by Scott Kacsmar
In the coming weeks we will be using ALEX to help analyze other statistics familiar to FO readers such as failed completions and success rate adjusted for down and distance. We will also get into the defensive numbers to see if any defenses are consistently good at forcing offenses into shorter throws. These studies take more time than a quick Monday write-up permits, so in the future we'll have the numbers prepared late in the week so that we can look at these things on a Monday along with the recap of the week's notable ALEX plays.
Since we are getting close to the midway point of the season, here is a look at which quarterbacks have finished first and last in ALEX on third down for each season from 2006 to 2014 (minimum 50 passes).
|2006||Michael Vick||6.97||David Carr||-0.80|
|2007||Sage Rosenfels||4.09||Brian Griese||-1.63|
|2008||Tony Romo||3.62||Jason Campbell||-2.62|
|2009||Philip Rivers||3.73||Trent Edwards||-2.79|
|2010||Michael Vick||4.73||Jimmy Clausen||-2.18|
|2011||Ben Roethlisberger||4.56||Kevin Kolb||-2.78|
|2012||Drew Brees||4.26||Blaine Gabbert||-2.40|
|2013||Matt McGloin||4.08||Alex Smith||-2.15|
|2014||Drew Stanton||3.94||Alex Smith||-2.04|
|2015||Ben Roethlisberger||9.11||Alex Smith||-3.83|
We will see if Ben Roethlisberger can join his current backup Michael Vick as the only quarterbacks to lead the league in ALEX twice. Roethlisberger is bound to regress to the mean eventually here. Alex Smith is looking for a three-peat and a new low on the other end, and the last-place finishers include some very notable captain checkdowns.
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. Here is where we review the week's most conservative and aggressive plays by ALEX on third and fourth downs.
Week 8's Most Conservative Plays
The Lowest ALEX
This game got ugly in the second half. A penalty for an illegal peelback block eventually led to a third-and-34 for the Bengals. Andy Dalton scrambled to his left, but eventually just dumped the ball down to Mohamed Sanu for a short gain before a punt from midfield.
Cincinnati actually has the lowest ALEX (minus-30) for a play that converted since 2006, and it was a total fluke. In 2009, Carson Palmer threw a TE screen three yards behind the line of scrimmage to Daniel Coates, who gained 23 yards before getting stripped of the ball from behind. Laveranues Coles came through with the recovery on what became a 38-yard gain and first down against the Packers.
A Notable Failure of the Week
This almost had to be a Miami play from Thursday night, but instead of going over the minus-25 ALEX dump to Jonas Gray, let's go to the defense's failure at the beginning of the game. This one really set the tone for the night as Miami had a good chance to get a quick stop on third-and-16. New England ran a simple running back screen, but the Dolphins weren't able to wrap up Dion Lewis short of the sticks, and he blew through a tackle attempt for the first down. The Patriots went on to score a touchdown and never trailed in the 36-7 win.
In 2015, plays with a minus-20 ALEX or lower on third or fourth down have converted just 3 of 61 times (4.9 percent). The Patriots have two of those conversions now with Danny Amendola getting the other on a bubble screen against the Colts.
Week 8's Most Aggressive Plays
The Highest ALEX
Teams: Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati
Situation: third-and-5 at own 22, leading 7-6 in third quarter with 11:56 left
Play: Ben Roethlisberger pass intended for Antonio Brown intercepted by Reggie Nelson
Air yards: 48
This game was wild as both of the week's highest ALEX plays came on interceptions thrown by Ben Roethlisberger and Andy Dalton (plus-39 ALEX in the fourth quarter). Both served as punts, though Roethlisberger's bomb here was returned to the Pittsburgh 33. However, the Bengals moved backwards and that became the drive that led to our lowest ALEX play mentioned earlier on third-and-34.
A Notable Success of the Week
This was a strange one, because the CBS broadcast changed the graphic from third down to second-and-2, but this was definitely a third-and-1. Baltimore almost appeared to attack it like a second-and-2, because Joe Flacco simply lined up in the shotgun and lofted a good deep ball down the sideline to Chris Givens for 39 yards. He beat Brandon Flowers, who has had his share of struggles in 2015. The Ravens finished this drive off with a touchdown.
2015 ALEX Rankings Thru Week 8
The following table shows where each qualified quarterback (minimum 30 passes) ranks in ALEX on third down only. There are also rankings for DYAR, average need yards (ranked from highest to lowest) and conversion rate.
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.