ALEX: Week 14 and Touchdown Passes
by Scott Kacsmar
Last week we looked at the largest ALEX on all passes since 2006 and found that Aaron Rodgers' Hail Mary touchdown in Detroit (plus-51 ALEX) was the longest touchdown in that timeframe. What about touchdown passes in general for all downs? The following table looks at the averages around the league since 2006 (there may be a few minor discrepancies with the official totals right now):
The average touchdown pass has been consistently thrown just a little more than 5 yards beyond the sticks in the last decade. What about from individual quarterbacks? This table looks at the 40 passers with at least 50 touchdown throws from 2006 to 2014. The players are ranked by descending ALEX, and there is also data for the percentage of air yards on their touchdown passes.
We see some mad bombers at the top and some checkdown captains at the bottom, but also some crossover. Jake Delhomme threw the longest touchdowns (23.1 average) in this group, so while he was often going the deepest beyond the sticks, he still got plenty of YAC from his receivers (often Steve Smith) on these touchdowns. Sam Bradford is the opposite as he throws some of the shortest touchdowns here (14.8 average), but doesn't need much YAC on them. Alex Smith is just about where you expect him, with only Chad Henne going shorter.
Cam Newton's numbers have a surprising lack of verticality to them, but that might be changing this season. Here are the 2015 numbers for everyone with at least eight touchdown passes.
Tyrod Taylor has completed less than 56 percent of his passes in four straight games, but he has still had an unusually successful season at throwing deep, especially for someone with such little experience coming into the season. This also highlights just how short Matthew Stafford's touchdowns have been, as none have been longer than 25 yards. Finally, Matt Hasselbeck is pulling off what I have to imagine is the rare feat of negative ALEX on his touchdown passes. All eight have been in the red zone, and all but one came inside the 10-yard line.
Week 14's Most Conservative Plays
The Lowest ALEX
Teams: Detroit at St. Louis
Situation: third-and-33 at own 33, trailing 7-0 in second quarter with 2:00 left
Play: Matthew Stafford pass complete to Theo Riddick for 8 yards
Air yards: minus-1
The strangest thing about this week's give-up screen on third-and-forever was what happened after it was over. The Rams could have called their first timeout at the 1:53 mark to have plenty of time for a drive to end the first half. With the punt units on, Jeff Fisher stood close to the referee before calling the timeout at 1:26. What was the delay that wasted 27 seconds? St. Louis even tried to score, going to the no-huddle offense and throwing on second down from its own 22. The drive ended with Case Keenum's interception from midfield as he was trying to force something in the last 20 seconds. It is game management like this that makes it a real mystery how Fisher keeps his job every year.
Week 14's Most Aggressive Plays
The Highest ALEX
A Notable Success of the Week
This actually was not my first choice, but I realized too late that I filtered only completions from this week, and this was tied for the longest on third or fourth down. The Texans just fell behind by three touchdowns with most of the fourth quarter left, so why not take a shot to your best receiver on third-and-7? Hopkins finally got by Logan Ryan for the 40-yard gain, then watched his offense try the Wildcat and take bad sacks the rest of the way as he never caught another ball.
There was actually a plus-27 ALEX play earlier in this game that I liked the most this week, with Hoyer letting one rip on third-and-18 to Nate Washington for a 49-yard gain. Outside of these two plays, the Houston passing game had almost nothing going for it on the night.
2015 ALEX Rankings Thru Week 14
The following table shows where each qualified quarterback (minimum 44 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.
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.
Aaron Rodgers continues to be as consistent with ALEX as anyone, but his throws just have not been connecting as often this season. As mentioned above, Stafford has been very conservative this season. That's nothing new for Ryan Tannehill in Miami. Eli Manning is having a mediocre season on third down for the Giants.
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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.