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Young Quarterbacks, Part 1: Leading, trailing, and in a tight Game

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Since it is the time of year for quarterback ratings and getting angry at poorly reasoned quarterback rankings, I'm making some quarterback ratings without rankings. I wanted to see how a quarterbacks (and by extension offenses) do when they were in different situations. A team is more likely to pass when behind, run when ahead, and have a better mixture when the game is close. I defined "behind" to be when the team was trailing by 2 scores (9 or more points), "close" to be within 2 scores, and "ahead' to be ahead by 2 scores. I looked at yards per attempt, interceptions, and sack percentage to see how effectively the team could move the ball, avoid mistakes, and avoid negative plays.

I looked at only 6 young quarterbacks (I left off RG3 and Foles due to incomplete 2013 seasons). The young quarterbacks are mostly mobile strong armed quarterbacks that have lead their teams to the playoffs. The schemes shouldn't be that much different (how much can a young quarterback absorb in 2-3 years) and most of the difference should be in the personnel whether it be the quarterback, receivers, line, or running backs. Since the quarterbacks are running the show, they get all the credit for success/failure. Lets see how Dalton, Newton, Kaepernick, Tannehill, Luck, and Wilson stack up.

Yards per Attempt:

The quarterbacks fell into roughly 2 groups. There was the expected group, they did worse when behind and better when ahead, and there was the other group. Also a small note, I left spikes and intentional grounding as incomplete passes; there were so few spikes (3-4 max, 10 total for 6 quarterbacks) that I think it's fine to leave them in for now. These numbers had some slight variation so they may be off by at most .05 yards per attempt. Also, the sample size (number of attempts) is rather small so take them with a grain of salt.

Other Group Behind Close Ahead
Luck 7.2 6.7 6.2
Wilson 8.5 7.9 9.1
Luck Attempts 174 313 79
Wilson Attempts 22 285 100

These are the extreme quarterbacks. Luck had more attempts when behind than the rest of the quarterbacks and Wilson had more attempts when ahead than the rest of the quarterbacks. Luck did better when behind, partially due to big plays and some higher risk throws. Strangely Luck's yards per attempt decreased when ahead, this included low yards/attempt against Denver, Houston, and Kansas City as well as 2 strong performances against Jacksonville. As far as Wilson is concerned, his worse performances in close games coincides with his poor performance in the first quarter and the Arizona game.

Expected Group Behind Close Ahead
Kaepernick 5.8 7.6 8.4
Dalton 6.3 7.4 8
Newton 6.7 6.6 11.2
Tannehill 6.1 6.7 7.2
Average 6.23 7.08 8.7
Kaep Attempts 25 305 88
Dalton 101 393 92
Newton 43 372 58
Tannehill 84 485 18

These are the less polished young quarterbacks. They make up for it with their mobility. They have pretty good to better running games to help take some of the offensive load. Half of them even have strong offensive lines (Kaepernick and Dalton) but some poor decision making makes up for that advantage. Newton would have the same downward trend as the other 3 quarterbacks in this group, but he had 2 throws for 60 yards in the Falcons game to make the game close and to take his yards per attempt when far behind from 5.6 to 6.7.

Interception Percentage:

Once again Wilson's and Luck's numbers stood out. Some of the quarterbacks had pretty awful numbers when behind, it will be interesting to see if the numbers persist next year.

Don't get Behind Behind Close Ahead
Colin Kaepernick 12 1.64 0
Ryan Tannehill 7.14 2.27 0
Cam Newton 6.98 2.42 1.72
Andrew Luck 2.87 1.28 0

This is the place where Luck does well and some other young quarterbacks show their youth. I would claim that this shows how the running game of teams like the 49ers and Panthers keep the defense on their toes, and I would be correct but wrong. It also is likely due to the teams they faced when behind. Kaepernick fell behind in Seattle and somehow at home against the Colts. We can come up with excuses for both interceptions but the numbers are still staggering. Newton's picks came against the Dolphins, Bucs, and Cardinals. He has some off days and seems to be reliant on the running game to keep the team on schedule and moving down the field. Tannehill faced some good defenses and the defenses won. Lastly, Luck had some awful games when he fell behind quality defenses, but he also threw the ball a lot so some of his interceptions get hidden by the shear amount of times that he threw the ball. Conversely, one could argue that he was bound to throw an interception given so many throws with his team behind. I'd just say that he threw so many interceptions that some games were over by halftime and point out that two of his worst games came against divisional foes of the Seahawks.

Wildcard Behind Close Ahead
Russell Wilson 0 2.46 2
Andy Dalton 2.97 3.31 4.35

This is the group that managed to keep their interceptions in check when behind. I can't really create reasons for Dalton's relatively low interception rate when behind except to note that 72 of his 101 throws while trailing were in only 2 games (Ravens and Steelers). Wilson's numbers are pretty awesome and similar to Luck's. One note I would make is that they would be even better if it wasn't for the desperation throws at the end of the game/half.

Sack Percentage:

Note: I didn't do Dalton's sack percentage because the play by play data I was drawing from is gone right now; I'll put it in later. Also, I disagreed with having some of the 0 yard sacks so the sack totals might be off a little.

The results from this one were kind of funny. Somehow most of quarterbacks had a better sack rate when they were behind than when they were in a close game. Maybe more sacks occur earlier in the game when the score is still close and tend to wane as the defense is worn out or the mobile quarterbacks are able to figure out where the pressure is likely to be coming from and either get rid of the ball quickly or run for a few yards.


behind close ahead
Ryan Tannehill 14.29 8.32 5.26
Russel Wilson 8.33 10.66 7.41
Cam Newton 8.51 9.27 0
Colin Kaepernick 7.41 9.76 4.35
Andrew Luck 5.43 5.44 4.82

I would claim that the 1-2 percent drop that we see has something to do with the mobility of the quarterbacks, but I think it is something else as well. Usually when teams go ahead, they go into some sort of prevent so there will be less rushers which usually leads to a lower percentage of sacks. There could still be coverage sacks, but with fewer rushers, the mobile quarterbacks should be able to see the rush and move around the pocket to evade the pressure. Tannehill is Tannehill, suffice to say that he was sacked multiple times while trailing the Saints, Patriots, and Bills.

Next Time:

A more in-depth look at the throws by the quarterbacks and a look at the "average" completion that each quarterback had.

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