Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

There have been a number of questionable Roughing the Passer penalties in the early part of the season, particularly in New England's win over Baltimore in Week 4. Some of the complaints have people asking if the officials call penalties more often to specifically protect the bigger-name quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. What do the numbers say?

Here is a list of the quarterbacks who have drawn the most Roughing the Passer flags since the beginning of 2007:

8: Trent Edwards, Jeff Garcia, David Garrard
7: Tom Brady
6: Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan, Kurt Warner
5: Drew Brees, Jay Cutler, Chad Pennington, Matt Schaub

Obviously the sample sizes here are small. It is true that Brady and Manning draw more Roughing calls than most quarterbacks. However, so do Trent Edwards and David Garrard. Seven calls on Brady is a lot considering he didn't play most of 2008, but Matt Ryan has drawn six flags and didn't play at all in 2007. (Brady and Edwards, by the way, are the only quarterbacks to draw three flags for Roughing so far in 2009.)

If you wanted a list of "big name quarterbacks," it's hard to find a better one than our own J.I. Halsell's list of top ten quarterback salaries from a few weeks back. However, most of the quarterbacks on that list have not drawn a high number of Roughing flags in the past 2+ seasons. Eli Manning and Carson Palmer have drawn just one apiece. Ben Roethlisberger and Brett Favre have drawn two apiece. Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers have drawn three apiece. And no defender since 2007 has been flagged for roughing Donovan McNabb.

If you want to figure out where Roughing comes from, to be honest, the defense involved is a much better indicator than the fame of the quarterback. One defense clearly stands out when it comes to roughing the passer over the past 2+ seasons, and no, it isn't Baltimore. The team with the most Roughing the Passer flags since 2007 is Tennessee, with 14, including two on Peyton Manning last week. Baltimore is second with nine; Carolina and Pittsburgh each have seven.

ADDENDUM: Looking at the initial comments below, I'm starting to wonder if I need to include a disclaimer whenever I get curious about something, spend 10 minutes looking up numbers, and write an XP because I think it is sort of interesting. ("DISCLAIMER: BRAINSTORM WHILE GAME CHARTING; NOT A FULLY SCIENTIFIC STUDY.") Anyway, I do feel like we haven't done enough of these little quickie commentary XPs this year, so I'll keep posting them as long as people can accept that they aren't fully-adjusted, "final word" type studies.


37 comments, Last at 19 Oct 2009, 11:01am

1 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

So Ray Lewis was right when he said certain defenses were targeted more?

(Just for the record: This is a HORRIBLE thing to try and use statistical analysis on -- and NOT because of the ridiculous sample size)

2 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

You'd think that maybe you might try to adjust for things like number of pass attempts, and quality of offensive line. Particularly given that FO has statistics on such things.

5 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

I forgot, isn't there a "hit" statistic for QBs? If there is, a ratio of (# of times roughed) / (# of times hit) may be a simple metric that easily that adjusts for quality and targets.

Of course, in BAL vs Brady case he QB was somehow roughed w/o getting hit. I wonder how you adjust for this.

CAPTCHA says "Ameri- crappier")

12 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

I agree, I think they do track this kind of thing, and I would imagine that they can look at the data in the following ways:

ROP Penalities/Pass attempts
ROPP/Times sacked
ROPP/Times sacked+times hit (i.e. total times hit)

This should help to conclude if a passer is ever given preferential treatment for drawing the flag.

8 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

It's pretty clear from the data given that the answer is yes. Tom Brady with 7 after not playing all of last year? And how many times was he actually hit? The posters above are correct that the real numbers we should be looking at are the raios per drop-backs, sacked and hit.

The Tom Brady number is clearly way higher than anyone else just from the knowledge we're comparing one year to two for the others.

9 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

Don't you need to be considering how many RTP penalties against the number of times the defense gets close rather than just raw numbers? Maybe the ratio of RTP vs. QB pressures or sacks would be slightly more meaningful.

If the NE and IND lines are keeping Brady and Manning clean most of the game but they still make the top 5 for RTP calls, then perhaps there is some evidence of favoritism. Guys like Garcia and Edwards may just be up there due to the sheer number of times defenders are coming through into the pocket at them and some percentage of those are bound to be called as RTP.

13 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

First, thanks to Aaron for writing something quick and interesting. One of my criticisms of FO of late is that Aaron isn't writing enough. I'm happy he's thinking of writing more.

Second, agree with most of the posters here. This data piques the interest more than it answers questions. The proper way to do this is to normalize roughing calls by total number of sacks, hits, and hurries, or at the very least by number of pass attempts. Actually, doing both could be would differentiate the QB's that get a lot of roughing calls because they get pass a lot, and the ones that get calls because they play behind a crappy line or in a division with a good, aggressive defense. Then you calculate the correlation coefficient between the normalized roughing call rate and the average QB salary. Hopefully, the ghost of small sample size doesn't bite you too badly.

It's also worth noting that some QB's are known for "stepping up and delivering in the face of pressure", e.g. Roethlisberger, Manning the Elder, Brady, while others are not. A QB that plays behind a weak O-line who does so is more likely to draw a roughing call, because a QB that runs or throws the ball away or folds up and takes the hit is far likely to get a roughing call against him than one who steps into his throw and tries to deliver despite the DE bearing down on him.

Also, it would be interesting to see if "scrambling" QB's get fewer roughing calls. I think it's possible that if a QB is known as a running threat, refs are likely to go a little easier on defenders, since they know the defenders have to try to make a solid tackle to stop the QB run. Note that some of the QB's on Aaron's list up there are some of the least mobile QB's in the league.

14 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

One would think that scrambling quarterbacks get less calls, and it's probably true in all cases except Vick. He use to get Personal Fouls called for getting hit while scrambling and still in bounds for "late hit out of bounds".

15 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

It would be nearly unprovable, but I wouldn't completely overlook the "players may try to take out certain quarterbacks" factor. Granted, it's probably a small majority of overall hits on QBs, but it's also non-zero. Some players are willing to attempt to injure others, and if we accept that as true, it's not a far reach to assume that those same players would care more about injuring Peyton Manning than Jake Delhomme.

21 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

I also thought of this....the "frustrated defender" theory. For example, if the Patriots are up 31-7 midway through the 3rd quarter, and Bart Scott has come close to getting Brady 4-5 times but hasn't been able to notch the sack, his frustration at coming close and failing coupled with the frustration of losing badly may lead him to get a shot in late or a head slap in on Brady...perhaps even subconsciously.

I agree that you really couldn't control for it, though.

17 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

I'm not going to criticize, because even before I saw the disclaimer, I was already thinking "Jesus, people, it's a freaking Extra Point." That said, I think this may be an impossible task, or at least one so filled with variables that it's unwieldy.

Something I haven't seen mentioned is officiating crews. I do recall seeing a study done that demonstrated that certain officiating crew are more liable to call certain types of penalties.

Another reason there are a lot of above average passers, rather than scramblers, on this list might be the way defenses play them. Just as an example, in the recent Colts-Titans game (with 2 roughing penalties called against Tenn.), I got the impression while watching the game that the Titans were trying to "get after" Manning. That is to say, get some hits on him. I would imagine this is a common tactic, as hitting and rattling a pocket passer is a time-honored way of getting them off their game. I would also imagine that this would naturally result in more roughing penalties. Conversely, the scrambling QB tends to see more linemen playing contain and not selling out on the pass rush.

18 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

The ref crews I'm sure have a lot to do with it as well. I'm actually a huge Hochuli fan. I think he, in general calls the best games. His most noteworthy screw-ups though, both involved [over] protecting the QB; the fiasco in the Denver San Diego game and a few weeks later the phantom 'contact to the helmet' on Peppers erasing a Pick six. But, unlike most crews, I never get the idea with him that he is favoring, conciously or unconciously, one team over the other. If it was just his crew I would expect them to even out over time. With the other crews though, I have no doubt they have their own preferences and they throw flags accordingly.

19 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

Very interesting. Many Eagles fans are convinced that McNabb doesn't get the roughing/late hit/etc. calls that QBs like Brady get (reasons why range from his perceived athleticism to racism). Not that this is evidence to support that hypothesis, but I could see one of them grabbing onto it.

28 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

While it is nothing conclusive, the fact that McNabb hasn't drawn a RTP call in his two healthiest seasons since 00-01 is certainly some evidence towards referee bias. When you consider that the eagles pass more often than most teams, and that Dallas and NYG both had good Adj. sack rates for both the 07 and 08 seasons, one would certainly expect that there would be some instances of hand-to-helmet contact after a McNabb pass.

20 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

I'm not real familiar with the behavior of all the QB's near the bottom of the list, but knowing a couple of them it makes me wonder if refs might be a little more willing not to throw the flag on a questionable call if they know the QB in question is not going to get up and holler for a call. That may just be human nature on their part.

It's a little mixed in terms of results but the other factor I wonder about is big durable looking quarterbacks (Roethlisberger, Favre, McNabb for example) vs. smaller or frailer quarterbacks. Again, maybe just human nature in terms of tending to be a bit more protective of the 'little guy' (relatively speaking).

25 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

As a Titans fan, I could have told you that the Titans have been called more for roughing, and a lot of them have generally been ticky-tack. I'm dreading the Titans-Patriots game as Brady gets to con a lot of RTP calls and the NFL loves to call roughing against the Titans. generate something meaningful, does the strength of pass rush generate more RTP penalties? Obviously not this year, but when the Titans had a great pass rush, they seemed to get called more for RTP.

26 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

I would expect anything that generates more hits on the QB will also generate more RTP penalties. Seems like it would. However, I don't know if I'd look at the strength of the pass rush as much as the mindset of it. As an example, the Colts are known to have some good pass rushing DEs, but they don't get called for a lot of RTP penalties. The reason, I would guess, is that Freeney and Mathis are more likely to go for the strip-sack, rather than the full-on QB kill.

27 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

What's the opposite case? Poor offenses don't get RTP calls.

Consider how many times Jamarcus Russell has been roughed? I can't tell you, but I don't recall too many going against him. The defenses just don't need to go after him. They can rely on Raider ineptitude to cock it up for themselves. I'd imagine that's the case with all poor offenses.

31 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

I have to say Aaron's addendum is pretty annoying. If you're going to start a website that points out other people's bad conclusions don't be surprised if you attract people who are going to point out your bad conclusions.

Instead of a disclaimer that you didn't really put time into the post why not just limit yourself to what the data at hand say.

So instead of saying QBs are innocent and blaming defenses go ahead and say... Okay I'm not sure what conclusions you can draw from this information but just stick with them.

It's like when the Mythbusters complain about their audience being picky. Give me a break you got what you asked for.

33 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

I have to say that your comment is pretty annoying. If you want FO to only publish articles with hard, unambiguous conclusions based on rigorous methodology, you're going to get a hell of a lot less content. You'd also be holding FO to a higher standard than basically anyone else, including Pro Football Reference, for instance.

Think of these Extra Points articles like pilot studies. They don't have great methods or hard conclusions, but they are simply introductory forays whose primary purpose is to indicate new areas of focus for later research.

32 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

It seems to be the statistical analysis is just not a sufficient tool for this sort of study. RTP is to some great degree a subjective call, and I am not convinced that we can assume that noting RTP vs. games played will provide anything meaningful.

34 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

Yeeeeesh. I don't have time to read through the comments, but I'm going to guess that at least a half-dozen others (if not more) have pointed out how utterly irrelevant the raw numbers are in a "study" like this.

OK, so it's not a scientific study, it's a brainstorm, etc. Got it. It still isn't sensible analysis.

The more interesting question is how many times Brady / Peyton / etc receive a roughing call in dubious circumstances. Raw tallys don't even begin to approximate this.

36 Re: Is The NFL Protecting Big-Name Quarterbacks?

I did a bit of investigative work... no advanced stats, but I did pull the number of pass attempts and sacks for each QB.

Here they are in order of their rate of attracting roughing the passer penalties:

Garcia - 453 - 8 - 1.77% (42 sacks)
Ryan - 366 - 6 - 1.64% (19 sacks)
Edwards - 796 - 8 - 1% (54 sacks)
Brady - 830 - 7 - .84% (28 sacks)
Garrard - 1072 - 8 - .75% (77 sacks)
Warner - 820 - 6 - .73% (56 sacks)
Cutler - 791 - 5 - .63% (39 sacks)
Pennington - 810 - 5 - .62% (58 sacks)
Schuab - 888 - 5 - .56% (49 sacks)
Manning - 1251 - 6 - .48% (37 sacks)
Brees - 1446 - 5 - .35% (23 sacks)