Saturday, November 14, 2009

A look at Joe Flacco at mid-season

I’ve gotten my hands on a wealth of data through the entire NFL season, thanks to the Football Outsiders game charting project. Thanks to that data, I was able to cut down into some very specific data regarding Joe Flacco’s statistics. I’m not talking about his overall stats. I’m talking about being able to look at things like how he does on 3rd down with 3-9 yards to go when the opposition is winning. Thanks to this, I wrote an article for profootball24x7 (which I'll link here once it gets published).

I cut Flacco’s passing data using the following criteria:
- “No plays” (basically penalties accepted) were not considered
- Who’s winning – Baltimore, the opponent, or a tie game
- What down it is
- Result of the pass – Complete, incomplete, intercepted, sacked, intentional grounding or aborted snap
----- There was only one intentional grounding (in the Pats game) and one aborted snap (the Denver game, where the snap hit Heap)
- Distance to go for a first down
----- Long = 10+ yards
----- Med = 4-9 yards
----- Short = 3 or fewer yards
----- This was a somewhat arbitrary cut. C’est la vie.

So for instance, I can tell you that on third downs with 10 or more yards to go, when the Ravens are losing, Flacco is 5/8 for 56 yards, converting a first down two of the eight times and not throwing a TD nor an INT, and was sacked twice.

In addition, I’ve recorded the number of plays we’ve run in certain situations. Not surprisingly, when losing and facing 3rd and long, the Ravens have attempted a pass ten out of ten times.

Some general observations about some various situations…

Flacco’s 3rd down passing mirrors his complete passing stats.
On third downs, Flacco is 53/83 (64%) for 540 yards (6.5 YPA) with 5 TDs and 3 INTs for an 87.4 QB rating. This is comparable to his 90.2 overall rating, where the only measurable difference is in his YPA. He’s taken 5 of his 17 sacks (29%) on 3rd downs. But the Ravens have had only 88 third downs in 309 passing plays (28%).

Generally, it’s a good sign that Flacco is as good on third downs as he is on first, second and fourth downs. This is typically a pressure down, and defenses are typically playing the pass more frequently, especially in medium and long situations. He has converted 38 of all 88 attempts into first downs or touchdowns (43%). In third and medium/long situations, he’s converted 33 of 82 (40%).

When the Ravens are losing, Flacco is solid, but can improve
When playing from behind, it shouldn’t be too surprising to find that quarterbacks’ don’t perform as well. Typically a team has to pass more, so the defense is playing against the pass. The Ravens are no exception. They ran a passing play on 68% of all plays when losing, vs. 53% when tied or ahead.

Flacco’s passer rating is a paltry 76.4, but primarily due to the fact that his TD:INT ratio is fairly poor compared to the rest of the time. Flacco is 85/139 (61%) for 940 yards (6.8 YPA) with 3 TDs and 4 INTs. He’s taken 10 sacks.

Of note, much of the worst of his numbers was during the Bengals game. Flacco never ran a play when tied or ahead. The Bengals game was by far his worst game, completing 56% with 2 INTs and 4 sacks. Cut that game out, and Flacco’s numbers look like this:
67/107 (63%), 745 yards (7.0 YPA), 3 TDs and 2 INTs with 6 sacks
Once again, his stats look very similar to his full stats. Now, you can’t simply take that game out of the mix…it happened, and it was a poor performance. But in general, Flacco doesn’t perform too badly when losing.

However, there’s room for improvement. Take Peyton Manning as what could be considered the gold standard. Manning’s numbers this year when behind look like this:
96/133 (72%), 1,120 yards (8.4 YPA), 7 TDs, 1 INT and 5 sacks
His 111.7 rating is better than his 105.2 rating through the whole season. His 7:1 TD:INT ratio is gaudy. Ideally, we’d like Flacco when losing to be as good as he is when winning or tied. Honestly, we’d like him to be better, but it’s telling that even Peyton Manning isn’t much better when behind as when tied or ahead.

Flacco has been very impressive with medium yardage (4-9 yds)
This isn’t just third down. It’s any down, and that can include first downs when they’ve accepted a 5 yard penalty, or first and goal from the 4-9 yard line.

Flacco boasts an impressive 104.2 QB rating, albeit thanks to a stellar TD:INT ratio. His stats look like this:
63/101 (63%), 657 yards (6.5 YPA), 7 TD, 0 INTs, 3 sacks
Flacco converted 48 of 104 (46%). Compare this to his converting 108 of 309 (35%) total passing plays he’s run, and 53 of 185 attempts from long (10+ yards) situations (29%).

His performance with moderate yardage to go is his money situation; he’s a top flight QB when facing medium yardage to go. And interestingly, the Ravens run passing plays on 68% of these plays. His performance in these situations may have something to do with that.

Bottom line
In general, Flacco performs fairly well in tough situations, but has room for improvement. He’s young, and it’s good to see he’s playing as well as he is in these situations.

Better yet, I think we should expect that as Flacco matures – and hopefully gets better receivers eventually – we’ll see continued improvement in these numbers as well. Part of his education is hopefully going to involve playing better in the pressure situations, and we’ve already seen him playing fairly well in them.

It’s an encouraging sign that we have a legitimately good quarterback under center, not just one that’s good any time except when it counts.


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