NFL Nation: 2011 Week 4 QBR

To borrow a phrase from DeMaurice Smith, I’m really starting to "dig" the new Total QBR feature.

If you looked just at the NFL passer rating, you’d think Indianapolis’ Curtis Painter had a better game than Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman on Monday night. That would be wrong, even though Painter’s NFL passer rating was 99.4 and Freeman’s was 94.7. Total QBR tells the truth.

Freeman had a 48.4 Total QBR. Painter’s was 37.8. Freeman’s team won the game. Painter’s team did not, and it was about much more than simply passing the ball. Winning a game is the most important part of a quarterback’s job description and Freeman did what it took to make that happen.

Total QBR takes things other than pure passing statistics into account and that’s important.

Freeman made some big things happen with his legs. He rushed for 26 yards and four first downs. He rushed for a 1-yard touchdown (the second of his career) in the first half. He also had two critical scrambles on Tampa Bay’s final scoring drive and had two runs for first downs on that drive.

Freeman was sacked twice, while Painter was sacked four times. One of Painter’s sacks resulted in a fumble the Bucs recovered in the first quarter. Painter’s other three sacks came in the fourth quarter with the score tied.

Painter threw for 281 yards and two touchdowns, which sounds nice. But those numbers are a bit inflated when you consider that Painter’s two touchdown passes to Pierre Garcon covered 146 yards, but 129 of those came after the catch.

Painter only threw for 74 air yards, while Freeman threw for 108. The bottom line here is Painter played a nice game, but Freeman did more and he helped his team to a victory.

QBR ranks: Parsing Alex Smith's showing

October, 3, 2011
When Alex Smith was good Sunday, he was very good. When he was bad, well, he was bad enough to finish with only the 24th-best QBR score for Week 4.

The San Francisco 49ers quarterback posted a 99.8 QBR during the third quarter of his team's memorable comeback victory at Philadelphia in Week 4. It was the second-best quarter for a quarterback Sunday and enough, with a huge fumble recovery from the 49ers' defense, for the 49ers to prevail 24-23.

But that one quarter and the 49ers' ultimate victory could not prevent Smith from finishing with a 28.7 QBR overall. That is partly because running backs Kendall Hunter and Frank Gore scored the pivotal touchdowns late in the game, whereas Smith's touchdown passes came when the 49ers were still trailing by wider margins.

QBR measures performance in part by taking into account win probability from play to play. The plays that improve win probability the most impact QBR scores far more than similar plays in less critical situations.

For example, Smith's scoring pass to Josh Morgan with 7:20 left in the third quarter improved the 49ers' win probability from 2.9 percent to 6.3 percent, based on how similar plays in similar situations have affected outcomes previously. The probability improved from 12.2 percent to 19.1 percent with Smith's scoring pass to Vernon Davis later in the quarter.

The touchdowns from Hunter and Gore each improved the 49ers' chances by more than 10 percent, but the 49ers' win probability still stood at only 51.1 percent after Gore's touchdown.

"This gave the 49ers the lead, but still left three minutes for the Eagles, who needed only a field goal to win," Albert Larcada of the ESPN analytics team explained. "Jeremy Maclin’s fumble sent the 49ers' win probability from 39.7 percent to 74.9 percent, by far the biggest swing in the game. Obviously, Alex Smith had nothing to do with that swing."

After the Maclin fumble, Gore ran the ball five times as the 49ers put away the game. Smith completed 4 of 8 passes for 22 yards and no first downs with a sack in the fourth quarter, costing his team about one expected point.

"So, essentially, Smith started the 49ers' comeback with a great third quarter, but that was only enough to get the 49ers to roughly a 20 percent win probability," Larcada said. "From there, Smith had very little to do with the 20 percent becoming 100 percent."

Agree or disagree? I'll be disappointed if no one writes a passionate response claiming they do not care. My take: Smith played better when the score was lopsided than when it was close, and QBR sniffed this out, as intended. But Smith's QBR takes nothing away from a memorable victory. He had his moments during a highly satisfying team victory, and he should enjoy it.

Quick thoughts on why NFC West passers graded out as they did by Total QBR in Week 4, with NFL passer ratings in parenthesis as a reference point:
  • Tarvaris Jackson, Seattle Seahawks (68.2 QBR, 96.3 NFL rating): Jackson completed 25 of 38 passes for 319 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Jackson took no sacks and that was a critical factor in helping Jackson score easily his highest QBR of the season. The Falcons didn't get pressure. The Seahawks responded by spreading the field and trusting Jackson to a degree they had not trusted him, in part out of necessity after falling behind. This was a tremendous performance from Jackson. He made good use of an improved group of targets, including rookie Doug Baldwin.
  • Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals (32.0 QBR, 67.9 NFL rating): Kolb completed 20 of 34 passes 237 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Kolb took four sacks and lost a fumble. Sacks continue to work against him in the QBR rankings. The Cardinals also struggled on third down, converting only three times in 12 chances. Unlike recent performances, Kolb didn't have touchdown plays on his side to mitigate the negatives.
  • Alex Smith, 49ers (28.7 QBR, 112.1 NFL rating): Smith completed 21 of 33 passes for 291 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He took three sacks and fumbled twice, losing one. This was the most memorable and significant victory of Smith's career by just about any measure. He completed all nine attempts in the third quarter and played a big role in getting the 49ers going, even if he didn't make the critical plays to win. QBR said this performance was better than only 28.7 percent of quarterback performances since 2008. That's a tough sell even if the math holds up.
  • Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (12.8 QBR, 64.5 NFL rating): Bradford completed 20 of 43 passes for 164 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. He took seven sacks, averaged 3.8 yards per attempt, lost a fumble and never scrambled one week after suffering a toe injury against Baltimore. Bradford appears overwhelmed at the moment. The Rams' new offense asks him to give receivers additional time to get open, but with protection issues persisting and receivers too often appearing covered, Bradford appears to have few viable options. And when he does deliver throws accurately, receivers are dropping them too frequently. At this point, the Rams are risking longer-term damage to their quarterback. Something must change.

Teams with higher QBRs than their opponents went 11-4 (.733) in Week 4. Carolina, Philadelphia, Dallas and Buffalo lost despite higher QBRs.

Teams with higher NFL passer rating were 10-5 in Week 4. The Panthers, Cowboys, Bills, Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins lost despite higher passer ratings Sunday.

Teams with higher QBRs are 51-12 (.810) this season. Teams with higher NFL passer ratings are 45-18 (.714).

Total QBR: Eli Manning moving up

October, 3, 2011
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning ranks eighth in the NFL in Total QBR through nearly four weeks of the season with a mark of 68.9 on a 1-100 scale. Manning posted a 79.0 rating in Sunday's comeback victory in Arizona, which was the eighth-best figure any quarterback posted Sunday. The stat takes into account the time of game at which big plays are made by a quarterback and the difficulty of making them. As Manning led the Giants to victory when they were trailing in the fourth quarter, he racked up several of the kinds of plays that score big in this new system.

For the season, if you click on that first link up there, you'll see that Manning ranks second among NFC East quarterback so far this year, right behind the Dallas Cowboys' Tony Romo, whose overall number is 72.8 but has been among the most up-and-down of the quarterbacks on the list. Romo's Total QBR on Sunday, when he threw three second-half interceptions and helped the Cowboys blow a 24-point lead to the Detroit Lions, was 55.0. His Total QBR in Week 1, when his fourth-quarter mistakes cost the Cowboys a game against the Jets, was 62.9. But in Weeks 2 and 3, when he led the Cowboys to fourth-quarter comebacks, his marks were 94.6 and 60.7.

The way Romo's Total QBR declined throughout the second half Sunday illustrates the impact his mistakes had on his rating. After he threw the touchdown pass to extend Dallas' lead to 27-3 in the third quarter, Romo's Total QBR for the day stood at 97.0. It dropped to 94.0 after his first interception was returned for a touchdown, 86.1 after the second, 77.3 after a three-and-out midway through the fourth quarter and to 54.6 after the interception he threw with the Cowboys up 30-27.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick had a Total QBR of 89.6 for the game Sunday, the fourth-best mark in the league so far this week and the second-best of his Eagles career, behind only last year's Monday Night Football dismantling of the Redskins. Total QBR does not punish Vick for four drives that ended without points due to other people's mistakes -- Ronnie Brown's inexplicable goal-line fumble, Alex Henery's two missed field goals and Jeremy Maclin's late fumble that sealed the game for San Francisco. Vick ranks 11th in the league so far this year with a Total QBR of 62.0.

Finally, Washington Redskins' quarterback Rex Grossman posted a very poor Total QBR of 36.6 for the week as the Redskins leaned on the run game to beat the Rams. His wasn't even close to the lowest mark by a winning quarterback Sunday, as San Francisco's Alex Smith, Cincinnati's Andy Dalton, Baltimore's Joe Flacco and Chicago's Jay Cutler posted lower Total QBR scores in victory. But the figure serves to show that the Redskins won Sunday's game without a lot of help from their quarterback, whose 46.9 Total QBR for the season ranks him 18th in the league. My guess is that Grossman prefers to be judged on his 3-1 record so far.

NFC North QBR update: Week 4

October, 3, 2011
Let's make our weekly comparison between the Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) and passer rating of each NFC North quarterback. In some cases, it can give us a deeper insight into how each quarterback performed. At the bottom of this post is a cumulative comparison of each metric.

Aaron Rodgers
Week 4 passer rating:
NFL rank: 1
Week 3 QBR: 96.2
NFL rank: 2
In one of the best games of his career, Rodgers personally accounted for 21 first downs and six touchdowns over nine possessions. QBR ranked him second in Week 4 behind Tennessee Titans’ Matt Hasselbeck, however. ESPN analyst Alok Pattani reported Hasselbeck was more productive on a per-play basis, which QBR values over total production. Rodgers obviously had much more total production. Some of it came with the game against the Denver Broncos well in hand. Passing along without further comment.

Matthew Stafford
Week 4 passer rating:
NFL rank: 20
Week 3 QBR: 42.5
NFL rank: 16
Comment: Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys wasn’t Stafford’s best of the season by any stretch. But in this case, Stafford got extra clutch weighting from QBR from the fact that his two second-half touchdown passes brought the Lions back from a big deficit. Passer rating doesn’t include the context of the game situation.

Donovan McNabb
Week 4 passer rating:
NFL rank: 12
Week 3 QBR: 42.3
NFL rank: 18
QBR took a harsher look at McNabb’s performance in part because of a fumble, even though it was recovered by the Vikings, as well as four consecutive incompletions to end the final possession.

Jay Cutler
Week 4 passer rating:
NFL rank: 29
Week 3 QBR: 10.0
NFL rank: 29
Everyone agrees: Another shaky outing from the Bears quarterback.

Mark Sanchez notches record-low QBR

October, 3, 2011
Sunday night's loss to the Baltimore Ravens was not a banner game for New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. According to ESPN's Total Quarterback Rating, Sanchez had the worst performance for a quarterback since 2008.

The Jets quarterback and former first-round pick recorded an abysmal 0.6 QBR in Week 4. It was a record for a quarterback with at least 40 plays. Former Oakland Raiders quarterback Andrew Walter (0.9) held the previous mark.

Sanchez had a bad outing in all aspects. He wasn't accurate (11-for-35), didn't take care of the football (three lost fumbles, one interception) and failed to lead the Jets to many points. In 15 offensive drives, New York's offense scored just three points. In addition, three of Sanchez's turnovers resulted into touchdowns for Baltimore's defense.

Sanchez can't do anything about his struggling offensive line and lack of pass protection. But he needs to take better care of the football when under pressure. With virtually no running game, New York is relying on Sanchez's arm a lot more this year. He's in his third season and can't have these kind of awful outings for the Jets to be successful.

Checking NFC South Total QBR

October, 3, 2011
Atlanta’s Matt Ryan had the best game of the three NFC South quarterbacks who played Sunday and was third-best in the NFL. That’s according to Total QBR.

Although the Falcons nearly squandered a 24-7 halftime lead, Ryan scored plenty of points early and finished with a 92.0 rating. That was behind only Tennessee’s Matt Hasselbeck (97.8) and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (96.2).

New Orleans’ Drew Brees was No. 12 with a 62.1 Total QBR. Carolina’s Cam Newton was No. 17 with a 42.4 rating. Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman plays Monday night against Indianapolis.

For the season, Brees is No. 6 with a 73.3 Total QBR. Ryan is No. 14 at 58.5. Freeman is No. 15 at 57.8 and Newton is No. 21 at 46.6.
Our Monday look at QBR shows Tennessee’s Matt Hasselbeck faring well yet again.

From ESPN Stats and Info, Hasselbeck 97.8 QBR in the Titans win against Cleveland was the single best quarterback game of the year so far.

He made big contributions when the game was close on the relatively few action plays that he was involved in -- just 21 for the entire game. In the first half, Hasselbeck went 8-for-12 for 194 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers and no sacks, helping the Titans jump out to a 21-6 lead.

While Hasselbeck didn’t do much of anything in the second half, even throwing an interception, all those plays came with the game pretty much decided -- the Titans had a win probability over 90% for the entire second half. So overall QBR rewards Hasselbeck for making winning plays early on that put the game away, and doesn’t penalize him much for his so-so play when the game was basically out of reach.

It might seem weird that Hasselbeck’s rating is higher than that of Aaron Rodgers from Sunday (96.2), but keep in mind that Total QBR is a rate statistic that evaluates quarterbacks on a per-play basis. While Rodgers had by far more total value by virtue of his awesome efficiency over 52 action plays, Hasselbeck was slightly more efficient on a per-play basis in the plays he was involved in.

Hasselbeck’s 97.8 Total QBR on Sunday was the highest by any QB with a minimum of 15 action plays in a single game so far in this young season. Hasselbeck also owns the fifth-best QBR game of the season (92.2) from Week 2’s win against Baltimore.

Here’s a rundown of the whole league.