NFL Nation: Total QBR

The St. Louis Rams signed Jake Long and had two first-round NFL draft choices this year. The Seattle Seahawks added Percy Harvin, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. The San Francisco 49ers added Anquan Boldin and three of the first 55 players selected in the draft.



None of those moves is likely to affect the won-lost column as much as a trade costing a conditional 2014 seventh-round pick and a swap of 2013 late-round choices.

The Arizona Cardinals' deal for Carson Palmer should equate to nearly four additional victories in 2013 if Palmer plays near the same level he played with the Oakland Raiders last season. And if Palmer enjoys a career revival playing with Larry Fitzgerald, the expected total would increase.

There is no way to know for certain how many games a team will win, of course. But the brains behind ESPN's Total QBR metric do know that a quarterback with, say, a 65.0 QBR score in a single game will have close to a 65 percent chance of winning. That has been established over the past five seasons.

To calculate the difference in expected victories for Arizona with and without Palmer, we first must know the average single-game 2012 QBR scores for Palmer and for the Cardinals' quarterbacks. The average was 44.2 for Palmer and 20.5 for the Cardinals.

The difference in expected winning percentage is 23.7 points (44.2 minus 20.5). That works out to 3.8 victories over a 16-game schedule.

Arizona has made many changes this offseason, so it's not like we can simply add 3.8 victories to their total from last season. The team will play a different schedule. The team will have new schemes with new personnel.

In the end, though, we might expect the Cardinals to win about four more games with Palmer than they would have won with a repeat of the 2012 season at quarterback -- whatever their final victory total might be.

It's tough to envision any other NFC West newcomer having a similar impact. Such is the nature of the quarterback position, and such is the gap between what the Cardinals got from their quarterbacks last season and what they're likely to get from Palmer.

Note: The chart shows cumulative season QBR scores. Those are usually the most useful ones, but we needed per-game averages to calculate a victory differential. Thanks to Jason Vida and Alok Pattani of ESPN Stats & Information for their help with this item.

QBR ranks: Young QBs set high standard

January, 16, 2013
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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
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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: Canton calls on this showing

December, 18, 2012
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Teams with the higher Total QBR scores posted a 16-0 record in Week 15.

That's not what made this week perfect for using the ESPN metric to more fully evaluate quarterback play in the NFC West, however. This was a perfect week because three quarterbacks from the division put up impressive-looking numbers in different ways.

Seattle's Russell Wilson scored three first-half rushing touchdowns during a 50-17 victory over Buffalo. San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick tossed four touchdown passes -- a first for a 49ers player since 2003 -- during a 41-34 victory at New England. St. Louis' Sam Bradford struggled while falling behind 30-7, only to pass for 229 yards and two touchdowns in the second half of a 36-22 defeat.

Total QBR measures the ways a quarterback contributes to winning. It discounts stats accumulated when a game has all but been decided. It rewards quarterbacks for rushing touchdowns, not just passing ones. While it penalizes quarterbacks for taking sacks and incurring penalties, it gives them credit to the degree a penalty for pass interference improves the chances for scoring.

So, what would it say about NFC West quarterbacks in Week 15?

The scores seem about right: 99.3 for Wilson, 87.1 for Kaepernick, 58.6 for Bradford and 21.5 for Arizona's Ryan Lindley. Note that the 100-point scale is more percentile-based than linear, meaning it's much tougher to jump from 97 to 99 than from, say, 49 to 51.

Wilson became the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to finish a game with at least one touchdown pass, three rushing touchdowns and 90 yards rushing. The Pro Football Hall of Fame recognized the performance by acquiring Wilson's game uniform for display in Canton.

Wilson made most of those contributions in the first half, when they were most meaningful. The result was the highest qualifying single-game QBR score in the NFL this season.

Kaepernick posted a very solid 87.1 score for his efforts, which included the game-winning touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree. Recent opponents had limited Kaepernick to shorter passes, but the Patriots failed to do so. Kaepernick's passes traveled 12.3 yards past the line of scrimmage on average, the second-highest figure in the NFL for Week 15. Peyton Manning was at 13.9. The league average was 8.1.

Three of Kaepernick's touchdown passes traveled at least 24 yards past the line of scrimmage before reaching their targets. Receivers gained 2 yards after the catch on those throws. QBR values longer passes over shorter ones. Those touchdowns helped pump up Kaepernick's score more than if the receivers had gained a higher percentage of yards after the catch.

With that, let's take a player-by-player look at NFC West quarterbacks in relation to Total QBR for Week 15:
  • Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (99.2 QBR, 104.4 NFL rating). Wilson completed 14 of 23 passes (60.9 percent) for 205 yards with one touchdown, zero interceptions, two sacks and 10 passing first downs. He carried nine times for 92 yards and three touchdowns, with five first downs rushing. He had no fumbles. The Bills sacked Wilson on the first play of the game. They had a hard time getting a hand on him most of the day, however. The Bills did not touch Wilson on any of the quarterback's nine rushes. Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch continued to play off one another effectively on option runs.
  • Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (87.1 QBR, 107.7 NFL rating). Kaepernick completed 14 of 25 passes (56 percent) for 216 yards with four touchdowns, one interception, one sack and 11 first downs passing. He rushed seven times for 28 yards and two first downs. Kaepernick fumbled four times, but the 49ers recovered every one. Bad weather and problems with Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork complicate efforts to make clean center-quarterback exchanges. Teammate Frank Gore picked up one of the loose balls and ran into the end zone for a touchdown. Kaepernick's downfield throwing more than offset the one interception he threw while apparently failing to see safety Devin McCourty.
  • Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (58.6 QBR, 94.3 NFL rating). Bradford completed 35 of 55 passes for 377 yards with three touchdowns, one interception and four sacks. He ran twice for 9 yards and zero first downs. Bradford did not fumble. He has lost only one fumble all season after losing seven in 2011. After this game, Bradford said the Vikings surprised the Rams by unleashing frequent blitzes, counter to their tendencies. Minnesota had sent five or more pass-rushers only 19.2 percent of the time through Week 14, the fourth-lowest percentage in the NFL. The percentage was only 22.4 for this game, but the pressure Minnesota brought worked to great effect.As the chart from ESPN Stats & Information shows, Bradford completed only 4 of 12 passes for 58 yards with one interception when Minnesota brought more than the standard four pass-rushers. He completed 72.1 percent of his passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns the rest of the time.
  • Ryan Lindley, Arizona Cardinals (21.5 QBR, 45.0 NFL rating). Lindley completed 14 of 21 passes (66.7 percent) for 104 yards with zero touchdowns, one interception, one sack and four first downs passing. He carried twice for 8 yards and no first downs. Lindley has three games this season with a QBR score of 10 or lower. That is tied with Philip Rivers for second-most in the NFL behind Mark Sanchez, who has five. The Cardinals did not need much from Lindley in this game because their defense and special teams were dominating. They stuck with shorter passes and it paid off. Lindley did not win the game, but more importantly, he did not lose it, either.

The chart below shows QBR scores for quarterbacks relevant to NFC West games in Week 15. Rankings in the first column reflect all NFL games for the week.

QBR ranks: Serious halftime adjustments

December, 11, 2012
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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.

NFC South QB Watch

December, 10, 2012
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Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was the only NFC South quarterback to win a game in Week 14. He also was the best quarterback in the league, by at least one measure.

Newton posted a 97.0 Total QBR in Sunday’s 30-20 victory against the Falcons. Newton’s score was the second-best posted by any quarterback this season (New England’s Tom Brady scored 98.4 in Week 8). It also was the highest by any Carolina quarterback over the last five seasons.

Here are the league-wide Week 14 Total QBR scores and here are the season-long averages. Let’s take a look at how the four NFC South quarterbacks fared on Sunday.

Newton

Sunday: Newton completed 23 of 35 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. Newton also rushed nine times for a career-best 116 yards and one touchdown. Newton became the first player in NFL history to rush for more than 100 yards, pass for more than 250 yards and have a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown in the same game.

Sunday’s Total QBR: 97.0 (No. 1 in NFL)

Season Total QBR: 54.0 (No. 19)

Quick thoughts: Newton turned in a brilliant performance. After a rocky start, he’s come on strong in recent weeks. That could help coach Ron Rivera keep his job.

Matt Ryan, Falcons

Sunday: Completed 34 of 49 passes for 342 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the loss to Carolina.

Sunday’s Total QBR: 67.7 (No. 5)

Season Total QBR: 73.7 (No. 3)

Quick thoughts: Ryan’s numbers weren’t bad, but they don’t come close to telling the story of the day. Most of his stats came in the second half, after the Falcons had fallen way behind. Ryan was unable to sustain a drive in the first half and that’s a major reason why the Falcons lost.

Drew Brees, Saints

Sunday: Completed 26 of 43 passes for 354 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in a loss to the New York Giants.

Sunday’s Total QBR: 45.1 (No. 14)

Season Total QBR: 63.2 (No. 13)

Quick thoughts: Brees now has thrown nine interceptions over the last three games. The Saints’ defense is improving, but no defense is going to thrive when opponents consistently are being handed turnovers.

Josh Freeman, Buccaneers

Sunday: Completed 14 of 34 passes for 189 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in a loss to Philadelphia.

Sunday’s Total QBR: 45.9 (No. 13)

Season Total QBR: 59.3 (No. 15)

Quick thoughts: Freeman never is going to be a high-percentage passer, but there’s no excuse for him not completing at least 50 percent of his passes. He was particularly inaccurate early on and that’s a major reason why the Bucs are close to being out of the playoff picture.

Final Word: NFC South

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about the Week 14 games:

Magic number: The Falcons have won their past five games against the Panthers. But the amazing thing is Atlanta’s point total has been either 30 or 31 in each of those games, including a 30-28 victory against Carolina in Week 4.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
Geoff Burke/US PresswireMatt Ryan, who faces the Panthers in Carolina on Sunday, boasts the best Total QBR in road games this season.
Better on the road: One of the knocks against quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons is that they’re not as good outdoors. Well, this season’s numbers dispute that. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Ryan has an NFL-best 87.5 Total QBR in road games this season. He also has thrown 15 touchdown passes with four interceptions on the road. At home, Ryan’s Total QBR is 53.5, and he’s thrown seven touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Bouncing back? After a rough start, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has been pretty solid recently. In the first seven games of the season, Newton turned the ball over 11 times. In the past five games, he’s had only two turnovers. Newton also has been more effective on downfield passes recently. In his past two games, Newton has completed six of 10 throws of more than 20 yards.

A record they don’t want: The Buccaneers are on pace to become an unflattering part of history. Through 12 games, they’ve allowed an average of 309.4 passing yards. The NFL record is 299.8 yards per game by the 2011 Green Bay Packers.

Giants are Brees’ favorite team: New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees has struggled recently, throwing seven interceptions in the past two games. But there might be some good news on the horizon. Brees has been stellar when facing the Giants in the past. He is 4-0 against New York and has thrown 11 touchdown passes with no interceptions. That ties him with Drew Bledsoe (against the Cardinals) for the most touchdown passes without an interception against one opponent in NFL history.

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.

Final Word: Panthers-Eagles

November, 24, 2012
11/24/12
12:00
PM ET
Five nuggets of knowledge about the Monday night game between the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles:

Hard road ahead. The Panthers are 1-3 on the road this season, but their three losses have come by a total of nine points. The game at Philadelphia is the start of a stretch in which the Panthers will play four of their final six games on the road.

[+] EnlargeCameron Newton
Jeff Siner/Getty ImagesCam Newton has struggled in his second year in the NFL.
Sophomore slump. A quick look at Total QBR might be the best way to sum up Carolina quarterback Cam Newton’s second NFL season. After ranking 17th in the league with a 55.0 Total QBR his rookie year, Newton ranks 29th this season with a 40.4 Total QBR. He’s had four games this season with a Total QBR lower than 20 after not having any games below that mark last season.

No need to blitz. The Eagles don’t blitz a lot to begin with. According to ESPN Stats & Information, no team has rushed four or fewer defenders more often than the Eagles, who have used that tactic 80.5 percent of the time over the past two seasons. But the Eagles might be wise to scrap the blitz completely against the Panthers. Newton has struggled far more against a pass rush of four or fewer than he has against the blitz. Over the past two seasons, Newton has a minus-4 touchdown-to-interception differential when facing four of fewer pass-rushers (only three quarterbacks have a worse differential). Over that same span, Newton has a plus-8 touchdown-to-interception differential when opponents have blitzed.

Milestone time. In a season in which there have been few positive milestones, the Panthers should hit one Monday night. Steve Smith needs just 12 receiving yards to become the fourth active player with 11,000 receiving yards. The only players ahead of him are Randy Moss (15,124), Tony Gonzalez (13,988) and Reggie Wayne (12,711).

Fourth-quarter woes. Over the past two seasons, the Panthers have lost five games in which they’ve held a lead entering the fourth quarter. But the good news is the Eagles have squandered a fourth-quarter lead six times in that same span. The Eagles and Dolphins are tied for the league lead in losing games in which they led at the start of the fourth quarter over the past two seasons. The Panthers are tied for third with the Cleveland Browns.

QBR ranks: Revisiting Kaepernick's night

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
10:12
AM ET
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."

Final Word: NFC South

October, 19, 2012
10/19/12
1:30
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 7:

[+] EnlargeAaron Kromer
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneAaron Kromer will coach his last game as the Saints' interim head coach this week at Tampa Bay.
Kromer’s last stand: This will be the final game as interim head coach for New Orleans’ Aaron Kromer. Coincidentally, Kromer spent three seasons as an assistant with the Buccaneers before joining the Saints in 2008. The Saints are 1-4 under Kromer and a win could go a long way in helping his chances of eventually landing a full-time gig as a head coach. Kromer had a good reputation around the NFL prior to this season and he’s handled a difficult situation without any major problems. But adding another win can only help his resume. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt will take over the team when he returns from his suspension after Sunday's game.

Dallas domination: The Panthers defeated the Cowboys the first time the teams ever met in the regular season. But Dallas has dominated the regular-season meetings since then, winning eight straight against the Panthers. That’s the longest active streak the Cowboys have against any opponent.

Go for the goal line: According to ESPN Stats & Information, Carolina’s Cam Newton is one of only two starting quarterbacks that have not completed a pass in the end zone this season. All four of Newton’s touchdowns have been completed before the end zone. Tennessee’s Jake Locker is the only other quarterback that hasn’t completed a pass in the end zone.

Back to being Brees? After a rocky start, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees has come on strong the last two games. In the first three games, Brees completed 54.7 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and five interceptions while compiling a 34.8 Total QBR. In the last two games, Brees has completed 64.6 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and one interception while posting an 83.0 Total QBR.

A positive Bucs’ stat: It’s been hard to come up with a lot of positive numbers on the Bucs for the last year or so, but here’s one. The Bucs have won four of their last six home games against NFC South opponents. So much has happened in the interim that it might be tough to remember that the Bucs won at home against Atlanta and New Orleans last year. But the bottom fell off after the Bucs intercepted Brees three times that day. Tampa Bay lost its final 10 games of the season to cost former coach Raheem Morris his job.

QBR ranks: Russell Wilson stands tallest

October, 15, 2012
10/15/12
2:25
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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
12:18
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."

Falcons' Matt Ryan: NFL's best QB?

September, 24, 2012
9/24/12
3:19
PM ET
With all due respect to New Orleans’ Drew Brees, you can make a case he’s not the best quarterback in the NFC South.

Ryan
Ryan
Instead, you can make the case that Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is. Heck, if you go by one measure, Ryan is the best quarterback in the entire league.

Through the first three weeks of the season, Ryan’s 91.6 Total QBR is the best in the league and no one else is even close. Indianapolis' Andrew Luck is second at 82.0.

Going only on Total QBR, Brees isn’t even the second-best quarterback in the NFC South. Carolina’s Cam Newton is. He’s No. 21 in the league with a 51.8 Total QBR.

Brees is No. 27 with a 34.9 Total QBR. A score of 50 is considered average. Brees is joined in the below-average category by Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman, who is No. 32 overall at 26.8. By the way, Freeman turned in a dismal 5.3 Total QBR in Sunday’s loss to Dallas.

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