Stats & Info: Blaine Gabbert

Do numbers really support Jags, Gabbert?

August, 22, 2013
8/22/13
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Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesDespite his past struggles, the Jaguars have put their trust in Blaine Gabbert heading into 2013.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have been one of the most aggressive NFL teams in the use of advanced metrics to quantify performance. Writer David Fleming profiles the Jaguars’ analytics department in an article in the new issue of ESPN The Magazine.

Tony Khan, the son of the team owner and the person who oversees analytics for the franchise, explained in the article how data analysis helped convince new coach Gus Bradley to give Blaine Gabbert another shot in 2013.

Khan said the case for Gabbert was based on three statistical points:

1. Though Gabbert’s NFL passer rating was 70.2 since being drafted (second lowest in the league), it was a “respectable” 82.2 in 2012 when adjusted for drops, throwaways and spikes.

2. When facing a six-man rush, Gabbert ranked first among quarterbacks in completion percentage.

3. The Jaguars’ offensive line gave Gabbert an average of 2.56 seconds to throw the ball. When given more than 2.6 seconds, his NFL passer rating jumped to 84.5.

Another view of the data tells a different story.

Adjusting for drops/throwaways
According to ESPN’s internal video tracking (which may define drops and throwaways slightly differently), Gabbert actually had an 85.1 NFL passer rating without drops, spikes and throwaways last season.

However, when those plays are ignored for all quarterbacks, the league-average passer rating jumps to 93.4, more than eight points above Gabbert.

The six-man rush
Gabbert did complete a higher-than-average percent of his throws against six-man rushes, but defenses rushed six or more players on fewer than 8 percent of all dropbacks last season.

On the overwhelming majority of passing plays with defenses rushing five or fewer defenders, Gabbert completed 58 percent of his passes, 27th best in the NFL.

Time in the pocket
The article cites a passer rating jump to 13th from 25th on plays with 2.6+ seconds in the pocket. However, his Total QBR shows only slight improvement, from 40.6 to 43.9 (a seven-spot jump in the ranking). Two factors cause this:

Gabbert’s completion percentage is high (seventh in NFL) with 2.6+ seconds in pocket because his average throw distance ranks 31st in the league. That will help his passer rating, but not necessarily his overall performance or Total QBR, which factors in the distance the ball travels from the line of scrimmage.

Also, Gabbert’s sack rate at 2.6 seconds in the pocket was 31st in the league last year, something NFL passer rating doesn’t consider at all.

Gabbert’s career sack rate after 2.6 seconds in pocket is the worst among 33 qualified quarterbacks in the last two seasons.

A fundamental assumption of the Jaguars’ case for Gabbert was his improved performance if the line gave him time to throw. There already is data to examine Gabbert’s performance without pressure from pass rushers.

Gabbert's Total QBR when not under pressure (under duress, hit while throwing or sacked) ranked 31st of 36 qualified quarterbacks. The only quarterbacks with a worse QBR “not under pressure” were Chad Henne, Mark Sanchez, Brady Quinn, Matt Cassel and Brandon Weeden.

There were 39 quarterbacks with 150 pass attempts last season when not under pressure. Gabbert is one of four quarterbacks who have an off-target percentage above 20.0 (Kevin Kolb, Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley). Freeman's average pass when not under pressure also traveled 10.2 yards downfield, the highest in the league, and Gabbert’s 7.9 ranked 24th.

His low “throw distance” under pressure didn’t equal success. Gabbert completed 64.7 percent of passes thrown 10 yards or fewer downfield when under no pressure. The only other quarterback who completed below 65 percent was Mark Sanchez (64.6).

The inefficiencies in Gabbert’s passing showed up in his 6.2 yards per attempt when not under pressure, worst in the league among qualified quarterbacks.

Conclusion
Evaluating whether a young quarterback is the right fit for a team is a critical decision. Total QBR accounts for most of what the Jaguars were trying to evaluate using a series of statistical splits. QBR uses all of a quarterback's plays (including sacks and fumbles) along with additional information like distance passes are thrown, the number of rushers, drops, throwaways and spikes to divide credit between the quarterback and his teammates.

Entering his third season, our measures indicate that Gabbert hasn’t earned the Jaguars’ trust.

What challenges await new AFC coaches?

July, 25, 2013
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Eight NFL teams welcome new head coaches to the sideline this season. We take a closer look at some of the challenges those coaches will face. Here’s a look at the AFC (the NFC can be found here.

Buffalo Bills: Doug Marrone
2012 record: 6-10


Big addition: Kevin Kolb and E.J. Manuel were brought in to compete at quarterback, and either should add a vertical element to the Bills offense. Since Ryan Fitzpatrick joined the Bills in 2009, his 25.4 completion percentage on throws deeper than 20 yards downfield is worst in the league.

One headache: Are two rookies (Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin) enough to improve the Bills receiving corps? Despite using more three-plus wide receiver sets than any other team last season, Bills wide receivers recorded the sixth-fewest receiving yards (2,152).

Key stat: The Bills allowed 3.5 yards per rush before first contact on rushes between the tackles last season, worst in the NFL. The Bills haven’t finished a season better than 26th in that category since the start of 2009.

Cleveland Browns: Rob Chudzinski
2012 record: 5-11


Big addition: From Week 10 to the Super Bowl, no player had more sacks than Paul Kruger (12). He and first-round pick Barkevious Mingo will help the Browns transition to a 3-4 defense.

One headache: Is Brandon Weeden the right quarterback to run a Norv Turner offense? Weeden overthrew or underthrew receivers on 45 percent of his throws at least 15 yards downfield last year, third highest in the league.

Key stat: The Browns' defense allowed a 28.7 Total QBR last year, third best in the league. However, the offense ranked 30th in third-down conversion percentage (30.7 percent).

Jacksonville Jaguars: Gus Bradley
2012 record: 2-14


Big addition: Luke Joeckel will immediately bolster a Jaguars offensive line that allowed 50 sacks last season, third most in the league.


One headache: Now that they can protect quarterbacks better, they need to find one. Jaguars quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne combined for a 34.8 Total QBR, one of only five teams worse than 40.0.

Key stat: The Jaguars used four or fewer pass rushers on 80 percent of opponent dropbacks last season, fifth-highest in the NFL. Although the Jags depended on standard pressure, they averaged a sack once every 32.9 dropbacks, worst in the NFL.

Kansas City Chiefs: Andy Reid
2012 record: 2-14


Big addition: Alex Smith posted career highs in completion percentage (70.2 percent) and yards per attempt (8.0) last year. Smith’s completion percentage was best among 36 quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts.

One headache: Jonathan Baldwin caught 42 percent of his targets last season, the worst catch percentage among 162 players with at least 40 targets. Free-agent signee Donnie Avery wasn’t much better, with the fifth-lowest catch percentage among 44 players with at least 100 targets.

Key stat: The Chiefs' defense allowed 893 rush yards after contact last year, the most of any team in the league. Only the Colts allowed more 20-yard rushes (21) than the Chiefs' defense (19).

San Diego Chargers: Mike McCoy
2012 record: 7-9


Big addition: Free-agent tackle Max Starks and first-round pick D.J. Fluker will help create holes in the running game. The Chargers averaged 1.9 yards before contact per rush last year, one of two offenses to average fewer than 2.0.

One headache: Robert Meachem will carry a cap hit of $6.9 million this year, 11th-highest among wide receivers. Six Chargers were targeted more than Meachem (32) last year, and he tied for 181st in targets among all players.

Key stat: Philip Rivers has to control the ball better. Rivers fumbled 15 times last year, most in a season since Jon Kitna had 17 in 2007.
2011 was truly the year of the quarterback.

Drew Brees
Brees
Three players threw for over 5,000 yards, with Drew Brees leading the way with a record-breaking 5,476 and Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford following behind after only two quarterbacks in history had done it before.

Though these quarterbacks were all successful, 2011 also showed that yards aren't necessarily what leads to wins. The 15-1 Green Bay Packers allowed more yards than they gained. Teams that won the yardage battle only won 65 percent of their games. Because yards can be undone by turnovers and can also be generated in meaningless situations, 2011 was the year that we introduced Total QBR to improve the statistical evaluation of quarterbacks and tell better stories.

What follows are snapshots of only a few of the many stories from the season. ESPN bloggers have done numerous stories this year and we will do a season wrap up in the lead up to the Super Bowl.

The Importance of the QB to Winning
Total QBR can be used to quantify just how important the quarterback position has become to winning in the NFL. In 2011, the team with the higher Total QBR in the game went 223-33 (.871 win pct), including 63-1 over the last 4 weeks.



Who Should Be MVP?
It looked like Aaron Rodgers had wrapped up the NFL MVP race just a few weeks ago, but that was before the Packers lost their undefeated record and Matt Flynn lit up the Lions while Rodgers sat out in Week 17.

Not only that, but Drew Brees has made the MVP conversation a legitimate debate with excellent play down the stretch, posting a ridiculous 91.7 Total QBR over the last eight weeks of the season to close the gap in the season rankings.

Brees still finished behind Rodgers in Total QBR for the season, but both quarterbacks' ratings are 1-2 among all qualifying QB seasons since 2008. For some perspective, Tom Brady led the NFL in 2010 with a 75.8 Total QBR, a full eight points behind both Rodgers and Brees this season, on his way to winning a unanimous NFL MVP award.

Rodgers even surpassed Brady’s 84.5 Total QBR from that record-setting 2007 season when the Patriots went 16-0, with Brees finishing just half a point behind that mark.

Tebowmania Heads to Playoffs
The 2011 season might also be remembered as the launching point for Tebowmania. It wasn’t just that Tim Tebow helped the Denver Broncos to a division title, but how he won some of the games.

Tim Tebow
Tebow
However, Tebow’s performance wasn’t outstanding throughout entire games, as he finished the season with a Total QBR of 27.2, the third-worst among the 34 qualifying quarterbacks this season, ahead of only Curtis Painter and Blaine Gabbert.

Since 2008, the timeframe in which Total QBR has been tracked, Tebow’s regular season QBR is the lowest for any quarterback that started for a playoff team.

The previous lowest mark belonged to Mark Sanchez, with a 30.9 mark in 2009. Sanchez, however, had a 74.4 postseason QBR, taking the Jets to the AFC Championship.

Rookies Excel, Struggle
Cam Newton and Andy Dalton both played well in their rookie season. Newton finished in the top half of the league in QBR, helping justify his first-overall selection by the Carolina Panthers, while Dalton led the Cincinnati Bengals to an unpredicted playoff berth.

From 2008-10, the eight rookie quarterbacks who qualified had an average Total QBR of 38.6. Newton had a 56.6, while Dalton totaled a 47.3 this season.

Over the last four seasons, only one rookie quarterback had a better Total QBR than those two, Matt Ryan with a 72.6, when he led the Atlanta Falcons to an 11-5 record in 2008.

On the other end of the spectrum was Blaine Gabbert, who finished a rough rookie campaign with a 21.1 QBR, the worst among all qualifiers this season.

Over the last four seasons, it’s the fourth-lowest single-season Total QBR among qualifying passers. What’s worse is that Gabbert didn’t even post an average Total QBR (50) in any of his games this season.

Firing Del Rio ends Jaguars run of stability

November, 29, 2011
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The Jacksonville Jaguars have had only two head coaches in franchise history – a mark of stability that only a few other teams can match – but they’ll soon have a third.
The team fired head coach Jack Del Rio on Tuesday and will begin its search for a permanent replacement. The team announced that defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will serve as interim coach.

Only two men, Tom Coughlin and Del Rio, have ever coached a game for the Jaguars. That’s a 17-year span which includes 267 regular-season games. Since the Jaguars entered the NFL in 1995, only a select few programs can say they’ve had that kind of stability.

The Titans (Jeff Fisher and Mike Munchak), the Steelers (Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin) and the Eagles (Ray Rhodes and Andy Reid) are the only other teams who can make that claim. We’re not counting the Texans, who also only have had two head coaches (Dom Capers and Gary Kubiak), since their franchise didn’t begin until 2002.

Comparing to Coughlin
The timing works out in an interesting way – Del Rio is fired as he’s tied with Coughlin for the most wins in Jaguars history. Both men have 68. However, that’s where most of the similarities end.
Jack Del Rio
Del Rio
Tom Coughlin
Coughlin

It took Del Rio 11 more games that Coughlin to get his 68 wins. And while Del Rio’s Jaguars never won the AFC South, Coughlin’s did twice – in 1998 and 1999. Coughlin is also responsible for four of the franchise’s five playoff wins.

All told, Coughlin made the playoffs four times in his eight season in Jacksonville. Del Rio made it twice in nine seasons.

Del Rio’s fate tied to Garrard?
One could argue that Del Rio's fate was sealed on September 8 when the Jaguars released quarterback David Garrard.

That was just five days before the Jags season-opener, which they actually won 16-14 with Luke McCown at quarterback. However, the quarterback play has been underwhelming ever since.

McCown was benched after a four-interception game in Week 2. Blaine Gabbert has started the last nine games but has just six touchdown passes and a completion percentage under 50 percent.

The result is a Total QBR that ranks the Jaguars last in the NFL. The new Jaguars coach will be just the third in the franchise’s history, and he’ll likely have to make improving the QB play one of his top priorities.
Two teams seemingly heading in opposite directions are set to face off on Monday Night Football (ESPN, 8:30 ET).

At 4-1, the Baltimore Ravens look to equal the best six-game start in franchise history. In 2000, they opened 5-1, on the way to a 12-4 finish and Super Bowl XXXV title.

Meanwhile, at 1-5, the Jacksonville Jaguars have matched their worst six-game start in team history (started 1-5 in 2003).

After defeating the Titans in Week 1, the Jaguars have lost five straight, their longest losing streak since losing 6 straight games from 2002-03. Jacksonville is facing its fourth straight opponent currently 4-2 or better.

The Ravens have dominated the series of late, having won seven of the past eight meetings. However, six of those wins came by seven points or fewer. History is also working against the Jaguars, who have lost their past six games in primetime.

While defenses now have Ray Rice and company to worry about, the Ravens’ defense remains its core strength. Baltimore is allowing an NFL-low 14.2 points per game, which would be the fewest since the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers (13.9).

It’s vital to strike early against the Ravens, who have allowed only six points in the fourth quarter this season. That’s reminiscent of the 2000 squad, which allowed only 42 fourth-quarter points all season.

Maurice Jones-Drew is averaging a career-high 4.8 yards-per-carry, but he faces one of the NFL’s top rush defenses. Baltimore is allowing just 76.6 rushing yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry, both third best in the NFL.

That puts added pressure on rookie Blaine Gabbert, making his fifth career start. Out of 34 qualifying quarterbacks, he currently has the second-lowest Total QBR (18.8) ahead of only Kerry Collins (13.6).

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, over the past 10 times a rookie quarterback has started against the team allowing the fewest points per game, his team has won just once. That came in the 2007 regular-season finale, when Matt Moore led Carolina over Tampa Bay, which was resting its starters.

Gabbert’s biggest strength has been throws inside the numbers, where he’s completed all four of his touchdowns and is averaging 7.8 yards per attempt. Compare that to outside the numbers, where he averages 3.9 per attempt and two interceptions.

Of course, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed might have something to say about that. The Ravens are allowing the lowest completion percentage inside the numbers this season (55.7 pct)

There is reason for hope in Jacksonville. According to Elias, the Ravens have won just two of the last six games in which they faced a rookie starting quarterback, including losses to Charlie Frye and Trent Edwards

Highs and lows for Week 6 Total QBR

October, 17, 2011
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Week 6 was a week of extremes as six quarterbacks who have played in at least four games this year set season-highs in QBR while five set season-lows. Rookies Andy Dalton, Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert set career-highs.

Ryan and Rodgers lead the pack

Matt Ryan:

• Season-high 92.5 Total QBR

• Major cause: Two defensive pass interference calls in the end zone setting up 1st and goals for the Falcons. Ryan contributed 4.4 clutch-weighted expected points to the Falcons on penalties, the most in a single game for any quarterback this season.

• Ryan was also 3-3 for 53 yards on third downs in the fourth quarter. All three went for first downs.

• Since 2008, Ryan has 12 games with a QBR of 90 or higher, second most in the league.

Aaron Rodgers:

• 91.9 Total QBR, second highest of the season

• Major cause: In the first half Rodgers was 11-15 for 234 yards and three touchdowns. Despite Rodgers being unable to lead the Packers to any second half points, his superb first half gave Green Bay a 24-0 cushion which was never threatened.

Manning and Newton with season-highs

Eli Manning:

• Season-high 91.4 Total QBR

• Major cause: Stayed away from negative plays. This was Manning’s first game since Week 12 of last season without a sack, interception or fumble.

Cam Newton:

• Season-high 80.6 Total QBR

• Major cause: Scrambling. Newton added 8.1 clutch-weighted expected points with his scrambling, the most in a single game since Vince Young in Week 11 of the 2009 season. A large chunk of this came on Newton’s rush TD on a 3rd and 5 from the Falcons 14 yard line with the Panthers trailing by four in the third quarter.

Romo and Brady both above average, but not much more

Tony Romo:

• 62.6 Total QBR

• Major cause: It was a mixed bag for Romo. His biggest play of the game came on a 17-yard scramble on a 2nd and 13 in the 4th quarter with the game tied. That drive ended with a Cowboys field goal to take a 16-13 lead. However, Romo struggled on third downs all day, completing only two first down passes with an INT on seven attempts.

Tom Brady:

• Season-low 56.8 Total QBR

• Major cause: Like Romo, it was a mixed bag for Brady. His touchdown to Aaron Hernandez is what most people will remember (and was his biggest play of the game); however, Brady did not complete a single pass that traveled more than 12 yards in the air. This is the first time Brady did not complete a pass of that length since Week 4 of last season.

• Entering the final drive Brady’s QBR was 30.6, so the fact he was able to bring it all the way up to 56.8 on one drive was impressive.

For more information about Total QBR, go to http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/6909058/nfl-total-qbr-faq

5 things to know: Insight Bowl

December, 28, 2010
12/28/10
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Five things to know about the Insight Bowl pitting No. 12 Missouri against Iowa at 10 ET (ESPN)

1) Missouri leads the all-time series 7-5, although these teams haven’t played in 100 years, a 5-0 Missouri win in Columbia in 1910.

2) Iowa is trying to win three straight bowl games for the first time in school history. It beat South Carolina in the 2009 Outback Bowl and Georgia Tech in the 2010 Orange Bowl. Missouri has won three straight games. The Tigers haven’t finished a season with a four-game winning streak since 1965.

3) Don’t be surprised if this game winds up being low scoring. Missouri is sixth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 15.2 points-per-game, while Iowa is seventh, allowing 16.4. Additionally, Iowa will be without multiple key components on offense including the program’s all-time leader in receptions (Derrell Johnson-Koulianos) and the Big Ten’s fourth-leading rusher this season (Adam Robinson). The Hawkeyes have lost three in a row.

Regardless, the way games have gone for Iowa, expect something exciting to happen. The Hawkeyes have let their opponent march down the field to score the game-winning TD with less than five minutes remaining in each of their five defeats. Iowa was on the winning side of close games last season. It trailed in 10 of 13 games and won four games by a total of eight points.

4) Marvin McNutt has been Ricky Stanzi’s go-to guy down the field this season, and with the suspension of Derell Johnson-Koulianos, expect Iowa to give McNutt even more opportunities.

Stanzi has thrown down the field, McNutt's way, 23 times, completing 15 of those passes. That completion rate (65.2 percent) is significantly better than when Stanzi targets others (42 percent).

5) One way to tell if Missouri is going to have a good game will be if Blaine Gabbert is able to connect with his receivers down the field. In Missouri's two losses this season, Gabbert is 1-for-19 with an interception, when throwing the ball more than 15 yards in the air. Gabbert, after completing 67 percent of all passes in the Tigers first seven games, has connected on just 53 percent in his last five contests.

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