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Failed Completions 2018

by Bryan Knowles

The Jacksonville Jaguars' long Bortles-ian nightmare is over. Nick Foles' new four-year deal gives the Jaguars not only a Super Bowl MVP, but also one of the most accurate quarterbacks of 2018. By our marks - excluding spikes -- Foles finished second among qualified quarterbacks with a 73.1 percent completion rate. That's a career high for Foles, albeit one set in a small sample size, and much higher than the 60.3 percent mark Blake Bortles put up, fourth-worst in the league. If there's one thing Foles excelled at in 2018, it was keeping the ball off the ground.

And if you didn't read the title of this article before you clicked on it, you'd probably believe that was a good thing.

Every year, we here at Football Outsiders study failed completions around the league. A failed completion is any completed pass that fails to gain 45 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent on second down, or 100 percent on third or fourth down. You can see last year's study on the subject here.

2018 saw quarterbacks do a better job at avoiding checkdowns and dump-offs, compared to the Year of the Failed Completion in 2017. Overall, the league had 2,842 failed completions; to put it another way, 24.8 percent of all completions were failures last season. Both of those numbers are improvements over last season, where we saw a record 26.5 percent failed completion rate. We're still in a historically high era of failed completions, of course -- 2018 would be the fourth highest season on record -- but, in general, teams did a little bit better at throwing appropriately deep and scheming receivers open last year. We'll have to see if this reversal becomes a trend going forward, or if this is just a blip.

Following is our annual study of failed completions for quarterbacks, receivers, and defenses in the 2018 season. Not every failed completion is created equally, but for this article we make things binary, simply summing up successes and failures. A 7-yard completion on third-and-10 is better than a 2-yard completion, especially in field goal range, and that is reflected in DVOA -- but for the purposes of this article, a failure is a failure.

Quarterbacks

In the following table, the 34 qualified quarterbacks of 2018 are ranked by ascending failed completion rate (FC%). We also included failed completions as a percentage of attempts (very little change in the rankings) as well as the average ALEX (all downs) for the season.

Quarterbacks, Failed Completions, 2018
Rk Player Team Passes Comp. Failed FC% FC%ATT Rk ALEX Rk
1 Patrick Mahomes KC 614 383 62 16.2% 10.1% 1 0.2 8
2 Jameis Winston TB 412 244 44 18.0% 10.7% 2 1.8 1
3 Ryan Fitzpatrick TB 262 164 31 18.9% 11.8% 6 1.4 3
4 Jared Goff LAR 601 364 69 19.0% 11.5% 3 0.2 9
5 Andy Dalton CIN 389 226 46 20.4% 11.8% 5 -0.6 17
6 Philip Rivers LAC 542 347 72 20.7% 13.3% 10 -1.2 22
7 Tom Brady NE 597 375 80 21.3% 13.4% 11 -0.6 15
8 Andrew Luck IND 666 430 93 21.6% 14.0% 12 -1.2 23
9 Sam Darnold NYJ 446 239 52 21.8% 11.7% 4 0.1 10
10 Matt Ryan ATL 658 422 94 22.3% 14.3% 14 -0.2 13
11 Aaron Rodgers GB 653 372 83 22.3% 12.7% 8 0.0 11
12 Blake Bortles JAX 435 243 56 23.0% 12.9% 9 -1.4 28
13 Drew Brees NO 519 364 84 23.1% 16.2% 27 -1.2 24
14 Cam Newton CAR 503 320 74 23.1% 14.7% 15 -1.4 27
15 Carson Wentz PHI 435 279 65 23.3% 14.9% 18 -1.0 20
16 Derek Carr OAK 603 381 91 23.9% 15.1% 19 -1.7 31
17 Ben Roethlisberger PIT 705 452 110 24.3% 15.6% 23 -0.6 16
18 Nick Mullens SF 292 176 43 24.4% 14.7% 16 -1.8 33
19 Marcus Mariota TEN 380 228 56 24.6% 14.7% 17 -0.9 19
20 Mitchell Trubisky CHI 468 289 71 24.6% 15.2% 20 0.6 4
21 Deshaun Watson HOU 568 345 87 25.2% 15.3% 22 -0.2 12
22 Baker Mayfield CLE 513 310 81 26.1% 15.8% 24 0.5 5
23 Joe Flacco BAL 400 232 61 26.3% 15.3% 21 0.3 7
24 Josh Allen BUF 356 169 45 26.6% 12.6% 7 1.4 2
25 Russell Wilson SEA 481 280 76 27.1% 15.8% 25 0.4 6
26 Alex Smith WAS 354 205 56 27.3% 15.8% 26 -0.6 14
27 Kirk Cousins MIN 653 425 120 28.2% 18.4% 33 -1.4 26
28 Case Keenum DEN 627 365 104 28.5% 16.6% 28 -1.4 25
29 Matthew Stafford DET 604 367 105 28.6% 17.4% 30 -1.8 32
30 Dak Prescott DAL 586 356 102 28.7% 17.4% 31 -1.5 29
31 Josh Rosen ARI 443 217 63 29.0% 14.2% 13 -0.7 18
32 Ryan Tannehill MIA 312 176 52 29.5% 16.7% 29 -1.1 21
33 Eli Manning NYG 631 380 115 30.3% 18.2% 32 -1.6 30
34 Nick Foles PHI 205 141 58 41.1% 28.3% 34 -2.4 34

That's new Jaguars starting quarterback Nick Foles there in dead last, with a whopping 41.1 percent of his completions (and nearly 30 percent of his pass attempts) ending up as failures. Yes, the small sample size matters here, as Foles just barely had enough passes to qualify for our leaderboards, but that is still a tremendously high number. A ludicrously high number. A record-breakingly high number, as a matter of fact. Foles takes over the record for highest FC% we've ever recorded, beating out one Nicholas Edward Foles for the honors.

Highest Failed Completion Rate Since 1989 (Min. 100 Completions)
Rk Player Year Team Comp. Failed FC%
1 Nick Foles 2018 PHI 141 58 41.1%
2 Nick Foles 2015 STL 190 78 41.1%
3 Anthony Wright 2005 BAL 164 65 39.6%
4 Tim Couch 2000 CLE 137 54 39.4%
5 Jared Goff 2016 LAR 112 44 39.3%
6 Brady Quinn 2012 KC 113 44 38.9%
7 Drew Brees 2003 SD 205 75 36.6%
8 Mitchell Trubisky 2017 CHI 196 71 36.2%
9 Bruce Gradkowski 2006 TB 177 64 36.2%
10 Joe Flacco 2017 BAL 352 127 36.1%
11 Bernie Kosar 1993 2TM 115 41 35.7%
12 Trent Edwards 2009 BUF 110 39 35.5%
13 Blaine Gabbert 2015 SF 178 63 35.4%

It's concerning enough that Foles, the only man to breach the 40 percent barrier, appears twice atop this list. Even more concerning is that these are Foles' last two qualified seasons -- yes, he has a Super Bowl MVP in between them, but he didn't have enough attempts to qualify for the leaderboards in 2017. Foles' FC% was 29.8 percent in the Super Bowl year, which would have ranked 30th that season. In fact, Foles has only had one season where he has had a FC% below 28 percent -- his 2013 Pro Bowl year, where he put up a 23.2 percent FC%.

Apart from that one outlier, Foles' career has been one for taking what opposing defenses give him, and he took that philosophy to a fault last season. Not only did he have the lowest ALEX last season, but a full 20 percent of his pass attempts in 2018 had at least -10.0 ALEX, the second-lowest rate in the league. Depending on your level of charity, he's either an excellent game manager, with the seventh-lowest interception rate among active quarterbacks, or a timid passer, reliant on scheme and YAC to produce any real value.

Of course, Jaguars fans would probably take a game manager at this point in time. When the Jaguars made their playoff run in 2017, their offense focused on limiting the damage Bortles could do, decreasing his passing attempts as much as feasible. Foles may be destroying the value of a completion like no other quarterback in NFL history (or at least none named "Joe Flacco"), but those plays are still completions.

Foles has a much better career sack rate (5.3 percent) and interception rate (2.1 percent) than Bortles (6.9 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively); some of Foles' failed completions actually came when Foles was avoiding those super-negative plays, or incomplete, inaccurately thrown balls. By the binary metric of success/failure, they're bad -- but at least his teams are still moving generally forward. A failed completion is, at the very least, not an incompletion.

In other words, Foles' playing style puts his teams in poor positions, setting them up in third-and-mediums and forcing punts more often than not, but at least he tends to get the ball to the players wearing the proper colored jersey. After eight years of Bortles, Blaine Gabbert, and Chad Henne, a little dink-and-dunk might sound great -- until fans get tired of seeing 1-yard passes on second-and-9.

Foles is one of three quarterbacks in the bottom five who will likely not be in the same place come 2019. The second of the three is Ryan Tannehill, as it seems eight times was not the charm for him to break out in Miami; he'll be backing up Marcus Mariota in Tennessee this season. The third is Josh Rosen, who it looks like has already soured his welcome in Arizona after just one season. Rosen's FC% was high, for sure, but he was working behind a disaster of an offensive line. It's not at all unheard of for passers to see a great jump in their second and third seasons as they become more comfortable at the NFL level. Jared Goff and Mitchell Trubisky both finished dead last in failure rate as rookies; each of them jumped up double-digit percentage points from Year 1 and Year 2, and Goff's now near the top of the list in Year 3. Carson Wentz had a 28.5 percent FC% as a rookie; he ended up fourth-best in the league in 2017 before slipping a little to midpack this year. A bad first year can easily end up resulting in a good second year, and if Rosen does end up leaving Arizona, there's still a chance he could turn things around elsewhere. In other words, if teams were high on him in 2017, they likely shouldn't throw all that out the window after one bad season.

Absent from that rookie list above is Dak Prescott. As a rookie, Prescott was an efficient passer, ranking eighth in the league with a 21.2 percent FC%. In each of the last two years, however, he has ranked near the very bottom of the table, setting a new career low this year. Prescott has now seen all of his advanced stats slide down two years in a row, which is worrisome as he enters the last year of his deal. There's very little doubt that the Cowboys will keep Prescott around, regardless of what happens in 2019, but fans have to be antsy, waiting for the quarterback who looked so stellar in his first 24 games to replace the one who has been so untrustworthy in his last 24.

It should come as no surprise that the name atop the list is Patrick Mahomes; you'd be hard-pressed to find many 2018 stat leaderboards where Mahomes doesn't appear near the top. Mahomes' 16.2 percent FC% is the best we've seen since Matt Barkley put up a 10.9 mark back in 2016, but Barkley had just 216 attempts. The last quarterback to beat Mahomes' mark with at least 600 attempts was Tom Brady back in 2012. For comparison, Alex Smith had a 29.0 percent FC% last season, so there was a wee bit of a paradigm shift for the Chiefs' offense a year ago. You didn't need advanced stats to tell you that, but it's always good to get a reminder of just how amazing Mahomes was.

Mahomes appearing near the top of the list is expected, but seeing a pair of Buccaneers quarterbacks finish second and third probably isn't. Neither Jameis Winston nor Ryan Fitzpatrick were all afraid to air the ball out in 2018, finishing first and third in ALEX and second and third in air yards in 2018. However, that isn't enough in and of itself to ensure a high spot in these rankings. Josh Allen is the other man in the top three in both of those stats, but he appears near the bottom in failed completion rate because he was so inaccurate that he simply didn't rack up many completions at all, failed or otherwise. But it certainly helps -- to have a failed completion, you must attempt a short pass. A shot down field can't be a failed completion -- either it's going to be a long gain, or it won't be caught.

Winston does very well on these tables, thanks in large part to his big arm and his willingness to use it, accurately or not. He has now finished in the top three in lowest FC% in each of his first four seasons. Winston has gone through many peaks and valleys in his career -- both on the field and off -- and he hasn't really improved on his weaknesses since he was a rookie. However, as long as he's sticking around in the top 10 in yards per pass attempt, someone is going to give him a shot behind center even after his contract expires in Tampa Bay.

While Winston has been consistent, FitzMagic has been historically unreliable. While he finished near the top in FC% in 2018, he finished 25th, 22nd, 17th and 18th from 2013 to 2016. In other words, the Dolphins shouldn't expect him to go on a tear like he did over the first three weeks of the 2018 season, but the greatest journeyman in NFL history is likely to be both better and more exciting than Ryan Tannehill has been in years.

2018 also saw a record tied for the most failed completions thrown by a man not named Joe Flacco; a prestigious award indeed.

Most Failed Completions Since 1989
Rk Player Year Team Comp. Failed FC%
1 Joe Flacco 2016 BAL 436 144 33.0%
2 Joe Flacco 2017 BAL 352 127 36.1%
3 Kirk Cousins 2018 MIN 425 120 28.2%
4 Matt Ryan 2013 ATL 439 120 27.3%
5 Sam Bradford 2016 MIN 395 116 29.4%
6 Eli Manning 2018 NYG 380 115 30.3%
7 Drew Brees 2015 NO 429 113 26.3%
8 Derek Carr 2014 OAK 348 112 32.2%
9 Joe Flacco 2013 BAL 362 111 30.7%
10 Eli Manning 2016 NYG 378 110 29.1%
11 Drew Brees 2017 NO 387 110 28.4%
12 Ben Roethlisberger 2018 PIT 452 110 24.3%
13 Drew Brees 2010 NO 449 109 24.3%
14 Carson Wentz 2016 PHI 379 108 28.5%
15 Drew Brees 2013 NO 447 107 23.9%
16 Derek Carr 2016 OAK 357 105 29.4%
17 Ryan Tannehill 2015 MIA 364 105 28.8%
18 Matthew Stafford 2018 DET 367 105 28.6%
19 Peyton Manning 2002 IND 392 105 26.8%
20 Philip Rivers 2015 SD 438 105 24.0%
21 Drew Brees 2016 NO 472 105 22.2%
22 Sam Bradford 2010 STL 354 104 29.4%
23 Case Keenum 2018 DEN 365 104 28.5%
24 Drew Brees 2014 NO 456 104 22.8%
25 Dak Prescott 2018 DAL 356 102 28.7%
26 Jay Cutler 2014 CHI 370 102 27.6%

This wasn't exactly the sort of season the Vikings were hoping to get out of Kirk Cousins, who becomes one of the seven men in NFL history to have more than one season with over 100 failed completions. To be fair, it's not as if Case Keenum had any more luck in his first season in Denver; he also joins the 100-failed-completion club.

Not all 100-fail seasons are made equal, as that list makes clear -- any list that has Drew Brees on it five times is going to include very good seasons. Still, racking up failed completions can give your statline some artificial inflation. Cousins had a 69.4 percent completion rate in 2018, third-best in the league. If you counted all failed completions as incomplete passes, Cousins would fall to 16th at 49.8 percent, a drop only topped by Foles. Meanwhile, players like Patrick Mahomes, Jameis Winston, and Jared Goff would all jump up at least 10 places in such a system; their numbers aren't inflated by empty passing calories.

Successful Completion Percentage, 2018
Player Team Passes Comp. Cmp% Rk Failed Success% Rk
Drew Brees NO 502 364 72.5% 1 84 55.8% 1
Patrick Mahomes KC 586 383 65.4% 15 62 54.8% 2
Philip Rivers LAC 510 347 68.0% 8 72 53.9% 3
Ryan Fitzpatrick TB 248 164 66.1% 14 31 53.6% 4
Matt Ryan ATL 616 422 68.5% 6 94 53.2% 5
Carson Wentz PHI 404 279 69.1% 5 65 53.0% 6
Derek Carr OAK 551 381 69.1% 4 91 52.6% 7
Jameis Winston TB 383 244 63.7% 24 44 52.2% 8
Jared Goff LAR 566 364 64.3% 21 69 52.1% 9
Andrew Luck IND 647 430 66.5% 12 93 52.1% 10
Cam Newton CAR 474 320 67.5% 9 74 51.9% 11
Tom Brady NE 576 375 65.1% 17 80 51.2% 12
Deshaun Watson HOU 506 345 68.2% 7 87 51.0% 13
Marcus Mariota TEN 338 228 67.5% 10 56 50.9% 14
Ben Roethlisberger PIT 681 452 66.4% 13 110 50.2% 15
Kirk Cousins MIN 612 425 69.4% 3 120 49.8% 16
Mitchell Trubisky CHI 444 289 65.1% 18 71 49.1% 17
Andy Dalton CIN 368 226 61.4% 29 46 48.9% 18
Nick Mullens SF 275 176 64.0% 22 43 48.4% 19
Dak Prescott DAL 530 356 67.2% 11 102 47.9% 20
Aaron Rodgers GB 604 372 61.6% 28 83 47.8% 21
Russell Wilson SEA 429 280 65.3% 16 76 47.6% 22
Baker Mayfield CLE 487 310 63.7% 25 81 47.0% 23
Matthew Stafford DET 564 367 65.1% 19 105 46.5% 24
Blake Bortles JAX 403 243 60.3% 31 56 46.4% 25
Eli Manning NYG 584 380 65.1% 20 115 45.4% 26
Sam Darnold NYJ 414 239 57.7% 32 52 45.2% 27
Alex Smith WAS 330 205 62.1% 26 56 45.2% 28
Ryan Tannehill MIA 276 176 63.8% 23 52 44.9% 29
Joe Flacco BAL 384 232 60.4% 30 61 44.5% 30
Case Keenum DEN 591 365 61.8% 27 104 44.2% 31
Nick Foles PHI 196 141 71.9% 2 58 42.3% 32
Josh Rosen ARI 397 217 54.7% 33 63 38.8% 33
Josh Allen BUF 326 169 51.8% 34 45 38.0% 34

Yes, even though Drew Brees ranked near the bottom in failed completions per attempt, he would still have the highest completion percentage in the league if you threw out every failed completion. Failed completions don't hurt as much when you generally follow them up with a successful play on a consistent basis.

Receivers: Failed Receptions

What about the receivers on the other end of those failed completions? It's worth taking a look at that, even though appearances here generally have more to do with usage and scheme than a receiver's individual talents. We exclude running backs from these tables; they would otherwise dominate due to their roles as checkdowns and emergency outlets. For the record, however, Saquon Barkley led all receivers with 46 failed receptions; someone had to catch all of those Eli Manning failures. Ezekiel Elliott was right behind him with 44 failed receptions, contributing to Dak Prescott's 100-failure year. Also: Pat Shurmur, Jason Garrett, please stop calling running back screens on third-and-a-mile. Thank you.

Most Failed
Receptions (WR/TE)
Lowest Failed
Reception Rate (WR/TE)
Highest Failed
Reception Rate (WR/TE)
Receiver Team Failed Receiver Team Rec. Failed Pct Receiver Team Rec. Failed Pct
S.Diggs MIN 36 M.Evans TB 86 2 2.3% B.Ellington 2TM 31 14 45.2%
Z.Ertz PHI 26 A.Green CIN 46 2 4.3% R.Switzer PIT 36 15 41.7%
G.Tate 2TM 24 T.Hilton IND 76 4 5.3% E.Engram NYG 45 17 37.8%
A.Brown PIT 23 M.Andrews BAL 34 2 5.9% D.Hamilton DEN 30 11 36.7%
D.Adams GB 23 R.Gronkowski NE 47 3 6.4% S.Diggs MIN 102 36 35.3%
J.Landry CLE 22 C.Godwin TB 59 4 6.8% N.Agholor PHI 64 21 32.8%
M.Thomas NO 22 D.Jackson TB 41 3 7.3% D.Njoku CLE 56 18 32.1%
J.Smith-Schuster PIT 21 K.Cole JAX 38 3 7.9% G.Tate 2TM 75 24 32.0%
N.Agholor PHI 21 D.Moncrief JAX 48 4 8.3% R.Cobb GB 38 12 31.6%
A.Hooper ATL 21 K.Golladay DET 70 6 8.6% L.Treadwell MIN 35 11 31.4%
T.Gabriel CHI 19 M.Jones DET 35 3 8.6% G.Everett LAR 33 10 30.3%
A.Humphries TB 19 O.Howard TB 34 3 8.8% C.Kirk ARI 43 13 30.2%
Minimum 30 receptions.

Jarvis Landry, for the first time in his career, did not finish in the top three in failed receptions; he finished tied for sixth. It should also be noted that 16 of his 22 failed completions happened before Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were fired, and four more came the next week, before the dust had cleared and Freddie Kitchens really had time to install a new offensive philosophy. Has Landry finally found an offense that won't give him a dozen screen passes on third-and-a-mile? Will he finally be used as an actual downfield receiver? Will he get off this leaderboard in 2019? The answer's probably no, but it's something worth watching going forward.

Landry, Golden Tate, Michael Thomas, and Nelson Agholor all make return appearances on the most failed receptions table, but Stefon Diggs far and away laps the field this year. Diggs set a career high with 102 receptions this year, but his average reception came just 5.7 yards downfield, the shortest for any wideout with at least 80 receptions in 2018. Only Antonio Brown caught more passes at or behind the line of scrimmage in 2018. Most of those plays aren't going to end up being successful.

Diggs hasn't forgotten how to be a great receiver; he is just being used a lot in meaningless situations. In 2017, Diggs had a 15.6 FC% and just ten failed receptions. He also was targeted just five time on screen passes in 2017, and only nine percent of his passes were at or behind the line of scrimmage. Last year, those numbers jumped to 18 and 21.3 percent, respectively. The Vikings kept giving him the ball on some of the least valuable plays in football, and he didn't turn that into a miracle. It padded his reception total and padded Kirk Cousins' completion total -- and added very, very little to Minnesota's chances of winning actual football games.

Deep-ball specialists make up the fewest failed receptions table. Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, A.J. Green, and Marvin Jones are all in the top ten in air yards per reception, and all 12 had their average catch at least 9 yards downfield, placing them in the top 40 among qualified receivers and tight ends in that stat. These are deep threats who aren't going to be running quick screens and digs.

Conversely, Ryan Switzer, Bruce Ellington, Randall Cobb, Evan Engram, and Golden Tate were in the bottom ten in air yards per reception, and 11 out of the 12 players on the list finished in the bottom 30 in air yards per catch. Christian Kirk is the one exception, squeaking into the bottom of the table despite his average catch coming 8.5 yards downfield; Arizona was often trying to dig itself out from significantly longer downs and distances.

Defenses

Finally, let's look at the defenses' ability to create failed completions, with a comparison to how these units fared in 2017.

Defenses: 2018 Failed Completions Compared to 2017
Rk Team Comp. Failed FC% 2017 Rk 2017 FC% Diff Rk
1 LAR 347 100 28.8% 13 27.8% 1.0% 7
2 MIN 315 90 28.6% 5 29.6% -1.0% 15
3 LAC 351 98 27.9% 7 28.9% -1.0% 13
4 JAX 312 86 27.6% 14 27.7% -0.1% 11
5 WAS 362 99 27.3% 6 29.0% -1.7% 16
6 CAR 353 96 27.2% 24 24.7% 2.5% 5
7 CHI 377 102 27.1% 8 28.9% -1.8% 17
8 TB 387 104 26.9% 23 25.3% 1.6% 6
9 PHI 417 111 26.6% 9 28.7% -2.1% 19
10 BAL 337 89 26.4% 18 26.9% -0.5% 12
11 NYG 362 93 25.7% 4 30.0% -4.3% 24
12 SF 344 88 25.6% 28 23.0% 2.6% 4
13 HOU 385 98 25.5% 1 30.2% -4.7% 27
14 PIT 362 92 25.4% 22 25.5% -0.1% 10
15 NE 370 94 25.4% 30 22.6% 2.8% 3
16 MIA 335 85 25.4% 15 27.4% -2.0% 18
17 NYJ 367 93 25.3% 25 24.6% 0.7% 8
18 BUF 313 79 25.2% 11 28.3% -3.1% 22
19 ATL 398 98 24.6% 19 26.8% -2.2% 20
20 IND 384 94 24.5% 27 23.8% 0.7% 9
21 DAL 367 89 24.3% 16 27.2% -2.9% 21
22 KC 406 96 23.6% 32 18.0% 5.6% 1
23 TEN 337 79 23.4% 31 19.8% 3.6% 2
24 CIN 389 90 23.1% 3 30.1% -7.0% 30
25 OAK 299 67 22.4% 2 30.2% -7.8% 32
26 SEA 355 78 22.0% 17 27.1% -5.1% 28
27 NO 384 84 21.9% 20 26.4% -4.5% 26
28 DEN 353 77 21.8% 29 22.8% -1.0% 14
29 DET 323 69 21.4% 12 27.9% -6.5% 29
30 ARI 342 73 21.3% 21 25.7% -4.4% 25
31 CLE 393 83 21.1% 10 28.6% -7.5% 31
32 GB 336 68 20.2% 26 24.1% -3.9% 23

These tables can be a bit misleading. Take Kansas City, for instance. Their FC% improved the most of any team last season, shooting them from dead last to 22nd on these tables. In 2017, 10 percent of opponents passes against Kansas City were failed completions, compared to 15 percent last season. That all sounds great, but there's a catch. The problem is that Chiefs opponents went from completing 57 percent of their passes in 2017 to 64 percent last season. Those extra failed completions weren't successful receptions that became failures thanks to better coverage and tackling; they're passes that were hitting the ground a year ago turning into small gains. Those are still net "wins" for the defense, but better results for the offense than they were getting two years ago. So, yes, the Chiefs "improved" in creating failed completions, but only because they got worse at forcing incompletions. Woo.

So, this list pops up some odd results. The Panthers appear near the top of this table, despite ranking 24th in pass DVOA in 2018. The Browns are down in 31st, despite being seventh in pass DVOA. This is clearly not a stat that shows the absolute best in pass defense.

That's not to say that this list is garbage-in, garbage-out. There's still a correlation between high FC% rates and pass defense. This is in large part a list of the teams that force the most checkdowns, dump-offs, and low-ALEX plays. There's a decent correlation to a powerful pass rush; six of the top ten teams on this list also appear in the top ten in pressure rate, and five of the bottom ten appear at the bottom of the pressure rate list. Many of the teams that saw significant improvements in their pass rush between 2017 and 2018 are either near the top of this list (Chicago, Baltimore, Minnesota) or saw their ranking jump significantly (New England, L.A. Rams, Kansas City).

Teams that force opposing quarterbacks into making decisions before they really want to and take away long-developing routes do very well here. The top ten teams had an average ALEX per completion of -3.4; the bottom ten had an average ALEX of -2.6. If you can consistently take away the deep pass, you're basically gifting your linebackers and cornerbacks the chance to make tackles in key positions, pumping up your FC%.

There's only a 0.24 year-to-year correlation in this stat, so teams that are at the top shouldn't get too comfy, and teams at the bottom should have hope. That being said, the Packers are the exception to the rule -- the one consistently terrible team in this metric. We started doing this study on a yearly basis in 2013, and Green Bay has been ranked 20th or worse every single year, and in the bottom seven in all but one season. The last three years, especially, have been terrible times for the Packers' pass defense, as opposing receivers have been able to run more or less freely through them. Green Bay has made defense a priority during free agency so far, adding Adrian Amos, Za'Darius Smith, and Preston Smith to the roster. They could use an extra cornerback in the draft, but maybe, after years of sitting on their hands in free agency, the Packers will find the defensive improvements they so desperately need.

Comments

7 comments, Last at 07 Apr 2019, 4:48pm

1 Re: Failed Completions 2018

by nat // Apr 05, 2019 - 11:52am

Thank you for finally including "Successful Completion Percentage" in this analysis, as Bright Blue Shorts suggested and I demonstrated back in the 2016 analysis comments. It clarifies the picture quite a bit.

In most cases, a "failed completion" is better than no completion at all. When comparing two QBs with similar Successful Completion Percentages, the one with the higher Failed Completion Percentage is probably doing a better job.

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2 Re: Failed Completions 2018

by Bryan Knowles // Apr 05, 2019 - 2:26pm

"In most cases, a "failed completion" is better than no completion at all. When comparing two QBs with similar Successful Completion Percentages, the one with the higher Failed Completion Percentage is probably doing a better job."

It's not a bad rule of thumb, that -- but it depends heavily on the type of failed completion.

It's true for bailing out of bad plays (hitting the hot route because the offensive line collapses, checking down because the secondary has locked everything down), and it can be true for schematic things (running a running back screen on 1st-and-10 to an Alvin Kamara-type), but it's not true for someone like Ryan Tannehill, who had nearly half of his failed completions come on give-up plays on third downs. Tannehill's successful completion percentage is similar to that of players like Flacco, Stafford and Mayfield, and he had a higher FC%, but he certainly wasn't better last year.

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5 Re: Failed Completions 2018

by nat // Apr 06, 2019 - 6:10am

You’re just showing us that any analysis based solely on failed and successful completion percentages will be an incomplete picture, which we already knew because it’s obvious.

Flacco was better because he gained much more extra yardage beyond the success line when he was successful, threw interceptions less often, fumbled less, was sacked less, and earned DPIs more. None of those show up in the stats in this article.

If he had also gained more yards on “failed” plays by completing more passes, he would have been even more valuable to his team, by setting up easier field goals, giving his defense a consistent extra three yards of field position, or reducing the difficulty of third down plays for his offense.

Tannehill would have been less valuable if you replaced his failed completions with more incomplete passes, sacks, and interceptions.

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3 Re: Failed Completions 2018

by Bigf250triton // Apr 05, 2019 - 2:43pm

As a lifelong eagles fan and nick Foles supporter I can tell you that stats only mean so much. Wentz had terrific numbers this year and went 5-6. Foles statistically wasn't as good but was 5-2 including 2 playoff games. Letting him walk was a mistake. Foles won us that superbowl. The eagles defense gave up a record amount of yards that game. This was one week after Foles shredded the best defense in the nfl, Minnesota. His failed first downs are partially due to ertz going down on the first hit. A 6'5 260lb te should be able to break tackles vs much smaller dbs. Foles takes shots down the field, wentz holds the ball and gets sacked. I'd much rather an int 30 yrds down the field when there was a chance at a big play than a fumble from holding the ball and the other team is already in scoring position. Foles proves clutch. Look at his last throw of the season, was that incompletion and turnover his fault? If Jeffery catches that no doubt Foles scores and the eagles move onto the championship game. Jaguars got themselves a baller in big Nick

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4 Re: Failed Completions 2018

by LionInAZ // Apr 05, 2019 - 11:19pm

To say that "Foles won us that superbowl" is very dismissive of the rest of that team. Teams evolve during a season; you cannot definitely say that they would not have won with Wentz.

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6 Re: Failed Completions 2018

by ssereb // Apr 07, 2019 - 2:13am

Where would Lamar Jackson have ranked if he had enough passes to qualify?

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7 Re: Failed Completions 2018

by Bryan Knowles // Apr 07, 2019 - 4:48pm

19 of Jackson's 99 completions were failures, or 19.2%. That would have been the fifth-best rate in the league; slotting in right between Jared Goff and Andy Dalton.

His successful completion percentage would have been 47.1%, which would have ranked 23rd, just between Russell Wilson and Baker Mayfield.

The Ravens didn't ask Jackson to do a lot of dumpoffs; he had a solid ALEX. And when he had failed plays, they were more likely to be inaccurate and incomplete rather than short dumpoffs.

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