This article is part of our East Coast Offense series.
This came up in a discussion about Ryan Tannehill on the Real Man Would podcast. Dalton Del Don pointed out Tannehill's league-leading (through Week 13) yards per attempt (YPA), and I mentioned he took a ton of sacks. Tannehill had been good, to be sure, but when you added in the sacks (both the negative yardage and the extra attempts for each sack), his net YPA placed him only sixth, and not far ahead of a cluster of 5-7 more QBs.
Let's leave Tannehill himself out of this, especially because he just got 14.5 YPA with no sacks in Week 14 and now is first even accounting for his sacks. The point is YPA is an incomplete stat for QB efficiency, much in the way batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is for batting average luck.
(The problem with BABIP is it counts only balls in play. So a player with 50 homers and 20 doubles is likely to have a much lower BABIP than someone with the same amount of hard/soft contact, but 20 homers and 50 doubles because the homers aren't counted in his BABIP. One guy has only 20 extra base hits boosting his BABIP, and the other has 50, so you can't make an apples to apples comparison.)
YPA is similar. If Tom Brady throws the ball away, it counts as an attempt for zero yards, bringing down his YPA. But if Kyler Murray tries to make a play and gets sacked, it counts for neither an attempt nor lost yards. This is so even though the Patriots are faced with 2nd-and-10, while the Cardinals get 2nd-and-16. If we look at Brady's numbers – he's got only 6.6 YPA, and he's taken 24 sacks for 169 yards lost. That should add 24 attempts and subtract the yards, giving him a meager 5.99 YPA (22nd.) But Murray has only 6.7 YPA and has taken 46 sacks for 305 yards, for a net YPA of 5.48 (31st), one spot below Mason Rudolph.
But if we count negative plays against quarterbacks' net YPA – and running quarterbacks tend to extend plays longer and take more sacks – shouldn't we count positive plays for them? Put differently, if Murray gets sacked for a 10-yard loss while trying to escape a rusher, shouldn't the occasions where he scrambles for a 16-yard gain count in his favor? It's a pass play call that went for 16 yards, even though he didn't throw a pass. So net YPA is also not ideal (and that's before we tackle the problems with interceptions, fumbles, play-success rate and red-zone success.)
I think for a simple efficiency metric (setting aside turnovers), we'd want to use net-YPA over YPA, but add in QB rushing yards on designed pass plays, i.e., scrambles. I wouldn't want to give Lamar Jackson net YPA for his designed runs, not because they're not valuable, but because he's functioning as a running back rather than a QB on those plays.
Turnovers are also a huge deal, obviously, and Pro Football Reference accounts for those with adjusted-net-YPA, where a pick subtracts 45 yards and a touchdown pass adds 20. Patrick Mahomes grades out first there with his 21:3 TD:INT ratio, but Jackson is fifth, not even accounting for his positive scrambles. Players like Brady (20th) and Aaron Rodgers (10th) get boosted in this stat too – Brady for low sacks and picks and Rodgers for historically low interception rates. We can debate about how much the latter two have declined from their peaks, but especially in their cases, you should use the adjusted numbers and not simply YPA.
One last thought – I've often used yards per target (YPT) as a quick go-to for evaluating wide receivers, but what about net-YPT? We've heard the term "coverage sack" for situations where the quarterback has plenty of time but can't find anyone open, but isn't a coverage sack equally a wide receiver sack? If the primary wideout doesn't get open on his route in time, and the QB takes a three-plus second sack, shouldn't that count not only as a failed target, but also a loss? Let's set aside the difficulty of measuring this – we'd need to know who was the primary target, whether he was doubled and something else opened up, how long the quarterback had, etc. But it illustrates the noisiness of YPT too.
Week 15 NFL Trivia
Apropos of Michael Thomas' insane 121-catch-in-13-games season, can you name every pass catcher in NFL history to haul in 115 or more receptions in a season?
Guessing The Lines
|Game||My Line||Guessed Line||Actual Line||ML-AL||O/U||Actual O/U||MO-AO|
|Jets at Ravens||16.5||14.5||14.5||-2||46||45||1|
|Patriots at Bengals||-6.5||-8||-9.5||-3||41||40.5||0.5|
|Buccaneers at Lions||-3.5||-6.5||-3.5||0||49||47.5||1.5|
|Texans at Titans||3||3||3||0||47||50||-3|
|Broncos at Chiefs||6.5||8.5||11.5||5||46||45.5||0.5|
|Dolphins at Giants||0||2.5||3||3||48||48||0|
|Eagles at Redskins||-2.5||-3.5||-6||-3.5||45||40.5||4.5|
|Seahawks at Panthers||-7||-7.5||-6||1||51||48.5||2.5|
|Bears at Packers||3.5||7||4.5||1||44||41||3|
|Vikings at Chargers||3||6||-2.5||-5.5||48||44.5||3.5|
|Jaguars at Raiders||6||4||6.5||0.5||52||45.5||6.5|
|Browns at Cardinals||3||0||-2.5||-5.5||48||48||0|
|Rams at Cowboys||-3.5||0||0||3.5||45||48.5||-3.5|
|Falcons at 49ers||13||10.5||11||-2||52||47||5|
|Bills at Steelers||2.5||2.5||2||-0.5||41||36.5||4.5|
|Colts at Saints||11.5||13||9||-2.5||44||46||-2|
It looks like I'm big on the Broncos, Cardinals, Chargers (fade them), Redskins and Rams. I also like the Bengals and Dolphins a bit. Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind in Beating the Book.
Week 14 Observations
• I was a Rams hater, but now I hope they make the playoffs. They're easily one of the 10 best teams in the league now, and the tournament will be better if they're in it. Maybe we can award them the NFC East.
• Goff threw a pick six, and another pick that was essentially a punt, but he was razor sharp most of the game. Whatever was broken is now fixed, and even Todd Gurley looks like his pre-collapse self.
• The Rams have a narrow tree now – only four players caught passes, and everyone caught at least four. Brandin Cooks is an afterthought, but Tyler Higbee has been huge now that the Rams have figured out using the tight end as a pass catcher is a thing. Gerald Everett might have been even better had he stayed healthy.
• Russell Wilson had a huge dud in the fantasy playoffs. He's still the NFL's best player, but his timing was poor.
• I argued Ryan Tannehill's league-leading YPA was misleading because it didn't count all his sacks, but after he got 14.5 YPA and took no sacks this week, that's a harder argument to make. Sacks should always be considered, but he's first, even sack-adjusted now.
• Derrick Henry loves the fantasy playoffs.
• A.J. Brown is the wide receiver version of Henry – just too physical for his position and also fast enough.
• The Raiders collapse is complete, but Jon Gruden did a pretty good job with the scrubs he had.
• It's incredible the Patriots were in position to tie the game in the closing minutes. Their biggest plays were a flea-flicker 37-yard TD, a 35-yard pass from James White to Jacobi Meyers and a 17-yard scramble by Tom Brady. Their regular offense was unwatchable and produced next to nothing.
• Even so, they should have at least sent the game to overtime as they were cheated out of a touchdown twice, the first time via an early-whistle on a would-be fumble return and the second on a bad out-of-bounds call on N'Keal Harry's would-be TD.
Why blow the whistle before the play is over? And why did the ref whose only job was to watch Harry's feet, and with whom the other refs consulted, not see that he stayed in? It was an awful game, and the Patriots are a brutal watch, but having the result come out wrong only made it worse.
• Andy Reid went into a shell in the second half, content to run the ball and punt. It was as though he was playing not to lose and giving the Patriots chance after chance to win. The game did not inspire confidence in either team.
• Mike Tomlin has taken an offense full of nobodies and pushed it into playoff contention. He deserves strong consideration for Coach of the Year.
• Kyler Murray looked okay, but he made a terrible decision on a 4th-and-2 play where he threw a pick (the pick didn't matter as it was fourth down), instead of running for an easy conversion. It was funny to see David Johnson catch a TD late. It would be funnier still to see him look like peak David Johnson the last three games and get overdrafted again in 2020.
• Of course this was the week I faded the Chargers. Austin Ekeler is the team's best offensive player and became the first this year to have 100 yards rushing and receiving in a single game. Melvin Gordon still managed five catches and 12 carries too.
• The Bills largely solved Lamar Jackson – his 5.8 YPA included a 61-yard TD pass to Hayden Hurst that was mostly run-after-the-catch. Jackson ran for only 36 yards on 11 carries too. But somehow he still got three TD passes, salvaging the day for his fantasy owners.
• The Bengals spread-covering field goal was a thing of beauty, but it wouldn't have been necessary but for a Baker Mayfield interception overturn on a PI challenge. It probably was PI, but it was the mildest PI overturn yet. This is a disaster in the making.
• The Packers might get a first-round bye, but their only offensive playmaker is Aaron Jones. That's not enough to make a serious run.
• Terry McLaurin's TD was one of the best catches of the year. He'll be a monster if the Redskins can pair him with an NFL-level QB.
• Quality back-door push by the Lions.
• The Saints-49ers was a great game, though the referees got much too involved. One of the worst calls was the personal foul hit on Kyle Juszczyk. Juszczyk grabbed his helmet immediately after contact, and the ref threw the flag, gifting the Niners a first down instead of a field-goal attempt, and they converted it into a TD.
The call was borderline, but barring obvious intent, the refs should not have outcomes turn on helmet contact. A fine/suspension, levied after the game, is a much more apt remedy if they decide it was a foul. And Juszczyk incidentally was fine and stayed in the game.
• Drew Brees had a monster game – five TD passes, 349 yards and a QB-sneak TD – against an unlikely opponent. I shudder to think of the people who had him on their benches.
• Michael Thomas now has 121 catches and 1,424 yards with three games left to play. He'll smash Marvin Harrison's receptions record and could finish top-five all-time in yards too.
• What happened to Alvin Kamara? He's ostensibly healthy, too.
• Jimmy Garoppolo had a huge game of his own. The 49ers receiving corps with Emmanuel Sanders, the emergent Deebo Samuel and monstrous tight end George Kittle, who carried Saints on his back while being facemasked during the game-sealing play, is suddenly among the league's best.
• Mike Evans might be out for the year, but at least he had the decency to catch a 61-yard TD for you on his final play. Chris Godwin normally would have huge volume, but after having one of the league's thinnest trees all year, Jameis Winston is suddenly spreading the ball around to O.J. Howard, Breshad Perriman, Cameron Brate and Justin Watson.
• Despite three more picks, Winston had a monster game and will battle Dak Prescott for the passing yardage title over the last three weeks.
• Deshaun Watson apparently understood the importance of the fantasy playoffs in a game that was out of hand.
• The Eagles are terrible, barely eking out a home win against a bottom-of-the-barrel Giants team playing Eli Manning at quarterback. If the Cowboys can't win the NFC East, the entire organization should resign.
• Wentz got to 325 yards, thanks to overtime and a lot of run-after-the-catch by Boston Scott. But his line can't protect him, and he has no wideouts left. The Eagles are essentially the Patriots with a bad secondary.
• Speaking of Scott, he had 128 total yards, six catches and a TD. The Giants defense is bad, but he showed good wiggle and broke some tackles. He was a trendy sleeper in New Orleans when Mark Ingram was suspended last year, and maybe he'll stick with the Eagles yet.
• Zach Ertz got his in the end, thanks to overtime. His target volume should be insane over the final three weeks.
• Eli Manning was hilarious. He made a couple nice throws to Darius Slayton, though one was all Slayton after the catch and the other a blown coverage, but took a couple of his vintage collapse-sacks and couldn't move the ball in the second half. Of course, the early TDs were enough for the booth to put him in the Hall of Fame, even though he now has a losing career record.
• Saquon Barkley didn't do much against a tough front, but at least he looks completely healthy.
• I've said this before, but Slayton is a player. The biggest takeaways from 2019 for the Giants are Slayton, Daniel Jones and that they'll likely be picking first or second in the draft. Coach Pat Shurmur is just okay, but if keeping him avoids them making the mistake of hiring Mike McCarthy or (God forbid) Jason Garrett, they should get Shumur a lifetime deal.