This article is part of our East Coast Offense series.QB Inflation
I made the case last week for the Giants passing on the available QBs at 1.2 for Saquon Barkley, but the more I thought about it, the point goes beyond last year's draft and to the larger question of quarterback valuation generally.
Let's start by looking at the macro environment. Through seven weeks, the league-wide yards-per-pass-attempt (YPA) stands at 7.48. That's a full half-yard more than in 2017 when it was 7.0. Last year's QBs who had a below-average YPA include Russell Wilson (7.2) and Aaron Rodgers (7.0.) Even last year's MVP front-runner before he got hurt, Carson Wentz was at 7.49, barely over this year's average. There have been years when only a handful of qualifying QBs eclipsed this year's average number. Even in QB-friendly season like 2011 (when four QBs passed for 39 or more TDs and 4,900 yards), the highest YPA the league hit on average was 7.2. And if you want to look deeper than simple YPA, this year's adjusted net YPA, which accounts for sacks and interceptions, is a full half yard more than last year's too (6.4 to 5.9). Put simply, it's never been easier to generate yardage and production in the passing game than in 2018.
Now you might wonder why that's relevant to the argument about quarterback value because the average moving up just means the bar is higher for everyone. In which case, the top QB is still the top QB, albeit with even better stats, and the 18th QB is still 18th even if his stats are as good as last year's 12th. But as QB stats inflate, there are two things that stay constant, the length of the field and the distance to acquire a new set of downs. We can understand how this changes the equation by taking an extreme example.
Let's assume this trend continues and by 2025, the top QB averages 20 YPA, while an average one manages a meager 15 YPA. A difference of five yards per pass is bigger than the one between the 2018 Rams (9.7 YPA) and the 2018 Bills (5.1.) Surely, the 20 YPA QB is vastly more valuable than the 15 one. But unless the field became 150 yards or they changed the rule so you needed 20 yards for a first down instead of 10, there would be virtually no difference between the two QBs except the team with the former would score faster than the team with the latter.
Put more succinctly, as the league-wide YPA trends up while the length of the field and first-down rule remain constant, the difference in value between the top QB and the average QB should go down because both are good enough to move the chains and score points most of the time. If the league average YPA went down to 6.0, then the guy who can get 7.5 is a god*. He's the only one in the league moving the ball consistently through the air, and his team would be untouchable. Shift the scale to 7.5 and 9.0, and the top player might lose in a shootout or be kept off the field, by an efficient, chain-moving clock-chewing performance.
Of course, 7.5 YPA isn't 15 or 20, so quarterbacks still matter a lot. But in this environment it's likely* they matter less than they used to. And this is before taking into account the huge role system, personnel and coaching have in contributing to the quality of quarterback play.
*It's obvious the difference between 2.0 and 3.5 YPA is just as neglible as 15 and 20, but for the opposite reason. So it's possible 7.5 is the sweet spot where the difference actually matters more, not less. But that seems unlikely when you consider that three times 7.5 = 22.5, and you need only 10 yards on three tries. Someone with better math skills than me will have to solve this, but I'd bet the sweet spot where the disparity between average and great is widest would be someone in the 5-7 YPA range.
Moreover, between the depth at the position - as I detailed last week, roughly three quarters of the league has its franchise quarterback and players like Teddy Bridgewater, Josh McCown, Nick Foles, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyrod Taylor don't even have starting jobs - and the easy environment, it's not whether you have a franchise QB that sets you apart, but whether you're trotting out carcasses like Eli Manning, Blake Bortles, Derek Anderson and Sam Bradford.
It's worth noting the five best teams in the league - the Rams, Chiefs, Saints, Patriots and Chargers - all have had excellent QB play so far. But it's hard to say how much of their success is due to system, personnel and coaching. I have to imagine Deshaun Watson, on the Chiefs or Saints, would be putting up monster numbers himself, and even Andy Dalton - average as he is - would be in the MVP conversation as the Rams signal caller. Don't forget what Matt Ryan did in Kyle Shanahan's system two years ago, or that Dalton himself was in that conversation in 2015 before getting hurt.
One final thought: the QB is usually the most important piece in the complex system known as an NFL team. But complex systems are not readily broken down into their component parts, and it's not always obvious which ones are essential and which are redundant. Last year, I was sure the Eagles were done when they lost their QB component, but it turned out to be relatively unimportant. Had the Patriots lost Tom Brady early in the year, it's entirely plausible they would have made the Super Bowl with Jimmy Garoppolo. I also remember a season when the Steelers lost Troy Polamalu, and their defense collapsed, and one where the Giants lost Plaxico Burress and Justin Tuck and went from a dominant 10-1 start to a late-season collapse and a first-round playoff exit.
Going for Two Down 14
The big topic after Monday night's game was Pat Shurmur going for two after scoring the TD to cut the Falcons lead to 20-12. It was the right call, and the math is fairly clear on this. If you go for two and fail (~55%), then you know you have to go for two the next time you score. If you make it (45%), then it's the same as having made two PATs. When you do the math .55 * .45 = 24.75%. In other words, roughly a quarter of the time, it makes no difference that you went for two and missed on the first one because you made the second one.
But what about the other 75.25 percent of the time?
That's divided into two categories. Make the first and kick the PAT second or miss the first and miss the second. In the first case, you win the game, and in the second you lose. Which is more likely?
The historical odds of making the first is roughly 45 percent. If that happens you kick the PAT and win. The odds of missing both is 55 percent of 55 percent = 30.25%. If that happens, you lose. Last I checked 45 percent is bigger than 30.25.
So the question is would you rather give yourself a 45 percent chance to win, a 30.25 chance to lose and a 24.75 chance to tie and go to overtime, or just roll the dice with a 50 percent chance in overtime? Obviously, your odds improve if you have a better chance to win than lose in regulation.
There's an oversimplification here – I'm assuming the PAT is a 100-percent proposition which it's not, especially since they moved the try back to the 15 yard line. But factoring in the missed PATs would only make the case for going for two even stronger.
Week 8 Trivia
Adam Vinatieri injured his groin last week, only four points short of the all-time points scored record. Can you name the top-20 on that list? (Hint, Jerry Rice doesn't make the cut.)
Guessing the Lines
|Game||My Line||Guessed Line||Actual Line||ML-AL|
|Dolphins at Texans||7||6||7.5||-0.5|
|Eagles vs. Jaguars||-1.5||-1.5||-3||1.5|
|Ravens at Panthers||0||2.5||-2||2|
|Jets at Bears||6||5.5||7||-1|
|Buccaneers at Bengals||6.5||5.5||4.5||2|
|Seahawks at Lions||3||3||3||0|
|Broncos at Chiefs||9.5||9.5||10||-0.5|
|Redskins at Giants||3||2.5||-1||4|
|Browns at Steelers||8.5||7.5||8||0.5|
|Colts at Raiders||-1.5||-2.5||-3||1.5|
|49ers at Cardinals||3||3||0||3|
|Packers at Rams||9||9||9||0|
|Saints at Vikings||0||1.5||1||-1|
|Patriots at Bills||-10.5||-9||-13.5||3|
Based on the disparities between my lines and Vegas', it looks like I'm on the Giants, Cardinals, Bills, Bengals and Panthers. As usual, I reserve the right to change my mind in Beating the Book.
Week 7 Observations
• The Bengals brought a sling shot to a nuclear war. Down 7-0, Marvin Lewis punted on 4th-and-4 from midfield, right after the Chiefs drove down and scored with ease on their first possession. You have to know what you're up against and adjust accordingly. That was game over then and there. A.J. Green went 14-7-117, but that was all they had.
• Pat Mahomes had 358 yards and four more TD passes to go along with 45 yards rushing. He took two sacks and threw a pick, but everything seemed easy.
• Hunt had a monster day – 15-86-1 and 6-5-55-2 as a receiver. It's a great sign he's being used regularly in the passing game again – it makes him a top-five overall player.
• You have to love how the Cowboys played for the long FG that became too long after a snap-infraction penalty and lost. The Redskins previous possession – two runs into the teeth of the defense, then a QB scramble with no chance of a first down wherein Alex Smith went out of bounds to preserve time for Dallas – was equally bad. The Eagles lost, but hard to see them not winning this joke of a division.
• Zeke Elliott finally had a bad fantasy game, though the passing game opened up slightly with Michael Gallup cantering for a 49-yard TD, Allen Hurns going 6-5-74 and Cole Beasley going 8-7-56. Dak Prescott had a respectable 273 yards, one TD and 7.8 YPA, while rushing for 33 yards and a score, but he lost two fumbles, one of which resulted in a Redskins TD, and took four sacks. It'll be interesting to see how long it takes to get new arrival Amari Cooper going.
•Adrian Peterson looked good, rushing for 97 yards, but no Redskins receiver had more than 43 yards. Josh Doctson showed a pulse, but until further notice he's going down the DeVante Parker career path.
•Todd Gurley is having a throwback season – think peak Emmitt Smith/Terrell Davis/LaDainian Tomlinson/Priest Holmes. An easy 15-63-2 on the ground and 4-23-1 through the air. He's not even working that hard. His backup, Malcolm Brown (13-for-65) actually had more yards.
•Greg Zuerlein made all seven kicks he attempted (3 FG, 4 PAT) – he's once again a top-five kicker.
•Matt Breida got hurt again, and Raheem Mostert (7-for-59) outperformed Alfred Morris (9-for-25) in his absence. C.J Beathard was bad, but George Kittle (8-5-98-1) had a big game and is a top-5-ish TE.
•Justin Tucker missed his first career PAT in the gusty wind to prevent overtime and a nearly 50/50 chance at a Ravens cover. That said, the Saints were the better team, moving the ball more easily against the Ravens defense than the Ravens did against theirs.
•Alex Collins had a poor game, but he's supplanted Buck Allen almost entirely in the running game the last two weeks. Joe Flacco was okay, and he reconnected with John Brown (7-7-134-1) on two big plays. Michael Crabtree (9-5-66) led the team in targets but as usual did little with them.
•Alvin Kamara re-established himself as the team's top back (17-64-1) while Mark Ingram went 12 for 32. Both backs caught two passes each. Taysom Hill could cut into their production near the goal line, however.
•Cody Kessler took over for Bortles (5.1 YPA, two lost fumbles), but didn't fare much better. T.J. Yeldon got stuffed on the ground but caught five passes for 40 yards and the team's lone TD. Carlos Hyde will be back next week, and possibly Leonard Fournette in Week 10 after the bye. Donte Moncrief led the team in receiving, albeit with Kessler at QB in garbage time.
•Lamar Miller had a good game – 22-100-1, though he caught only one pass for -1 yard. DeAndre Hopkins went 8-3-50-1 while being shadowed by Jalen Ramsey, while Will Fuller put up an 8-6-68 line. Deshaun Watson had a modest game while playing with a lead.
• The Browns went to overtime again and lost. I suppose I shouldn't be upset about a push against the spread because the Bucs missed a short FG in regulation, but the Bucs punted the ball back to them with less than three minutes in overtime, and the Browns fumbled the punt return! Even then, their defense held Tampa to a 59-yard FG attempt, but of course below-average kicker Chandler Catanzaro nailed it. Keep in mind I didn't need the Browns, who were getting three, to win, just to tie.
•Baker Mayfield put up modest numbers against Tampa's weak defense, but he led the team on late comeback and made the big throw to Jarvis Landry (15-10-97-1) to tie it. David Njoku (6-4-52-1) was the only other receiver of note. Nick Chubb went 18-80-1 in his starting debut, but didn't catch a single pass.
•Jameis Winston had an odd line – 365 yards, but zero TDs and two picks. He did rush for 55 yards and a score, however, but lost a fumble. Consider him a rich man's Blake Bortles – all over the place, but useful in fantasy.
•Peyton Barber was ineffective, and Ronald Jones and Jackson scored two of the team's rushing TDs. Neither back made the case for more work.
• The Eagles were up 17-0 after three quarters and lost 21-17. Carson Wentz had a solid day – 321 passing yards, two TDs, zero picks, but he took two sacks and lost a fumble.
•Alshon Jeffery (10-7-88-1) and Zach Ertz (11-9-138) were the leaders in an uncharacteristically narrow receiving tree. Dallas Goedert (5-4-43-1) was also a factor. Nelson Agholor (7-6-20) is gunning for the lowest YPT record among qualifying receivers apparently.
• None of the Eagles backs did anything. Wendall Smallwood led the team with nine carries for 32 yards.
•Cam Newton had a monster fourth quarter to finish with 269 yards, two TDs, no picks and two sacks. He also led the team with 49 rushing yards.
•Christian McCaffrey had seven carries for 29 yards and caught all six targets for 51 yards. It's the lack of TDs rather than workload that's hurting him. Devin Funchess was the only receiver of note, going 11-6-62-1. Greg Olsen scored the go-ahead TD but did little else.
•Adam Thielen extended his 100-yard receiving streak to seven and now is within one of Calvin Johnson's all-time record. No other Vikings pass catcher had more than 34 yards.
•Kerryon Johnson (19-158, 3-2-21) is the second best back in his draft class, but LeGarrette Blount (10-50-1) and Theo Riddick (out) limit his upside. Should Riddick miss extended time, Johnson's added receiving would give him a nice boost.
•Brock Osweiler was serviceable, 7.7 YPA, two TDs, zero picks, but lost top target Albert Wilson early and also spread the ball around. Danny Amendola (7-6-84-1) was his top receiver, but no one else saw more than three targets, except Kenyan Drake (8-4-15.) Drake made up for it on the ground with a 6-72-1 line thanks to a 54-yard TD. Frank Gore had 10 ineffective carries for 29 yards.
•Marlon Mack had another big day – 19-126-1 and 3-2-33-1. The game script could not have been better in a blowout win.
•Adam Vinatieri injured his groin in the game and could miss some time. The 45-year old is four points behind Morten Andersen on the NFL's all-time points-scored list.
• The Patriots know how to defend a last-second Hail Mary – let the guy catch it at the two and then use the whole team to keep him out of the end zone as time expires.
• Mitch Trubisky put up great fantasy numbers, but did not have a good real life game. For starters his 6.7 YPA included the meaningless 54-yard Hail Mary catch by Kevin White. Trubisky also threw two picks, took two sacks and missed open receivers. All told he had 333 passing yards, two TDs, and 81 rushing yards and a rushing TD.
•Tom Brady had an unremarkable 277 yards, three TDs and one pick, while taking only one sack on the road against ostensibly one of the league's best pass rushes.
•Josh Gordon (7-4-100) led the team in receiving and made a key catch on fourth down. His rapport and trust level with Brady are growing, but he looked a little sluggish running in the open field. Julian Edelman went 8-5-36-1, while Chris Hogan put up a 7-6-63 line.
•Sony Michel left the game in the first quarter with a left knee injury, and James White (11-for-40, 10-8-57-2) had a huge game in his stead. Kenjon Barner (10 for 36) also got extra work. Should Michel be seriously injured, I'd expect the Patriots to look for another back.
• It's bizarre the Titans kept throwing out of the shotgun to get less than a yard in the closing seconds and on the failed two-point conversion. I'm not against throwing in short yardage, but it better be off a play action or some other kind of fake and look incredibly easy. Otherwise, you're essentially turning a 4th-and-1 into a 4th-and-6 for no reason.
•Tyrell Williams had his second straight big game on modest volume 4-4-118-1. It's strange the Chargers drafted Mike Williams (3-1-55-1) with a top-10 pick last year despite having Keenan Allen (5-5-72) and Tyrell Williams already on the roster.
•Philip Rivers had another business-like day – 306 yards, two TDs, 11.2 YPA, no picks and two sacks for only nine yards. He's having one of the quieter MVP-level seasons in recent memory.
•Eli Manning threw for 399 yards, 10.5 YPA, one TD and no picks, but he took four sacks, at least two of which were due to him not getting rid of the ball, the TD was in garbage time, and he missed a wide-open Odell Beckham on a couple plays. He also threw behind Saquon Barkley at least twice, hit an Atlanta defender in the chest with a ball that was dropped and looked like a 90-year man trying to execute two failed QB sneaks at the end of the game. Manning did throw a couple nice deep balls, so I don't think arm strength is his main issue. It's sluggishness, lack of pocket awareness, lack of touch, poor decision making and bad instincts.
•Odell Beckham went 11-8-143-1 and made great catches on the sideline to keep the backdoor cover alive. He's the league's best receiver and would torch the record book if he had even a semi-competent QB. Sterling Shepard went 8-5-167, making two big plays downfield. He's not as explosive as Beckham, but he got open and made nice plays when the ball was in the air. Evan Engram in his first game back went a modest 4-2-16 and had a carry for 10 yards.
•Saquon Barkley was largely bottled up and failed to crack 100 YFS for the first time in his career (94), but he still caught nine passes and scored a TD and a two-point conversion. He now has 49 catches in seven games, leading all RBs and trailing only four receivers (Adam Thielen, Beckham, Julio Jones and Michael Thomas.)
•Matt Ryan had 379 yards (9.7 YPA), one TD and no picks. He took three sacks. Ryan faced the better defense Monday night, but he's more accurate and less mistake-prone than Manning.
•Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith split the carries – 11 for 50 for Coleman (though most of that came on a 30-yard TD run) and seven for 16 for Smith. Both backs caught two passes. Coleman is still the better fantasy option for now.
• Jones went 12-9-104-0, failing to get into the end zone yet again. He has to be close to a record for yardage to start the year without scoring. Austin Hooper went 4-3-38, Calvin Ridley 6-5-43 and Mohamed Sanu 2-2-21.