Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

12 Jan 2009

2008 Quick Reads: Week 19

You will be surprised who had the best quarterback game of the week, but you won't be surprised who had the worst. Plus: We say nice things about Willie Parker!

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 12 Jan 2009

54 comments, Last at 14 Jan 2009, 3:20pm by Mark S.


by tuluse :: Mon, 01/12/2009 - 6:53pm

Johnson was the cream of the rookie running back crop in 2008. Everyone else is playing catch-up.

And what was Matt Forte, chopped liver?

by Telamon :: Mon, 01/12/2009 - 8:45pm

Johnson: 170 DYAR
Forte: 38 DYAR

So, yeah, pretty much.

by D :: Mon, 01/12/2009 - 10:30pm

Johnson: 151 DYAR
Forte: 245 DYAR

Those are the totals that include receiving as well as rushing. And while I didn't see a whole lot of Titans' games, Forte looked like a superior blocker by a significant margin. You can certainly argue Johnson is the superior player, but it's not as cut and dry as you and Bill suggest.

by Telamon :: Mon, 01/12/2009 - 11:47pm

Wow, those are crazy good receiving numbers. His receiving DYAR is higher than, for example, Peter King All-Pro Selection Wes Welker. That is nuts, but then again, Orton was throwing to Brandon Lloyd as one of his primary WRs, so I guess a lot of RB targets were inevitable. Talk about making the most of it, though.

by c_f (not verified) :: Mon, 01/12/2009 - 10:42pm

Besides Forte's huge contribution in the passing game (second among all RBs and led CHI in receptions), consider also that he got to play behind Chicago's vaunted offensive line, which includes such luminaries as journeyman turnstile John St. Clair at LT.

TEN's line is better by FO stats, and features two deserving pro bowlers: Michael Roos at LT and Kevin Mawae at C.

by Jerry F. (not verified) :: Mon, 01/12/2009 - 11:44pm

Yes, the Bears line does not help the running game at all. Last year, though Benson certainly didn't look great, the line never even gave him anything to work with. I wasn't at all surprised to see him perform competently in Cincinnati.

by MCS :: Mon, 01/12/2009 - 9:03pm

He's ketchup. Just like the rest of the rookie class.

by Telamon :: Mon, 01/12/2009 - 9:11pm

Actually, upon closer inspection, Slaton has the exact same DYAR as Johnson. Lower DVOA, though, so I guess the original point stands.

by Big-Hairy-Andy (not verified) :: Mon, 01/12/2009 - 7:03pm

Collins did great work on first down, picking up seven of his 16 first downs there. Although he threw deep frequently, he might have been better off just keeping it underneath. Collins was 2-of-12 for 44 yards and an interception on passes of 20 yards or more. That left him 24-of-30 for 237 yards on the shorter stuff.

Isn't it more likely the underneath stuff would have been shut down if Collins hadn't tried going deep at all, or is "keeping the defence honest" another commentator's myth?

by Jay Gloab :: Mon, 01/12/2009 - 7:04pm

Is it just me, or is the order of the QBs messed up? McNabb should be ahead of Eli, shouldn't he?

by B :: Mon, 01/12/2009 - 7:18pm

The first bold column is total DYAR, and Eli's is higher than McNabb's. The chart is sorted by total DYAR, not EYards, which is the final column. It is kind of awkward, when you have cases where DYAR and EYards disagree.

by Jay Gloab :: Mon, 01/12/2009 - 7:55pm

Thanks for clarifying that.

I think this is a case where stats really do lie, though. Consider their respective interceptions: Manning's first was incredibly damaging as it led directly to an Eagles TD and it was a clear mistake on his part. McNabb's first, on the other hand, was on third-and-long out of field goal range, and it was a deep pass. If the Eagle receiver had caught it, great, but otherwise, a pick or an incompletion are essentially the same since the Eagles would have punted on the next snap anyway. McNabb's second pick definitely hurt, as it led to a go-ahead FG by the Giants, but Eli's second one essentially iced the game for the Eagles as it gave them the ball back with a 12-point lead and under four minutes to play.

by markschepp23 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/12/2009 - 9:09pm

This discussion has been going on in the Audibles thread, but to summarize some points I was making there:

1. Eli's first INT being so damaging is largely because of Asante Samuel's return. That's not attributable to QB performance. If, for example, Fred Robbins, who is a lot slower than Samuel, had returned McNabb's pass inside the Eagles 10, we would be looking at that INT a lot differently.

2. Tagging something as more or less damaging is largely circumstantial, and not really indicative of actual player performance. McNabb was more fortunate that his INT's didn't come in as "big a spot" as Eli's, but that doesn't mean he played better.

by Jay Gloab :: Mon, 01/12/2009 - 9:43pm

The difference in field position when the INTs occurred is very important as well, and QB play should be considered in its proper context. Eli threw his first pick when the Giants were at their own 13 yard line, when a turnover can least be afforded. Samuel caught it at the 27, basically an automatic three points for the Eagles even without a return.

Manning's second INT was on a deep ball, much like McNabb's first, but again, context is important. The Giants weren't desperate enough that they needed yards in huge chunks, but they were desperate enough that a turnover was a killer.

McNabb's second pick to Robbins was tipped, which is certainly at least partially McNabb's own fault, but I don't think it compares to the bad decisions/throws by Manning.

by markschepp23 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/12/2009 - 10:32pm

Manning's second INT - they were down by two scores with 3:24 left in the game. I'd say they were absolutely in a position where they needed yardage in big chunks. Certainly that wasn't as big a situation as either of McNabb's 2 INTs, both when the lead was less than a FG. Mentioned in the Audibles thread, but I'm just not buying that McNabb has some sense of the most opportune time to throw an INT. That is just silly. Sure, the deep ball didn't cost them much more yardage than a punt, but if he had completed it, it would have been a first down andat least 3 more points. At the very least an INC rather than a pick would have given them a chance to pin the Gnats inside the 1o.

by Jay Gloab :: Mon, 01/12/2009 - 11:16pm

Let me rephrase that. At the time of Manning's second pick, the Giants weren't in a position where they absolutely had to heave it way downfield, particularly to a man in the middle of the field who wasn't even open. Manning should have thrown short or thrown it away. Some of the blame here should undoubtedly go to whoever called that play, but Eli blew it.

Regarding McNabb's first pick, it probably wasn't Donovan who had the presence of mind to know that a pick was OK in that situation. Rather, Reid probably called that play with that in mind. (This is pretty typical of Andy Reid -- call a bomb on 3rd down, when the defense is concentrating on the line to gain.) Either way, it doesn't reflect particularly poorly on McNabb, since at most it cost them ~10 yards of field position.

by Wanker79 :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 10:39am

Just like there's no way Brian Westbrook could be situationally aware enough to take a knee just outside the endzone so that the Eagles could run out the clock instead of risking a kickoff, right? Why wouldn't you think a QB with as much experience as McNabb could understand that an interception in that situation was at worse a neutral result and at best a hugely positive result? They were in that awkward area of the field where you can't go for the FG, but a punt doesn't really gain you all that much. So why not just heave it deep and either hope that your receive can come down with it or possibly draw a PI penalty.

And VOAf says that both the offenses and defenses played pretty much dead even. The only reason Manning comes out with slightly better DYAR numbers than McNabb is because Philly's defense is better than NY's. With as close as they are in DYAR, MaNabb's day was better from a YAR perspective. And at this point in the season, I always prefer to think of things in YAR. Judging a team's performance during the regular season against their competition makes sense because it allows you to compare teams with dissimilar schedules. The playoffs are more of a vacuum where opponent adjustment doesn't matter as much. Either you outplayed the other team or you didn't.

by Mark S. (not verified) :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 2:19pm

Yes, that was a very heady play by Westbrook. One of the headiest and "against the instinctive competitive nature of athletes" plays we've ever seen in the NFL. But I find it funny that now we're giving Donovan "The Game can End in a Tie?" McNabb that same credit.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 2:14am

The stats aren't lying. They aren't comparing McNabb to Manning. They're comparing McNabb, the Eagles pass protection, the Eagles wide receivers, to their equivalents.

DYAR doesn't (and can't) know that Curtis had an absolutely catchable ball doink off his helmet. It just knows that McNabb threw an incomplete. It also doesn't know that Eli had pretty decent pass protection whereas a good fraction of McNabb's throws were under duress.

McNabb had a better day, but that's because his surrounding cast struggled more. The output at the QB position was basically the same.

by Jay Gloab :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 12:40pm

I understand that DVOA/DYAR cannot know all of the circumstantial things that make up the context of each play, but this is exactly why stats can lie, particularly when considering a relatively small sample like a single game. McNabb outplayed Manning (in my opinion), but the stats say otherwise. Thus, the stats lie (in my opinion).

Don't get me wrong, I in no way intend this as an indictment of DVOA/DYAR as a whole. They're just less useful for analysis of a single game than of a season.

by Wanker79 :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 1:33pm

I think the main problem people are having is that (just like me) at this point in the season people instinctively start thinking in terms of YAR/VOA instead of DYAR/DVOA. McNabb looked like he had the better day Sunday(and YAR would agree with that), but Manning was facing a defense that DVOA says is fairly better so his day was slightly more impressive (and DYAR agrees with that).

by Jay Gloab :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 1:52pm

Good point, I wasn't thinking about the opponent adjustment.

However, I think if it were somehow possible to weight the assorted INTs according to the game context in which they were thrown that McNabb would come out ahead even in DYAR.

by Mark S. (not verified) :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 3:17pm

Sure, if you tweak the stats enough to get the result you're looking for, you'll eventually succeed. It's funny - Giants fans were making pretty much the same argument last year - when the stats weren't giving them enough credit (according to some). You can't go back and tweak the formulas to explain a few (seemingly) odd outcomes.

Look, all I'm saying is that the QB performance was very close in the game. Some here seem to think that idea is absurd, regardless of stats, anecdotal observation, or the fact that the first 28 minutes (where McNabb was completely ineffective) of the game actually do count and affect the outcome of the contest. I thought that during and immediately after the game, and was not surprised when the Outsiders' numbers backed that up. What I was afraid of is that postgame everyone would immediately default to "Bad Eli is back, Eli laid an egg, etc" - but if John Carney makes his FGs and the Giants manage the clock better at the end of the half, people might have been singing an entirely different tune even though nothing about Eli's performance would change.

by Wanker79 :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 3:43pm

To be fair, I never really believed there was a good Eli to begin with. So I really shouldn't be lumped into that crowd.

I think one reason people (myself included) might think that, contrary to the numbers, McNabb was clearly the better QB on Sunday was because the Giants got a whole helluva lot more pressure on McNabb (particularly in the first half). Eli was relatively unpressured. So it felt like while they both had about the same success, McNabb did it through more adversity. Plus, McNabb didn't have nearly as many poor throws as Manning had. He had the one spectacular throw to (iirc)Hixon, but it seemed like every time I looked up Eli was fluttering another one into what must have been hurricane force winds.

by markschepp23 (not verified) :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 8:03pm

I wasn't lumping you in with that crowd - I was referring to fans/media as a whole. You made your feelings about Eli pretty clear in the Audibles thread, which I didn't feel deserved a response, and wasn't directed to me, so I ignored it.

The thing about Eli is there are going to be people who will never be willing to give the guy any credit, even if realistically he's just entering his prime, he's a year removed from a great playoff run and SB victory, he had a huge upswing in both conventional and Outsiders stats the following season, was the quarterback of the best offense in the NFL (with a top-10 passing game despite having exactly ONE receiver with on the team a positive DVOA) until his top wideout torpedoed his own season. And further, even after he has like an 18 game streak of playing quality to great football, that these critics are going to pop their heads out of the ground and say, "I told you so, he always sucked!" after every suspect performance. I'm accepting of the fact that those people will never be convinced.

Fact is, on balance, I believe McNabb is a better quarterback than Eli - although it's close and both are at times pretty underrated (McNabb more underrated than Eli, I think - he's still a damn good QB). He just wasn't measurably (or subjectively, to me) better on Sunday.

by livingonapear :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 9:55pm

I can go with your explanation here. McNabb's first half was pretty bad, but I did feel that he made it up with quite a few 3rd down conversions. I imagine the sack/intentional grounding play in the endzone counts against him as well. This does go back to the Philip Rivers comeback against the Chiefs: Just because you came back does not erase all that you did before. I think people are taking umbrage with the fact that the QB who didn't comeback is still ranked higher.

As for what you said about Eli's worth, and speaking as someone who likes to see the younger Manning go down in flames, he has improved quite a bit. His third down completion percentage is probably much much higher than in any previous seasons, and I have seen him hit tough throws on 3rd and long. At times I was very impressed with him, and even considered voting him into the Pro Bowl but when you look at how the season ended though, he still has a ways to go. I understand that the loss of Plaxico Buress, and all the drama surrounding said loss, impacted his performance greatly (one only needs to look at McNabb's numbers without Westbrook to see how that hurts), but to go from being a good-very good QB, and sliding to a poor-sometimes good QB is quite a drop. Next year will be a major year in determining just how long of a career he will have. I think my biggest complaint is that people have begun referring to him as elite when he has yet to post a QB rating equivalent to his brother's lowest (excluding rookie season) QB rating. While QB rating is a very flawed stat, this was his first year over 80, and that says quite a bit about his performance.

by markschepp23 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/14/2009 - 12:02am

Yeah, no question he hit a slump at the end of the season - although he still played pretty well in the Carolina and Minnesota (for the half he was in there) games. He had essentially 3 bad games - at Dallas and the two against Philly - both pretty tough defenses. Ultimately I think he's, as you suggested, a baseline "good" QB who will often look "very good" but he's not, and might never be, talented enough to succeed despite a poor receiving corps - which, honestly, the Plaxless Giants WRs were.

by Wanker79 :: Wed, 01/14/2009 - 1:25pm

Honestly, you've pretty much summed up my opinion of the younger Manning perfectly. I probably go a little too critical in talking about him because subconsciously I'm trying to balance the people trying to tell me that he's an elite QB. When I said "I've never thought the good Eli existed" I should have said "I've never thought the elite Eli existed". I might even go as far as saying that he's a baseline "pretty good" QB. Is he a quality NFL starter? Absolutely. Is he good enough to win with? Obviously. But if you're ranking the QBs in the league, I'd probably put him in the 3rd tier, behind 2nd tier guys like McNabb and Brees.

And really, after being forced to live with myself after rooting for the stinking Giants last year, can you really blame me for trying to wash my soul clean with a little trash talking after that game?

by Mark S. (not verified) :: Wed, 01/14/2009 - 3:20pm

No, Eagles fans have every right to beat their chests right now (and FWIW I secretly rooted for them when they played the Patriots in the SB, too), especially the ones who had to take all the grief about them being a terribly overrated team earlier in the season, when in reality they knew they were as good as anybody. It's definitely vindication.

by livingonapear :: Wed, 01/14/2009 - 3:20am

Double Post

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 8:34pm

The question of whether McNabb outplayed Manning is really whether you believe Donovan's at fault for the dropped passes, safety, and two interceptions (relative to Manning's culpability for his mistakes). The output from the QB position was pretty much exactly the same. That's all that DYAR's saying.

The stats aren't lying. You're isolating McNabb/Manning from his offensive line and wide receiver performance, and the stats aren't. You're measuring two different things.

by Anonymous (not verified) (not verified) :: Mon, 01/12/2009 - 7:23pm

Just you. it's ordered by DYAR, not EYds...

Eli had 3 DYAR to McNabb's -6...

by The Blow Leprechaun (not verified) :: Mon, 01/12/2009 - 7:06pm

Maybe the Texans will sign him to play the role of Reggie Bush after passing on the real thing in the 2006 draft.
As a Texans fan, I would rather have Darren Sproles than Reggie Bush, and that was true even before his performance against Indianapolis.

Of course, it would also be true if "Darren Sproles" was the name of a one-legged sloth with asthma, so take it for what you will.

by oljb (not verified) :: Mon, 01/12/2009 - 7:34pm

No need. Steve Slaton is considerably superior as a running back to Bush. Not to take anything away from Sproles, but Houston is right up there with Tennessee in terms of places that least need his services.

Maybe New Orleans will sign him, though, in order to get the "real thing".

by Theo :: Mon, 01/12/2009 - 7:54pm

The Sproles TD catch was in 'garbage time'.
The Chargers had punted with 3:30 on the clock in the fourth quarter, Leftwich was throwing to Sweet for the Steelers, and the backup defense was playing.

by Steve (not verified) :: Mon, 01/12/2009 - 11:52pm

Garbage time- yes

Backup defense- maybe not. If I recall Sproles sprinted right passed Polumalu on his way to the endzone. Granted Troy probably had his mind on Joe Flacco and Todd Heap at the time.

by DGL :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 12:10am

Actually, I suspect at that time Polamalu et.al. were also thinking "don't get hurt, don't get hurt, don't get hurt."

by Eddo :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 1:18am

Speaking of Polamalu, did anyone else think he had a relatively poor game? I recall one missed open-field tackle specifically, but more importantly, I didn't see him flying around the field and making plays like I usually do when I catch the Steelers on TV. Did he have a bad game? Or did the Chargers somehow scheme to limit his effectiveness?

by Joe T. (not verified) :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 8:08am

Polamalu has had a lot of embarrassing whiffs this year. I think as a consistent player he is over-rated, more the home-run hitter type. Other than the first chargers game, nearly every highlight reel I saw involving him this season showed him trying to lay down a crushing hit and eating turf. I'm highly critical of his tackling style, which, instead of trying to make a clean, high-% tackle that might yield an additional yard or two in the process, he instead tries to take out his opponents knees with a torpedo hit.

by Theo :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 11:47am

Spot on.
I agree that he is not that good near the line of scrimmage.

by PD (not verified) :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 12:00pm

Have to disagree with these two comments. Polamalu is often a very sure tackler, his unorthodox style notwithstanding. When he does miss, he can miss badly, which probably leads to this perception, but most of the time he's very good. He is also one of the best safeties near the line of scrimmage. There were plenty of two or three-yard runs against the Steelers this year that probably would have been 15 or 20-yard runs were it not for timely Polamalu tackles. He's a major reason why the Steelers don't allow long runs.

by countertorque :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 12:33pm

The rumor (excuse?) is that Polamalu had a cold.

by Pat S. (not verified) :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 4:51pm

Obviously you haven't watched ESPN or anything today. Polamalu injured his calf during the pregame warm ups. He was lucky to make it on to the field at all.

by DGL :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 5:29pm

According to the Post-Gazette, Polamalu injured a calf in pre-game warmups.

by battlered59 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/12/2009 - 7:59pm

Why would the Texans want the real or fake Reggie Bush when they have Steve Slaton? He was second in the AFC in yards from scrimmage. The Texans front office will spend those dollars on bringing back performers (Dunta Robinson, Owen Daniels) and shoring up the gaping holes in the defense.

by Xeynon (not verified) :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 12:11am

1. Eli's first INT being so damaging is largely because of Asante Samuel's return. That's not attributable to QB performance. If, for example, Fred Robbins, who is a lot slower than Samuel, had returned McNabb's pass inside the Eagles 10, we would be looking at that INT a lot differently.

2. Tagging something as more or less damaging is largely circumstantial, and not really indicative of actual player performance. McNabb was more fortunate that his INT's didn't come in as "big a spot" as Eli's, but that doesn't mean he played better.

Both of Eli's INT's came on genuinely terrible throws. On the first, Smith was open, and Eli missed him badly high and behind, with Samuel waiting to pick the ball off and run it back. On the second, he threw into coverage and again overthrew, right to Mikell. McNabb's first interception was the result of a bad throw, an underthrow to a receiver who was well-covered, but as pointed out it wasn't that damaging. His second was the result of a tipped ball, which can't be considered 100% his fault. McNabb also made several huge throws to convert third downs; Manning was quite poor on third down. I don't know how anybody who watched that game could say that Eli played better than McNabb did.

by livingonapear :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 2:06am

I too am mystified by this. Even if you set the interceptions as equal, or even say that McNabb's were worse, the touchdown should negate that. I should also point out that while McNabb's performance in the first half was quite poor, his performance from the last drive before the half, to the final gun was as good as his play in Minnesota. I'm just kind of confused.

by DavidL :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 2:23am

His play in the first half was really poor, though. That it was worth substantial negative DYAR doesn't surprise me.

by Bill Barnwell :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 2:57am

DVOA and DYAR certainly aren't be-all, end-all measures of individual offensive performance. Johnson totally revitalized the Titans' offense and, at times, was the only weapon the offense had. The Bears had Hester, at least.

No one's saying Sproles should replace Slaton. I was saying that the Texans should sign Sproles to play WITH Slaton.

by Mr Shush :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 10:39am

I certainly wouldn't complain about the Texans signing Sproles to play the Kevin Faulk role, but it's not like they have a glaring need for a THIRST back - Slaton's a very competent receiver.

I honestly think Forte had the best season of the rookie backs, and I don't think there's much room for debate: he had more total DYAR than Slaton (who in turn had more than Johnson) and he had a far worse supporting cast than either. He's also an excellent pass-blocker, which neither of the others can claim to be.

by Jon Coit (not verified) :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 11:53am

Had a few of those third downs Rivers converted come after SD's first TD and before the half, it might have been a game.

by Mark Shirk (not verified) :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 6:27pm

It says in the article that this may have been Jacobs last game as a Giant, could this be true? I thought it was Ward that was a Free Agent, not Jacobs.

by Mark S. (not verified) :: Wed, 01/14/2009 - 2:58pm

They both are. Most of the talk I've seen though seems to indicate the Giants are going to re-sign Jacobs, and let Ward (who will also be seeking RB1 type money) walk.

by jjbtnw (not verified) :: Tue, 01/13/2009 - 7:19pm

Phillip Rivers is a very good QB, and I hope he gets a ring someday. But 150 of his 300 yards came in the 4th quarter down by 18 points. I don't think his DYAR is as good without that garbage-time stat padding. Same thing for Sproles 91 receiving yards, 62 of which came well after the game had been decided.