Deep Pass Troubles

Deep Pass Troubles

by Rivers McCown

As you may know, we here at Football Outsiders have a book coming out shortly. It's called Football Outsiders Almanac 2013, and it is due to be released in mid-July. While I do plenty of editing, my most specific task in this annual is to write the chapters and player comments for the NFC North. While researching some ways to contextualize Christian Ponder's season, I came across an interesting stat that had some weird outliers, and I'd like to lay one of them out and see what the readers think. Ponder's big problem, which is no secret and was no secret coming out of college, is that he is terrible on deep passes. He had a DVOA of 10.7% on balls that we marked as "deep" (travelling 16 or more yards down field) -- which sounds a little impressive until you realize that the average seasonal DVOA on deep passes is usually between 45% and 65%. (Remember, DVOA is based on all pass plays, and of course the category "deep passes" doesn't include a number of negative plays like sacks or dumpoffs that fail to convert third down.)

Our data on distance of pass attempts goes back to 2005. Sicne then, there have been 29 quarterbacks with 50 or more deep pass attempts and a seasonal DVOA below 15% on deep passes. It's a pretty harrowing list to look at if you have an optimist's view of Ponder's future.

Quarterbacks with a sub-15% DVOA on "Deep" Passes, 2005-2012 (min. 50 attempts)
Year Name DYAR DVOA Passes Career Year
2012 Christian Ponder 108 10.7% 77 2
2012 Brandon Weeden 27 -6.3% 87 1
2011 Blaine Gabbert 22 -6.4% 74 1
2011 Josh Freeman 55 0.0% 73 3
2011 Matt Cassel -7 -13.1% 60 7
2010 Matt Hasselbeck 18 -7.9% 88 12
2010 Sam Bradford 77 7.6% 71 1
2009 Josh Freeman -83 -33.3% 59 1
2009 Jamarcus Russell -189 -58.6% 67 3
2009 Matthew Stafford -137 -43.6% 71 1
2009 Jake Delhomme -66 -25.9% 70 9
2009 Matt Ryan 58 0.2% 83 2
Year Name DYAR DVOA Passes Career Year
2008 Ryan Fitzpatrick -36 -20.3% 53 4
2008 Matt Cassel -52 -21.3% 80 4
2008 Brett Favre 56 -0.9% 87 19
2007 Vince Young -86 -28.8% 76 2
2007 Cleo Lemon 65 7.9% 58 3
2007 Trent Dilfer 75 13.8% 53 13
2007 Tarvaris Jackson -184 -65.3% 52 2
2007 Brian Griese 9 -7.9% 50 10
2007 Kellen Clemens -14 -16.3% 50 2
Year Name DYAR DVOA Passes Career Year
2006 Brett Favre -18 -13.5% 122 17
2006 Jake Plummer -18 -14.8% 77 10
2006 Andrew Walter -68 -29.6% 68 1
2006 Joey Harrington -28 -17.4% 68 6
2006 Bruce Gradkowski 20 -5.2% 54 1
2005 David Carr 48 0.2% 66 4
2005 Aaron Brooks 60 3.7% 83 6
2005 Gus Frerotte 130 13.1% 98 12

[ad placeholder 3]

Boy, that's a lot of past and present Vikings on one list ... Cassel, Favre, Frerotte, Jackson, Ponder. Anyway, Favre was losing arm strength at the end of his career and he was still slinging his guns all the way to the finish line, so it's not a big surprise to see him on this list. The second player who jumped out at me was Stafford, because scouts constantly gushed over his arm talent despite the fact that he had a poor college completion percentage. Turns out the scouts were right on this one long term, but the completion percentage was a warning sign that he was not at all ready to play in the NFL as a rookie. Stafford compiled -653 DYAR in 2009, ahead of only JaMarcus Russell. You can understand why his deep balls were not priority A at that point.

The third name that surprised me here was Matt Ryan. I don't know what was in the water in Atlanta in 2009 -- probably the same thing that's making them create a stadium shaped like a sphincter -- but the entire passing game ground to a halt. The especially strange thing was that, in 2008, Ryan had a 126.8% DVOA on 89 deep balls. Anyway, 2009 turned out to be a fluke season and Ryan was eventually gifted with Julio Jones and made some adjustments to his deep ball. He's pretty stellar at it these days.

Then, the fourth name that surprised me, because it appeared twice, was Josh Freeman. I will admit that I have not watched a lot of Freeman -- NFC South games not involving the Saints or Falcons have not been appointment viewing for a while and the Bucs last year did not play the NFC North (which I was watching to prepare for the book) or AFC South (which I watch as a Houston fan). The last game I charted that involved Tampa Bay was when they played the Texans during Raheem Morris' 2011 march to see just how much quitting it would take to forever ruin his coaching reputation. You can see why I'd want to discount that as a subjective indicator of Freeman's talent. In 2012, with the addition of Vincent Jackson, Freeman's DVOA on deep passes went up to 53.5%.

So, I thought I'd dig in to the numbers to see if I could find some objective thing that Josh Freeman was especially good at. It turns out, in this case, that the numbers and the eyeball test say the same thing. The only thing consistent about Freeman -- other than the fact that his DVOA is usually above average when he is under pressure -- is his inconsistency.

Josh Freeman DVOA by Pass Length
Year Deep Short/Medium
2012 53.5% -4.7%
2011 0.0% 9.7%
2010 73.4% 30.0%
2009 -33.3% -1.1%

Outside of Jackson coming in last year, there hasn't much turnover in Freeman's offense. Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, and Kellen Winslow were constants in 2010 and 2011. Winslow declined heavily and Dallas Clark wasn't the answer -- is Freeman's large drop in Short DVOA since 2010 all because he has no tight end? Williams said that part of the problem in 2012 was that receivers didn't know when to break their routes off. Is that something that gets fixed?

[ad placeholder 4]

That's the kind of straw-grasping that Freeman's advanced stats leave you to make. When he's been below average in DVOA, he's been below average on all downs. When he's above average in DVOA, he's above average on all downs. His red-zone DVOA follows a rollercoaster pattern (which is true for most quarterbacks, to be honest). I know we have a few hardcore Bucs fans here. What theories do you have about what has happened to Freeman since 2010?

Based on what I've seen and researched of him, I can see why head coach and haircut watch-setter Greg Schiano is peeing down both legs when it comes to Freeman. It's been four years, and Freeman's main trait as a quarterback is that nobody knows what to expect him to be in four years.


46 comments, Last at 12 Jul 2013, 6:45pm

1 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

While I'm not sold on Ponder's future, I think he's getting a bit of a bad rap. I think some of the inconsistancy down the field is due to a lack of downfield weapons and a lack of trust that his guy was going to come down with a ball. I think Matt Ryan, and especially Sam Bradford have had similar situations in their first couple of years.

2 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

I quite liked Ponder as a prospect but with the caveat that he would need to play in a scheme that accounted for his less than ideal arm strength and also that he could be injury prone.

His DVOA is the second highest on that list and he really didn't have much of a deep threat. His best weapons were Rudolph, a really good short to intermediate target and Harvin, who does lots if things very well but hasn't really shown that he can get open deep.

4 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

Yeah, my biggest concern with Ponder is the injury history, going back to college combined with what I saw at the end of last year. It really didn't look like it took too big of a hit, by NFL standards, in the last regular season game, to give him an arm contusion that knocked him out of a playoff game, leaving the Vikings at the tender mercies of one Joe Webb.

Oh, well, Cassell is now their backup, and Webb has been moved to receiver. I suspect Webb can't catch the ball to save his life, which is why they kept trying to see if he could read a defense and throw accurately, despite all indicators showing the opposite. If Webb, against all odds, becomes the deep threat that helps Ponder, that would be wonderfully ironic for Vikings fans.

6 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

Strangely, the Vikings qbs who were horrible at completing the deep ball all played for the Vikings after Randy Moss left. Then, Brett Favre, all of a sudden, became good at the deep ball again when he joined a very good Vikings team with a healthy Sidney Rice.

I don't know if Ponder will ever be an above average qb. I do know that throwing deep passes to the mutts who the Vikings mostly have had at receiver since Moss left, with the aforementioned exception of one year with a healthy Sidney Rice, and considering that Harvin really isn't a deep route runner, can't really tell us too much about qb performance.

I suspect that if somebody on the Vikings roster consistently gets separation deep, and/or demonstrates superior ball skills on deep passes, Ponder's DVOA will pretty easily climb from 10.7% (lumping someone with positive double digits with negative 30-60-plus ratings kind of obscures things as well) past 15%. This kind of looks like cherry picking that doesn't inform.

30 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

Favres deep ball presumably also benefitted from the surgery on the biceps tendon he tore in game 11 of the 2008 season. Rice helped, and so did having Peterson as a threat to run the ball, but I believe that Favres low DVOA on deep balls in 2008 was at least in part due to injury and not decline of arm strength with age (his arm looked more than adequate in 2009 which the talking heads stressed on every pass that went deeper than five yards).

3 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

Ponder gets a lot of "lack of arm strengh" comments, especially nationally. His arm strengh isn't a problem at all. While he doesn't have a Jay Cutler, Matt Stafford like cannon, He can spin it downfield 40-50-60 yards and can get it out to the edges with ease. His deep balls early in the year kept on getting overthrown out of bounds, He started connecting with Jarius Wright later in the year and at least two of those were absolute bombs.

5 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

I suspect qbs overthrow deep out of bounds a lot more frequently when they have zero confidence in the person they are throwing to. Hopefully, Wright can continue to change that in his 2nd year, and the Vikings get more production out of some other people as well, because 28 will again be ensuring lots of single coverage, with little to no safety help over the top. If nothing else, it would be nice to find out, once and for all, if Ponder can play.

34 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

I think most Vikings fans would agree that they'd like to know whether Ponder can be the guy or not instead of his status remaining up in the air.

It will be interesting to see if Jennings has an impact on Ponder's deep stats similar to V-Jax's impact on Freeman. I don't see Jennings as a guy using his speed to beat the defense all that often, but having a smart, experienced and reliable target may help open up things further. Between Jennings, Ponder and Peterson, the defense will have plenty to think about, which should lead to a lot of 1-1 matchups for Wright.

7 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

It isn't a question of being able to throw sixty yards with a high arc. It's the ability to complete throws I to tight windows down field. The longest throw on the route tree for most teams is the deep out from the far hashmark and while it's about 45 yards from release to catch, the qb has to be able to drive the ball so that the defender doesn't have the time to break on the ball while it's in the air. If you can't drive that throw then the offense is going to have to take some routes out of the system. I don't think Ponder has that velocity. It's certainly possible to succeed and even thrive without it but the qb is going to have to really excel in some other way like Montana or Brady.

A stronger arm will also help when having to throw from a muddied pocket with out your feet set, Roethlisberger sets the example there.

Also, Greg Cosell has argued that as defenses have become faster, qbs need more arm strength to fit the ball into windows that close more rapidly. I'm not entirely convinced though, how does he account for the continued production from Manning and Brady?

8 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

Quickly identifying where the ball should go, and getting the offense into the right play at the line of scrimmage, are the most important attributes a qb can have, assuming some base level of throwing talent, and a guy who can do those two former things, really well, can be pretty mediocre in the latter department, and still end up wearing the ugly yellow blazer on an August evening.

11 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

...Or even the success that Peyton Manning had last year...As long as a QB has the arm strength to drive a ball outside the hashes 10 or 20 yards, they can succeed with anticipation and touch, but that is beside the point. Ponder has what it takes when his confidence is high and his mechanics are good. Ponder gets himself in the most trouble when he double clutches, makes a late read, and/or doesn't set his feet properly. When he steps into his throws with confidence there is no lack of arm strengh. Tom Pellisaro (used to be local beat writer, just took a job with USA Today NFL dept) wrote a piece recently detailing Ponder's issues and he said, contrary to national opinion, Ponder actually has better than average arm strength. I think confidence is Ponder's major issue which is why I believe the jury is still out. We'll know more by week 5.

12 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

I have a feeling that if you tallied up all the opinions of writers trying to puff up the QB of their choice, you'd find that 80% of NFL QBs will have above-average arm strength. That's what happens when there's no standard for the average.

19 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

I can believe that. It's just that even if people are criticizing QB in other areas, arm strength seems to be the attribute that's almost always overrated.

20 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

Yeah, I think arm strength is definitely over rated, but a good enough arm is required. My point is that Ponder definitely has the arm, contrary to popular belief; his issues have more to do with accuracy and trust.

15 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

Heh, well now, really, it's just team boosters being lame when they have a lame QB. To think otherwise must lead to a reflection that the owner doesn't really care about winning.

It's also when such boosters really dump on a QB as hard as they can, too. Joe Webb had one bad game under the worst possible circumstances, and all of a sudden he's not a QB and not going to make it as a receiver. Thing is? The Vikes dang well will not release Webb because he will make another team so fast, heads will spin. Know why? No other backup in the league will give you a 1 TD, 1INT (that may as well be a punt), and one fumble, with a total of 248 yards on no notice and not having had even one pass during the season. **snort** I don't think outside of Shaun Hill, there is another QB that might have been able to look at all functional in those circumstances, and I've seen a lot of backup QBs flail about in my time.

At the end of the day, Webb is probably a better QB than either Cassel or Ponder, and people do know it--which is why there is so much flinging of insults. I mean people generally can tell the difference between the Ryan Lindleys, Max Halls, and Rusty Smiths of the world, and someone who can get you somewhere.

Yeah, and about that "injury"? You do realize that Tom Brady had a similar injury during the 2011 season. He played through it on the way to his last Super Bowl. You do, in fact, have to realize that all of these shenanigans reduces the Viking's attractiveness to top free agents.

18 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

This site is for intelligent analysis...While most would view Ponder as a lame QB, and that argument can be made, Webb has never caught on as a QB, and will never catch on to the throwing aspect of the game. His accuracy has never been good, he has trouble making a second read, and his success has always come from making things happen with his feet after a play broke down. Webb has never had a good game if a team had a week to prepare for him, due to major deficientcies in his passing ability.

23 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

I've heard this stuff over and over, though. It's still pretty weird to talk this way about someone who's never had as bad a game as any of Ponder's five worst, and has had stretches better than any of Ponder's best. Someone who trivially makes those deep outs that Ponder can't, and in one playoff game all season, accumulated a big fraction of the deep completions of Ponder in sixteen games. And if one actually watches clips of successful passing plays, Webb either has the same amount, or more nice pass plays than Ponder in 2011.

Sure, his mechanics are unreliable, as we saw, but we never actually had him for any stretch of actual starter-hood beyond the 2010 season. After that, he's never been penciled as a starter, and getting true starting reps. I've never understood why everyone doesn't laugh the "week to prepare" claim out of the tavern...

Meanwhile, with the litany of Webb's flaws cited, how many second reads do you think Ponder gets to? And what is the success rate of those reads post the first? Heck Webb can at least find Jenkins for a long TD pass after his first read, hmmm? Even gets the ball there. Is it truly all about how he's so awesome on his feet? I seem to remember a certain Washington game. Even so, hey, what's wrong with being as awesome on the ground as Webb can be, breaking ankles on a professional basis?

Certain fans like you and Will Allen can pretend this sentiment is crazy, and plenty of Vikings fans will be right there with you. However, in reality nobody looks at Ponder or Cassel as viable starting QBs, and I suspect that fewer people actually in the NFL holds anything against Webb for his performance than many seem to think. After all, I wasn't the only one who watched Andy Dalton go tits up in a far more damning circumstance.


I've the unfortunate pleasure of watching some Cassel (such as the KC-Pitt game). I've also done some reading up on Cassel. I have absolutely no reason to believe that Cassel can hold down the fort, and I strongly suspect that Webb is still the long term backup option, with Cassel actually being insurance against an injury to Webb as a receiver.

26 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

Hmmm, can't reply with anything but insults, eh? Because you know you can't come up with anything more erudite than a bunch of misfired passes in the beginning of one of, I believe, nine appearances for Mr. Webb.

Meanwhile, much of Viking Nation (unfortunately, which I'm apparently a slight part of) want to make all sorts of excuses for a QB that had no business starting in the NFL, and only could look at all good due to a career year by apparently one of the greatest running backs of all time at the top of his game. For example, Ponder threw exactly zero TDs from beyond the opponent's 20 yard line. Joe Webb, out of just eleven completion, can manage one. Last year, Ponder was five out of thirty-four in passes longer than 20 yards in the air. In one disastrous playoff game, Joe Webb can manage three pass completions!

Ponder was terrible in some pretty profound ways. His stats are sort of decent because his offense is pretty decent, all told. OTOH, if he did not have AD to get him most of the way to the end zone...well... it would have been bad.

28 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

Insults!? Heaven's no. Joe Webb is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.

(edit) O.K., since I don't want to pursue this any further, I'll be semi-serious for a moment. I'm not interested in a debate regarding who is the better qb between Ponder or Webb. Got it? The criticism of Ponder you make holds no interest for me, for the simple reason that I don't think there is much reason to believe that either he or Webb will be any good, so discussing the matter in detail holds about as much interest to me as an argument as to whether I'd like to drink bottom shelf Scotch or Bourbon the rest of my life. I do think football fans are amusing, when they put forth a depth chart argument which implies that all the hours of practice and preparation, that coaches watch very intently, has no value in judging these things. Again, though, don't bother with telling me again how awful Ponder is; for all I know he'll never get any better. If you want to go argue with someone about Ponder, let Google be your friend, and go find a supporter of his.

9 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

You cite a couple of examples of situations when a QB's deep ball DVOA changes based on the quality of his WRs. It would be interesting to run a regresssion analysis on QB deep DVOA given the DVOA of his WRs on deep passes as well as o-line play. It seems like one of those few areas where the number of variables that one would expect to have an outsized impact is small enough to potentially differentiate the impact of the player from the quality of his teammates.

10 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

For Freeman, it's all about the offensive system. The 2012 FO Almanac had a line about 2011 Luke Stocker that was something like "Stocker has catches of 1, 1, 0, 2, 4, 1, and -1 yards and none of them went for a touchdown. The Buccaneers offense was not fun to watch." This held true for everyone. In order to get the ball into the hands of the receivers, the offense ran about a million 5 yard hitches in addition to running end-arounds to Arrelious Benn, who ended up with a season stat line of 6 carries, -7 yards. But Greg Olsen was the coach for both 2010 and 2011, so what happened? Well, now I'm just guessing, but the 2010 season was very lucky - No one expected anything of the Bucs, so they had no pressure and felt good being aggressive. In 2011, they had more pressure to perform so it became ultra-stupidly-conservative, until, of course, the team just quit on the season.

In 2012, it was all about getting the ball downfield. Conventional stats show us that Jackson and Williams were both among the top targets on balls over 20 yards, and the offense was just generally more aggressive. For example: In two consecutive weeks (during Good Freeman) the Bucs had 3rd and 15ish backed up deep in their own territory. Usually this would be a draw/screen down, but the Bucs instead went deep and Jackson and Williams each ended up with 60 yard catches. Doug Martin was also a huge upgrade to the offense. He opened up the play-action deep ball, as there was finally a threat in the backfield. Blount had a miserable 2011 and the 3rd down back was Kregg Lumpkin.

Also, Freeman threw a lot more 50-50 balls, trusting his receivers who did a great job of either coming down with those balls, or protecting their QB against the INT. Overall, I believe that Freeman throws one of the better deep balls in the league on 8-9 routes, but he just doesn't have the precision for the deep ins and outs, plus he's hit or miss on the 7.

To your point though, no one knows what Freeman is going to be in four years. Last year gave me a lot of hope because I always thought he was similar to Flacco, but Flacco may have taken a step forward in the accuracy department last year. In addition to the occasional stupid, stupid mistake (see interception to Justin Houston) Freeman also has some throws that are just wildly inaccurate (see miss to VJ in 4th quarter of Dallas game). I am hopeful that a second year in this offense will allow him to finally get comfortable. Let's not forget that despite his 4 years in the league, he's still only 25. Last point - Mike Sullivan was Eli Manning's quarterback coach for his best years, but Eli also took some time before he was really comfortable in the NFL. Last year Freeman improved greatly, while Eli didn't have a great year. Tiny sample size and other issues, I know, but it's something worth keeping in mind.

44 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

Well said. In fewer words, here's the basic narrative on Freeman's career:

2009: Rookie season for QB who left as true junior and got virtually no reps in preseason so not even worth analyzing.

2010: Mike Williams emerges out of nowhere as deep threat, Kellen Winslow looks somewhat young again, and Earnest Graham is reliable as third down back catching passes and calling protections.

2011: The entire NFL gameplans how to neutralize Mike Williams and succeeds, Kellen Winslow starts to look old, Earnest Graham is lost and replaced by Kregg Lumpkin, and the entire team quits on Raheem Morris.

2012: Vincent Jackson plays like you expect a $55 million receiver to play, Mike Williams feasts on #2 defensive backs, Dallas Clark looks really old, and Danny Ware is the third down back.

Where Freeman has capable teammates, he does well in those phases of the game. Where he has substandard teammates, he looks poor in those phases.

13 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

DVOA as a statistic obscures a significant difference among the QBs on the list, between those who throw a lot of interceptions on deep passes and those who throw mostly incompletions. Favre, obviously, was among the former; Ponder, I think, has been mostly the latter. Last year there was a stretch of four games (weeks 12-15) where he didn't complete a single deep ball, although I don't think any of them were picked off either. Is this Ponder being over-prudent, or just plain inaccurate?

Also, 77 deep pass attempts for a quarterback who took every snap isn't a lot. It's 16% of Ponder's total attempts — only three QBs had a lower rate (two Cardinals and Alex Smith). Seems like the Vikings were running a conservative / receiver-less offense.

16 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

"The second player who jumped out at me was Stafford, because scouts constantly gushed over his arm talent despite the fact that he had a poor college completion percentage. Turns out the scouts were right on this one long term, but the completion percentage was a warning sign that he was not at all ready to play in the NFL as a rookie"

His stats sucked because he played on an 0-16 team with enough talent to finish 2nd in the SEC West.

22 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

I know there's not a lot of time to run this stuff during book season, but it would be interesting to see the year-to-year correlation on deep DVOA (vs. the one on overall passing DVOA) as well as the effects of receivers, coaching changes, etc. Maybe there's something here, and maybe there's not, but it's an interesting question.

25 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

I'm really surprised that Brady doesn't make the list of QB's with poor "deep" DVOA. It seems like once per game the Pats run some really cool playaction or other deception play that ends up with a WR streaking wide open down the middle of the field...and then Brady throws the ball 5 yards too deep (or worse, too shallow and the safeties catch up). Barring 2007 (and, of course, 2008), these deep attempts seem to work about once ever four games...which ought to work out to a DVOA pretty low. But maybe the eyeballs aren't remembering truly...

29 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

Brady is fine twenty, thirty yards downfield. The real lack of arm strength and/or lack of accuracy on long passes only really shows up when he tries to really air it out.

37 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

I think it's probably just been a while since you're watched a bad QB on a regular basis. Ponder can't even hit the one out of five or whatever you're saying Brady does hit. You're probably used to seeing him connect on fucking EVERYTHING so the scant few misses stand out in your mind. MIssing open receivers is a way of life for a lot of QB's...

31 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

What's the variance of deep passes? To me, it stands to reason that there's the longer a pass has to travel, the greater the variance on outcomes.

I can also rationalize why deep throws might have more upside according to DVOA:

1. Deep throws tend to be more prevalent on long downs/distances, where, the 'down' side of not completing 3rd and 18 is not great.
2. Deep throws are next most prevalent on early downs/short distances, where defenses are weighted to stop the run.
3. If I'm not mistaken, even an interception counts for less of a penalty in DVOA due to field position.

Those are just my unsubstantiated guesses, though; I'm curious if there's any statistical evidence to back up my intuition.

32 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

RE #1:

You're forgetting your Madden-isms from Madden 2006.

Everyone knows the best time to go deep is on 2nd and short, because if you don't get the completion, you can always run it on 3rd down.

He used to remind me of that about 15 times per game.

33 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

Doesn't the fact that teams geared up for Adrian Peterson every game, and Ponder never really did much tell us a lot of what we need to know about him last year?

35 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

Deep passes take longer to develop generally... granted these stats do not take sacks and dumpoffs into account... and Ponder was certainly one to dump off a lot.... I think we need to take such numbers somehow into account while adjusting for line play.

not sure if that's possible.

36 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

I wonder what the reverse chart would look like. How good was Flacco, Cam, or even Tebow at deep passing?

41 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

Since no one else has commented on it, I would just like to cast my vote in favor of "stadium shaped like a sphincter" for Simile of the Year.

42 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

While wandering in the footballperspective website, I came upon the discussion about yards per attempt. Then came this comment by Red...

Red June 18, 2013 at 9:14 pm

When Y/A is high, a solid completion % is important. As you mentioned, completing passes consistently implies picking up first downs and keeping drives alive. However, I disagree that completion % is important at the low end of Y/A. In fact, I’d almost argue the opposite, that a weak passing offense is better served to employ a boom-or-bust strategy. Let’s say a QB can only muster 5 Y/A. The chances of him driving his team 80 yards for a touchdown are pretty low, so it would make more sense to gamble with a few deep bombs and hope lady luck smiles on him that day. This touches on one of the principles of game theory – the superior player should use a low variance strategy, and the inferior player should use a high variance strategy. That’s how the Ravens won the SB this year without having the best team, by utilizing a very high variance passing offense.

Here is my rule of thumb on this issue:
When Y/A is between 6 and 8, comp % doesn’t matter either way
When Y/A is above 8, high comp % is better
When Y/A is below 8, low comp % is better

One of my favorite weird player seasons in NFL history illustrates this point: Chris Chandler’s 1998. In leading the Falcons to a SB appearance, Chandler led the league with 9.6 Y/A, which is historically rare. Even more astonishing is that he did it with a ho-hum 58% completion rate (plus his sack rate was a horrendous 12%). His Y/C was a meteoric 16.6, probably four standard deviations above average. That performance was a big reason why Atlanta went 14-2, but it had fluke written all over it. In fact, Chandler finished his career at 7.1 Y/A, and never even broke 8 Y/A in any other season in his long career. Why? His 1998 success was almost entirely a product of hitting deep passes, which are notoriously random from year to year. Once his long balls stopped connecting, he immediately regressed to being a mediocre QB.

Compare Chandler to other QB’s who had a season over 9 Y/A. Marino, Montana, Peyton, Warner, and Rodgers each accomplished the feat, but they all completed 65-70% of their passes while doing so. So, even when their deep passes stopped hitting in subsequent seasons, these QB’s could still move the ball down the field with consistent, accurate throws. Not coincidentally, all will probably be in the HoF.


And this is one angle that really shows some glimmers on just how bad Ponder was. Chris Chandler was running off the backs of one of the more dominant rushing efforts of the era from Jamal Anderson. Chris Chandler also had poor receivers as well, but the ground game forced defenses up and gave many opportunities for one-on-one deep plays. Matt Hasselbeck, as well, has had just one season where he was reasonably good without a healthy Shuan Alexander. When you have a dominant ground game, you really should have an AY/A above 7. That Ponder barely eclipsed his RB in terms of Y/A is unearthly bad.

43 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

Not to be too harsh, but there are some good QBs who had that Y/A>9, C%<60% stat -- Johnny Unitas, Otto Graham, Len Dawson, and George Blanda all did it once or twice, and Sid Luckman built a career out of them, although you really need to regress 1940s Y/A and completion percentage stats into something resembling a modern era.

The trick is pairing that high-variance deep threat with low turnover rates. The good QBs managed that. The bad ones tended to find the wide-open defensive back.

45 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

It just emphasizes how valuable AP is to Minn. The threat of play action really helps with him. The offensive staff has really done a nice job of game planning around Ponder's limitations. Now if they can get a Megatron-type receiver that he can just throw it up for grabs to, they would be unstoppable.

46 Re: Deep Pass Troubles

You might suppose that, yet the Vikings ranked only 15th in DVOA improvement when running play action. In fact, their DVOA running play action was only slightly better than when throwing deep, and the yds/play was no better than if they just handed off to Peterson.