Some of those crazy single-game results from ESPN's QBR confuse our staff just as much as fans, so this article from Friday was hopefully a sign of analysis to come from ESPN. They explain some of the elements of QBR for the seasons Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Cam Newton are having.
It is fair to say Rodgers is having his roughest season since 2008, but he's still fifth in QBR (69.4) in what has overall been a down year for quarterback play. Rodgers gets a good boost from his scrambling and penalties (pass interference) drawn. Plays like the touchdown scramble on third-and-long against the Lions are valued very highly in QBR. It makes sense to some degree as you could argue scrambles are the closest thing to a quarterback making a play that's independent of his 10 teammates. You rarely get good blocking on a scramble since it's such a spontaneous decision (most of the time at least), and bad blocking is often a reason for the scramble in the first place. All the yards are the quarterback's yards too, so there is no shared credit. These are also often third-down plays, so they are important. Rodgers has had to scramble more than usual this season with the cast around him.
Brady ranks 11th in QBR (64.5), which would be his third-lowest QBR in a full season since 2006. Brady's season was much stronger statistically before all of the receiver injuries, but even then it was not shining in QBR due to so much YAC from his receivers. I always figured that was the case and this article confirms it. They cite our YAC+ stat, which adjusts YAC against expected YAC based on where the ball was caught. Brady's receivers have produced a league-high 260 YAC+. So when Brady threw a 59-yard touchdown to Julian Edelman against Dallas that had 41 YAC after some broken tackles, Brady only gets 26 percent of the total EPA (plus-5.6) on that play. When you have -- or when Brady had -- hard to tackle players like Dion Lewis, Edelman and Rob Gronkowski catching the passes, it's easy to see why YAC+ brought Brady's QBR down.
ESPN's explanation for Cam Newton ranking 14th in QBR (62.7) did not pass the smell test as well for me, but then again, I cannot wrap my head around the "Cam for MVP!" talk either this season. Basically, Newton's defense has helped him in more ways than usually considered. Newton has 12 turnovers and the EPA hit on those plays has been lessened by the defense allowing half as many points as they were expected to in that field position. That includes the opponent missing three field goals after Newton turnovers. Still, we are talking about a dozen plays. It should be noted that Newton's QBR has been 82.1 since Week 9, which falls in line with the eye test that he has recently started playing much better.
Carson Palmer leads all quarterbacks with an 83.6 QBR for the entire season, and he has been my MVP choice since midseason. He may not stand a chance if the Panthers finish 16-0, but a stat like QBR is definitely picking up on the right things about his season, giving credit for all the deep throws and penalties drawn from that aggressiveness. DVOA also agrees here as Palmer currently ranks first (34.4%) and Newton is 17th (-0.3%).