ESPN unveiled its new Total Quarterback Rating statistic with a TV special on Friday night, and the odd thing about it is that the people featured on the special didn’t seem to buy into the stat.
Although ESPN wants fans to believe that Total QBR is a big step forward in statistical analysis of the quarterback position, the special started with Monday Night Football analysts Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski both expressing skepticism.
“Statistics don’t measure courage, they don’t measure leadership, they don’t measure poise,” Gruden said. “Football is the ultimate team game. On every play, there’s 11 guys involved, a coaching staff, and I think the quarterback gets way too much credit when things go good and way too much credit when things go bad. So I’m real skeptical, as I always have been, of statistics.
Added Jaworski, “I believe there’s only one statistic that is important, and that’s winning.”
Once ESPN put those caveats aside and explained the stat itself, it did sound interesting: Total QBR incorporates aspects of passing that aren’t part of the traditional passer rating, like yards after catch and dropped passes, and it also includes things like running, sacks and fumbles, none of which are part of the NFL’s official passer rating. If you enjoy the kind of work that Bill James has done in baseball, you’ll probably want to check Total QBR out.
But you’ll also probably find that baseball, with its one-on-one, pitcher vs. batter nature, lends itself to analyzing individual players in a way that football doesn’t. I think Total QBR does a good job of telling us how successful a quarterback has been, but I question whether it can really tell us how much of that quarterback’s success is his own, and how much of it is the result of his offensive line and his receivers.
I have my own quibbles with Total QBR, and they’re not the same as Gruden’s and Jaworski’s: I think the “clutch index” aspect of Total QBR seems ill-defined, and I think it was a mistake for Total QBR to treat all opposing defenses the same, as if completing a pass with Darrelle Revis in coverage is the same as completing a pass against some third-string scrub cornerback.
Total QBR is probably a better measurement of a quarterback’s play than the standard passer rating, and that makes it a step forward. But it has some real flaws, which even ESPN’s own special to promote the stat couldn’t hide.