Quick Reads
The best and worst players of the week according to Football Outsiders stats.

Week 1 Quick Reads

by Vince Verhei

With just one season as a starting quarterback in college, Cam Newton was supposed to be a raw product coming out of the draft, an inexperienced talent who was ill-prepared for the NFL.

Whatever. In the Carolina Panthers’ 28-21 defeat to the Arizona Cardinals yesterday, Newton became just the sixth rookie in NFL history to throw for more than 400 yards in a single game.

Total yardage can be misleading, though. Nobody questioned Tom Brady’s election as MVP last season, even though he finished just eighth in passing yards. At Football Outsiders, we measure players by Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR). We analyze every play of the NFL season and adjust it for down, distance, score, field position, and other factors. Players are rewarded not just for gaining yards, but also for picking up first downs – a six-yard gain on third-and-10 is worth barely any more than an incomplete pass. (We do not yet calculate Entertainment Value Above Replacement, but if we did, Newton’s air guitar solo in the end zone would probably also score highly.)

Newton finished with 150 total DYAR on Sunday. That’s an excellent figure, the second-highest of the day, but it’s not the best day a rookie ever had. Here are the top 10 rookie quarterback performances since 1992, judging by total DYAR:

Player Year Team Week vs. Comp Att Yds TD Int Sacks Runs Yds Total DYAR
Cade McNown 1999 CHI 15 DET 27 36 301 4 2 2 6 39 197
Matt Ryan 2008 ATL 6 CHI 22 30 301 1 0 0 1 1 191
Ryan Leaf 1998 SD 8 SEA 25 49 281 1 0 1 3 18 178
Byron Leftwich 2003 JAC 13 TB 21 34 226 2 0 0 1 6 174
Matt Ryan 2008 ATL 13 SD 17 23 207 2 0 0 1 1 170
Peyton Manning 1998 IND 15 CIN 17 26 210 3 0 0 0 0 169
Heath Shuler 1994 WAS 15 ARI 16 27 287 1 1 1 2 38 165
Charlie Batch 1998 DET 12 TB 14 23 195 2 0 1 1 9 162
Eli Manning 2004 NYG 15 PIT 16 23 182 2 1 0 2 18 161
Ben Roethlisberger 2004 PIT 16 BAL 14 19 221 2 1 0 2 11 156
Cam Newton (13th) 2011 CAR 1 ARI 24 37 422 2 1 4 8 18 150

Two things to note here. First, this is ranking by total DYAR, including passing and rushing. Newton’s passing DYAR (159) would have made the list by itself, but he finished with negative rushing value, as eight of his runs gained 3 yards or fewer. Also, look at the far right hand column. All of these quarterbacks had played at least a third of a season when they posted these elite games, and most had at least three months of on-the-job training. Nobody has come close to playing like Newton did in their first action.

Newton wasn’t just explosive against the Cardinals, he was efficient, too. Nearly half his dropbacks resulted in productive yardage, while many quarterbacks were successful less than 40 percent of the time. Newton threw for 17 first downs or touchdowns – only four quarterbacks had more (and two of them played Thursday night). Newton was productive on first (11-of-18 for 194 yards), second (9-of-11, 122 yards), and third (4-of-8, 106 yards) downs.

There will be dark days ahead for Newton. He won’t play every game against soft defenses like Arizona’s, and he’ll have to struggle through contests with multiple sacks and interceptions. It’s also possible this was a one-time fluke performance. Cade McNown, Ryan Leaf, and Heath Shuler showed that even the biggest draft busts of all time can look good for one game. For now, though, he should be celebrated. Newton’s first game was better than anyone in Charlotte had any right to expect.

As you look at the table to follow, remember that this early in the season, there are no opponent adjustments included in the DYAR totals.

Quarterbacks
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
1.
Tom Brady NE
32/48
517
4
1
233
231
2
From the front desk of our fearless leader: "Brady does not end up near the top 10 passing DYAR games of all time. Just not efficient enough, too many incompletes."
2.
Drew Brees NO
32/48
419
3
0
216
218
-2
The problem with putting the defending Super Bowl champion in a high-profile game on Thursday night is that we don't get to enjoy them on Sunday. This week, two of the top three quarterbacks played on Thursday as the nation sat down to enjoy a phenomenal shootout to kick off the season. Brees finished ahead of Rodgers in total value, but that's because he had 13 more passes; Rodgers was better on a per-play basis. Brees was very good through three quarters (21-of-31, 269 yards, 120 DYAR), and then played obscenely well when the Saints needed him most. In the fourth quarter, he went 11-of-17 for 150 yards. That's an outstanding performance on the road, against a good defense that knew he had to pass.
3.
Aaron Rodgers GB
27/35
312
3
0
189
200
-11
Rodgers did his damage early, completing 14 of 15 first-quarter passes for 188 yards and three touchdowns to three different receivers. The Packers then got conservative (well, by their standards) and Rodgers threw only 22 passes the rest of the way.
4.
Ryan Fitzpatrick BUF
17/25
208
4
0
155
168
-13
Since Brees and Rodgers played Thursday night, Fitzpatrick was actually the most valuable quarterback to play Sunday. Let that sink in for a moment. Most of his basic numbers are pretty pedestrian: He went 17-of-25 for 208 yards. That's a 68 percent completion rate and 8.3 yards per pass. Good numbers, sure, but the best all day? The secret lies in Fitzpatrick's red zone performance. Inside the 20, Fitzpatrick went 4-of-6 for 24 yards and three of his four touchdowns. That worked out to 61 DYAR, better than anyone this week, including Rodgers and Brees. Fitzpatrick was also very effective in the third quarter, going 8-of-9 for 78 yards and 75 DYAR. That suggests some impressive halftime adjustments by Chan Gailey and company.
5.
Cam Newton CAR
24/37
422
2
1
150
159
-9
6.
Matt Stafford DET
24/33
305
3
1
144
144
0
Between the 40-yard line and the end zone, Stafford went 9-of-13 for 122 yards, with no sacks or interceptions and a league-high 111 DYAR.
7.
Rex Grossman WAS
21/34
305
2
0
128
128
0
Bombs away! Grossman's average pass went 14.4 yards past the line of scrimmage, by far the deepest passer among starters in the league. (Cam Newton was second at 11.5.)
8.
Joe Flacco BAL
17/29
224
3
0
98
98
0
Flacco completed eight of his first nine passes. He hit four of his next seven, then hit four in a row, and finished with just one completion (a failed one, at that) in his last six dropbacks. Fortunately Baltimore was ahead by 25 at that point.
9.
Chad Henne MIA
30/49
416
2
1
94
58
37
10.
Philip Rivers SD
33/48
335
2
2
86
86
0
Rivers' first and last passes in the Red Zone were both touchdowns. In between, he went 3-for-5 for 1 yard with an interception and a sack.
11.
Tony Romo DAL
23/36
352
2
1
86
86
0
Darrelle Revis disagrees with this ranking. Through three quarters, Romo went 18-of-24 for 234 yards and three sacks, and 133 DYAR. In the fourth, he went 5-of-12 for 118 yards with one sack, one interception, and -48 DYAR.
12.
Josh Freeman TB
28/41
261
1
1
81
77
4
Freeman's pass plays by quarter: Four in the first, 12 in the second, one in the third, 26 in the fourth. His average pass came with 7.7 yards needed for a first down, lower than any other starter except Donovan McNabb.
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
13.
Kevin Kolb ARI
18/27
309
2
0
74
74
0
It was a slow start for Kolb, who was sacked twice in his first five dropbacks. He rallied though, and in the final three quarters of the game he went 14-of-21 for 257 yards and no picks, including five 20-yard plays.
14.
Michael Vick PHI
14/31
187
2
0
64
26
38
An example of halftime adjustments: Vick had 27 first-half pass plays, tied with Philip Rivers for most of the league. Of course, he wasn't particularly good on those pass plays, and so he threw only seven passes in the second half (including one sack). He added three second-half runs for 49 yards. He had five ten-yard runs in the game, tied with Houston's Ben Tate for the most in the league.
15.
Matt Schaub HOU
17/24
220
1
2
54
55
-2
In 11 drives, the Texans only ran 10 third-down plays, including just six passes for Schaub. He converted three of them, but he also threw an interception. That's going to skew his third-down DVOA for weeks.
16.
Matt Hasselbeck TEN
21/33
263
2
1
53
49
4
Hasselbeck on throws to Kenny Britt: 5-of-10, 136 yards, 89.8% DVOA (even with an interception). To all other receivers: 16-of-24, 141 yards, no interceptions, 15.2% DVOA. (He was also sacked twice.)
17.
Mark Sanchez NYJ
26/44
335
2
1
42
58
-16
King of clutch? Sanchez converted six third downs. Going into Monday night, only Drew Brees and Josh Freeman converted more. On the other hand, his 14 dropbacks on third down were one fewer than anyone else had, and not one of those dropbacks came with more than ten yards to go.
18.
Jay Cutler CHI
22/32
310
2
1
28
28
0
Cutler converted only five of 15 third-down plays, while he was sacked twice and intercepted once. It wasn't just because of long yardage, either. His interception came on third-and-four, and he failed to convert four other times with less than 10 yards to go.
19.
Alex Smith SF
15/20
124
0
0
27
14
13
Talk about stat-padding: 15-of-20 sounds like a good day, but seven of those completions were failed plays by our standards.
20.
Jason Campbell OAK
13/22
105
1
0
25
10
15
21.
Kyle Orton DEN
24/45
304
1
1
19
13
6
22.
Luke McCown JAC
17/24
175
0
0
13
5
7
McCown's DVOA on deep balls (more than 15 yards downfield) was an ungodly 462.8%. Of course, he only threw one deep pass, but it was complete to Mike Thomas for 26 yards. And it was on third-and-8, too.
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
23.
Bruce Gradkowski CIN
5/12
92
1
0
12
12
0
Talk about boom-and-bust. Gradkowski had completions of 22, 22, and 41 yards. His other ten dropbacks produced two completions (neither successful), one sack, and zero total yards.
24.
Sam Bradford STL
17/30
188
0
0
9
34
-25
This is what happens when you throw to your wide receivers against Philadelphia: 9-of-16 for 100 yards, only seven successful plays. (Those numbers do not include the 41-yard pass interference penalty Brandon Gibson drew against Nnamdi Asomugha).
25.
Matt Ryan ATL
31/46
319
0
1
-1
-1
0
Wasn't Julio Jones supposed to bring the big play to Atlanta? Only four of Ryan's 14 first-half completions gained more than ten yards. He had nine ten-yard completions in the second half, but by then they were down by two touchdowns the entire way.
26.
Andy Dalton CIN
10/15
81
1
0
-13
-13
0
Dalton had two sacks on first down, but when he had time to throw, he hit 6-of-6 for 68 yards, plus a 4-yard DPI call. On all other downs: 4-of-9 for 13 yards, plus a sack.
27.
Eli Manning NYG
19/32
268
0
1
-28
-37
9
The Giants' day in a nutshell: Eli Manning did not throw a single pass in the Red Zone, but he had a league-high 11 plays in what we call the Deep Zone (inside his own 20). Those 11 plays included an interception and a sack, and only six completions for 98 yards.
28.
Kerry Collins IND
17/31
197
1
0
-47
-47
0
Nine times Kerry Collins dropped back on third or fourth down, and nine times he failed to pick up a new set of downs. Highlights included a three-yard completion with 17 yards to go, a two-yard gain with 11 yards to go, a 20-yard loss on an intentional grounding penalty, and a sack-fumble on third-and-5.
29.
Colt McCoy CLE
19/40
213
2
1
-56
-65
8
For whatever reason, McCoy was miserable on second down: 3-for-14 for 24 yards, plus a sack for -89 DYAR.
30.
Tarvaris Jackson SEA
21/37
197
2
1
-62
-62
0
Jackson was surprisingly effective on short routes (within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage), completing 20 of 30 passes for 193 yards and 99 DYAR. He went 0-for-5 on deep balls, however.
31.
Donovan McNabb MIN
7/15
39
1
1
-78
-92
15
By DVOA, McNabb was much worse than either Matt Cassel or Ben Roethlisberger, but he ranks higher in DYAR because he had fewer opportunities to suck. The ugly totals: 17 dropbacks, two sacks, one interception, seven incompletions, three failed completions, four successful plays, 28 net yards.
32.
Matt Cassel KC
22/36
119
1
1
-94
-94
0
Missing Tony Moeaki and Jon Baldwin didn't help. Cassel threw nine passes at or behind the line of scrimmage. All nine were complete, but they totaled only six yards, with one successful play and six catches for negative yardage. He also converted only three of 13 third-downs.
33.
Ben Roethlisberger PIT
22/41
280
1
3
-120
-125
5
You probably know the worst details of Roethlisberger's day -- the four sacks, two fumbles (both lost) and three interceptions. Even when he hung on to the ball, though, Roethlisberger failed to keep drives alive. In nine third-down drop backs, Roethlisberger had as many sacks (two) as he had conversions for a new set of downs. He wasn't much better on first downs, completing 9 of 18 passes for 137 yards. Three of his interceptions and two of his sacks also came on first down. Oddly, Roethlisberger played very well on second down, going 11-of-16 for 123 yards with no sacks or picks. That includes his 22-yard pass to Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall fumbled at the end of that play, but that's reflected in his stats, not Roethlisberger's.
Five most valuable running backs
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
1.
LeSean McCoy PHI
122
1
15
1
66
46
20
Through three quarters, McCoy hadn't done much on the ground, gaining only 27 yards on his 11 carries, with no 10-plus-yard runs. He actually had negative rushing DYAR at that point. Then came the fourth quarter, and while he carried only four times in the final period, he made those carries count: an 11-yard gain on second-and-10; a 17-yard gain on first-and-10; a 49-yard touchdown; and an 18-yard gain on first-and-10. McCoy benefited greatly from the Michael Vick factor, as Rams defenders in fear of bootleg passes chased down the Eagles quarterback even after McCoy had crossed the line of scrimmage with the ball. McCoy also got good value in limited touches in the passing game. His two receptions produced a touchdown from third-and-goal at the 7, and an 8-yard gain on second-and-9.
2.
Mike Tolbert SD
35
1
58
2
58
8
50
How do you make the top five running backs with a 2.9-yard average rush? By catching all nine of the passes thrown your way. Two of those catches lost yardage, but the other seven were all successful plays, including three first downs and two touchdowns.
3.
Ray Rice BAL
107
1
42
1
52
28
25
In his last three games against the Steelers (including the playoffs), Rice had collected a total of only 84 rushing yards, so you know he enjoyed this one. His 36-yarder on the first play of the game was longer than any run the Steelers gave up in 2010. He averaged less than four yards a carry after that, but he did convert three third downs. He converted two more third downs as a receiver.
4.
Matt Forte CHI
68
0
90
1
51
11
40
Forte did most of his damage as a receiver, with a 56-yard touchdown catch and another reception for 23 yards. He had six straight successful runs in the second half, including a third-down conversion and a 27-yard burst.
5.
LaDainian Tomlinson NYJ
16
0
73
0
39
-1
40
Tomlinson had only one successful run in five carries, a seven-yarder in the fourth quarter. He caught six out of seven passes though, and five of those catches were successes, including 11- and 32-yard gains. Even his "unsuccessful" reception was a five-yard gain on second-and-9.
Least valuable running back
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
1.
Frank Gore SF
59
0
19
0
-41
-42
0
Nearly half of Gore's 59 rushing yards came on two carries, a 12-yard run in the first quarter and a 16-yard run in the fourth. His other 22 carries totaled only 31 yards with no first downs or touchdowns. He was stuffed for no gain or a loss seven times. He particularly struggled in the red zone, gaining only 6 yards on seven carries. He was a little better as a receiver, though; although he had no first downs in three receptions, he did manage a 12-yard gain on second-and-14 and a 6-yarder on first-and-10. The 49ers were able to beat the Seahawks thanks largely to late-game heroics from Ted Ginn, but that didn't do much for fantasy players who have Gore on their teams.
Five most valuable wide receivers and tight ends
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
1.
Steve Smith CAR
8
11
178
22.2
2
72
After the debacle of 2010, it must be nice for Smith to play with legitimate talent at quarterback this year. Smith's 77-yard touchdown was his only third-down play of the game. Instead, the Panthers went to him early in drives. Smith produced to the tune of four receptions for 59 yards on six first-down targets, and three catches for 42 yards on four second-down throws. Seven of Smith's targets came 13 or more yards downfield, but they also tried to get him the ball in space, twice throwing him passes behind the line. Smith turned those throws into 8- and 5-yard gains.
2.
Early Doucet ARI
3
3
105
35.0
1
56
After the debacle of 2010, it must be nice for Doucet to play with legitimate talent at quarterback this year. Doucet was only thrown three passes on Sunday, but all three were in critical situations. With the score tied, he caught a 16-yard pass on third-and-8, then a 19-yarder on third-and-four. Later, he caught a game-tying 70-yard touchdown pass on third-and-seven. He did most of his damage on the ground — the three passes averaged just nine yards in the air.
3.
Greg Jennings GB
7
8
89
12.7
1
54
After the debacle of 2010, it must be nice ... well, I guess that narrative ends here. Jennings wasn't terribly explosive against the Saints (his longest catch was 22 yards), but all seven of his receptions gained successful yardage. He caught five first downs or touchdowns, and converted a pair of third downs.
4.
Kenny Britt TEN
5
10
136
27.2
2
52
It usually takes a Catch Rate higher than 50 percent to get into the Top Five, but all five of Britt's catches were either first downs or touchdowns, including an 80-yard score. The Titans threw either short to Britt or very deep. Three of his targets were within five yards of the line of scrimmage, but five were at least 20 yards downfield.
5.
Scott Chandler BUF
5
5
63
12.6
2
51
The second half of the legendary Fitzpatrick-to-Chandler connection, all five of Chandlers' catches gained successful yardage. He was sort of the anti-Britt: All five of his targets came 4 to 14 yards past the line of scrimmage. Both of his touchdowns came on third down in the red zone.
Least valuable wide receiver or tight end
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
1.
Antonio Brown PIT
2
9
14
7.0
0
-44
Seven incompletes in nine targets is bad enough, but even when he caught the ball it wasn't necessarily good news — one of his catches was a one-yard loss on second-and-10. On the bright side, he caught a 15-yarder on second-and-10 when the Steelers were down by 25 points in the fourth quarter. So there's that.

Comments

88 comments, Last at 15 Sep 2011, 3:21am

1 Re: Week 1 Quick Reads

If there's no defensive adjustments, shouldn't DYAR just be YAR? Or is that too mockable?

2 Re: Week 1 Quick Reads

The Matt Ryan and Sam Bradford comments are juxtaposed -- Ryan's comment is in Bradford's stat entry, and vice versa.

4 Re: Week 1 Quick Reads

Also: By DVOA, McNabb was much worse than either Matt Cassel or Ben Roethlisberger, but he ranks higher in DYAR because he had fewer opportunities to suck.

I enjoyed that writing.

5 Re: Week 1 Quick Reads

You have the bradford and matt ryan write-ups mixed up.

7 Re: Week 1 Quick Reads

Hey - did you know that the Bradford and Ryan commentaries are switched?

9 Re: Week 1 Quick Reads

Brady does not end up near the top 10 passing DYAR games of all time. Just not efficient enough, too many incompletes.

Incompletes? How about he threw an interception. That's probably much more important to DYAR than avoiding a few incompletes, n'est-ce pas?

How many of the top ten DYAR games included an interception? How many included a 67% or lower completion rate?

11 Re: Week 1 Quick Reads

If you're going to include Brady's stats, you might want to modify the text under Brees that says that the top two QBs played on Thursday night.

Oh, and I've heard tale of some Bradford-Ryan thing. :)

12 Re: Week 1 Quick Reads

There will be more hiccups than usual this year as everybody gets used to doing new columns -- Vince taking over Quick Reads, Danny taking over the fantasy matchups column, etc. So bear with us.

14 Re: Week 1 Quick Reads

I believe that three of Antonio Browns' incompletions came in the last four downs of the game, with Roethlisberger uncatchably throwing (intentionally to avoid another interception?) one yard out of the end zone.

15 Re: Week 1 Quick Reads

I'm surprised none of the Pats TEs/WRs show up on the list.

16 Re: Week 1 Quick Reads

Best guess? Possibly for the same reason Brady isn't going to be on an all-time list for this game. Too many incompletes.

19 Re: Week 1 Quick Reads

-->>Here is an article about top DYAR QB games from a 2008 article.

Interestingly, it does feature a Scott Mitchell game with an interception and a 66.6% completion rate. So something else pushed that one higher on the list. My guess: opponent adjustments and a boatload of situational bonuses. Otherwise, it looks statistically like Brady's latest game but with fewer yards per attempt and fewer yards total.

20 Re: Week 1 Quick Reads

I assume Sanchez's -16 rushing DYAR is largely because of his fumble. That's a little bit misleading because it was a free play because Dallas was offsides. Had the Jets not recovered the fumble it would've been no play and 1st and 5. Sanchez dove for the first down, fumbling in the process, in a way he almost certaintly would not have if there was no flag. That will obviously wash out over time. I'm reasonably pleased with Sanchez's performance despite the stupid INT and stupider strip sack. A passing performance by Sanchez in the top half of the league (if just barely) on a weekly basis should result in a lot of wins.

33 Re: Week 1 Quick Reads

I had a similar thought. I remember that game. While the stats looked impressive, and some Bears fans were excited by it, I was completely underwhelmed. Two of the TD passes were very fluky and his passes had no zip on them. He did not look like a long-term solution for the Bears.

22 Re: Week 1 Quick Reads

Surprised not to see Welker on this list. 8 catches, 12 targets, 160 yards, 2 TD.

48 Re: Week 1 Quick Reads

In that particular situation then yes. The Pats were already two scores up with 5 minutes remaining so any first down would have more or less iced the game, and the TD was irrelevant to the final outcome. In any normal circumstance where the game is still competitive, a 99 yard catch should clearly be given quite a lot more weight than a 20 yard catch. Does anybody know to what extent, if any, that play was discounted because it was effectively garbage time?

55 Re: Week 1 Quick Reads

In reply to by Ben S (not verified)

There were at least two times that Brady missed him, and a third that was nullified by defensive offsides.

In an unrelated note, is Morelli's crew known for calling holding on every frickin' play?

23 Re: Week 1 Quick Reads

Surprised not to see Welker on this list. 8 catches, 12 targets, 160 yards, 2 TD.

24 Re: Week 1 Quick Reads

"Between the 40-yard line and the end zone, Stafford went 9-of-13 for 122 yards…"
Whose 40-yard line?

Freeman: "His average pass came with 7.7 yards needed for a first down, lower than any other starter except Donovan McNabb."
Fewer?

37 Re: Week 1 Quick Reads

In reply to by tgt2 (not verified)

I don't get the Bret Saberhagen reference. However, my favorite insanely dominant stat comparison is Wins > Walks for a pitcher. Saberhagen, Cone, David Wells. All did it (or came close) in the modern era, and I think that's even more impressive than Brady's ridiculous TD-int ratio last year.

My cousin also had a season like that in college and I couldn't be more proud. Throw strikes young man!

31 Re: Week 1 Quick Reads

That's what happens when you single cover Steve Smith with a quarterback who can throw the ball, this has been proven in the league for a number of years.