Super Bowl Diversion: "QB Rating" is a crock of you-know-what (updated below)
Super Bowl Diversion: "QB Rating" is a crock of you-know-what
On a lighter note, if you pay any attention to the Super Bowl this weekend, you may hear a lot about the “passer rating” or “quarterback rating.” For example, you may hear that the Bears’ Rex Grossman has the “worst” regular season rating (73.9) of a Super Bowl quarterback in almost 20 years, or that Peyton Manning’s 2006-7 Playoffs rating is actually quite a lot lower than Grossman’s.
If you want to be in the know, you should know that it’s all a crock – that is, the passer rating is all a crock. It was concocted in a quick moment, more or less on an envelope in an airport or somewhere, by someone who was headed generally in the right direction but had not fully thought it through. Former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, upon being shown it as an idea for rating quarterbacks on something more than yardage gained, said, “What the hey, let’s do it.”
And ever since, it has been the “official Passing Efficiency Rating of the National Football League.”But it’s a crock nonetheless – not a total crock, mind you, but a big crock. Consider this: in the First Quarter of an important playoff game – let’s say a Super Bowl – both teams get two complete possessions of the ball. In his first possession, Quarterback Gunslinger marches his team 80 yards to a touchdown, completing 4 of 7 passes attempted for 50 yards, including a 23-yarder to the one-yard-line and converting two third-and-long situations into first downs. From there, All-Pro Running Back Crusher banged the ball into the end zone for the first TD.
Quarterback Dinker then leads his team onto the field, starting his possession after the kickoff on the 38 yard line – good field position, as they say, because it's a lot easier to drive 62 yards than 80 or 90. Dinker completes the two passes he attempts, but only for a total of 8 yards. Because the one running play gained nothing, it’s fourth down and two, so Dinker’s team has to punt. “Three-and-out,” as they say, pretty punk.
After a fine punt that goes out of bounds at the 7 yard line, Gunslinger starts his team marching again, this time for 93 yards in 13 plays. Besides the 6 running plays for 37 yards in the drive, Gunslinger goes 4 for 8, this time for 56 yards total, including a 13-yard completion to the two yard line and two more third down conversions of 7 yards or more. Once again, Crusher bangs it in, this time on First Down.
With the score now 14-0 Gunslingers, Dinker starts again, this time on the 28 after the kickoff runback. His first pass is a screen that is completed but is sniffed out by the outside linebacker and stopped with a loss of 6 yards. The second is a completed pass to the slot receiver cutting across the middle, but he is stopped after a gain of 9 yards. Dinker’s third-down pass is tipped by a Gunslinger lineman and almost intercepted by the free safety, but falls incomplete.
Three-and-out again, and if the the Dinkers can’t stop Gunslinger this time, the game will almost be over barely after starting. As the punt bounces around near the Gunslinger’s 20 yeard line, the First Quarter gun goes off. For the quarter, then, the Gunslingers have scored two touchdowns, gained a total of 173 yards. QB Gunslinger is 8 out of 15 passing for 105 yards. He was not intercepted, converted 4 third-and-long situations into first downs, averaged over 13 yards for each completed pass and a fine 7.5 yards per attempt. Dinker, on the other hand, although he completes 3 out of his 4 passes, totals a paltry 16 yards of passing offense (which equals the team’s total offense), a puny 4 yards per pass attempt (and 5.3 yards per completion). He does not get a single first down for his team, and, of course, gets zero points.
So guess who was the better quarterback in the First Quarter of this Super Bowl. Obviously, Gunslinger, right? ‘Fraid not. Despite what almost anyone would consider a dismal performance, Dinker is the higher-rated passer for the period: 81.3 (anything over 80 is generally considered a good rating), compared to a mere 81.0 for Gunslinger. How could that possibly be? The NFL’s Quarterback Rating is based on Completion Percentage, Yards per Pass Attempt, Percentage of Passes resulting in Touchdowns, and Percentage of Passes Intercepted. A formula gives equal weight to each category.
The shrewd numbers person will recognize one immediate theoretical problem: by making the second category Yards per Attempted Pass, it means the completion percentage, the whole of the first factor, is given additional weight in the second factor as well. The general result is that quarterbacks who play in a so-called “West Coast Offense” that is geared towards short, high-percentage passes, like Dinker who complered 75% of his passes (vs. 57% for Gunslinger) tend to be rated more highly, while the “gunslingers” who like to play a “vertical” passing game – send the ball more down the field, whether it’s more really long passes, or the 15-to-20 yarders generally considered to be “intermediate” passes – tend to be penalized by the rating formula. They are more high risk-high reward quarterbacks, and will generally have a lower completion percentage and somewhat more interceptions. The “dinkers” will average closer to 10 yards per completion, sometimes even lower, the gunslingers more like 12 or 13 yards per completion.
Take your pick, but I say the gunslingers are a lot more fun.
And by the way, that “worst” 73.9 rating for Grossman? The last Super Bowl quarterback who was lower was – John Elway (Hall of Fame) in 1989. Others? Let’s see, there was, umm, Bart Starr, Packers, 64.4 (Super Bowl II, Hall of Fame); Johnny Unitas, Colts, 65.1 (Super Bowl V, Hall of Fame); Bob Griese, Dolphins, 71.6 (Super Bowl VII, Hall of Fame); Broadway Joe Namath, Jets, 72.1 (Super Bowl III, Hall of Fame); Terry Bradshaw, Steelers, 55.2 (Super Bowl IX, Hall of Fame); Len Dawson, Chiefs, 69.9 (Super Bowl IV, Hall of Fame). In addition, there were Jim Plunkett, Raiders, 72.9 (Super Bowl XV); Vince Ferragamo, Rams, 49.0 (Super Bowl XIV); David Woodley, Dolphins, 63.5 (Super Bowl XVII), Tony Eason, Patriots, 67.5 (Super Bowl XX).
I wouldn’t vote against a winner based on a QB rating.
posted by KISSWeb 5:26 PM
Update: In case you wondered, the Super Bowl record of these “worst-rated” quarterbacks in their season of despair? Seven (7) wins, four (4) losses.