Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

08 Dec 2017

FiveThirtyEight: How Aggressive Is Your QB?

At FiveThirtyEight, I looked at just how aggressive and conservative 2017 quarterbacks are at throwing the ball far enough for a successful play. A successful play is a pass that gains at least 45 percent of the needed yards on first down, 60 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down. We used z-scores for the first three downs to find out which quarterbacks stand out among their peers, and found a surprising name at the top of the conservative list this season. (Hint: his name rhymes with Crew Trees).

Truth be told, Tyrod Taylor was my main inspiration for digging into these numbers. His recent benching by the Bills has sparked a new narrative that Taylor is the king of checkdowns. He most notably checked down to his running backs three times on third-and-long against the Saints in a miserable 47-10 loss in Week 10 where he threw for just 56 yards. That's not good at all, but when you look at the numbers for the season, Taylor is decisively average in his aggression. He has the 13th-highest Short% on first down (37.6 percent), 13th highest on second down (44.3 percent), and while he does slip to 22nd on third down (45.4 percent), there are still 13 quarterbacks with a higher Short% than him on third down. One of those 13 is Case Keenum (46.0 percent), who has been getting buzz for getting a long-term deal from the Vikings for his work this season. Meanwhile, Taylor is just trying to hold onto his starting job with Nathan Peterman behind him.

Short% is only one piece of the puzzle, but it's still not evidence that a lack of aggression from Taylor is what's holding Buffalo's offense back. Taylor didn't allow Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods to go to the Rams where they are thriving, and he didn't injure Kelvin Benjamin after he was acquired in a trade. Taylor can share some responsibility for Zay Jones only catching 36.8 percent of his targets this year, but maybe making a rookie possession receiver the team's leading wideout wasn't a good idea for the Bills. The fact that LeSean McCoy has 16 more catches than his next closest teammate says a lot more about the makeup and health of this team than anything.

Some quarterbacks can get away with passive play if the team is still winning or if they won a Super Bowl in the past. Without the track record or hardware, the reality of being average is the perception of being bad. How aggressive can Taylor really be when the Bills have taken such a conservative approach to putting talent around him?

I'd go into detail on every quarterback's situation if I could, but space is limited. I hope the numbers at least provide some context into who really is throwing short the most this season.

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 08 Dec 2017

7 comments, Last at 15 Dec 2017, 9:08am by Mr Shush


by BJR :: Sat, 12/09/2017 - 12:19pm

The Saints have two excellent running backs so it makes sense to put the ball in their hands, even on 3rd and long (this is pointed out it in the article). Still a huge surprise to see Brees there because he has always been such an accurate and prolific mid-range passer. Perhaps the receiving talent (Thomas aside) is no longer there.

by Kopalec :: Sun, 12/10/2017 - 7:37am

I imagine this being one piece of the puzzle like the article states, that on top of your QB having the accuracy needed, that the targets they're throwing to obviously influence the success of aggression. More specifically receivers with good speed or above average ball skills on 50/50's.

Brady - Gronk, Cooks
Wilson - Graham, Baldwin, Richardson
Wentz - Ertz, Jeffrey, Agholor (recently)
Watson - Hopkins, Fuller
Big Ben - Brown, Schuster, Bryant

Winston seems to be really wasting a good situation with Evans, I hope he can become more consistent for the benefit of the league.

Watson remains a tragedy for what could have been this year, hopefully he comes back strong next year.

by Kopalec :: Sun, 12/10/2017 - 7:43am

I'm also surprised in some ways that Keenum hasn't rated higher with the likes of Thielan and Diggs. Certainly it's somewhat him knowing his strengths and leaning on the defense. Perhaps a warning that some of his performance could be fools gold, and he isn't really among the top QB's in the league?

by Raiderjoe :: Sun, 12/10/2017 - 9:55am

Will see how good Keenum is in tight spot ion playoffs. Good chance will turn itno pumpkin in divisioqnl playoff sor NFc chanpotuonship game. If Vikes are losing to Rams or SEahawks 20-16 with 3 minites left, will Keenum deliver a win ro throiw costly interception becuause he couldn't quite sling it well enough to receiver? Do think Keenum has goodn moxie but does not have great arm strength. nFC playoffs going to be fun. No clear #1 tema

by Mr Shush :: Fri, 12/15/2017 - 9:08am

In Keenum's early years in Houston, his play style was essentially deep balls forced to Andre Johnson with no regard for down, distance or whether he was open, alternating with megasacks. It's interesting (and I think speaks very well of him) that he's been able to modify his approach so dramatically.

by jonsilver :: Tue, 12/12/2017 - 10:44am

I think it is a fallacy to assume that offensive coordinator/QB combinations who look ineffective on this list would drastically improve their effectiveness by just throwing longer...the reason for the increasing number of "shorts" year by year can probably be found in the increasing inability of the league's offensive lines to keep the pass rush at bay...many offenses are getting the ball in the air sooner to prevent more sacks...balls in the air sooner=shorter throws, since receivers have less time to get downfield...those offenses would not reach 40% success rate if they tried to throw longer...this advice would produce more sacks, hurries and, dare I say, even more QB injuries than we have already seen.

by lightsout85 :: Wed, 12/13/2017 - 12:16am

Aaron Rodgers is an interesting case. Most conservative on 1st down, 9th most on 2nd down (most, 1st+2nd), but 2nd least conservative on 3rd down. I wonder if this was due to protection issues? (& on 3rd he went for that conversion in the best way possible).