 of 7 attempts for 90 yards, one touchdown, a 153.3 NFL passer rating and 100.0 Total QBR score. His third-down rating and QBR score led quarterbacks in the divisional round.

The 49ers beat the Packers, 45-31.

Seattle's Russell Wilson passed for 385 yards, a rookie record in the playoffs. He was most effective passing on first down, completing 14 of 18 passes for 231 yards, two touchdowns, a 155.8 passer rating and 97.1 QBR score.

The Seahawks overcame 20-0 and 27-7 deficits to take a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds remaining before losing, 30-28.

A few more notes on Kaepernick and Wilson from the divisional round:
  • Kaepernick: The 49ers' second-year quarterback, though terrific on third down, struggled on first down, completing half his 12 attempts for 68 yards. His first-down passer rating (67.4) was the lowest among divisional-round quarterbacks. The same was true for his 40.8 QBR score on first down. Kaepernick's QBR score on passing plays only was 33.7, by far the lowest for a quarterback in the divisional round (Manning was next at 60.7 and Wilson was fourth at 71.9). The rushing game was where Kaepernick made history. He added 17.2 expected points through his 16 rushes and 181 rushing yards. He gained 99 of his rushing yards on option plays. The 49ers had 16 option rushes for 176 yards and seven first downs with six carries of at least 10 yards against the Packers. That was up from 26 option rushes for 140 yards with six first downs and three 10-plus rushes from Week 11 through Week 17, the games Kaepernick started. The sudden shift to a more option-heavy offense paid off against the Packers, who did not seem to adjust and paid dearly.
  • Wilson: The Seahawks' rookie, though outstanding on first down, wasn't as good on third down, completing 2 of 5 attempts for 28 yards with a 58.8 passer rating and divisional-round low 3.5 QBR score. The Seahawks' success on early downs left them with fewer third-down chances and fewer opportunities for Wilson to affect the game on third down. Wilson had seven third-down action plays, fewest among quarterbacks in the divisional round. Wilson, who rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown, had 24 first downs passing and rushing, five more than any other quarterback in the divisional round and double Rodgers' total. Wilson gained 21 of the 24 on first or second down, at least 10 more than Kaepernick (11), Manning (11), Ryan (11), Brady (10), Flacco (nine) and Rodgers (seven). Wilson finished the regular season with more passes from outside the pocket than any quarterback in the NFL (105). He ranked fourth in QBR (73.4) on these plays. But his QBR score from inside the pocket was even better (73.5). He threw 21 of his regular-season touchdown passes from inside the pocket. Against the Falcons, Wilson completed 23 of 32 passes for 361 yards with two touchdowns, a 116.8 passer rating and 81.7 QBR score from inside the pocket.

The chart below shows QBR scores for divisional-round quarterbacks. Thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for the charting info.


Russell Wilson has won over Mike & Mike , inspired a look into his baseball past and convinced some that being the last rookie standing in the playoffs makes him the best one.

Not bad for a guy coming off arguably his worst game since Week 7.



Wait, didn't the Seattle Seahawks' rookie quarterback lead his team to a 24-14 playoff victory over the Washington Redskins in the wild-card round?

Well, sort of. Wilson made positive contributions, impressing those who have watched mostly from afar to this point. The visuals were all there: Wilson flipping a touchdown pass to fullback Michael Robinson, Wilson running interference downfield so his running back could gain additional yardage, Wilson firing downfield strikes to Doug Baldwin and Sidney Rice.

If tight end Anthony McCoy hadn't dropped a pass deep in Redskins territory, Seattle might have fared better than its 1-of-6 showing in the red zone.

On the whole, however, this performance from Wilson was hardly consistent with the ones that separated him from Robert Griffin III and made him second to Peyton Manning in Total QBR from Week 8 through regular season's end.

Wilson completed 2 of 7 passes in the red zone. He fumbled in Seattle territory while trailing 14-3 and was fortunate teammate Marshawn Lynch made a one-handed recovery. Wilson also took five sacks, including three on third down, when his QBR score was 2.1, down from a league-leading 89.5 from Week 8 through Week 17.

In the video above, I put the performance into recent historical perspective (since 2008) while suggesting what it could mean for Seattle against Atlanta in the divisional round Sunday.

QBR ranks: Acknowledging Sam Bradford

January, 5, 2013
1/05/13
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The St. Louis Rams, though home for the NFC playoffs, finished the 2012 season with a positive combined net points differential against second-seeded San Francisco and fifth-seeded Seattle.

Their defense and special teams deserve some of the credit, for sure.


So does quarterback Sam Bradford.

As concerning as it might be for Rams fans to see young quarterbacks emerging elsewhere in the NFC West, they should know Bradford generally did his part in hard-fought games against the more talented 49ers and Seahawks.

The Rams' third-year quarterback finished the 2012 season with a 67.1 Total QBR score in four games against San Francisco and Seattle. Fifty is average. Players with a 65-plus score or higher over a full season would generally command Pro Bowl consideration.

Bradford posted a 2-1-1 starting record against Seattle and San Francisco. He completed 62 percent of his passes with three touchdowns, two picks and only six sacks on 156 dropbacks. He added three first downs on seven rushes.

Bradford posted a season-high 82.0 QBR score during the Rams' 24-24 tie at San Francisco in Week 10. He completed 26 of 39 passes for 259 yards with two touchdowns and no picks. That included seven third-down pass completions resulting in first downs. That game demonstrated the Rams at their best on offense, with the potential for more (top deep threat Chris Givens missed that game).

A penalty for illegal formation against receiver Brandon Gibson wiped out an 80-yard strike to Danny Amendola in overtime, a play that likely would have delivered the Rams to victory while affecting the NFC playoff race and possibly getting St. Louis to .500 for the season.

Now, for the not-so-good news: Bradford's QBR score was a below-average 43.2 against all other opponents. His starting record in those games was 5-7, with four of the victories against Arizona (twice), Buffalo and a tanking Tampa Bay team.

I've felt as though a player drafted as early as Bradford was drafted -- first overall in 2010 -- should occasionally dominate a game. There should be times when the opponent leaves the stadium thinking something along the lines of, "Hey, when Sam Bradford gets hot like that, there's not much anyone can do about it."

We haven't seen those types of games from Bradford. We still might if the Rams continue to upgrade the players around him. For this season, he was good enough to help the Rams compete on pretty even terms with the two best teams in the NFC West. That's a start.

With that, let's take a player-by-player look at NFC West quarterbacks in relation to Total QBR for Week 17:
  • Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (81.4 QBR, 114.6 NFL rating). Kaepernick completed 16 of 28 passes for 276 yards with two touchdowns, zero interceptions and one sack. Kaepernick carried three times for 5 yards and zero first downs. There are times when players with high NFL passer ratings don't fare so well in terms of QBR. That was the case for the 49ers' Alex Smith last season. QBR was telling us what the 49ers told us when they decided to replace Smith with Kaepernick this season (although Smith's QBR score was much higher in 2012). Kaepernick, like Smith, has posted high passer ratings pretty consistently. QBR also likes the way he's playing. I think that's a very good sign for the 49ers in the long term, and perhaps in the short term as well. Kaepernick finished the regular season with a 76.8 QBR score. That ranked third in the NFL behind Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Smith ranks seventh with a 70.1 QBR score this season.
  • Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (69.0 QBR, 74.7 NFL rating). Bradford completed 25 of 42 passes for 252 yards with one touchdown, one interception and zero sacks. Bradford carried one time for 6 yards and a first down. Bradford's QBR score was 73.2 in the first half and 65.2 in the second half. Bradford has generally been better in second halves this season. He was pretty consistent against Seattle.
  • Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (65.7 QBR, 136.3 NFL rating). Wilson completed 15 of 19 passes for 250 yards with one touchdown, zero interceptions and six sacks. Wilson carried 10 times for 58 yards and the game-winning touchdown. He had three first downs rushing and 32 of his 58 yards after contact, with a long rush of 15 yards. Wilson struggled against the Rams' pressure in the first half, taking five sacks. He outplayed Bradford in the second half, but Bradford still finished with a slightly higher QBR score, largely because he took no sacks.
  • Brian Hoyer, Arizona Cardinals (43.4 QBR, 73.8 NFL rating). Hoyer completed 19 of 34 passes for 225 yards with one touchdown, one interception and two sacks. Hoyer had one carry for 6 yards and a first down. Hoyer threw a touchdown pass, a significant achievement for the Cardinals recently. They had tossed only two scoring passes with 15 interceptions from Week 7 until this game.

The chart below shows QBR scores for quarterbacks relevant to NFC West games in Week 17. Rankings in the first column reflect all NFL games for the week.

QBR ranks: Serious halftime adjustments

December, 11, 2012
12/11/12
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The outlook for NFC West quarterbacks was dim at halftime of their games in Week 14.

San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick had completed 12 of 15 passes without making a dent in the Miami Dolphins' defense. The 49ers led 6-3 at home. Kaepernick had taken three sacks. His Total QBR score was 49.8, just below average on a 100-point scale.

In Buffalo, the St. Louis Rams' Sam Bradford had 37 yards and an interception to show for 15 first-half drop backs. His team trailed the Bills, 6-0. Bradford's QBR score at that point required a magnifying glass to see. It was 0.1, dead last among 32 starters through the first halves of games in Week 14.

In Seattle, Arizona's John Skelton was faring worse, but because the score was out of hand so quickly, his negative contributions stopped affecting in meaningful ways the Cardinals' chances for winning. His first-half QBR score was 0.5 and could have been worse if teammates' miscues hadn't widened the gap on the scoreboard.

Seattle led 17-0 and had a nearly 95 percent win probability one play into the second quarter. The Seahawks had three points off Skelton turnovers to that point. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman made it 24-0 with a pick-six off Skelton. By then, the damage was done.

The 24 first-half points Arizona's offense and special teams all but gifted to Seattle rendered quarterback play largely irrelevant for the Seahawks. Russell Wilson attempted only 13 passes before handing off to Matt Flynn. The score was already 31-0 when he found Zach Miller for a 24-yard touchdown. It was 31-0 when he threw an interception at home for the first time all season. Those plays didn't matter much.

Wilson finished the game with a 42.8 QBR score. The third-down sack he took in the red zone forced Seattle to settle for a field goal and a 3-0 lead. Wilson never saw the Cardinals' Quentin Groves coming his way. Quarterbacks are generally responsible for free rushers on their front sides. It looked like Wilson might have expected right tackle Breno Giacomini to make the block. The play could have been costly in a closer game or if Wilson had suffered an injury.

While Wilson wasn't needed and Skelton played his way onto the bench, Kaepernick and Bradford finished strong, leading their teams to victory. Both ranked among the NFL's top seven in second-half QBR scores for Week 14, Bradford at 89.1 and Kaepernick at 86.9. Bradford led the winning 84-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes. Kaepernick's 50-yard touchdown run put away the Dolphins.

What was the difference late in games? Sometimes I think circumstances compel teams to play more aggressively. Bradford made aggressive throws late in the game against Buffalo. His receivers made tough catches. His line held up in protection as the Bills generally refrained from rushing more than four defenders. Kaepernick, meanwhile, did what very few quarterbacks can do: outrun a defense.

With that, let's take a closer look at NFC West quarterbacks in relation to Total QBR for Week 14:
  • Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (64.1 QBR, 100.2 NFL rating). Kaepernick completed 18 of 23 passes (78.3 percent) for 185 yards with zero touchdowns, zero interceptions, four sacks and one fumble. Kaepernick rushed six times for 53 yards and the clinching touchdown. Kaepernick came close to connecting on two deeper throws. The Dolphins got away with interference on Randy Moss to break up one. Kaepernick missed Michael Crabtree on another. Teams seem to be forcing Kaepernick to beat them with shorter throws. The quarterback's passes have traveled 6.7 yards past the line of scrimmage on average over the past three games. That is down from 10.2 yards against Chicago. It's also less than the 7.5-yard average for Alex Smith this season.
  • Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (42.8 QBR, 88.0 NFL rating). Wilson completed 7 of 13 passes (53.8 percent) for 148 yards with one touchdown, one interception, one sack and no fumbles. He carried three times for 12 yards. Wilson's passes traveled 14.2 yards past the line of scrimmage on average, most in the NFL for Week 14 by 1.5 yards. His numbers in two games against Arizona aren't very good. Wilson completed 53.2 percent of his passes with two touchdowns, two picks, four sacks and a 29.5 QBR score. Then again, Tom Brady was at 30.6 against Arizona. Matt Ryan was at 31.2. Wilson ranks second to Peyton Manning in QBR from Week 6 to present. He ranks 11th for the season among qualified quarterbacks at 64.8.
  • Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (25.9 QBR, 62.9 NFL rating). Bradford completed 19 of 39 passes (48.7 percent) for 209 yards with one touchdown, one interception, one pass for a two-point conversion, one sack and one fumble. He rushed four times for 13 yards. We took an in-depth look at Bradford and the Rams during their 84-yard winning drive. More here.
  • Ryan Lindley, Arizona Cardinals (7.7 QBR, 55.8 NFL rating). Lindley completed 8 of 17 passes (47.1 percent) for 59 yards with zero touchdowns, zero interceptions, two sacks and one lost fumble. He lost 2 yards on his lone rushing attempt. Lindley's average pass length was down to a more manageable 7.1 from 9.7 previously this season. He still struggled, but the Cardinals haven't helped him out much. Their offensive line is weakened by injuries. Arizona has sent Lindley onto the field mid-game at Atlanta. The Cardinals have asked him to start against a New York Jets defense that can confuse younger quarterbacks. They had him throw 24 times in the first half against St. Louis. And then they threw him into a blowout against Seattle in one of the more hostile playing environments anywhere. Great way to nurture a rookie sixth-round draft choice, eh?
  • John Skelton, Arizona Cardinals (0.4 QBR, 18.2 NFL rating). Skelton completed 11 of 22 passes (50 percent) for 74 yards with zero touchdowns, four interceptions, one sack and two fumbles, one of them lost. He gained 2 yards on two rushing attempts. The more the Cardinals have asked from Skelton, the more obvious it's become that he cannot deliver. Skelton now has two touchdowns with nine interceptions for the season. His days as a regular starting quarterback appear nearing an end.

Seahawks backup Matt Flynn completed 5 of 9 attempts for 68 yards. The game was a blowout, however. Measuring his contributions through QBR under those circumstances wouldn't tell us much. QBR, after all, aims to measure how much a quarterback contributes to winning. Wilson barely affected the game's outcome. Flynn had no bearing on it.

QBR ranks: Wilson! Kaepernick? Oh, my

December, 3, 2012
12/03/12
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Seattle Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson leads the NFL in Total QBR after Week 5.

That is a stunning achievement given that Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Robert Griffin III rank second through fifth, respectively.

Wilson
Wilson ranked only 29th through Week 5. He had five touchdowns, six interceptions and a 33.9 QBR score to that point in the season.

Since then, Wilson has completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 1,529 yards with 14 touchdowns, two interceptions, 13 sacks and 13 first downs rushing. Those and other factors leave Wilson with an 83.0 QBR score over that span. Wilson is now at 65.3 for the season, right near the cutoff for Pro Bowl-caliber play over a full season.

Manning leads the NFL this season at 81.1 out of 100, with 50 right around average.

Anyone watching Wilson lead 97- and 80-yard touchdown drives to beat the Chicago Bears on Sunday knows Wilson played spectacularly. The Bears led the postgame applause. There was no surprise in seeing Wilson emerge from that game with an 85.4 QBR score for the game. He was that good.

San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick wasn't nearly as good during the 49ers' 16-13 defeat at St. Louis. A case could be made that he cost his team the game with a poor decision leading to a safety and a botched pitch. That is why I was quite surprised to see QBR reward Kaepernick with an 82.4 score Sunday.

Dean Oliver, Albert Larcada and Michelle Sastri of ESPN's analytics team pointed to positive plays Kaepernick made and limitations in the NFL's official game charting system in explaining the surprising figure. Those limitations affect very few plays to this degree, but they significantly limited how much blame Kaepernick received for his role in a costly errant pitch to Ted Ginn Jr.

Among the highlights from their responses:
  • Scramble huge: Kaepernick's 50-yard scramble to the St. Louis 14-yard line increased the 49ers' win probability from 57.1 percent to 80.9 percent. His in-game QBR score spiked from 67.0 to 89.3 because the situation was so important and because Kaepernick, not a receiver, accounted for the gain. This was the fourth-longest scramble by a quarterback since 2008.
  • Still expected to win: The fumble and ensuing touchdown return by the Rams' Janoris Jenkins dropped the 49ers' win probability from 90.3 percent to 61.7 percent. The 49ers were still favored to win because the Rams needed a two-point try to tie.
  • Shared blame: Kaepernick didn't make critical mistakes after the 50-yard scramble. The holding penalty against tight end Delanie Walker was a killer play. That penalty helped the Rams get the ball back with 1:34 remaining. A penalty against the 49ers' Dashon Goldson for unnecessary roughness with 1:07 remaining was also critical because the Rams' kicker, Greg Zuerlein, is such a threat from long range.
  • Strange situation: QBR relies, in part, on official play-by-play data from the NFL. The league scored Kaepernick's fumble as an aborted play, disregarding the role Kaepernick's errant pitch played in the turnover. As a result, QBR did not "blame" Kaepernick as much as it would have blamed him ideally. This will happen in rare cases, skewing the QBR score for a single game.
  • Similar situations: The NFL play-by-play accounted for Kaepernick's fumble the same way it accounted for a Week 3 fumble on a pitch from Washington's Robert Griffin III to Brandon Banks. Kaepernick's pitch was off-target. The one Griffin delivered appeared perfect. Kaepernick was mostly to blame for the 49ers' fumble. Banks was mostly to blame for the Redskins' fumble. Yet, the official play-by-play accounted for those plays in the same manner, as aborted plays.

I would expect ESPN's analytics department to seek ways around these sorts of abnormalities.

"We are looking into additional tracking going backward and forward to correct this illogicality, but don’t have it in place yet," Larcada said.

With that, let's take a closer look at NFC West quarterbacks in relation to Total QBR for Week 13:
  • Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (85.4 QBR, 104.9 NFL rating). Wilson completed 23 of 37 passes (62.2 percent) for 293 yards with two touchdowns, zero interceptions, two sacks, 13 passing first downs and a 10.6-yard average pass length (8.8 was average for Week 13). He had nine rushes for 71 yards and five rushing first downs. He had no turnovers and even recovered a teammate's fumble about 10 yards downfield. Seattle used the read-option play during the fourth quarter and overtime to a degree they had not done previously. I'll take a closer look at that as time permits.
  • Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (82.4 QBR, 83.9 NFL rating). Kaepernick completed 21 of 32 passes (66.7 percent) for 221 yards with zero touchdowns, zero interceptions, three sacks, 11 passing first downs and a 5.8-yard average pass length. Kaepernick ran nine times for 84 yards and two rushing first downs.
  • Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (59.8 QBR, 81.3 NFL rating). Bradford completed 26 of 39 passes (66.7 percent) for 221 yards with zero touchdowns, zero interceptions, two sacks and 10 passing first downs. He had three rushes for 31 yards and two first downs. Bradford's scrambles were timely. His QBR score was respectable, particularly given that Bradford was playing without top receiver Danny Amendola, who had burned the 49ers repeatedly when the teams faced each other previously.
  • Ryan Lindley, Arizona Cardinals (3.0 QBR, 28.0 NFL rating). Lindley completed 10 of 31 passes (32.3 percent) for 72 yards with zero touchdowns, one interception, two sacks and a 10.1-yard average pass length. He had zero rushes. The average pass length stands out as quite long for a player with minimal experience. I haven't watched this game closely yet, but it seems as though the Cardinals could help out Lindley by having him throw shorter passes.

QBR ranks: Wilson, Kaepernick set pace

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
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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:
  • Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (90.7 QBR, 125.9 NFL rating). Wilson completed 21 of 27 passes (77.8 percent) or 224 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions, two sacks and five rushes for 38 yards, including one rushing first down. Wilson set an NFL rookie record with 16 completed passes in a row. He completed 5 of 8 for 70 yards and a touchdown with four first downs and a 92.8 QBR score when the Dolphins sent five or more pass-rushers.
  • Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (72.3 QBR, 90.6 NFL rating). Kaepernick completed 16 of 25 passes (64 percent) for 231 yards with one touchdown, one interception, no sacks, no fumbles and six rushes for 27 yards, including one rushing touchdown and two rushing first downs. The Saints had deployed five-plus pass-rushers 65.1 percent of the time when facing the 49ers in the playoffs last season. They did so only 32.1 percent of the time Sunday. Kaepernick completed 3 of 7 passes for 91 yards on these plays. He also rushed twice for 18 yards. His QBR score was 93.7 on these plays. It was even higher (97.8) on third down, when Kaepernick completed 6 of 8 passes for 99 yards. He also had a 15-yard scramble on third down.
  • Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (34.1 QBR, 106.3 NFL rating). Bradford completed 8 of 17 passes (47.1 percent) for 205 yards with two touchdowns, one interception, two sacks and two rushes for one yard. He also fumbled. Bradford cost the Rams expected points when he threw an interception in the end zone on first-and-goal from the 7 with his team trailing by a touchdown. Bradford did strike for big plays, but the offense produced only 17 points. The two interceptions St. Louis returned for touchdowns played a huge role in the outcome. Bradford completed 2 of 5 passes for 40 yards with one sack and a 1.9 QBR score on third down. Bradford was playing against an Arizona defense that has given some top quarterbacks trouble. His opponent-adjusted QBR would likely reflect that ( I have not yet seen it). Also, Bradford overcame a hard hit that knocked him from the game for a play. That was impressive.
  • Ryan Lindley, Arizona Cardinals (17.6 QBR, 44.7 NFL rating). Lindley completed 31 of 52 passes (59.6 percent) for 312 yards with zero touchdowns, four interceptions, two sacks, no fumbles and one rush for one yard, with one rushing first down. Lindley threw all four picks in the absence of pressure. He threw two of them while the Cardinals trailed by four points.

QBR ranks: Revisiting Kaepernick's night

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
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Colin KaepernickJeff Chiu/AP PhotoIn his first regular-season start, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had the highest QBR score in Week 11.

Just about everything Colin Kaepernick tried Monday night worked for the San Francisco 49ers' second-year quarterback.

Kaepernick completed 10 of 14 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown when the Chicago Bears rushed him with four or fewer defenders. He completed 6 of 9 for 100 yards and a touchdown when the Bears sent five or more.

Kaepernick stressed the Bears' defense inside and out during the 49ers' 32-7 victory at Candlestick Park.



That included completing 7 of 8 passes for 124 yards on passes delivered inside the yard-line numbers. Only Aaron Rodgers has had a higher passer rating (136.2 to Kaepernick's 118.0) against the Bears on these interior throws.

Kaepernick did even more damage when striking outside the numbers. This was particularly impressive, in my view, because the Bears had picked off 11 passes and allowed only three touchdowns on these perimeter throws before Monday night.

Quarterbacks generally must anticipate well and/or throw with velocity to complete these throws consistently. Kaepernick completed 9 of 15 attempts for 119 yards and two scores when targeting receivers outside the numbers. His 124.7 passer rating on these throws was easily the best for a quarterback facing the Bears this season. Andrew Luck (28.9), Rodgers (16.7), Sam Bradford (0.0), Tony Romo (48.2), Cam Newton (39.7) and Matt Schaub (37.3) couldn't make a dent against the Bears on these throws.

Kaepernick relied heavily on longer passes. His 23 attempts traveled 10.2 yards past the line of scrimmage on average. Regular starter Alex Smith has a 7.5-yard average this season. Smith exceeded Kaepernick's 10.2-yard average in a game one time this season (10.8 against the New York Jets) and two other times since 2008, the earliest year for which charting data was available through ESPN Stats & Information.

The average distance is 8.2 yards for all NFL passes this season.

One game isn't much to go on, of course, but there was much to like about how Kaepernick played in his first regular-season start. He seemed to handle presnap responsibilities without incident. The 49ers vary their personnel groupings to an unusual degree even by NFL standards, putting pressure on the quarterback to handle all the variations. Kaepernick appeared in control all the way.

Total QBR will sometimes call into question a high NFL passer rating. Quarterbacks taking sacks, throwing only shorter passes or racking up stats in garbage time will not fare as well as their raw passing stats might indicate.

In this case, QBR validated the way Kaepernick led his team to victory. Kaepernick's QBR score was 97.5 out of 100, the fourth-highest for a 49ers starter over the past five seasons. The Bears are allowing a 24.2 QBR score this season, second-best in the NFL (Houston, 24.1). A newly developed version of the QBR metric adjusts for opponent strength. That version pumped up the 97.5 score to 99.5, the third-highest opponent-adjusted score in a game over the past five seasons (minimum 20 action plays). Michael Vick's memorable 2010 game against Washington -- the one in which he topped 300 yards passing and 50 yards rushing with six total touchdowns -- heads the list. Fifty is average.

With that, let's check out how NFC West quarterbacks fared for Week 11 in relation to Total QBR, with NFL passer ratings in parenthesis as a reference point (thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for the charting info):

  • Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (97.5 QBR, 133.1 NFL rating): Kaepernick completed 16 of 23 passes for 243 yards with two touchdowns, zero interceptions, one sack totaling seven yards and no turnovers. He rushed three times for 11 yards and zero rushing first downs. He had nine first downs passing. Kaepernick had hurt St. Louis with his scrambling when the Rams sent four or fewer pass-rushers. His running wasn't a factor against the Bears even when Chicago sat back in coverage. Nearly flawless pass protection helped Kaepernick shred Chicago regardless of how hard the Bears tried to pressure him.
  • Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (24.0 QBR, 67.4 NFL rating): Bradford completed 23 of 44 passes for 170 yards with two touchdowns, one interception, one sack and one lost fumble during the Rams' 27-13 home defeat to the New York Jets. The Jets returned Bradford's fumble 38 yards to set up the go-ahead touchdown. Bradford finished this game with his second-lowest QBR score of the season. He scored a 3.9 against the Bears when he completed 18 of 35 passes for 152 yards with no touchdowns and two picks. Bradford did not appear to have open receivers. Bradford completed 9 of 14 passes for 93 yards and both touchdowns with a 65.8 QBR when the Jets sent five or more pass-rushers. He completed 14 of 29 passes for 77 yards and a pick when the Jets applied standard pressure. This suggests Bradford had open receivers when the Jets sacrificed coverage, but not so much when they dropped eight.
  • Ryan Lindley, Arizona Cardinals (4.7 QBR, 52.9 NFL rating): Lindley completed 9 of 20 passes (45.0 percent) for 64 yards with no TDs, no INTs and three sacks during a 23-19 defeat to the Atlanta Falcons. Lindley had one fumble, which the Falcons returned for a touchdown. The Cardinals have not announced whether Lindley will remain in the lineup against St. Louis in Week 12. He made very little positive impact against the Falcons. Lindley did throw accurately to Larry Fitzgerald on a fourth-and-2 play when Arizona was driving in Falcons territory late in the game. Fitzgerald caught the ball initially, but he did not maintain control of it through contact with the ground. A reception there would have put Lindley in position to make a difference.
  • John Skelton, Arizona Cardinals (0.8 QBR, 39.6 NFL rating): Skelton completed 2 of 7 passes for six yards with zero touchdowns, zero interceptions and zero sacks. He had no rushing attempts. He had zero passing first downs. Skelton missed Fitzgerald in the end zone for a touchdown. The Cardinals benched him after that miscue.

The QBR metric was designed to measure quarterback play as it relates to winning under the thinking that QB play is increasingly important. Teams with the higher QBR scores went 14-0 in Week 11.

The chart below shows how quarterbacks from games involving NFC West teams fared in Total QBR for Week 11, 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."

QBR ranks: Sam Bradford answers call

November, 12, 2012
11/12/12
4:00
PM ET
SAN FRANCISCO -- Sam Bradford showed Sunday what he can do when armed with a talented receiver he trusts implicitly.

Bradford
Bradford
The St. Louis Rams' third-year quarterback completed 11 of 12 passes when targeting Danny Amendola during a 24-24 tie against the San Francisco 49ers. He completed passes to Amendola even when the 49ers had tighter-than-tight coverage.

Amendola, who had been sidelined since Oct. 4, nearly added to that total with an 80-yard reception on the first play of overtime. Officials wiped out the play after determining Rams receiver Brandon Gibson was too far off the line of scrimmage at the snap. The Rams still outgained the 49ers (458-341) while building a six-minute advantage in time of possession.

Bradford finished the game with an 82.0 out of 100 Total QBR score. That ranked second in his career to the 94.7 he posted against Denver in 2010. His previous high this season was a 77.3 against Miami.

This was the type of performance Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. was seeking when he noted last week that Bradford hadn't been productive enough to this point in his career. Bradford completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 275 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers. He continued a season-long trend with strong play in fourth quarters (and overtime, in this case). Bradford completed 14 of 19 passes (73.7 percent) for 126 yards and a touchdown after the third quarter Sunday.

Players posting full-season QBR scores in the mid-60s and higher are generally playing at a Pro Bowl level. Bradford has reached or exceeded that level in four games this season. He has been at 47.2 or lower in the Rams' other five games. The figure is 53.1 for the season to date (50 is average).

"I can envision Bradford throwing to Amendola as a slot/move-the-chains guy, Chris Givens as the perimeter home run hitter and Brian Quick as a hopeful do-it-all No. 1 receiver type behind an improved offensive line," Williamson said Monday. "They have to be aggressive in improving the line, but Scott Wells and Harvey Dahl should make a strong center-guard combo, and Rodger Saffold looks like another qualified starter, so that rebuild might not be as extreme as some think.

"And with time, we know Bradford can make great throws, which appeared to be the case Sunday against an excellent San Francisco defense."

With that, let's check out how NFC West quarterbacks fared for Week 10 in relation to Total QBR, with NFL passer ratings in parenthesis as a reference point (thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for the charting info):
  • Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (82.0 QBR, 104.1 NFL rating): Bradford completed 26 of 39 passes (66.7 percent) for 275 yards with two touchdowns, zero interceptions and two sacks. He carried once, for no gain. He fumbled once. The Rams recovered. Bradford completed 8 of 12 passes for 102 yards on third down against the 49ers. Seven of those eight completed passes produced first downs. His third-down Total QBR was 75.9, his third-highest figure of the season (97.8 against Washington, 89.8 against Seattle). Bradford ranks third behind Peyton Manning and Matthew Stafford in QBR for fourth quarters and overtime this season (min. 100 action plays).
  • Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers (51.4 QBR, 143.8 NFL rating): Smith did not participate in enough plays to qualify for inclusion in the weekly rankings. He completed 7 of 8 passes (87.5 percent) for 72 yards with one touchdown, zero interceptions and two sacks. He gained five yards on two carries, including one yard on a fourth-and-1 sneak. The 49ers think Smith suffered a concussion following that quarterback sneak. He took two other hard hits during the same drive. The team tested him for a concussion following a hit from Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Smith passed that test. A high completion percentage and a touchdown pass pumped up Smith's NFL passer rating. Sacks worked against his QBR score. Also, Smith's passes traveled only 3.9 yards past the line of scrimmage on average. That was the second-lowest figure for a starting quarterback in Week 10 (Michael Vick, 2.2). The average was 10.3 yards for Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman, who had a 94.4 QBR score on 14-of-20 passing with two touchdowns.
  • Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (45.8 QBR, 131.0 NFL rating): Wilson completed 12 of 19 passes (63.2 percent) for 188 yards with two touchdowns, zero interceptions and four sacks during a 28-7 victory over the New York Jets. He ran seven times for 34 yards and two first downs. He fumbled twice. The Jets returned one of the fumbles for their only touchdown, tying the game 7-7. Wilson did not appear comfortable early in the game despite throwing a 38-yard scoring pass. He emerged from the first quarter with a 158.3 NFL passer rating, the highest figure possible. But he appeared "rattled" to some, and Wilson's Total QBR concurred with those assessments. His score was 57.2 through one quarter, 27.8 through the first half and 45.8 for the game. Wilson completed all three attempts, one for a touchdown, without taking a sack during the fourth quarter. His QBR for that quarter was 99.0, but with only six action plays in the final quarter -- three pass attempts, three short rushes -- his full-game score lagged.
  • Colin Kaepernick (40.7 QBR, 84.7 NFL rating): Kaepernick completed 11 of 17 passes (64.7 percent) for 117 yards with zero touchdowns, zero interceptions and three sacks. He carried eight times for 66 yards and five first downs, including once rushing attempt for a touchdown. Kaepernick fumbled twice. The 49ers recovered both fumbles. Kaepernick missed Vernon Davis and Kyle Williams when both were open for potential big gains. His share of the blame for sacks taken more than offset the expected points QBR determined he added through passing. That is why his score was below average.

The chart below shows how quarterbacks from games involving NFC West teams fared in Total QBR for Week 10, 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."

QBR ranks: Wilson, Skelton in focus

November, 5, 2012
11/05/12
1:50
PM ET
Cue the dramatic scores from the NFL Films library.

We're about to discuss how well NFC West quarterbacks Russell Wilson and John Skelton stared down the blitz with courage and acted decisively to great effect.

Skelton
Wilson
Wilson completed 5 of 8 passes for 45 yards and two touchdowns for Seattle when Minnesota pressured with five or more defenders Sunday. Skelton completed 7 of 10 passes for 127 yards and a score for Arizona against Green Bay in these situations. Those figures are from ESPN Stats & Information.

The combined numbers: 12 of 17 passing for 172 yards with three scores and a 92.5 Total QBR score.

Those were positives.

Wilson played very well overall during the Seahawks' 30-20 victory. The context for that game -- strong rushing attack, playing at home -- put Wilson in favorable positions. He capitalized and finished with the seventh-highest Total QBR score in the NFL for Week 9 (82.8 out of 100, with 50 as average).

Skelton had a tougher time overall. Dropped passes played a role. He completed only 16 of 36 passes with an interception when the Packers sent four or fewer pass-rushers. For the season, Skelton has one touchdown, five picks and a 17.1 QBR score against standard pressure. Wilson has been much more effective in these situations, passing for 11 touchdowns with five picks and a 77.4 QBR score.

With that, let's check out how NFC West quarterbacks fared for Week 9 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 (82.8 QBR, 127.3 NFL rating): Wilson completed 16 of 24 passes for 173 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and one sack. He rushed nine times for 27 yards and three first downs. He was cited for a fumble on a backward pass that went out of bounds. Seattle suffered from three dropped passes, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Wilson, with an 83.1 QBR score over the past three weeks, trails only Peyton Manning (91.6) and Aaron Rodgers (89.0) over that span. Tom Brady (81.8), Matt Ryan (77.9), Drew Brees (75.1) and Andrew Luck (74.5) are next.
  • John Skelton, Arizona Cardinals (41.1 QBR, 69.7 NFL rating): Skelton completed 23 of 46 passes for 306 yards with one touchdown, one interception and two sacks. He had no rushes and no fumbles. Arizona suffered from four dropped passes. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Skelton improved markedly from the previous week. We wouldn't know it from Skelton's NFL passer ratings, which were 68.6 against San Francisco last week and 69.7 against Green Bay. QBR figures agree with Whisenhunt. Skelton was at 25.9 against the 49ers. He was at 41.1 for this game, a season high and his best score since a 31.4 in Week 1.

The chart below shows how quarterbacks from games involving NFC West teams fared in Total QBR for Week 9, provided they played enough to qualify for inclusion (Sidney Rice scored a 100.0 for his single pass, a 25-yarder to Zach Miller).

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."
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."

QBR ranks: Russell Wilson stands tallest

October, 15, 2012
10/15/12
2:20
PM ET
At least one NFC West game from Week 6 followed its expected course.

The Seattle Seahawks indeed had problems against New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker. And the Patriots were indeed vulnerable on deep passes.

The Seahawks prevailed, 24-23, largely because quarterback Russell Wilson and his receivers exploited those vulnerabilities down the field.

Wilson completed 5 of 9 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns on passes traveling more than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The Patriots had given up 11 such completions for 340 yards and three TDs through Week 5. Only Buffalo (11) had allowed as many heading into Week 6. The other 30 NFL teams had allowed 5.8 on average.

Wilson's deep strikes stood out for a few reasons:
  • Accuracy: Wilson never seemed to be taking chances with his deep throws. The Patriots' coverage problems contributed, but still, Wilson hit receivers in stride. That was impressive.
  • Ease of delivery: The winning 46-yard touchdown pass to Sidney Rice traveled farther than that in the air, obviously. Wilson delivered the ball with ease. He wasn't stepping into it the way a quarterback would deliver a desperation heave. Wilson played minor league baseball. He has ample arm strength. The Seahawks gave him very good protection on this play, too.
  • Coordination: Wilson and his receivers showed improved rapport, especially after Wilson left the pocket. Even the 10-yard scoring pass to Braylon Edwards looked like something resulting from red zone work in practice. The two had failed to connect in the clutch at Arizona in Week 1 even though Edwards was open.
  • Timing: Wilson continues to perform well in the clutch. The 46-yarder to Rice came with 1:18 remaining. Wilson has led the Seahawks into scoring range during the final two minutes of games against Arizona, Green Bay, St. Louis and New England.

Those are a few observations. This performance from Wilson keeps him on track to remain the starter without grumbling from those thinking the team would have been better off with Matt Flynn. He'll face a tougher test at San Francisco on Thursday night.

With that, let's take a look at how NFC West passers graded out for Week 6 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 (133.7 NFL rating, 91.4 QBR): Wilson completed 16 of 27 passes (59.3 percent) for 293 yards with three TDs, no INTs and one fumble, which New England recovered. He took two sacks and rushed five times for 17 yards, gaining one first down. Wilson completed 12 of 20 passes for 206 yards with two TDs from inside the pocket, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He hurt the Patriots outside the pocket as well, completing four of those seven attempts for 87 yards and a score. Last week, Wilson improved on third down. This week, he improved in his ability to strike downfield after escaping the pocket. What's next for Wilson? He could stand to step up in the pocket more regularly, it seems. Wilson put right tackle Breno Giacomini in a tough spot on one play Sunday, a big reason behind the holding penalty Giacomini incurred. Wilson might have been better off stepping forward on such a play. Wilson would have run into a sack, most likely, had Giacomini not held his man while Wilson ran toward the pressure. Giacomini was better off holding than allowing the sack. He prevented a loss of down.
  • Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (91.3 NFL rating, 77.3 QBR): Bradford completed 26 of 39 passes (66.7 percent) for 315 yards with no touchdowns, no interceptions and no fumbles. He took three sacks. Bradford rushed four times for 34 yards and a TD. He also completed a pass for a two-point conversion to pull the Rams within a three-point deficit late in the game. Bradford is playing with great energy. So are the Rams. They know they're competitive each week and it's making a difference in how they carry themselves. The way Bradford scrambled and threw for a critical two-point conversion was impressive. It was even more impressive given the torque applied to Bradford's body in multiple places when he scored on a 1-yard keeper for the Rams' final TD. Bradford continues to connect on deep passes with rookie fourth-round choice Chris Givens. Their 65-yard connection was the third in three games longer than 50 yards.
  • Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals (64.3 NFL rating, 26.1 QBR): Kolb completed 14 of 26 passes (53.8 percent) for 128 yards with one TD, one INT and no fumbles. He took five sacks, one of them for a safety, before leaving the game with injured ribs. Backup John Skelton completed 2 of 10 passes for 45 yards with no TDs and one INT. His QBR score was 2.4. QBR is a rate stat. Suffering a critical turnover as part of an abbreviated performance contributed to the low score. Injury issues are dramatically affecting the Cardinals' offense. Kolb isn't transcending those. He completed only 10 of 19 passes for 57 yards with one TD and one pick on short passes (those traveling no more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage). Andre Roberts dropped one of those on third-and-5.
  • Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers (43.1 NFL passer rating, 24.8 QBR): Smith completed 19 of 30 passes (63.3 percent) for 200 yards with no TDs, three INTs and one fumble, which the 49ers recovered. He took four sacks. Backup Colin Kaepernick completed 4 of 7 passes for 82 yards with no TDs, no INTs and two sacks. His QBR score was 70.8. Smith had gone 26 consecutive starts without throwing more than one INT in a game. His two third-quarter picks gave the Giants possession deep in 49ers territory. Smith had ample time to throw early in the game, but he appeared tentative and late with throws. The Giants presumably had something to do with that. They took away Vernon Davis and seemed to play more man coverage. Smith has played well enough to earn a pass for the occasional bad game. Will the coaching staff become more conservative, turning Smith back into game-manager mode?

The chart below shows how quarterbacks from games involving NFC West teams fared in Total QBR for Week 6, 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."

QBR ranks: 49ers' Alex Smith leads NFL

October, 8, 2012
10/08/12
12:05
PM ET
Alex Smith AP Photo/Tony AvelarAlex Smith is making a compelling case this season for being considered as an elite NFL QB.
Alex Smith has generally done what the San Francisco 49ers have asked him to do since last season.

Some of the quarterback's most valuable contributions -- changing plays at the line of scrimmage, for instance -- have been tough to quantify.

Coach Jim Harbaugh called Smith "elite" and promoted him for the Pro Bowl last season. Supporters could always point to Smith's No. 9 ranking in NFL passer rating for 2011 (90.7 set a career high for him) even while Smith and Harbaugh discounted raw stats as a meaningful way to measure quarterback performance.

That was all fine, but money trumps talk and stats. And when Smith became a free agent last offseason, the 49ers let him test the market, something teams almost never allow franchise quarterbacks to do. Smith ultimately commanded a game manager's contract from the 49ers, a three-year deal giving the team an out after only one season.

Despite that No. 9 ranking in passer rating, Smith ranks 20th among NFL quarterbacks in compensation for this season. That salary ranking lines up closely with Smith's No. 22 ranking last season in Total QBR, the metric ESPN developed to take into account a fuller measure of a quarterback's contributions.

Players with high NFL passer ratings and relatively low QBR scores generally aren't asked to carry their offenses. They're efficient passers, but not the most valuable quarterbacks. They're more apt to sign modest contracts.

That was the case for Smith last season.

Times could be changing.

Smith leads the NFL in passer rating and Total QBR through five weeks this season. That suggests he's carrying more of the offensive load for the 49ers, something we saw most demonstrably during a 45-3 victory over Buffalo on Sunday. Smith completed 18 of 24 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns, including two on throws well down the field.

Football is, of course, a team game. A quarterback surrounded by superior talent enjoys significant advantages.

Smith increasingly appears to be one of those quarterbacks. He has outplayed big-money quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Ryan Fitzpatrick so far this season.

Eli Manning, another quarterback outranking Smith on the NFL pay scale, will be on the other sideline when the New York Giants visit Candlestick Park in Week 6. We'll have much more to discuss after that one.

With that, let's take a look at how NFC West passers graded out for Week 5 in relation to Total QBR, with NFL passer ratings in parenthesis as a reference point (thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for the charting info):

  • Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers (99.2 QBR, 156.2 NFL rating): Smith completed 18 of 24 passes (75 percent) for 303 yards with three TDs, zero INTs, zero sacks and zero fumbles. He rushed three times for 49 yards. Smith was much better at home than on the road last season. He has shown improvement on the road this season and was nearly perfect against Buffalo in only his second home game of the season. The 49ers have their next two games at home. A potentially sprained finger on Smith's throwing hand was the only negative for him Sunday.
  • Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (51.7 QBR, 82.3 NFL rating): Wilson completed 19 of 25 passes (76 percent) for 221 yards with one TD, two INTs, two sacks and zero fumbles. He rushed five times for 12 yards. Wilson needed strong backing from his defense to win this game after Carolina returned one of his two interceptions for a go-ahead TD in the second half. Overall, though, Wilson made clear progress. Seattle appeared to have actual weapons on offense for stretches of this game, a departure from recent form. Sidney Rice played with flair. Golden Tate's big-play ability showed up on a 13-yard catch-and-run for a TD, and on a 56-yard reception wiped out by penalty. The Panthers sent five or more pass-rushers on only six plays, the fewest Wilson has faced this season (St. Louis 8, Dallas 7). Wilson completed 3 of 4 passes for 36 yards with one INT and one sack against this added pressure.
  • Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (38.6 QBR, 69.7 NFL rating): Bradford completed 7 of 21 passes (33 percent) for 141 yards with two TDs, one INT, one sack and no fumbles. He netted zero yards on five rushes. Bradford started quickly, making aggressive throws on deep passes as St. Louis took an early lead. A miscommunication with Danny Amendola killed one drive, however, and Bradford struggled once an injury removed Amendola from the game. Bradford completed 3 of 9 passes for 66 yards with two TDs, one INT and a sack on third down. He had a 15-yard scramble on a third-and-15 play wiped out by penalty. This was an ugly game, but one the Rams generally controlled.
  • Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals (24.3 QBR, 72.8 NFL rating): Kolb completed 28 of 50 passes (56 percent) for 289 yards with zero TDs, zero INTs, nine sacks and one lost fumble. He rushed once for two yards. Kolb somehow held up physically despite taking a beating that left him with a bloody mouth. When Kolb did have time, he missed at least two open receivers for what could have been big plays. His receivers too frequently failed to hold up their end when Kolb did deliver the ball accurately. Even Larry Fitzgerald dropped a pass.

The chart below shows how quarterbacks from games involving NFC West teams fared in Total QBR for Week 5, 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."

QBR ranks: Cardinals' Kolb does the job

September, 27, 2012
9/27/12
3:38
PM ET
Kevin KolbMatt Kartozian/US PRESSWIREQuarterback Kevin Kolb has been a steady and consistent leader for the Cardinals so far.
The madness from Monday night has overshadowed the Arizona Cardinals' 3-0 start while pushing aside some of the regularly scheduled programming on the NFC West blog.

This item stands as a makeup call on both fronts.

Our weekly look at NFC West quarterback performance generally runs Monday. The Seattle Seahawks' appearance on "Monday Night Football" pushed back the schedule by a day. The way the Seahawks' game ended obliterated the schedule entirely.

Thursday is the new Monday, at least in this instance. The timing allows me to pass along the latest Insider piece Insider from K.C. Joyner, which suggests the Cardinals have found a winning formula, as opposed to lucking into a fast start. Joyner goes into detail in breaking down Arizona's defensive strengths, but growth on offense is also part of the formula.

"The central element here is the development of quarterback Kevin Kolb," Joyner writes. "Kolb's issues in Philadelphia and Arizona revolved not around his physical talent but rather whether or not he could find a way to keep from making a high volume of mistakes."

By Joyner's count, Kolb has made only one bad decision in 65 pass attempts this season. He defines a bad decision as "a mental error by a passer that leads to a turnover opportunity for an opponent." That rate is considerably better than the rate Joyner has historically associated with "above-average performance" in that area.

Basically, Kolb isn't doing anything to lose the game.

And against Philadelphia in Week 3, Kolb played a key role in winning, not simply in avoiding defeat. His NFL passer rating was 127.4, the second-highest figure for Week 3 among players with more than 13 pass attempts. Total QBR placed Kolb solidly in a group of 12 starters ranking considerably above average for the week. His 79.3 score out of 100 was his highest since Arizona acquired him and, for his career, second only to the 96.9 he posted for Philadelphia against Atlanta in 2010.

Kolb was the NFC West's most productive quarterback for the week even though Arizona was facing what had been one of the more statistically dominant defenses through the first two weeks.

With that, let's take a look at how NFC West passers graded out in Week 3 in relation to Total QBR, with NFL passer ratings in parenthesis as a reference point (thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for the charting info):

  • Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals (79.3 QBR, 127.4 NFL rating): Kolb completed 17 of 24 passes for 222 yards with two TDs, no turnovers, three sacks and four rushes, none for a first down. Kolb completed all seven passes on third down and all nine attempts targeting Larry Fitzgerald. The Eagles did nearly pick off the TD pass Kolb threw in the red zone. Michael Floyd caught it on a rebound. A turnover in that situation would have downgraded Kolb's performance without the quarterback having done anything differently.
  • Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers (52.9 QBR, 81.1 NFL rating): Smith completed 24 of 35 passes for 204 yards with one TD, one INT, three sacks and four rushes, one of them for a first down. Smith had not thrown an interception since Thanksgiving last season. He twice missed Randy Moss with high passes. The 49ers trailed in this game, changing the dynamic for Smith and the offense. Smith played well while trailing against New Orleans and the New York Giants (twice) last season. Since Jim Harbaugh became coach, Smith has seven TD passes with two INTs and a 56.7 QBR while trailing. Those marks count postseason.
  • Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (28.5 QBR, 99.3 NFL rating): Wilson completed 10 of 21 passes for 130 yards with two TDs, no INTs and one sack with three rushes, two of them for first downs. Coach Pete Carroll said he was willing to sacrifice production if it meant increasing efficiency, which he defined mostly as turnover avoidance. Wilson succeeded on this front and emerged with strong efficiency marks, as represented by a 99.3 NFL passer rating. Wilson's low QBR score (50 is average) reveals the gap between what Carroll asked Wilson to do and how Wilson's contributions influenced the outcome. In other words, Wilson did what his coach asked him to do, but that wasn't very much. Note that Wilson did eliminate the high passes that had shown up in the first two games.
  • Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (3.9 QBR, 39.2 NFL rating): Bradford completed 18 of 35 passes for 152 yards with no TDs, two INTs, six sacks and two rushes, both for first downs. There is really no way for a pocket passer to overcome the combination of weak protection and covered receivers. Those were the issues I thought stood out during the Rams' defeat at Chicago. The pass Chicago intercepted and returned for a fourth-quarter TD came on a three-step drop and a quick throw. The intercepting player, safety Major Wright, was able to quickly abandon his responsibilities in the middle of the field because he knew where the pass was going. The route was a three-step slant and the pass might have been a little high and inside. The corner in coverage tipped it into the air, allowing Wright to pick it off.

The chart below shows how quarterbacks from games involving NFC West teams fared in Total QBR for Week 3, 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."

QBR ranks: Now we're talking, NFC West

September, 17, 2012
9/17/12
2:55
PM ET
Every NFC West quarterback played well enough Sunday for his team to win under the circumstances.

This is verifiable.

Some of those aforementioned circumstances were a bit strange, to say the least.

A 15-yard penalty against NFC West alum Josh Morgan left the Washington Redskins with a 62-yard try for the tying field goal against St. Louis.

Arizona upset New England, 20-18, largely on the strength of its defense and special teams (the Cardinals joined Seattle and St. Louis in blocking punts this week).

Seattle returned its blocked punt for a touchdown early in its 27-7 victory over Dallas, then ran the ball with extreme effectiveness in the second half.

San Francisco was the only NFC West team to start its game with a touchdown drive.

Now that we've established at least some context, let's take our weekly look at how NFC West passers graded out in Week 2 in relation to Total QBR, with NFL passer ratings in parenthesis as a reference point (thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for the charting info):
  • Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers (79.4 QBR, 107.7 NFL rating): Smith completed 20-of-31 passes for 226 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions, three sacks and one fumble (an aborted play). The 49ers enjoyed a 56.8 percent success rate on Smith's 37 action plays (dropbacks and rushes). That was the second-highest rate in the NFL for Week 2, trailing only the 62.2 for Ben Roethlisberger. Plays qualify as successful when they improve a team's expected points. The Lions sent more than five pass-rushers just once. Smith made them pay with a 21-yard TD pass to Vernon Davis to end the 49ers' first possession. San Francisco threw on three of its first four plays and found the end zone before a fifth play was needed.
  • Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (76.3 QBR, 112.7 NFL rating): Wilson completed 15-of-20 passes for 151 yards with one TD, no INTs and two sacks. Wilson appeared much more comfortable against the Cowboys than he did against the Cardinals a week earlier. Whereas Arizona sent five-plus defenders after Wilson on 53 percent of dropbacks, Dallas was content to rush four or fewer most of the time. I'm not sure why, but with a single dominant pass-rusher in Demarcus Ware, the Cowboys might feel less reliant on added pressure. Teams are sometimes more comfortable "doing what they do" than copying what worked for a previous opponent featuring different personnel. Whatever the reason, Wilson completed 12-of-15 passes for 130 yards and a TD when Dallas rushed four or fewer. He completed 3-of-5 passes for 21 yards when the Cowboys rushed five or more. Another huge different for Wilson this week: He completed 10-of-11 attempts for 101 yards and a TD on passes thrown outside the yard-line numbers, up from 6-of-17 against Arizona.
  • Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (68.8 QBR, 117.6 NFL rating): Bradford completed 26-of-35 passes for 310 yards with three TDs, one INT and two sacks. Bradford completed all nine of his third-down pass attempts for 92 yards with one TD and seven first downs. His QBR on 10 third-down action plays stood at 97.8, fourth-best in the NFL for Week 2. Bradford completed only 8-of-15 passes with one TD and one INT on first down. His first-down QBR (4.4) was second-lowest in the NFL for the week, ahead of only the 1.0 for Jay Cutler. Bradford's Rams face Cutler's Bears in Week 3. Bradford appears to have found a friend in the Rams' three-wide sets. He has completed 28-of-36 passes (77.8 percent) from these groupings through two games. Only Matt Ryan has a higher completion percentage from three-wide sets. The Redskins' Robert Griffin III finished with a slightly higher overall QBR on the strength of his rushing. Bradford was more effective as a passer despite throwing an INT in the end zone.
  • Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals (21.5 QBR, 82.3 NFL rating): Kolb completed 15-of-27 passes for 140 yards with one TD, no INTs, one sack and one lost fumble (on a scramble). Why the low QBR score when Kolb threw for one TD, rushed for another, took only one sack and rushed six times for 20 yards and three first downs? Defense and special teams won this game for Arizona. A blocked punt set up the Cardinals with first-and-goal from the 2 before Kolb tossed a 2-yard scoring pass on third down. NFL teams are expected to score from that close, so there was relatively little for Kolb to gain from that situation in terms of QBR. Kolb also lost a fumble when he scrambled on third down near midfield with the score tied 6-6. Arizona's defense bailed him out by sacking Tom Brady on the Patriots' next two plays. Kolb completed 5-of-10 passes for 35 yards (3.5 per attempt) on third down, converting three first downs from those passes. As the chart shows, Tom Brady wasn't much better for New England.

The chart below shows how quarterbacks from games involving NFC West teams fared in Total QBR for Week 2, 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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