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How often do good QBs have bad games?

Plus a few Nick Foles notes...



Another game, another great statistical performance from Nick Foles. This one was certainly luckier than some of his previous gems, but that’s hardly a good reason for writing it off completely. While thinking through his performance, I decided to look at the topic referenced in the title to this post. Before that, some quick notes on Foles:

- With each game, Foles’ sample size grows, and the odds of him being a "fluke" decline. As promised, here’s his updated QB Rating by game chart (only games with 10+ attempts): Screen-shot-2013-11-11-at-6-33-27-pm_medium

- Eagles fans might not fully appreciate this, but having a QB whose "bad" games don’t involve a lot of turnovers is not a bad place to be. McNabb never turned the ball over, but perhaps Vick has given you some perspective. Most "bad" QB games are a lot uglier than we’ve seen from Foles.

- Going back to our strategic equation (E = R ((60 – T) / 60) + C), and applying it to yesterday’s game, we can see that Foles’ relatively underwhelming performance might have been the result of very rational decision-making. When Seneca Wallace left the game, leaving Scott Tolzien to lead the Packers, the Relative Strength swung largely towards the Eagles. As a result, they became the strong favorite, meaning they should be playing a LOW-variance game. For Foles, this meant avoiding turnovers at all costs. I don’t know whether this was actually the case or not (probably not), but Foles would have been completely justified in not throwing to WRs unless they were VERY open. After grabbing a lead, it became somewhat clear that the best chance for the Packers to win lay in the Eagles turning the ball over. If Foles/Kelly made a conscious decision to go with low-risk plays, then the result would look underwhelming but, in fact, be the right strategic call.

- Of course, Foles DID throw one ball into coverage, but it was on a deep throw. While I have not confirmed on the replay, my initial take on the play was somewhat different from most others. In my view, he did NOT throw "into double-coverage". He under-threw D-Jax, the result of which gave a second defender time to get into the play. That seems like a slight difference, but it’s important. There are two aspects to the play:

1) the decision to throw the ball (mental)

2) the actual throw (physical)

I think Foles got the first half 100% correct, he just messed up the execution. In general, a slightly under thrown deep-ball is a lot more defensible than a decision to throw into actual double-coverage.

Ok, enough about Foles. In thinking through the odds/fluke/sample-size piece, I decided it would be interesting to provide some context to the QB expectations discussion. I did a little of this when I talked about McNabb’s HOF credentials, but today I’ll do it in more detail.

The overall point is that most fans (I think), overrate the consistency of "great" QBs and set their expectations for the position too high. Great QBs have bad games, and as we’ll see (I hope), they happen more often than you’d think.

Setting it up

First we need to define our parameters. I’m going to use QB Rating, with all relevant caveats acknowledged. For our categories, I’m using the following:

Great: 105+

Good: 95-104

Decent: 85-94

Poor: 75-84

Bad: < 75

Below are charts for a selection of QBs. I only included starts with at least 10 pass attempts. Sorry for the blurriness, click for a clearer picture.


ake a good look, cause there’s a lot of good information in there. Most important, of course, is the frequency of "bad" games (rating of worse than 75).

- Tom Brady has a "bad" game roughly 25% of the time.

- Drew Brees has a "bad" game nearly 1/3 of the time.

- Even Peyton Manning doesn’t crack a rating of 75 in almost 20% of his starts.

That doesn’t even include the incidence of "poor" games either. When you add that in, you can start to see the point I’m trying to make. Even the best QBs in the league have what fans would consider a bad game fairly often. Now they do, obviously, provide a high rate of "great" games as well, that’s what makes them "great quarterbacks".

A couple more notes:

- Tony Romo compares favorably too both Drew Brees and Tom Brady (commence vomiting now)

- FutureHallOfFamer Eli Manning’s starts have resulted in either "bad" or "poor" performances more than half the time (54%). Let that sink in….if you randomly picked a game from Eli’s career, you’re more likely to get a poor/bad game than a decent/good/great game. It’s not too late to kill his HOF candidacy…

So next time Nick Foles has a bad game (like that’s every going to happen again), remember this post. Even the greatest QBs have bad games, and it happens more often than you’d think.

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