Passing With Flying Colors

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Sep 22, 2011



By Kevin Braig
The Quant Coach


Through the first two weeks of the 2011 NFL season, pass defenses everywhere have resembled that class in college for which everyone tries to register.  You know the one where the prof rarely gives any grade lower than a “B.”
 
So far, most passers have breezed through their exams. According to ESPN’s John Clayton, the average length of a completion this year has been 12.3 yards, which is 1.1 yards per connection better than last year and the best mark in the league since 1997. As a result, again per Clayton, scoring is up 7.9 points per game to 46.9 points per game. Consequently, according to CHFF’s new Real Quarterback Rating, superior passing teams are 28-4, a cool .875 winning percentage.
 
In this era of passer grade inflation, the simple QuantCoach uses his unique yards per pass attempt calculation, known as “QCYPA,” to separate the truly outstanding (Tom Brady) from  the middle of the class (Joe Flacco).  QuantCoach’s quarterback grades using QCYPA are provided below.
 
QCYPA could not be easier to understand because it compares every pass attempt to a 10-yard gain.  The QuantCoach uses a 10-yard gain as a reference for three reasons.  First, using a 10-yard reference for grades is consistent with the grade curve with which most of us grew up.  If your quarterback averages 9.3 QCYPA, he is achieving at a 93 percent rate, which traditionally is an “A.”  If your passer averages 8.5 QCYPA, he is achieving at an 85 percent rate, which is a traditional “B.”  And so on.
 
Second, a 10-yard gain is the yardage that every quarterback in NFL history has had to achieve to make a first down.  Otto Graham needed to make 10 yards to make a first down in the 1950s and Joe Montana needed to make a 10-yards to make a first-down in the 1980s and Brady needs to make 10 yards today to make a first down. Thus, a 10-yard gain is the measure of success in the NFL.
 
Finally, in theory, a team whose passer averages 10-yard per pass attempt can expect to make a first down every time it chooses to pass.  Because such a team can expect to make a first down every time it chooses to pass, the coach is free to choose to run any time he wants to do so.  As a result, a team whose passer averages 10 yards per attempt will in theory never use any downs because such a team will be continuously replacing the down it is using to advance the ball with a fresh first down as soon as it chooses to pass.  In other words, where a quarterback averages 10 yards per pass attempt, the coach’s game plan is infinitely sustainable and his team simply cannot be stopped.
 
A good example of such infinite sustainability occurred in Arizona’s win over Carolina in the first week of the season.  The Cardinals’ Kevin Kolb posted an 11.666 QCYPA and led Arizona to 21 points.  The Panthers’ rookie quarterback, Cam Newton, used offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s plays designs to post a nearly identical 11.432 QCYPA and 21 points.  (It seems a long time ago, but in Cleveland in 2007, Carolina's current back-up quarterback, Derek Anderson, used Chudzinski's play designs and fleet tight end Kellen Winslow, Jr. to achieve a Pro Bowl roster spot.)  Each team’s infinite sustainability canceled the other out and Arizona prevailed, 28-21, on Patrick Peterson’s punt return for a touchdown.
 
One can be sure that the outstanding quarterback grades will drop some in the coming weeks.  NFL defensive coordinators will study film, identify weaknesses, and design more difficult problems that will be harder for quarterbacks to solve.  After the leaves fall off the trees in places like Buffalo, New York, old man winter also will make it more difficult for quarterbacks to ace their exams.
 
But at the moment, NFL quarterbacks are coasting. 
 
A+ (10+ QCYPA)
Tom Brady (11.318)
Tony Romo/Jon Kitna (10.164)
Cam Newton (10.085)
 
A (9-10 QCYPA)
Kevin Kolb (9.930)
Aaron Rogers (9.862)
Matthew Stafford (9.548)
 
B (8-9 QCYPA)
Matt Schaub (8.566)
Eli Manning (8.481)
Philip Rivers (8.432)
Matt Hasslebeck (8.382)
Drew Brees (8.372)
Jason Campbell (8.218)
 
C (7-8 QCYPA)
Mark Sanchez (7.897)
Ben Roethlisberger (7.820)
Mike Vick/Mike Kafka (7.551)
Ryan Fitzpatrick (7.431)
Andy Dalton (7.427)
Chad Henne (7.253)
Joe Flacco (7.196)
Rex Grossman (7.546)
 
D (6-7 QCYPA)
Kyle Orton (6.888)
Matt Ryan (6.614)
Josh Freeman (6.610)
Jay Cutler (6.558)
Alex Smith (6.273)
Sam Bradford (6.160)
 
F (below 6 QCYPA)
Colt McCoy (5.959)
Donovan McNabb (5.556)
Kerry Collins (5.333)
Luke McCown/Blaine Gabbert (5.123)
Tarvaris Jackson (4.667)
Matt Cassel (3.916) 

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