Going through football withdraw, and getting frustrated with the continued disrespect of Joe Flacco, I came up with this wacky idea to take a close, hard look at his stats and see for myself what I thought about them, ignoring ratings, most averages and especially averages of ratings. My thought was this: why not instead of looking at averages over the season, we look at what Joe did on a games per season basis. How many games over the course of each of his seasons did Joe throw for over 300 yards? How many games did he have a completion percentage of over 60? How many games did he throw an interception? Multiple interceptions? I will note different levels of play, for example passing totals over 250 yards, over 300 yards and less than 150 yards, because I think knowing that Joe has improved from having 8 games with under 150 passing yards in 2008 to only one game in 2012 is more useful to know than whatever the average of all the games is.
Why is anyone still questioning Joe after his awesome and historic postseason run leading to the Ravens’ second-ever Super Bowl win? I blame fantasy football. Yes, I’m looking at stats too, but the way I’m going to calculate things here will take the gaudiness out of it. After all, throwing for 500 yards doesn’t make a win matter more in the record books when looking at tiebreakers getting into postseason than a perfectly admirable win with 285.
Secondly, there is the matter of completion percentage. Let’s face it. Joe’s completion percentage isn’t generally that great, even when compared to himself. It is partly from his completion percentage that the idea that 2010 was best Joe’s best year came from. Joe had a staggering (for him) 7 games with a 70+ completion percentage in 2010. He only had 3 games over 70% in 2012. More on that later.
Another common criticism of Joe is his passer rating. This will be the only time I mention it, but Joe’s average passer rating in 2012 (including postseason) was 94.21. In 2010, his passer rating was 94.24 (including postseason). However, this is an opportunity to point out one of the reasons why looking at the average passer ratting can be misleading. In 2010 (you know, his "best" year?) Joe had one game where he threw multiple interceptions: against Cincinnati when he threw four (remember when we used to argue about whether he would ever figure out their cover-2 defense or whatever it was that people were complaining about? Thank God those days are over). Anyway, that one game with a passer rating of 23.1 drops his average by 4 points! Throw out that game and his passer rating was 98.15 for the year. Basically, people can look at 2010 and see a QB performing at a consistently high level and complain that Joe’s recent postseason success doesn’t make up for a regular season of inconsistency (inconsistency being another big complaint against Joe) and a average completion percent of 59.7 and passer rating of 87.7.
I contend, however, that Joe DID perform at consistently high level--and at a level BETTER than where he was in 2010. I did include all postseason play in my analysis, because isn’t the postseason the most important part of the year? I haven’t weighted it higher than any other time, but it is ridiculous to discount it. There’s no denying that it beefs up his resume for 2012, but why shouldn’t it? If I were comparing to other quarterbacks (which I’m not) using averages would make some sense, but this isn’t baseball--one really good or really bad game can distort the numbers more than is warranted.
I did take a quick look at some of Aaron Rodgers’ (AR) games/season totals as a touchpoint, but that’s not the main focus of what I’m doing. My question is this: Has Joe improved enough over his career and is he playing at a high enough level to deserve a big contract? I admit that I always thought it was a no brainer, but now I have some concrete stats to back myself up when I say, "Hell, yes!"
Passing Yards and Completion Percentage
First, let’s take a look at passing yards and completion percentage (CP), which can be used to gauge how well Joe and the offense are playing overall. I already mentioned that Joe had 3 games of 70+ CP in 2012 vs 7 in 2010. But a CP of 70 is pretty high for anyone. For example, AR had 6 games of 70+ CP in 2012. If we look at games of 60+ CP, Joe’s number goes up to 10 in 2012 (AR to 15) vs 11 in 2010. [See the relatively consistent purple line in the chart below.] Back in 2008, Joe’s rookie year, he had 9 games with a 60+ CP. Over his career he has ranged from a low of 8 games in 2011 to his high of 11 in 2009 and 2010. He had only 3 games less than 50 CP in 2012 vs 5 in 2008 and 1 in 2010. He had no games under 40 CP (he had 2 in both 2008 and 2011).
While there hasn’t been huge variations in the number of games where Joe has had a CP of 60+ over the course of his career, his passing yards (PY) per game paints a completely different picture. As a rookie Joe threw for over 250 PY just 2 times (never over 300) and for under 150 PY 9 times. In 2010, Joe threw for 250-299 PY 8 times, for 300+ 1 time and under 150 3 times. In 2012, however, Joe threw for 250-299 PY 4 times, 300+ 6 times and less than 150 PY just once (@ Houston). (AR in 2012 250-299: 4; 300+: 6). [See the huge spike in the 300+ green line from 2010 to 2011 and another rise in 2012.]
You can see the huge change from 2010. Joe is consistently throwing for more yards in more games over the course of the season. [See the general upward trend in the 250+ red line in the chart.] You can start to see why Joe in 2012 is better than Joe in 2010 no matter his CP or inconsistent ratings. The offense, led by Joe, has become more explosive. And nothing exhibits that more than the long ball.
Longest Pass Play
In the ESPN game logs, right next to average yards per pass attempt, is the column for longest pass play (LPP). As a Flacco fan, this was pretty neat for me to look at, given Joe’s acumen for the long ball and it got me to thinking. I had always wanted a cool stat for Joe to throw out there much like people throw out the stat about when Rice gets 20+ touches we are 32-11 (77%). So I took a look at the LPP stat and it turns out that our winning percentage is very good when Joe’s LPP is over 40 yards. Since coming into the league, the Ravens are 32-8 (80%) when he successfully takes a shot. So there you have it, as the long ball flies, so fly the Ravens.
As shown by the high winning percentage, in a very general sense, the length of the LPP is an indication of how well the offense is doing. Either passes in general are being completed including the LPP or it can mean a game-changing play or switch in momentum, field position etc.
Looking at Joe’s history, I think the LPP can also serve as indication of not only performance of the offense, but also the kind of offense--how explosive the offense is. In 2008, the number of games with a LPP of 40-49 yards (5 games) and 50+ yards (4 games) is high compared to the rest of his career, however, he also had LPP of only 20-29 yards (3 games) or less than 20 yards (4 games) at a high rate as well. So that’s 7 games where Joe’s LPP was only 29 yards or less and 9 games with a LPP of 40 yards or more.
Compare that to 2012, where Joe had only 3 games where his LPP was less than 30 yards. (One was Houston facing the terror of JJ Swatt and one the windy NE AFC Championship game, along with the game at Cleveland.) And on the longer end, he had 12 games with a LPP of 40 yards or more; that includes 6 games with LPPs of 50+ yards. (AR: 8 games in 2012 with LPP of 40+yards.) The 12 games shatters any previous performance from Joe. Even in 2010, his "best" statistical year, he only had 6 games with an LPP of 40+ yards, while he had 12 games with LPPs between 20 and 39 yards. [In 2012, he had more red and purple--longer pass plays--than yellow and green, while in 2010 it was the opposite.] You can see why his statistics were better in 2010--if he didn’t complete long passes in as many games, chances are that the offense just wasn’t as aggressive or as explosive.
I believe this is borne out by the next group of statistics we will look at: passing attempts, yards per attempt, completions and yards per completion.
Attempts, Yards Per Attempt and Completions and Yards Per Completion
Looking back to 2008, it is clear during his first year the offense wasn’t relying on Joe to pass the ball to win like they do now. It’s a good baseline for looking at a very conservative passing offense. He had only 2 games where he completed over 20 passes, only 4 games where he attempted over 30 passes. He had 7 games where he had an average yards per pass attempt (YPA) of 7 or more, but 8 games where he averaged less than 6 YPA. He had 8 games where he averaged over 13 yards per pass completion (YPC), but also 5 games where he averaged less than 9 YPC.
In 2012, however, Joe had 13 games where he attempted over 30 passes, including 5 where he actually attempted over 40 passes. (Let’s be clear, I’m not saying it necessarily good for Joe to be attempting over 40 passes, just that it means the passing offense is being aggressive.) He averaged over 9 YPA in 6 games, and only averaged less than 6 YPA four times. He had over 20 completions in 12 games and averaged over 13 YPC in 8 games, and less than 9 YPC in only 2. (AR had 4 games this year where he averaged over 9 YPA and 4 where he averaged over 13 YPC.) Not only is Joe much better than in 2008, the offense was much less conservative. But what about 2010, his "best" statistical year?
In 2010, Joe never attempted more than 40 passes. He only had over 26 completions 1 time and had less than 14 five times. He averaged over 9 YPA only twice vs 6 times in 2012. He had five games in 2010 with 13 YPC vs the 8 in 2012 (and 2 of those averaged 17 YPC). Coupled with what we already know about the uptick in yards per game and LPP, 2012 was a better year hands down. And we haven’t even looked at touchdowns and interceptions yet.
Touchdowns and Interceptions
I’ve always thought it misleading to compare Joe’s TD numbers to other QBs given that we have such a great running back in Ray Rice and have always had a good running game in general the whole time Joe has been here. Of course Ray Rice is going to impact the TD numbers Joe could have if we didn’t run in TDs as much.
There has been a improvement in TD stat areas since 2008. In 2008 Joe did not ever throw 3 TDs in one game and there were 8 games where he didn’t throw a TD at all. Joe has similar numbers in 2012 to 2010 in terms of multi-TD (10 in both years) games and games he did not throw a TD (3 in 2010 vs 2 in 2012). The increase in total number of TDs (28 in 2010 and 33 in 2012) comes primarily from doubling the number of games with 3 TDs to 6 from 3 in 2010. (AR had 8 games with 3+ TDs in 2012.)
As with his whole career, Joe’s interception stat has been very good and matched his 2010 low in games with an interception with 9 (AR 9) and multi-interception games in 2012 with 1 (AR 0). Plus he also matched his high of games with no interceptions with 10 (AR 9).
Looking at the charts you can see some nice trend lines. My favorites are the sharp increases in 3+ TD games, games with 40+ longest pass plays and games with 300+ yards per season. Overall Joe has improved since 2008 and has become more successfully explosive in comparison to 2010. (Note: Remember in 2010 our WRs were Boldin, Mason and Housh--so there was a reason why the offense wasn’t explosive.) And while Joe’s positive stats have gone up, his negative stats have gone down: games with interceptions, games without a TD, games with yards per pass completion less than 9.
This year we saw an interesting situation with the team that would turn out to be our Super Bowl opponent, the San Francisco 49ers. They switched quarterbacks in the middle of the season, when Alex Smith had been playing great statistically, possibly the best play of his career. He had the misfortune to get injured and he never got is starting job back. Why did Jim Harbaugh make the call to stay with Colin Kaepernick? Because the kid made the offense explosive. Statistics are not the be-all-end-all to the QB position. With Alex running the show, they were like a Volvo, safe and reliable, but with CK they became like a Ferrari. (I’m not really a car person, so feel free to insert whatever cars you think more appropriate in this metaphor.) Joe’s game isn’t like CK’s, but they are similar in the explosive factor. Joe and the Baltimore offense are not the 2010 Volvo version anymore. The 2012 and beyond Ravens offense is a Ferrari.
Joe has gotten and will keep getting better and better, and with the right tools around him in the offense and the right offensive coordinator, I believe the sky is the limit. Let’s go Joe!
What do you think?