How often do good QBs have bad games?

Another game, another great statistical performance from Nick Foles.  This one was certainly luckier than some of his previous gems, but that’s hardly a good reason for writing it off completely.  While thinking through his performance, I decided to look at the topic referenced in the title to this post.  Before that, some quick notes on Foles:

– With each game, Foles’ sample size grows, and the odds of him being a “fluke” decline.  As promised, here’s his updated QB Rating by game chart:Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 6.33.27 PM

– Eagles fans might not fully appreciate this, but having a QB whose “bad” games don’t involve a lot of turnovers is not a bad place to be.  McNabb never turned the ball over, but perhaps Vick has given you some perspective.  Most “bad” QB games are a lot uglier than we’ve seen from Foles.

– Going back to our strategic equation (E = R ((60 – T) / 60) + C), and applying it to yesterday’s game, we can see that Foles’ relatively underwhelming performance might have been the result of very rational decision-making.  When Seneca Wallace left the game, leaving Scott Tolzien to lead the Packers, the Relative Strength swung largely towards the Eagles.  As a result, they became the strong favorite, meaning they should be playing a LOW-variance game.  For Foles, this meant avoiding turnovers at all costs.  I don’t know whether this was actually the case or not (probably not), but Foles would have been completely justified in not throwing to WRs unless they were VERY open.  After grabbing a lead, it became somewhat clear that the best chance for the Packers to win lay in the Eagles turning the ball over.  If Foles/Kelly made a conscious decision to go with low-risk plays, then the result would look underwhelming but, in fact, be the right strategic call.

– Of course, Foles DID throw one ball into coverage, but it was on a deep throw.  While I have not confirmed on the replay, my initial take on the play was somewhat different from most others.  In my view, he did NOT throw “into double-coverage”.  He under-threw D-Jax, the result of which gave a second defender time to get into the play.  That seems like a slight difference, but it’s important.  There are two aspects to the play:

1) the decision to throw the ball (mental)

2) the actual throw (physical)

I think Foles got the first half 100% correct, he just messed up the execution.  In general, a slightly under thrown deep-ball is a lot more defensible than a decision to throw into actual double-coverage.

Ok, enough about Foles.  In thinking through the odds/fluke/sample-size piece, I decided it would be interesting to provide some context to the QB expectations discussion.  I did a little of this when I talked about McNabb’s HOF credentials, but today I’ll do it in more detail.

The overall point is that most fans (I think), overrate the consistency of “great” QBs and set their expectations for the position too high.  Great QBs have bad games, and as we’ll see (I hope), they happen more often than you’d think.

Setting it up

First we need to define our parameters.  I’m going to use QB Rating, with all relevant caveats acknowledged.  For our categories, I’m using the following:

Great: 105+

Good: 95-104

Decent: 85-94

Poor: 75-84

Bad: < 75

Below are charts for a selection of QBs.  I only included starts with at least 10 pass attempts.  Sorry for the blurriness, click for a clearer picture.

Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 7.28.02 PM

Take a good look, cause there’s a lot of good information in there.  Most important, of course, is the frequency of “bad” games (rating of worse than 75).

– Tom Brady has a “bad” game roughly 25% of the time.

– Drew Brees has a “bad” game nearly 1/3 of the time.

– Even Peyton Manning doesn’t crack a rating of 75 in almost 20% of his starts.

That doesn’t even include the incidence of “poor” games either.  When you add that in, you can start to see the point I’m trying to make.  Even the best QBs in the league have what fans would consider a bad game fairly often.  Now they do, obviously, provide a high rate of “great” games as well, that’s what makes them “great quarterbacks”.

A couple more notes:

– Tony Romo compares favorably too both Drew Brees and Tom Brady (commence vomiting now)

– FutureHallOfFamer Eli Manning’s starts have resulted in either “bad” or “poor” performances more than half the time (54%).  Let that sink in….if you randomly picked a game from Eli’s career, you’re more likely to get a poor/bad game than a decent/good/great game.  It’s not too late to kill his HOF candidacy…

So next time Nick Foles has a bad game (like that’s every going to happen again), remember this post.  Even the greatest QBs have bad games, and it happens more often than you’d think.


21 thoughts on “How often do good QBs have bad games?

  1. So it looks to me (just from eye-balling your chart at the top) that Foles’s chart right now would be approximately 25% bad, 25% decent, 15% good and 35% great. Or to put it another way, he’s pretty much Tom Brady. Boom, science!

      • On a more serious note, though, even though this level of play from Foles is probably unsustainable, it’s starting to give some real weight to the idea that his floor is ‘competent’. Obviously we’d all rather something better than that, but ‘competent’ is enough that you don’t have to go into the draft desperate for a QB.

        I’m really excited about the concept that we could have the flexibility to use the first few rounds to get a real OLB and fix the secondary and then grab a 3rd QB in the mid-late rounds like we did with Foles and Barkley. Another year of Foles wouldn’t be so traumatic and if the mean he inevitably regresses to is worse than expected we can replace him in the following draft. Yay!

      • That’s really the key. I realize most people aren’t psyched to have “good enough” at QB, but in reality, there’s no reason you can win that way. If you’re at that level, it might be better to spend resources elsewhere. Just think about how much the Eagles, if they finish around 8-9 wins, will have to give up to trade up for a guy like Mariota. Multiple first round picks, and probably more. In that scenario, it’s a very tough trade to make when you’ve already got a guy you can win with.

        Of course, if the Eagles tank from here on, or a QB they like falls to them, then the analysis shifts. Still, I think people are far too obsessed with getting a superstar at QB. There just aren’t that many of them, and there are other ways to win.

        On Tue, Nov 12, 2013 at 8:32 AM, Eagles Rewind

    • I think for the veterans you would have to adjust for the general uptick in league-wide passer ratings over their careers.However, we can look at the first 12 starts for today’s young star quarterbacks for a Foles comparison.

      Great: Luck (2), Kaepernick (5), Wilson (5), Griffin III (4), Foles (4)
      Good: Luck (0), Kaepernick (1), Wilson (3), Griffin III (3), Foles (2)
      Decent: Luck (1), Kaepernick (1), Wilson (0), Griffin III (2), Foles (3)
      Poor: Luck (3), Kaepernick (2), Wilson (1), Griffin III (1), Foles (0)
      Bad: Luck (6), Kaepernick (3), Wilson (3), Griffin III (2), Foles (3)

      • Yep, it was pointed out to me after the fact. When I get a chance, I’ll do a follow-up post that uses just the past 5 years or so of data, and hopefully include more QBs in the table.

        That should help Peyton’s numbers, at least, though I don’t think there’ll be that large of an effect for anyone else.

        The downside of that is that it excludes the first year or two of each QBs career, which would obviously be applicable to our current (Foles) situation. Can’t win them all though. That’l have to be a separate analysis.

        On Tue, Nov 12, 2013 at 8:33 AM, Eagles Rewind

  2. If you do a re-analysis, I wouldn’t mind seeing Donovan on there (well maybe his last ten years) – just for comparison’s sake.

    Also, I am really on board with this new initiative by the Eagles blogosphere to launch torpedoes at Eli Manning’s undeserved HOF candidacy.

    • I have, and have noted several times that he’s in the midst of what could be the greatest statistical career ever….a shame (for him) that he hasn’t had much help for most of his career (compared to other “elites”).

  3. Even Foles “underthrow” to Jackson was tactically acceptable. If intercepted, it would have been equivalent to an excellent punt.

    • Yes, but that’s a separate analysis and I didn’t want to get lost on a tangent. Overall, deep throws are very attractive risk/reward opportunities and I think (haven’t confirmed with data) that they should be used more often.

      • Ah, the Case Keenum theory. The deep stuff is the only reason Weedon has been relevant this long…

      • I agree, if you are smart, going deep often and at the right time seems to be a viable strategy. It just cant be another 2009 where if the deep ball didnt work, the offense couldnt move. Luckily that does not seem to be case and it seems the deep ball is more a function of the offense than the core part.

  4. Great post once again! Very interesting stuff. Really puts things into perspective and helps to understand how that Dallas game could happen just weeks before the Oakland game.

    As a fan of a team without a HOF QB, its so easy to look at career’s of guys like Peyton, Rodgers and Brady and think those guys always play well or at least decent. You only notice their poor performances game if you watch them week in and week out. While we put our own team’s QB’s performances under a microscope every week. It is obvious though that Eli is generally awful. Its ridiculous that the media has always portrayed him as a HOF QB.

    Maybe we did strike it rich with Foles and can focus on getting one of the many good OLBs in the upcoming draft. Still I wouldn’t mind doubling down by drafting Keith Price if he is available in the third.

  5. Pingback: QB Performance Frequency Distributions | Eagles Rewind

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