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DVOA has finally climbed on board the Wentz Wagon! The Eagles move into the No. 1 spot, but they aren't the only strong, well-balanced team in the NFL this year. New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and the Los Angeles Rams make this one of the best seasons ever for multiple teams over 30% in DVOA, and Minnesota isn't far behind.

21 Dec 2015

ALEX Week 15: Ben Roethlisberger's Risk Taking

by Scott Kacsmar

Ben Roethlisberger has essentially been leading ALEX on third down for the entire season. His aggressive style has paid off as the Steelers have been racking up points in franchise-record fashion. One of the ways Roethlisberger has stood out this year is the way he attacks on third-and-short (defined as 3 yards or less to go). Often a running down, Roethlisberger has used this situation to take deep shots to his wide receivers. This season, there have been five passes on third-and-short with an ALEX of at least 40, and that includes a Hail Mary listed below. Roethlisberger has three of them, completing two.

The overall success of Pittsburgh's offense and the willingness to attack in short-yardage situations has helped Roethlisberger to have the lowest average need yards on third down this season. His 6.5 average is a half-yard less than the next closest quarterback (Joe Flacco at 7.0 yards).

Keep in mind that Roethlisberger has missed more than four complete games, so we are talking about just 26 passes on third-and-short from him this year. But on those plays his ALEX is a whopping 12.7. The other 2015 quarterbacks average a 4.4 ALEX in that situation. Roethlisberger has been able to convert 61.5 percent of those plays, so he is making his aggressive style pay off. I wanted to look at the data from 2006-2014 to see just where his season stands in ALEX on third-and-short. As it turns out, a familiar name kept popping up.

Highest ALEX on Third-and-Short, 2006-2014 (Min. 15 Passes)
Rk Year Quarterback Passes Conv. Conv% ALEX
1 2009 Eli Manning 18 13 72.2% 10.2
2 2012 Aaron Rodgers 38 21 55.3% 9.9
3 2008 Aaron Rodgers 32 16 50.0% 9.5
4 2010 Josh Freeman 23 11 47.8% 9.4
5 2010 Aaron Rodgers 37 24 64.9% 9.4
6 2007 Brett Favre 37 21 56.8% 9.1
7 2012 Jay Cutler 22 11 50.0% 9.0
8 2006 Michael Vick 22 12 54.5% 8.8
9 2012 Jake Locker 16 6 37.5% 8.8
10 2013 Case Keenum 15 7 46.7% 8.7
11 2009 Aaron Rodgers 36 28 77.8% 8.5
12 2012 Eli Manning 27 16 59.3% 8.4
13 2008 Philip Rivers 25 15 60.0% 8.3
14 2013 Terrelle Pryor 16 9 56.3% 7.9
15 2013 Eli Manning 26 13 50.0% 7.7
Rk Year Quarterback Passes Conv. Conv% ALEX
16 2006 J.P. Losman 17 5 29.4% 7.5
17 2006 Brad Johnson 25 16 64.0% 7.4
18 2011 Josh Freeman 24 13 54.2% 7.3
19 2014 Cam Newton 24 11 45.8% 7.2
20 2011 Matt Cassel 15 7 46.7% 7.2
21 2013 Ben Roethlisberger 25 14 56.0% 7.0
22 2013 Aaron Rodgers 21 15 71.4% 6.9
23 2011 Eli Manning 25 17 68.0% 6.9
24 2011 Matthew Stafford 32 17 53.1% 6.8
25 2007 Peyton Manning 30 19 63.3% 6.7
26 2011 Philip Rivers 35 28 80.0% 6.7
27 2008 Eli Manning 20 14 70.0% 6.7
28 2014 Jay Cutler 25 13 52.0% 6.6
29 2012 Ryan Fitzpatrick 26 14 53.8% 6.5
30 2013 Ryan Fitzpatrick 24 14 58.3% 6.5

Roethlisberger's 12.7 ALEX could easily smash the previous record by Eli Manning in 2009, but it is Aaron Rodgers with three of the top five seasons. He has been the most aggressive quarterback on third-and-short in the last decade, and his results have usually justified the strategy. This season, Rodgers has struggled on third down in general, but his ALEX on third-and-short is still well above average at 5.9. The problem is he ranks 32nd in conversion rate (32.0 percent). In the offseason, we'll have time to look at this deeper with respect to field position and the scoring margin. Sometimes the essentialness of the first down trumps the possibility of a big play.

As long as Roethlisberger continues his success, Steelers fans should not mind the occasional bomb on third-and-2. If anything, an interception in that situation will hurt less down the field than a short pass to a linebacker that never should have been thrown. Not to point to anything specific thereā€¦

Week 15's Most Conservative Plays

The Lowest ALEX

Teams: Dallas vs. New York Jets
Situation: third-and-30 at own 14, trailing 6-3 in second quarter with 14:14 left
Play: Matt Cassel pass complete to James Hanna for 17 yards
Air yards: minus-4
ALEX: minus-34

The night was not long for Matt Cassel, but he still found a way to take a 19-yard sack so he could throw a screen for his longest gain of the game. Passer rating just loved that drive. It is still hard to fathom how Cassel managed to throw an interception on an intentional grounding play.

A Notable Failure of the Week

Teams: Denver at Pittsburgh
Situation: fourth-and-5 at opponent 36, trailing 34-27 in fourth quarter with 2:17 left
Play: Brock Osweiler pass incomplete to C.J. Anderson
Air yards: 1
ALEX: minus-4

Those negative-ALEX plays on fourth down are killers. With the game almost on the line, Brock Osweiler was very quick to check down to his running back, but the throw was off target and Ryan Shazier was right there in coverage anyway. Watching the play back, Emmanuel Sanders, who had a monster game against his former team, had a great look down the sideline in coverage with William Gay. Sanders usually gets his deep shots on quick throws anyway, and one there may have gone a long way in tying this game.

Week 15's Most Aggressive Plays

The Highest ALEX

Teams: Chicago at Minnesota
Situation: third-and-1 at own 42, trailing 17-7 in second quarter with 0:01 left
Play: Jay Cutler pass incomplete to Alshon Jeffery
Air yards: 53
ALEX: plus-52

The Hail Mary is not an aggressive call in this situation, though Detroit probably would not have expected it. It is a little unfortunate that Jeffery takes the hit for the target here, because this was thrown into a crowd a good 5 yards short of the end zone. Cutler may have put a little more air (and care) on the ball if this had been for all the marbles and not a first-half play.

Believe it or not, but Jimmy Clausen actually hit a Hail Mary for a touchdown before halftime to Kamar Aiken against the Chiefs. Four Chiefs watched Aiken catch the ball inside the 5-yard line and run into the end zone. They must have been blinded by those brutal uniforms the Ravens had on.

A Notable Success of the Week

Teams: Arizona at Philadelphia
Situation: third-and-2 at opponent 30, leading 17-10 in third quarter with 9:59 left
Play: Carson Palmer to Michael Floyd for 29 yards
Air yards: 29
ALEX: plus-27

This is the kind of play that makes Arizona such a fun offense to watch this season. The game was still close, and a lot of teams in this situation would look for the short throw to move the chains, but Bruce Arians is always scheming to get players deep. Carson Palmer picked probably his best single-coverage option on the field and gave Michael Floyd a shot to make a play down the right sideline. Floyd pulled the ball in with one hand and got his knee down for a big 29-yard gain. Arizona ran in the score on the next play and never looked back on its way to a big win.

2015 ALEX Rankings Thru Week 15

The following table shows where each qualified quarterback (minimum 50 passes) ranks in ALEX on third down only. There are also rankings for DVOA, average need yards (ranked from highest to lowest), and conversion rate.

Rk Quarterback Team ALEX CONV% Rk DVOA Rk Passes Avg. Need Rk
1 Ben Roethlisberger PIT 6.5 50.0% 3 67.8% 6 96 6.5 36
2 Tyrod Taylor BUF 4.4 38.6% 25 43.6% 15 101 8.2 11
3 Carson Palmer ARI 4.2 54.0% 1 98.4% 2 126 7.1 30
4 Cam Newton CAR 3.2 40.2% 20 48.3% 12 117 7.8 17
5 Aaron Rodgers GB 3.1 36.9% 27 40.3% 16 111 7.7 21
6 Brian Hoyer HOU 3.1 43.0% 13 48.6% 11 93 7.7 19
7 Jay Cutler CHI 3.0 46.0% 7 65.7% 7 126 7.0 33
8 Ryan Fitzpatrick NYJ 2.8 42.2% 14 44.7% 14 135 7.5 25
9 Blake Bortles JAC 2.7 39.0% 24 25.1% 23 136 7.6 22
10 Andrew Luck IND 2.6 42.0% 15 45.9% 13 69 7.6 23
11 Andy Dalton CIN 2.1 44.7% 10 64.2% 8 94 7.8 16
12 Brock Osweiler DEN 1.8 40.3% 18 16.9% 24 62 7.1 32
13 Joe Flacco BAL 1.8 34.0% 29 -13.8% 32 103 7.0 35
14 Johnny Manziel CLE 1.7 43.4% 12 79.7% 3 53 8.4 4
15 Peyton Manning DEN 1.6 32.7% 31 -35.6% 35 98 8.2 8
16 Russell Wilson SEA 1.6 49.1% 4 74.0% 4 112 7.0 34
17 Josh McCown CLE 1.5 51.3% 2 102.6% 1 78 7.2 27
18 Ryan Tannehill MIA 1.4 28.5% 34 -8.5% 31 137 8.6 3
Rk Quarterback Team ALEX CONV% Rk DVOA Rk Passes Avg. Need Rk
19 Tom Brady NE 1.1 46.5% 6 69.6% 5 129 7.5 24
20 Jameis Winston TB 1.1 41.5% 16 10.9% 26 130 8.0 13
21 Marcus Mariota TEN 1.1 40.2% 19 11.6% 25 102 8.1 12
22 Matt Hasselbeck IND 0.9 40.0% 22 -20.6% 33 65 7.2 28
23 Derek Carr OAK 0.8 39.7% 23 38.1% 17 141 7.9 14
24 Kirk Cousins WAS 0.7 45.1% 9 37.5% 18 142 7.4 26
25 Colin Kaepernick SF 0.7 33.8% 30 7.2% 28 74 7.7 20
26 Drew Brees NO 0.6 45.7% 8 54.3% 10 138 8.2 10
27 Eli Manning NYG 0.4 40.1% 21 25.9% 22 147 7.1 29
28 Philip Rivers SD 0.4 44.1% 11 35.8% 19 143 8.3 5
29 Matt Ryan ATL 0.4 47.0% 5 28.0% 21 149 7.1 31
30 Nick Foles STL 0.3 24.4% 35 -37.5% 36 119 8.3 6
31 Matt Cassel DAL 0.2 31.7% 32 10.6% 27 60 7.8 18
32 Matthew Stafford DET -0.6 37.3% 26 -6.7% 30 126 8.2 7
33 Sam Bradford PHI -0.6 29.8% 33 7.0% 29 121 8.2 9
34 Teddy Bridgewater MIN -1.1 40.5% 17 55.4% 9 116 7.9 15
35 Blaine Gabbert SF -2.3 22.0% 36 -20.7% 34 59 9.0 1
36 Alex Smith KC -3.5 35.1% 28 29.1% 20 111 8.7 2

Next, ALEX is presented in splits by distance: short (1 to 3 yards), medium (4 to 7 yards) and long (8-plus yards). The colors indicate where a player is well above average (darker green) versus below average (darker red). Those conversion rates are also shown with a ranking.

The NFC West is something else here. Carson Palmer continues to have a fantastic season, while Russell Wilson has climbed to fourth in conversion rate with a pretty average ALEX approach. Nick Foles and Colin Kaepernick were benched for obvious reasons, but Blaine Gabbert has still been dreadful for San Francisco too.

Matthew Stafford has been very conservative this season, but leave it to Alex Smith to be the only quarterback with a negative ALEX on third-and-short.

Note: these numbers are subject to change at season's end. The data on 2006-2014 is the same as what we use for stats like receiving plus-minus and YAC+, which excludes passes that are thrown away, batted at the line or when the quarterback was hit in motion. The 2015 data currently includes all passes, but game charting will filter out those passes that were not truly aimed or intentional.

For those new to this metric, it is called Air Less Expected, or ALEX for short. ALEX measures the average difference between how far a quarterback threw a pass (air yards) and how many yards he needed for a first down. If a quarterback throws a pass five yards behind the line of scrimmage on third-and-15, that would be minus-20 ALEX. The best application of ALEX is to look at third and fourth down when it's really crucial to get 100 percent of the need yards to extend the drive.

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 21 Dec 2015

1 comment, Last at 22 Dec 2015, 1:03pm by FlippingADollar

Comments

1
by FlippingADollar :: Tue, 12/22/2015 - 1:03pm

I know it's funny that Alex Smith is the ALEX typical QB, but you could tell Andy got super conservative right before the end of the 1st half. Up 17 points and defense was stuffing the Ravens. Made perfect sense. The only reason the Ravens were "in" the game was due to poor coverage by Berry (go for the player!) on the hail mary.

Smith's opened it up a few times this season when required! I swear it's true! :)