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Injury Proneness of Running QBs is Overstated

Good research in this Yahoo! piece from our buddies at Sports Info Solutions finds that the risk of getting injured on a designed quarterback run is remote. Quarterbacks are much more likely to be injured on a scramble or a sack -- and particularly, on a quarterback knockdown after a pass is thrown.

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24 comments, Last at 19 Oct 2019, 5:03pm

1 Is it really surprising that…

Is it really surprising that a qb is much more prone to get hurt, when he gets hit while focused on maintaining correct throwing form, a posture which is pretty much in direct opposition to being prepared to absorb a hit, compared to getting hit on a designed run, which gives the qb the chance to be physically ready to absorb a hit?

6 Yeah, the articles doesn't…

Yeah, the articles doesn't come close to proving what they think it proves. As Dan below points out, scramble rate and sack rate are correlated fairly well with each other. You'd have to prove this is all offensive line and scheme issues before saying that "running QB's" are not to blame for this. They just flat out assume, for no clear reason, that either running QB's don't scramble more often than pocket QB's, which is absurd. Or, that every time a running QB scrambles, above the average, that play would 100% have been a sack, which seems an incredibly strong statement. On top of all that, as Morgan points out below, a running QB may be self selecting for being able to take the hits that inevitably come with scrambling/running. This is especially true for designed runs. Think Cam Newton vs Peyton Manning.

Sometimes novel statistical findings are genuinely true. Other times you pull a Malcolm Gladwell.

11 Well, I think that's more…

Well, I think that's more than offset by the fact that a running quarterback loses the protection of the QB-specific prohibitions against getting hit up high and getting hit down low.

Most NFL QBs, Flacco's recent performance to the contrary, know when they're about to get sacked while in the pocket most of the time, and can mitigate the damage done.

4 Looking at PFF 2018 data,…

Looking at PFF 2018 data, there is a positive correlation between per-dropback sack rate and scramble rate (r=0.44). "Hit as threw" is much less common than sacks or scrambles (I'm not certain if their "hit as threw" is counting the same thing as what the article means by "knockdown", but for now that's my best guess), so it shouldn't lead to all that many expected injuries even if it's the most unsafe type of play. So if we tally up the number of expected injuries (scrambles/91.7 + sacks/92.5 + hit-as-threw/67.3), and look at the rate of expected injuries per dropback, that is correlated with number of scrambles per dropback at r=0.85 (min 100 dropbacks). That's a very strong correlation - QBs who take off running more often have more expected injuries (even while ignoring designed runs, which I don't have in the same table).

I repeated that calculation for 2017, and the result is nearly identical, r=0.84 between scramble rate and expected injury rate.

8 The 5 QBs in 2018 with the…

The 5 QBs in 2018 with the most expected injuries per dropback (min 100 dropbacks): Cody Kessler, Tyrod Taylor, Josh Johnson, Deshaun Watson, and Josh Allen. On average, you'd expect them to have one injury every 437 dropbacks.

The 5 with the fewest expected injuries per dropback: Blaine Gabbert, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Nick Foles, Joe Flacco. On average, you'd expect them to have one injury every 1761 dropbacks.

So it sure looks like running quarterbacks are subjecting themselves to way more injury risk than pocket passers.

Again, "expected injuries" is just scrambles/91.7 + sacks/92.5 + hit-as-threw/67.3, and I'm ignoring the designed runs.

17 One other thing worth noting…

One other thing worth noting: for the QBs who put themselves most at risk (from sacks, knockdowns, and scrambles), the expected injury rate on designed passing plays was 1 injury every 437 dropbacks. On average, the expected injury rate on designed passing plays was 1 injury every 771 dropbacks.

So the injury rate on designed runs of 1 injury every 236 plays is much worse than the injury rate on designed passes (3.3x as frequent, on average). Calling your QB's number on a run is putting him more at risk than calling for him to drop back to pass (although designed QB runs aren't that common, so the risk from designed runs doesn't add up to that much for most QBs).

24 Different sources have very…

Different sources have very different numbers for QB Hits. PFF has Kirk Cousins 2018 "hit as threw" 8 times, PFR has Cousins hit 39 times, and nfl.com has the Minnesota offense with 95 QB hits (and that is presumably all Cousins since he had all of their passing attempts). Possibly the nfl.com number is also counting sacks as hits, but since Cousins was only sacked 40 times that would still be more non-sack hits than any other site has for total hits.

The article says that there is 1 injury for every 67.3 plays that Sports Info Solutions defines as a "knockdown", but I have a lot of uncertainty in how common it is for SIS to count plays as a "knockdown", so if I can't see their stats then there is a lot of uncertainty in any estimates that I make of injury rates.

https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/C/CousKi00.htm#detailed_passing::none
http://www.nfl.com/stats/categorystats?seasonType=REG&offensiveStatisticCategory=OFFENSIVE_LINE&d-447263-n=1&d-447263-o=2&d-447263-p=1&d-447263-s=PASSING_QBHIT&tabSeq=2&season=2018&role=TM&Submit=Go&archive=true&conference=null&defensiveStatisticCategory=null&qualified=false

5 Here's what the post actually says.

"a quarterback being injured on a designed run is remote — only one for every 236 plays."

"The risk for a scrambling quarterback is almost equal to the quarterback who is sacked: once every 91.7 plays for the scrambler, once every 92.5 plays for the guy getting sacked."

" the quarterback who is taken to the ground while unleashing a pass ... is hurt once every 67.3 plays"

A pocket quarterback is susceptible to two of those risks. The scrambling quarterback is susceptible to all four risks.

So while the injury potential of a designed run, easily the least common outcome of the four types, isn't that high. The injury potential for the quarterback who runs, scrambles, and passes, is the highest.

Quarterbacks are self-selecting for their fitness to run. The sample of quarterbacks who execute designed runs and scramble is almost certainly tilted toward younger quarterbacks. So one sample is mostly guys under 30, almost all of whom didn't continue to scramble or didn't continue to play, and the other features numerous seasons by 30-somethings.

Severity of injury is not considered, from what I read. Whether scrambling leads to more sacks and hits taken is also not considered.

In other words, the conventional wisdom that it is more risky for a quarterback to run and scramble in addition to pass is true. Of course. Certain quarterbacks, if they were encouraged to run and scramble when they clearly are not fit, would endanger their careers. And quarterbacks who depend on running and scrambling for a meaningful portion of their value are likely more meaningfully endangered by the potential for injuries.

As for Russell Wilson, though he did not miss time, he played through injury in 2016. It was his worst season, and the unofficial end of Seattle's title run.

7 What they're saying is that…

What they're saying is that you could basically add up Scrambles + Sacks together as a certain injury chance. Well, if you counted those two stats, Peyton Manning would be way below Russell Wilson. This is true if you include Knockdowns as well. Some of that is on the line, more is on the inherent differences. That they somehow didn't account for scrambling QB's putting themselves in more dangerous scenarios more often is so bizarre I almost can't believe it.

From the article:

"One caveat would be that a running QB will attempt so many rushes per game that the sheer volume will still put him at an increased risk."

So they do acknowledge this, but then just brush it off. Okay... why?

10 Effect

The other problem with running QBs getting injured is the effect on their ability post-injury. Once injuries start catching up + general aging a well, they have to adjust their style, or feel less comfortable being able to make the throws-while-running that they used to. A pocket passer coming back from injury just stands back there same as he ever did. He doesnt have to make style adjustments that may or may not be succesful

12 What's the name of that…

What's the name of that effect where the results of each discrete outcome is lower for one population, but because the distribution is different, the overall results are higher?

Because that.

13 timely article

Ironic that it's published on the day Mahomes dislocates his kneecap on a short run.

(Irony? Coincidence? Can't tell any more.)

15 Mike Tanier wrote an article…

Mike Tanier wrote an article debunking the view that Kyle Allen was better than Cam, even hinting that the "looks the part" mantra is perhaps veiled racism.

I have to be honest, I am partial to "looks the part" primarily because I have a sense of what a typical high level qb is and that qb is a primarily pocket passer who plays within structure(that's not to say I think Kyle Allen is that, will be that, or happens to better than Newton - hes not).

And a big reason why I prefer that is because of injuries. Now, Wilson has happily avoided these problems, but that doesn't make it a problem. Forget running, as others have mentioned, the goal is to avoid hits. Hits lead to injuries - I'm pretty sure we have cause and effect entirely pinned down here and scramble first qbs tend to be the one's who don't get rid of the ball quickly and often lean on their athletic abilities to escape pressure or hang in the pocket forever. Those lead to hits. The Mannings, Brady, and Brees haven't lasted so long and avoided long stretches of injury mired seasons by accident.

As such, I don't like Tanier's take and I don't think its racist at all. Yes, a lot of running qbs happen to be black, but I similarly didn't like scramble first white qbs like Tebow or Manziel. 

16 Mike Tanier

"As such, I don't like Tanier's take and I don't think its racist at all...." - This is exactly right, Josh Allen gets this critque all the time, the suggestion that it has to do with race is nonesense, and deeply irresponsable.

"Those lead to hits. The Mannings, Brady, and Brees haven't lasted so long and avoided long stretches of injury mired seasons by accident." - I think this is worth looking at more deeply. BB was quoted with regard to injury risk a while back saying something to the effect of "you can't get better at playing football without playing football" in justifying exposing players at high risk of injury insted of sheltering them for the playoffs. Merrits of that approach notwithstanding I think the is a survior-bias that favors quality pocket-passers in that since QB is the most experience-dependant position on the field having a larger total number of snaps in a potential career is intrinsicly valuable - making low-contact QB's a better bet for any team long term. It's a bit complicated to articulate, but the basic idea is that since you get better at QB by taking snaps at the NFL level, and Jimmy G is likely to take more snaps at QB in his career than Josh Allen, assuming Jimmy G & Josh Allen had identicle talent level you should expect both more agregate production from Jimmy G's career & a higher ceiling because of the increased opportunity that not-struggling with potential injuries offers Jimmy G to improve. 

18 Hmm...but I have buy the…

In reply to by sbond101

Hmm...but I have to buy the assumption that qb quality is proportional to the number of starts/snaps. I think its related, but I don't buy it as the primary driver. Rodgers and Mahomes developed almost immediately. Brees took some time, but more or less became awesome within 5 years of being drafted. Peyton Manning also was great more or less immediately. 

I can't think of another career arc similar to Tom Brady, where he really did evolve and hit almost every step of the qb quality spectrum. He was initially plucky game manager. He developed then into confident pocket passer, something like Kirk Cousins, before ascending to Matt Ryan levels in 2004-2005 before hitting that final leg in 2007(or 2006, depending on your preference). That to me is atypical of the norm.

A fascinating question for the Chiefs should be - do they start trying to pair down Mahomes' unstrunctured, late in the down, tendencies in order to preserve his health, even if hes freaken awesome at it? I know his injury was a freak occurrence, but the guy has been sporting a gimpy ankle for weeks and that's directly related to the pounding he takes when making in the down throws. That catches up to you eventually.

22 I would have a hard time…

I would have a hard time trying to limit MaHomes's Ad-Lib tendancies, especially considering his ankle injury occurred while "in the pocket".  He aggravated it again "in the pocket" and this knee injury is a very common play for all QB's including pocket passers.  Just ask Tom Brady.

I find myself wanting to mark Russel Wilson on his own.  Even as a runner/scrambler, he seems uniquely able to avoid any serious contact.  I think back across his career, and all the cringe worthy hits he has taken were "in the pocket".  In 2016, both his ankle (stepped on by Suh) and knee sprain (sacked by 49ers), occurred "in the pocket".  He missed no games as a result.

 

19 Wow, just read that article…

Wow, just read that article and holy shit. "LOW STATUS WHITE PEOPLE HATE CAM NEWTON" screeches Mike Tanier. It's amazing how much more important it is to him that he ensure everybody understands that he's distanced himself from the filthy white trash who think that Cam Newton is a bad quarterback, as opposed to actually informing us with statistics or gifs of play. 

By the way, Cam Newton is a bad quarterback, or at least he has been these past three years. It's pretty rich to go to the bat for a guy who can only be defended by "well he's been terrible recently, BUT...".

20 Wow, I was going to accuse…

Wow, I was going to accuse your last comment as hyperbole, but then I looked at his qbr the last 3 years( a stat that rewards running the football)...hes been bad. I didn't realize hes been that bad for that long. And its not like he's been great for that many years before that either. 

 

He seems to be living off the legend of a surprise rookie year + an mvp year. Seems unfair at this moment to compare him to Flacco, but that's the first name that came to me. 

21 He just hasn't done much to…

He just hasn't done much to help the Panthers win in a long time. Even at his best, he wasn't particularly accurate, he just made up for that by rushing 80+ yards per game. Now that he's injured he can't do that, and he's too gimpy to throw properly. I watched both his starting games this year and I was certain he was seriously injured because he looked like he couldn't hit the broadside of a barn. 

I think healthy Newton vs Allen is an interesting QB controversy. Gimpy Newton vs Allen isn't even a decision, and anyone who says otherwise is just flat out wrong. 

23 I love Tanier and read all…

I love Tanier and read all his BR stuff, but on social issues, he's drunk so much Kool-Aid that I'd be surprised if he has any enamel left on his teeth.

Cam contributes a lot of rushing value, so his passing numbers underrate his overall utility, but here are his 2011-18 ANY/A+ totals, sorted:

88, 90, 91, 96, 100, 105, 109, 115

A remarkably average distribution. And as you said, he's been trending down...

On the other hand, stats don't tell the full story (obviously). I'm quite partial to Cian Fahey, who's been defending Cam for years (e.g. https://www.footballoutsiders.com/film-room/2016/film-room-cam-newton)