Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

09 Jul 2014

FO Mailbag: Ryan vs. Flacco

Dwight Harriman: I'm Dwight, known as Falconidae on the Atlanta Falcons message board. On that board, we have a crazed Ravens fan, who ever since Flacco won the Super Bowl has been incensed that Ryan was still rated ahead of Flacco. He's spent two years trying to convince Falcon fans that Flacco is a better QB. As you might expect, he has failed to win one convert.

So, can you explain to me why Andrew Luck is rated lower than Ryan last year. Also, why has Flacco has been rated lower than Ryan for their entire careers?

Any explanation you give will be appreciated. Considering that the Ravens fan is convinced that Ryan has gamed the system by throwing short passes, and that Flacco is penalized for his deep pass attempts, it probably won't do any good, but I would like to hear it.

Aaron Schatz: First of all, Dwight, you have to understand the historical irony of your e-mail. Once upon a time, in the Michael Vick days, we were basically seen as the eternal enemy on Atlanta Falcons message boards. Now we are the great defenders of Matt Ryan! How times change.

The first thing you need to understand is that Football Outsiders stats are not "grades," and therefore they shouldn't be considered as absolute judgments on whether Player A is better than Player B. We try to filter out a lot of context, but we can't filter out all context. We give stats, and then we use common sense to analyze what those stats mean given everything else we know about a player, including scouting reports. As I always say, that's why player comments in our book have words and not just tables of numbers.

To give three examples of places where the numbers are not perfect measurements of player worth:

  • We do not filter out the quality of a player's teammates, so what we're measuring is more "Matt Ryan and the Atlanta passing game" rather than just Ryan. That's important especially when considering Andrew Luck, who plays with some iffy receivers and a terrible offensive line. (The drop in Ryan's stats from 2012 to 2013? That's not Ryan. That's Julio Jones.)
  • There is something to be said for the idea that our stats could be improved by looking not just at what a quarterback does compared to average, but what he's done compared to average based on what the team asks him to do. Yes, it's harder to hit the deep throws that Flacco attempts more often than Ryan does.
  • DVOA is based on play-by-play so it doesn't account for things we analyze through game charting, like "dropped interceptions."

The basics of FO stats are explained on the site and while I don't give out the baselines that represent "average" in DVOA, I think the basic idea is understandable. I know people complain that it is a black box, but at least I tell you what's in the black box. (In other words, I'm telling you there is a ham sandwich in the black box. I'm just not telling you how many slices of ham are on it, or how much mustard. That's my secret recipe.)

As far as Ryan vs. Luck in 2013, guess what the number one issue is? SCHEDULE! Simple as that. The Falcons played one of the ten hardest offensive schedules in the history of Football Outsiders numbers, with their average opposing defense having -6.5% DVOA. The only teams that had it tougher: 2004 CIN/CLE, 2008 CIN/CLE, 1991 DAL, and 2004 NYJ. (Apparently, the Ravens and Steelers make life difficult on offenses, who knew?)

Luck played a tough schedule too, but not THAT tough.

So opponent adjustments boost Luck from 3.9% VOA to 4.6% DVOA but boost Ryan from 6.8% VOA to 13.3% DVOA.

After that, it looks like the issue is third-down conversions. Luck was average on third downs last year (33 percent conversion with 6.7 average yards to go), while Ryan was phenomenal (41 percent conversion with 7.3 average yards to go).

I also am guessing I don't have to explain why we have Ryan rated better than Flacco in 2013, right? Just career? Anyone with eyes could see that Flacco struggled last year. For their careers, again, this is not hard. Ryan has had a much higher completion rate over the course of his career. He's also had more yards per attempt, fewer sacks, a higher touchdown rate, and a lower interception rate.

In addition, 2013 wasn't the first time Ryan has faced a tough schedule. He's got a huge schedule adjustment for a tough schedule in 2008 and 2009 as well. He got a smaller adjustment downward for an easier schedule in 2011 and 2012, with his DVOA about 2.5% lower than VOA. 2010 is basically an average schedule. So that's three really tough years, two somewhat easy years, and an average year.

Flacco has gotten very little adjustment for schedule strength over the course of his career. He has only one season where a tough schedule boosts his DVOA by 3.5% (2008) and only one season where an easier schedule depresses his DVOA by around 2.0% (2009). Every other year, DVOA is roughly equal to VOA. By comparison, Ryan has three years where DVOA is over 5.0% higher than VOA.

Ryan has had better receivers than Flacco, but not by as much as you might think because Michael Turner was useless as a receiver and Ray Rice was awesome except for last season. In order to think that the difference in the receivers makes up the entire performance difference between the two, you really have to believe that Torrey Smith is the worst No. 1 receiver in the NFL right now.

Long answer, but a good debate to have a long answer to. Overall, I think it's pretty clear that Ryan has had the better NFL career, even accounting for Flacco's fabulous playoff run in 2012. But they were both very successful draft picks for their teams in 2008.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 09 Jul 2014

70 comments, Last at 17 Jul 2014, 2:39pm by TomKelso

Comments

1
by theslothook :: Wed, 07/09/2014 - 2:24pm

AH... this isn't a unique topic in the least. It's yet another, "he has better weapons, plays in a dome, stat padder vs guy who wins with crappy weapons, plays in cold weather with a vanilla scheme, look at the rings and shut up" argument that we've heard in every Brady Manning, Montana Marino debate. This just gets less publicity.

To me, and I know Aaron doesn't do this personally, but I find FO's player stats disingenuous. Yes they have a disclaimer at the top, much like cigarettes have a disclaimer at the bottom. There isn't even an attempt to separate qb play and talent around you, the very thing a player page is meant to do. I pretty much only pay attention to the running back receiving dvoa at this point.

For what it's worth, we're getting better at trying to separate the two, but it's still a long ways away. Yes, QBR is a black box where we don't even know if it's a sandwich, let alone the kind of meat it has, but it at least, it's the first stat trying to separate the two.

25
by RickD :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 1:28pm

Disingenuous? Seems like a weird word choice.

You're arguing that the FO staff know that their stats are misleading, but intentionally throw them out there anyway?

31
by theslothook :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 2:13pm

"lacking in frankness, candor, or sincerity"

36
by bodymoremuddaland :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 3:02pm

I am a Ravens fan! I should say that before I start!

My problem with this analysis/article is wording and wording alone! Matt Ryan has not had the better NFL career. While I am not of the opinion that Joe Flacco is a better QB than Matt Ryan, he has had a much more successful career.

Stats do not lie, but they are far from the be all! If you look at the two QBs on paper through there first three years, they are incredibly comparable to one another, along with Eli Manning. The three were very similar in their first three years. Joe has held true to staying consistant with Eli, while Matt has emerged as a borderline elite QB. He is not there. Wont be there... At least until several big names retire. Unless he takes another huge leap forward this coming season! The truth about Joe (and Matt for that matter) is that it is unfair to compare him to Aaron Rodgers, Brees, PFM, and Brady. He is comparable to Eli. In fact, they are practically the same QB. At the very least by the stat book.

Ryan is comparable to Romo. Before you get your panties in a bunch, I mean that in a good way. They will both continue to put up the same great numbers, they just need to find there way over the hump and win some really big games. The only reason to ever compare Flacco and Ryan anymore is at the end of their respective careers... But, since this argument has been going on for 7 years now I will make the case for both being ridiculously-damn-good QBs.

Flacco has the clutch gene. You cannot deny that there is something there, and that there is something to be said for it. To come back 2 times in 3 minutes in pooring snow to win a game (with a shitty/not so shitty but old supporting cast) is impressive. The funny thing is, that was just the latest of his incredible late game heroics. His arm is as good or better than everyone in the league. (for the sake of argument, Rodgers, Stafford, and Cutler are the only arms that compare) (Okay maybe Kap, but he only throws one speed) He is far more athletic than he is given credit for, and has that "Winning mentality." The guy wins, and he wins big!!!

Matt Ryan will dink and dunk you down the field all day, and smile while doing it. He can throw the ball down the field when he needs too. Ask Carolina! Matts playoff woes are not all on him. In fact his supporting cast (mainly his defense) is to blame for a lot of their blunders. Last year was an anomally. Even still, he put up surprisingly solid (Romo-like numbers), and certainly did not "blow" games for his team. He is a solid leader of men, and should not be faulted for having great receivers around him! No matter what, he would have to play with the talent they put out there, he has just been fortunate to have solid support, at least on offense.

The Ravens fans who know whats up could care less about this argument at this point. Joe won us a Super Bowl, and at the end of the day, that is why you play the game! Statistically, Matt has been better, but he has not had the better career. Only an idiot sees the two resumes and says, "man those stats are way more impressive than winning it all" If Matt is truly leaps and bounds better, who cares? I say this to both fanbases! I have made my case for both! The one thing I would like to mention is that neither get the respect they deserve. It is like the forgotten QB class. Atlanta need not hate us! We need not hate Atlanta! Both teams are really lucky to have the guys they do, and whether Joe is better or Matt is better doesn't really matter. Joe has a SB and Matt needs one. The book has not been written on either. I hope for Atlanta he brings you one. Just so long as it does not come at our expense! If you read this thank you!

2
by jonnyblazin :: Wed, 07/09/2014 - 2:34pm

The commenters in Ravens message boards I've visited are adamant that Flacco is better than Ryan (as well as Romo), mentioning otherwise gets you called a troll.

The only reason I can think of one might want Flacco over Ryan is that, at the end of games, Flacco has the skill set to move the ball in 20-30 yard chunks more so than Ryan. When Flacco is "on", his ceiling is higher because he has a much better arm, can threaten all areas of the defense, etc.

Other than WR, the other factor that may have held Flacco back is the OC. Cam Cameron I think is good bringing young QB's along, so Flacco developed nicely from years 1-3, but Cameron's play-calling and in-game adjustments have always been rather poor. Jim Caldwell is just about the worst OC I've ever seen, defenses were regularly calling out Ravens plays before the snap by the end of the year.

Kubiak should be an interesting experiment, Flacco will likely improve his completion % next year.

3
by theslothook :: Wed, 07/09/2014 - 2:51pm

I don't think many Houston fans will be giving Kubiak a ringing endorsement(despite a few rather successful offensive years).

One issue I had with Flacco was he seemed to be programmed into two modes of thinking. Look to throw long or immediately dump it off to Ray Rice.

9
by jonnyblazin :: Wed, 07/09/2014 - 7:53pm

"I don't think many Houston fans will be giving Kubiak a ringing endorsement(despite a few rather successful offensive years)."

After last year I'll agree with you, but his track record is pretty impressive. He was the OC with a consistently great Broncos offense under Shanahan, and the Texans improved their offense 4 consecutive years once he became their HC until they were the 2nd ranked offense by DVOA in 2010. That's with the immortal Matt Schaub at QB.

Granted his last couple years the offense regressed, but that may be due to Kubiak being overextended as a HC and a core group of guys running their course as effective NFL players. I think if you let Kubiak focus only on coaching the offense and calling plays, he'll be alright.

6
by dcaslin :: Wed, 07/09/2014 - 6:55pm

My summary of Joe Flacco:

- Absurdly durable

- Extremely streaky in games, tends to have 4 completions in a row followed by 4 incompletes, etc.

- Averages out to a pretty average starter

- Apparently capable of being really good for a stretch of games that can lead to a super bowl

- Elite enough

Ryan's probably better, but Flacco's just fine. It's foolishness to angrily compare two good draft picks as if it matters which is better. The important part is that Flacco isn't Boller.

7
by theslothook :: Wed, 07/09/2014 - 7:15pm

It's too bad he's paid to be Aaron Rodgers.

8
by dcaslin :: Wed, 07/09/2014 - 7:19pm

Bah. He's paid to be a reliable average starting QB (there are probably not 32 of these in the NFL right now; so "average" may not be the right word) in a world where the salary cap is swiftly approaching $150M.

27
by RickD :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 1:33pm

He got a $120 million contract to be a "reliable average starting QB"?

If I'm paying my QB more than $20 mil per year, he'd better be at least "above average". He's getting the salary of a Top Five QB. (Top Three by salary in fact, but I'd allow an argument to include Manning and Brady.)

52
by theslothook :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 11:50pm

Flacco is above average and I don't think he's worth 20 million at all. Hell, had he not won the sb, Flacco would be getting the Tony Romo treatment nonstop.

56
by Cythammer :: Fri, 07/11/2014 - 1:54am

He's not nearly good enough to get the Tony Romo treatment.

53
by theslothook :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 11:50pm

Flacco is above average and I don't think he's worth 20 million at all. Hell, had he not won the sb, Flacco would be getting the Tony Romo treatment nonstop.

18
by Dan :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 3:41am

"The only reason I can think of one might want Flacco over Ryan is that, at the end of games, Flacco has the skill set to move the ball in 20-30 yard chunks more so than Ryan."

As a Bears fan, all I can say to that is "grrrr."

37
by bodymoremuddaland :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 3:03pm

I am a Ravens fan! I should say that before I start!

My problem with this analysis/article is wording and wording alone! Matt Ryan has not had the better NFL career. While I am not of the opinion that Joe Flacco is a better QB than Matt Ryan, he has had a much more successful career.

Stats do not lie, but they are far from the be all! If you look at the two QBs on paper through there first three years, they are incredibly comparable to one another, along with Eli Manning. The three were very similar in their first three years. Joe has held true to staying consistant with Eli, while Matt has emerged as a borderline elite QB. He is not there. Wont be there... At least until several big names retire. Unless he takes another huge leap forward this coming season! The truth about Joe (and Matt for that matter) is that it is unfair to compare him to Aaron Rodgers, Brees, PFM, and Brady. He is comparable to Eli. In fact, they are practically the same QB. At the very least by the stat book.

Ryan is comparable to Romo. Before you get your panties in a bunch, I mean that in a good way. They will both continue to put up the same great numbers, they just need to find there way over the hump and win some really big games. The only reason to ever compare Flacco and Ryan anymore is at the end of their respective careers... But, since this argument has been going on for 7 years now I will make the case for both being ridiculously-damn-good QBs.

Flacco has the clutch gene. You cannot deny that there is something there, and that there is something to be said for it. To come back 2 times in 3 minutes in pooring snow to win a game (with a shitty/not so shitty but old supporting cast) is impressive. The funny thing is, that was just the latest of his incredible late game heroics. His arm is as good or better than everyone in the league. (for the sake of argument, Rodgers, Stafford, and Cutler are the only arms that compare) (Okay maybe Kap, but he only throws one speed) He is far more athletic than he is given credit for, and has that "Winning mentality." The guy wins, and he wins big!!!

Matt Ryan will dink and dunk you down the field all day, and smile while doing it. He can throw the ball down the field when he needs too. Ask Carolina! Matts playoff woes are not all on him. In fact his supporting cast (mainly his defense) is to blame for a lot of their blunders. Last year was an anomally. Even still, he put up surprisingly solid (Romo-like numbers), and certainly did not "blow" games for his team. He is a solid leader of men, and should not be faulted for having great receivers around him! No matter what, he would have to play with the talent they put out there, he has just been fortunate to have solid support, at least on offense.

The Ravens fans who know whats up could care less about this argument at this point. Joe won us a Super Bowl, and at the end of the day, that is why you play the game! Statistically, Matt has been better, but he has not had the better career. Only an idiot sees the two resumes and says, "man those stats are way more impressive than winning it all" If Matt is truly leaps and bounds better, who cares? I say this to both fanbases! I have made my case for both! The one thing I would like to mention is that neither get the respect they deserve. It is like the forgotten QB class. Atlanta need not hate us! We need not hate Atlanta! Both teams are really lucky to have the guys they do, and whether Joe is better or Matt is better doesn't really matter. Joe has a SB and Matt needs one. The book has not been written on either. I hope for Atlanta he brings you one. Just so long as it does not come at our expense! If you read this thank you!

51
by theslothook :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 11:49pm

I wonder if the clutch gene is dominant or recessive? DO you think it came from the Mom or Dad's side?

4
by BretU :: Wed, 07/09/2014 - 3:48pm

What most people don't realize is that when Art Modell moved the team to Baltimore, part of the agreement contained what is known as the "Genuflect Clause." Under the terms of this provision, all Baltimore Ravens fans were forbidden to admit that there is a better quarterback in the NFL. Additionally, Ravens fans have the affirmative obligation to argue that the Baltimore Ravens quarterback is better than another NFL quarterback wherever the argument is even remotely plausible. Failure of any Baltimore Ravens fan to comply with this provision would result in the Ravens' owner being contractually obligated to sell the team to the closest living lineal descendent of Robert Irsay for one dollar.

This provision was obviously very difficult for Raven fans to adhere to during the Kyle Boller era but somehow they made it through. I think most Baltimore fans would rather be damned than to trigger the clause with Joe Flacco at the helm after surviving such quarterbacks Tony Banks and Trent Dilfer.

26
by Jim C. :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 1:30pm

This is closer to the truth than you might imagine.

I've lived in Baltimore for 29 years after growing up elsewhere. For complex historical and geographical reasons, Baltimoreans are fiercely defensive and parochial about their city and its institutions. Do not ever try to tell a Baltimorean that Mike Schmidt was a better third baseman than Brooks Robinson, or that Peyton Manning is a better qb than Johnny Unitas, or that Wilt Chamberlain was a better center than Wes Unseld.

And don't even mention "The Wire".

70
by TomKelso :: Thu, 07/17/2014 - 2:39pm

Of course Chamberlain was better than Unseld.

Mike Schmidt never saw the day he could field as well as Brooks Robinson.

Ask Mike Tanier about 19 vs. 18 -- he came down on Peyton's side, but admitted that Unitas could just as easily be considered the better.

I was born and raised in Charm City, still have to spit when the name "Irsay" (ptui) appears, and Homicide and The Wire are the best television series ever made. What town do you live in?

Would love to know if Flacco gets any of the "That's Julio Jones" benefit for 2013 -- "That's Boldin and Pitta."

5
by commissionerleaf :: Wed, 07/09/2014 - 6:20pm

Homerism aside, this isn't even a contest anymore, and I was very much in Flacco's camp when he came into the league. Even watching the two there is no contest. Ryan looks like a franchise quarterback with mild arm-noodliness which is mitigated by his other talents. Flacco misevaluates defenses and while he can throw lasers twenty yards downfield, can't toss an accurate slant reliably.

Ryan is a great quarterback, one of the ten best in the league. Flacco is Jake Delhomme with a pretty ring. The latter isn't chopped liver, but Jake is not working anymore, either.

10
by jonnyblazin :: Wed, 07/09/2014 - 7:59pm

"Flacco is Jake Delhomme with a pretty ring."

That's a bizarre comp, Delhomme wasn't even start in the league until he was 28. Delhomme also has a much higher INT %, and is more of a risk taking QB (gunslinger).

29
by commissionerleaf :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 2:04pm

Both Jake and Flacco are inconsistent quarterbacks with decent arm strength (great in Flacco's case) who subsist on the success of deep passing without ever maintaining a consistency on other passes that would normally be expected from an NFL starter.

34
by timeforchange :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 2:31pm

But they both had/have pretty successful careers.

So because they don't follow the dink and dunk pattern of other offenses...they aren't reliable starters? Because they don't pad their stats with shorter, high percentage passes?

Both have winning career records. Both played in a SB.

Clearly you can sustain an offense by relying on the deep ball. It may not be as consistent as other offenses, it may produce more ups and downs, but that doesn't mean you can't win with it.

45
by Alternator :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 11:15pm

It's a high-variance strategy, which is great for going on a tear and winning a Super Bowl, but really terrible for trying to set yourself up for consistent, sustained success.

An underdog loves high variance play, because an average result from each team results in the underdog losing. If they go for a high-risk-high-reward strategy, on the other hand, they'll win if they get lucky and the results keep going in their favor. If the results go against them, sure, it'll end up a blowout - but what's that really matter when you were going to lose regardless? The choice of going for at a 3 point win while risking a 21 point loss, versus an assured 7 point loss, is not really a risk at all.

So for the Ravens, sure. Their chances panned out, and they won the Super Bowl. Last year the chances mostly failed, and they crashed HARD. Compare this to a team like the Patriots, who have been built for consistent success, and even when they lost Brady for a year to injury, they only missed the playoffs on tiebreakers. Sure, the Patriots haven't won the Super Bowl in over a decade, but they've been there twice, both were close losses, and they're always one of the strong contenders.

Which team is 'better'? The one that's always there in the thick of the Super Bowl chase, or the team that got lucky and won it all once?

48
by timeforchange :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 11:36pm

"by Alternator :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 11:15pm
It's a high-variance strategy, which is great for going on a tear and winning a Super Bowl, but really terrible for trying to set yourself up for consistent, sustained success...So for the Ravens, sure. Their chances panned out, and they won the Super Bowl. Last year the chances mostly failed, and they crashed HARD. Compare this to a team like the Patriots, who have been built for consistent success, and even when they lost Brady for a year to injury, they only missed the playoffs on tiebreakers. Sure, the Patriots haven't won the Super Bowl in over a decade, but they've been there twice, both were close losses, and they're always one of the strong contenders.
Which team is 'better'? The one that's always there in the thick of the Super Bowl chase, or the team that got lucky and won it all once?"

Um...the Ravens have been in the AFC Championship game 3 of the past 6 years. That is 50% since 2008. Same as NE. They've made the playoffs 5 of the last 6 years. Most would call that consistent success.

Clearly the Ravens strategy has worked well enough to produce 5 playoff trips, 3 trips to the AFC title game and a SB win in the last 6 seasons. Not sure how you can ask for much more.

You do realize the Ravens have won the SB twice right? And have the highest post season win percentage of any team in the NFL? Some of your comments don't seem like you are aware of such facts.

49
by theslothook :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 11:45pm

I think there are two different issues at work here. First, the patriots over this stretch have been getting their primarily BECAUSE of their offense. The ravens, by contrast, have been getting there because of their defense. I don't think stylistic approach of the ravens is why they are getting to afc championship games.

I will agree partially with timeforchange, there should be some correction for the type of throws a qb makes. A dump off that collects a first down should rightly reward the team dvoa wise, but is it so clear that it should reward the qb? How about short routes to slot receiver vs having to thread long bombs or medium length throws?

This is where it gets complicated. Is a qb who throws a ton short doing so because he can read the coverage pre-snap and find the open short zone over and over, or is he blessed to be in a style where receivers get open short again and again...?

I'm not sure we have a good answer to these questions yet.

54
by JimZipCode :: Fri, 07/11/2014 - 12:33am

It's nice to see a discussion of this here. I'm a Ravens fan and a participant on Ravens discussion boards. I would like to chime in to counterbalance my fellow fans:

Avoiding anything quantitative, just from eyeballing them, my consistent impression is that Matt Ryan reads defenses better and decides where to go with the ball more quickly. Joe is a little slow in deciding where to throw. Joe probably has better arm talent, but Ryan is not deficient at all in that area. (Ryan has a better arm than I expected when he was drafted.) The Falcons run more of their offense thru Ryan than the Ravens do thru Flacco; and they really *CAN*, because he runs that stuff very well.

Those two things make Ryan better in my book. Their physical talents are close; Ryan processes D's more quickly; and he is asked to do more by the Falcons offensive staff. He's better. he big asterisk I would have put on this last offseason was, if Joe's performance in his last 5 games of 2012 (playoff run plus Giants in game 15) was not a mirage, if it carried-over, then Joe was on a whole new level. He would be an MVP candidate, and better than Ryan. But it didn't carry over: instead Joe's game fell apart last season.

Of course, Joe brings some qualities to the party, that make one want to bump him up a little bit in one's QB rankings, from wherever the stats put him. Not a lot, maybe 2-4 spots; not enough to pass Ryan. But maybe enough to come up close behind him. Joe is durable as hell. (Ryan has been durable too.) He seems to have that mental makeup that great basketball shooters are supposed to have, that amnesia or lack of conscience or whatever: Joe can stink it up for 3 quarters, then steal a game with one bomb in the 4th. The arm is real, and it gives him a "puncher's chance" on every possession. (eg Mile High Miracle) He's no diva; he doesn't have to throw the ball x times per game to stay mollified. He know who to play within a game plan and protect a lead.

And there is the Super Bowl. It's fashionable on analytic sites to push that aside as just one game; but it wasn't just one game, it was a whole playoff run. The analytic story on Joe from 2008 to 11 was that he was riding the coattails of a good roster and a great defense, all the way to appearances in the conf championship game. And that was true twice. But when they actually won the Super Bowl, Joe wasn't tagging along behind a great defense. Joe was carrying the team, him and Jacoby Jones. Most QBs don't have a run where they go 4 or 5 games with a passer rating in the 110s, throwing multiple TDs with no INTs. That kind of upside is worth something. I don't know precisely what; but surely we can use it to break some ties or near-ties around the middle

I think the Jake Delomme comparison above is not completely off base. Joe's game reminds me of Jake Delhomme a little bit – Delhomme with more athleticism and arm talent. This comparison is not an insult: for 3 years, 2003-5, Delhomme was a good QB.

So there you go. Ravens fan says Matt Ryan is better than Flacco, but Flacco's "intangibles" narrow the gap, so it's not as great as it appears statistically. All of Ravens fandom is riveted to see what happens with Kubiak working on Joe's footwork and reads. What if Joe could get faster and better at the weakest point of his game? Could the mirage of the 2012 postseason re-appear? I hope so!

On the subject of intangibles, let me point out that it's fun to have Joe around town locally. He is such a regular guy: you see him in the McDonalds drive-thru, on the beach, doing the Polar Bear Swim, etc. It's charming. Joe Flacco could not hang with Johnny Manziel's crew.

55
by theslothook :: Fri, 07/11/2014 - 12:43am

Like you said, I was fascinated by Flacco's postseason follow up. Let me be clear, since I began watching in 1999, the best qb performance throughout the playoffs I have ever seen belong to Flacco(just edging out Arod). He did this without the weapons the other elite qbs had. He did this beyond just throwing deep. He was silly accurate, he read the field well, he converted big third downs even though his asinine offensive coordinators insisted on running the ball every down but third and long.

He was phenomenal and I was very interested to see how he would evolve. Instead, he reverted back to old joe and that tells me that it was a 4 game blip. He's not a secretly terrible qb that got lucky for 4 games, but that 4 game sample should not make the rest of his career irrelevant. I think it's more likely it was a great 4 game stretch from a pretty good qb than the old, "well, he turns it on when he needs to".

57
by timeforchange :: Fri, 07/11/2014 - 7:10am

If you think 2013 was representative of Flacco reverting "back to old joe", I'd suggest you compare 2013 to 2008-2012.

2013 stands out as a clear outlier.

Career lows (Y/A) or career highs (sacks, INTs) in almost every major category clearly illustrate the extreme outlier status of 2013. Things like that don't just happen out of the blue. When a particular season is so skewed by extreme highs and extreme lows...it is hard to say that is representative of anything other than being an outlier.

66
by commissionerleaf :: Tue, 07/15/2014 - 2:17pm

I saw 2013 as being Joe Flacco 2008-2012 without a sustaining running game or an elite defense to put him in easy situations. In 2013, the Ravens for the first time lived and died through the quarterback position. Mostly died, obviously.

59
by jonnyblazin :: Fri, 07/11/2014 - 11:00am

Another quality that Flacco has is his ability to hold on the ball until the last second, take a wallop, and still deliver the ball with a good follow through. I've noticed even greats like Brady and Manning don't do this, they brace for impact or compromise their mechanics when a rusher is barreling down on them. Flacco is durable, but also a tough SOB.

60
by Ryan D. :: Fri, 07/11/2014 - 11:59am

After this season, someone should ask Steve Smith to compare Joe Flacco to Jake Delhomme. I'm sure Steve would honestly tell you what he thought.

67
by commissionerleaf :: Tue, 07/15/2014 - 2:17pm

Awesome comment.

11
by PaddyPat :: Wed, 07/09/2014 - 9:17pm

I think the Player DVOA can give you a ballpark sense of a player, irrespective of the acknowledged problem of separating a player from the scheme and supporting cast. For example, in his career, Flacco has been pretty consistently ranked around 17-18 in DVOA. His highest season was 2010 when he came in at 15th. Matt Ryan sits around 7-9 with a career low ranking of 15th. If we look at supporting cast, well I think it would be hard to argue against the fact that Tom Brady had some of the worst NFL supporting casts in recent memory in 2006 and last year, 2013, but he maintained a DVOA ranking those years of 10th and 11th respectively. Hence, an effective quarterback operating in a suboptimal team setting can still put up good DVOA numbers. Obviously, ranking has only so much meaning, because difference between ranks are variable, etc. but the point is that the gestalt is telling. Flacco does look average. Matt Ryan looks good, though not at the level of the top 5 players. The difference between average and good is not that great, but it's significant.

12
by theslothook :: Wed, 07/09/2014 - 9:28pm

The trouble with that argument is Tom Brady did not always have poor receivers in 2014. Gronk and Amendola plus vareen and built rapport with edelman helped skyrocket his dvoa for a middle part of the season, which not coincidentally, improved his seasonal dvoa. Before that, Brady was really struggling and I remember Aaron spending a dvoa article on how poor Brady's season had been to that point.

To flacco, I'm not sure there's ever been a year I thought flacco had an above average set of receivers. Now, I still don't think flacco is anything above solid, but I don't think dvoa is the right stat.

14
by tuluse :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 12:44am

Brady had some bad receivers, but his offensive line was good last year.

I don't recall how it played in 06.

17
by theslothook :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 3:39am

I would still like to know how an offensive line that was riddled with injuries towards the end managed to still rank 6th in the league in terms of rush dvoa, despite the absence of gronk. I've had arguments w/ people here at FO in the past about the Pats run game success. People explained it away with the pats passing game success, but we know this year provides the exception to that narrative. Even denver, with their absurd passing offense and relatively healthy o line ranked worse in rushing than the pats.

In fact, the pats have ranked in the top 10 in rush dvoa from 2006-2013, an 8 year run that is unmatched in the dvoa records.

By comparison, Manning led teams have had only 3 out of 8 years where they ranked in the top 10, and none where they were in the top 5.

A good rush dvoa is not predicated on a good passing dvoa.

21
by Duff Soviet Union :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 4:48am

"A good rush dvoa is not predicated on a good passing dvoa."

Dan Marino is nodding his head right now.

The Patriots have had great lines for ages. They just get underrated because Tom Brady's fans love to exaggerate how great he is.

Personally, I think everybody underrates their own team's offensive line. Everyone thinks that the quarterback should be allowed to stand in the pocket for 10 seconds at a time and running backs should be allowed to run untouched for 10 yards downfield and if this isn't happening, then obviously the line is terrible.

35
by mehllageman56 :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 2:44pm

A second reason for Pats fans underrating their offensive line is that in the beginning of Brady's career, it wasn't that good. As a Jets fan, I can attest that he took a beating in some of those divisional games before 2006. I remember one game in 2003 where the Jets sacked him 4 times in the first half. Brady still beat them in the second half. So Pats fans assume that it hasn't gotten better since then.

46
by Alternator :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 11:21pm

How the Patriots have managed sustained success on the offensive line is easy: Dante Scarnecchia is one of the best offensive line coaches in NFL history. The Colts had Howard Mudd pulling similar magic before his retirement.

A good offensive line coach can really help a team get/stay great. An amazing offensive line coach, and a Head Coach and/or GM who'll listen to him and grab the types of players he seeks, will work miracles.

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by MJK :: Sat, 07/12/2014 - 10:56pm

Agree totally, but there's another factor as well: playcalling. Aside from McDaniel's somewhat misplaced love of the deep pass attempt when you're moving the ball well without it (or worse, on 3rd and short), the Pats offensive playcalling has been exceptional over Weis, McDaniels, O'Brien, and McDaniels again. This makes their pass game, and ESPECIALLY their run game, look better.

I don't know how many teams have bad looking O-lines because they have predictable playcalling--things like ALWAYS following an incomplete pass on 1st and 10 with a dive into the middle of the line that gets you 2 yards and leaves you in 3rd and long. Or never running on 3rd and short-but-not-inches.

Part of the reason the Pats run efficiently is that they run when it's not predictable to do so.

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by theslothook :: Sun, 07/13/2014 - 1:03am

I'm not sure I agree with this. The pats have continued to evolve as an offense, are we really so sure that this playcalling advantage has continued across so many coordinators with different philosophies? Furthermore, wouldn't this playcalling advantage be seen with the colts, who ostensibly, ran when the looks were favorable? THat still didn't stop the colts from being sub par at running.

I think it's more likely that the patriots have had good o line coaches and they commit resources to the o line.

13
by timeforchange :: Wed, 07/09/2014 - 10:02pm

"There is something to be said for the idea that our stats could be improved by looking not just at what a quarterback does compared to average, but what he's done compared to average based on what the team asks him to do. Yes, it's harder to hit the deep throws that Flacco attempts more often than Ryan does."

Seems to me QBs that throw a lot of deep balls to non-elite WRs tend to not show too well in DVOA.

Luck in his rookie year led the league in deep attempts, with 90+ deep attempts. Flacco averages in the 70-80 range normally. This is way more than league average. They are throwing to guys like TY Hilton and Torrey Smith, not Julio or Calvin.

Football Outsiders needs to find a way to account for QBs that rely on the deep ball more than "average" QBs. As it is, the system seems set up to reward QBs in certain offensive schemes over other offensive schemes. Seems silly to not account for a QB with 35 deep attempts compared to a QB with 80 deep attempts. To not account for a small ball QB like Alex Smith compared to a deep ball QB.

This so-called "average" QB does not seem to be too reflective of deep ball QBs.

Maybe a scaled weight based on aDOT or air yards would work?

15
by tuluse :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 12:46am

I'm not sure it's worth it. I think it might be a sign of poor QB play that a QB is going deep that often.

16
by Red :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 1:32am

Matt Ryan Career
63.7% Completion Rate
6.35 Air Yards/Completion
4.04 Air Yards/Attempt

Joe Flacco Career
60.2% Completion Rate
6.05 Air Yards/Completion
3.64 Air Yards/Attempt

Yes, Matt Ryan averages more Air Yards per completion than Joe Flacco, despite Flacco's rep as a deep thrower. In reality, Flacco throws so many checkdowns and screen passes that it more than cancels out his deep throws.

Matt Ryan = Above Average
Joe Flacco = Mediocre

19
by Duff Soviet Union :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 4:38am

I've always wondered where Flacco gets this "mad bomber" rep from. It's certainly not from actual football games.

Last year, the Ravens ranked 29th in Yards per Completion. Not yards per attempt, but yards per COMPLETION. His other years, the Ravens have ranked 10th, 20th, 15th, 16th and 13th. Bombs away!!

Seriously, who outside of Ravens fans and "COUNT TEH RINGS!!!!111" zealots thinks this is even an argument?

What next, "why does Peyton Manning rank higher than Brandon Weeden?"

Flacco is a generally below average quarterback, who prior to this year, had two genuine skills: 1) A really good interception rate especially considering his poor completion percentages and 2) the ability to share a locker room with great defences.

24
by dank067 :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 12:57pm

Flacco did have one of the highest deep ball rates in the league last season, at least through November: http://regressing.deadspin.com/charts-who-are-the-best-deep-passers-in-t...

(I'm not a PFF subscriber, so I don't know how things ended up or what the numbers were in previous seasons.)

Of course, the same link also points out his awful deep ball Y/A last season. It also doesn't look like his career air yards/attempt and air yards/completion are especially high. It makes sense that he would throw a lot of dumpoffs since he's had Ray Rice with him in the backfield most of his career, but I wonder if his deep ball Y/A has always been below average? (I don't trust last season's data on its own, given how awful the Ravens offense was.) Or maybe his issue is that he has trouble consistently hitting intermediate/underneath stuff?

28
by timeforchange :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 1:50pm

Intermediate passes were not really an issue when he had a WR that excelled in that area - Derrick Mason.

Even when they acquired Boldin, they used him as more of a deep WR (miscast use IMO), and then of course you have Torrey, considered by some as a one trick pony.

When you strip out a reliable "underneath" WR, and replace with guys that mainly run go routes...I would expect completion % to tumble.

23
by timeforchange :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 8:39am

Matt Ryan's completion percentage in 2012-2013 is 7-8% higher than his completion average percentage from 2008-2011.

In his first 4 seasons, he was a ~60% passer.

With the arrival of Koetter, they nearly doubled the amount of throws Ryan makes to RBs...and his completion percentage increased accordingly because of the increased amount of high percentage pass plays added to his overall attempts.

20
by Duff Soviet Union :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 4:40am

I don't think they need to adjust at all. Flacco's yards per completion numbers indicate that he's not actually completing many of these deep throws. Why should he be rewarded just for throwing the ball 30 yards in the air to nobody? That is not a skill.

30
by commissionerleaf :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 2:07pm

"Yes, it's harder to hit the deep throws that Flacco attempts more often than Ryan does."

Possibly true. But it isn't as important to hit the deep passes as it is to be able to sustain drives by, for instance, completing lots of passes. Deep balls are a skill, but they aren't what you look for in a franchise quarterback. Kyle Boller had a big arm too!

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by theslothook :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 2:20pm

I think being good at the deep ball is less about arm strength and more about timing. Yes you need at least some level of arm talent to do it, but to give you an idea(per pff), the leading qb in terms of deep accuracy with some minimum number of attempts was noodle-armed captain forehead.

Where I think arm strength really matters is when you need to rifle in passes into tight coverage. These type of throws typically occur on short and especially medium depth routes.

43
by lightsout85 :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 7:45pm

If comments could be +1'd, I'd do so for this one. You used stats to dispel a commonly held (albeit false) belief, and included the correct "reason" for a strong-arm being desirable.

When you hear scouts/pros talk about it, you hear them talk about VELOCITY. A strong arm is less about throwing the deep ball** and more about hitting the short/medium distance throws faster. (Also, in situations that are less than ideal (off back-foot, etc), they're able to still achieve minimum velocity/distance needed on shorter throws - while a weak-armed QB would just have a ball falling at the feet of the OL).

**Philip Rivers, another guy usually found near the league lead in deep-accuracy, also has an average arm (strength wise)

33
by timeforchange :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 2:20pm

And how many playoff games did Boller win with the same defense?

Next thing you'll be comparing Flacco to Dilfer.

There is clearly a difference in QB play between Dilfer, Boller and Flacco. There is a reason the Ravens were not consistent playoff contenders before Flacco.

40
by Duff Soviet Union :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 5:50pm

So he's better than Kyle Boller? So what? How does that make him as good as Matt Ryan?

22
by timeforchange :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 8:34am

The fact is there are some QBs that routinely have an aDOT in the 6-8 yards range, and others that have an aDOT in the 10-12 yards range.

I don't understand why you would not want to account for such a difference in QBing/scheme. It makes a difference.

41
by Duff Soviet Union :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 5:57pm

Last year, Ryan's aDOT was 7.0 which is very low, while Flacco's was 9.5 which is above average but not really notably so.

According to the same website, Ryan's actual completion % was 3.9% higher than expected given his aDOT (a top 10 mark) while Flacco's was 3.3% lower than his expected completion % given his aDOT (11th worst). This doesn't even adjust for Ryan's brutal schedule.

Ryan is just more accurate than Flacco, and while some of that can be waved away with "yeah, but Flacco's trying harder throws", certainly not all of it can.

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by lightsout85 :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 8:25pm

I'm curious, what site has an aDOT/comp% comparison? I'd love to see that. It'd be much more time-efficient than looking at every single player page (like on PFF) to compare QBs only in set yard-ranges (such as 0-5,5-10, etc).

NVM, I see (after googling) it's from a PFF article, haha. I never saw it because I don't read their fantasy articles (Shame they don't include these numbers in the normal PFF premium section. They don't even list aDOT.....oddly).

edit2: I see that on the list for the 2012 season, they actually broke down the expectations of aDOT by 10yd sections. Ryan was in the top 10 for the 10-19 & 20+ sections. Flacco was in the bottom 10 for the 10-19 section. Ryan's definitely more accurate regardless of how deep they're throwing.

38
by bodymoremuddaland :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 3:52pm

He is not paid like Aaron Rodgers, idiot. He is paid to win SBs... Thats it!

39
by theslothook :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 4:48pm

I can't tell if this is a joke but...I guess the rest of those qbs are being paid to give solid efforts.

42
by lightsout85 :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 7:33pm

Love this piece. It's pretty criminal how little mention Matt Ryan gets in comparison to other top QBs (even when all the "advanced stats" support it).

I've always found the "he throws more deep passes" argument a little laughable. Partly because people who claim that don't have actual numbers (on how MUCH MORE some passes deep), just a general notion, and also because they usually do so because they're not a accurate on passes at other levels. If you have access to passes broken down by distance, often (though not always) QBs who rank higher in the % of passes that go deep also rank lower in accuracy at normal levels (like 0-10yds in the air, etc).

To me, that sounds like the team has them passing deep more often because they think "Well, he's not going to be as accurate on shorter throws....that rules out a spread/timing based short-pass system, so we might as well try & get more value (ie: deep pass) on passes he might not complete". (And these teams often are run-first teams, so you almost require deeper passing to off-set the lower gains of running).

47
by Alternator :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 11:28pm

Ryan suffers because he's not top-tier; he's second-tier. It's still a great place to be, but he won't be in conversations about best-in-league, and he also isn't going to be mentioned in conversations about an average QB. Rivers suffers from this, too; until he really struggled, how much did you truly hear about him in comparison to Brady/Brees/Manning/Rodgers? Rivers at least had best-of-the-rest credentials, but Ryan has to compete with Rivers, Romo, Eli (in some years), and now you have Wilson and Lucky who might enter that conversation.

It's hard to be in the bottom part of the top quartile!

50
by theslothook :: Thu, 07/10/2014 - 11:48pm

Rivers, much like Foust, will probably be one of the most under appreciated qbs in nfl history. I've told this to many people, but the best qb of the 2004 class was Philip Rivers. I know he's the one without the rings and I know both Ben and Eli have their backers, but Rivers' statistically has been the one whos been most consistently excellent. He's also been the one with worse defenses and special teams. His running games since the days of LT have been lackluster as well.

61
by Shattenjager :: Sat, 07/12/2014 - 12:51am

Well, Faust had a pretty clear PED (Performance-Enhancing Deal) issue. People may be downgrading him for that.

68
by Jim C. :: Tue, 07/15/2014 - 5:16pm

It's that whole stench of brimstone thing. Really caused problems in the locker room.

58
by dmstorm22 :: Fri, 07/11/2014 - 9:45am

Rivers was absolutely up there through 2010. Most people had Rivers in the Rodgers place until the 2010 playoffs. Then 2011 happened, and then he crashed in 2012 but as we see it maybe was coaching, or talent around him, or just a fluke bad year. To me, Rivers is right up there with those four for their ability right now. In fact, I can't really buy a good argument that heading into 2014, Rivers is any worse than the 4th best QB in the NFL right now (behind Manning, Rodgers, Brees).

That all said, yes, you have a salient point. Being anything less than 'Elite' muddies everything immediately. There are differences between Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, or Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford. It gets really interesting debating the QBs ranked like 7-20 because not too much is separating them, and you have to factor in things like age when discussing Luck/Kap/Wilson, but to me Ryan is the top of that list.

Personal Top-10: Manning, Rodgers, Brees, Rivers, Brady, Ben, Ryan, Wilson, Luck, Cutler (may have missed someone for 8-10 - did this off the top of my head).

65
by lightsout85 :: Mon, 07/14/2014 - 12:43am

I didn't mean to imply he should be thought of among Manning & Brady, but the average fan (who doesn't follow FO or PFF & see the advanced metrics) doesn't realize he's as good as he is.

I would say the numbers show Rivers IS among the top tier of QBs. (He's finished in the top 3 in DYAR and DVOA 4 times, and top-10 another year). He just plays in a market (/for a team) that doesn't afford him the publicity the other top QBs get.

63
by MJK :: Sat, 07/12/2014 - 11:04pm

There is something to be said for the idea that our stats could be improved by looking not just at what a quarterback does compared to average, but what he's done compared to average based on what the team asks him to do. Yes, it's harder to hit the deep throws that Flacco attempts more often than Ryan does.

I disagree with this notion. Yes it's harder to be successful on deep passes. So teams shouldn't attempt them as often. Assuming your OC isn't named Schottenheimer, it's reasonable to assume the offensive playcalls are the ones designed to give you the most chance of success. So if your OC is asking you to do the harder, worse risk/reward play more often (i.e. deep balls), it's probably because you're bad at the better risk/reward plays (short and medium passes).

I think the idea of grading all plays based on outcome, and not scaling based on types of plays, is what makes DVOA valuable.

69
by Noah of Arkadia :: Wed, 07/16/2014 - 2:57pm

I'm still in World Cup mode, so I find it's like the team that skips midfield by dividing the ball deep (sorry if I've got the wrong terminology, but I think you get it). Only reason to do that is you don't trust your midfield to get the ball to the opposite goal more than 50% of the time.

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