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East Coast Offense: How Good is Joe Flacco?

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

How Good is Joe Flacco?

Flacco, who signed the biggest contract in NFL history after winning the Super Bowl last year, has been to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons. If the Ravens, who are favored, beat the Patriots at home this week, he'll likely make it again.

Of course, the Ravens defense has been consistently good while Flacco's been around, and Flacco's career passer rating (84.6) is 27th all time, below that of Carson Palmer, Matt Schaub, David Garrard and Donovan McNabb, to name a few. If you want to look at adjusted net YPA (which takes into account per-pass production, touchdowns, interceptions and sacks), Flacco ranks 32nd all time, behind Andy Dalton, Eli Manning, Daunte Culpepper and Jeff Garcia. So maybe Flacco's simply been in the right place at the right time. He certainly benefitted from Justin Tucker's miraculous game-winning 61-yard field goal in Detroit on Monday night.

But when you watch the Ravens win close games, some of which require drives by the offense in crunch time, it's hard not to wonder whether Flacco's outperforming his basic stats in some way. Perhaps he excels situationally - getting seven yards when they need six, or pulling off a late-game drive when the team is down by one score. But how would we measure that besides noting he's had a ton of team success for a player with such pedestrian peripherals?

One way a player might be better than his aggregate stats is if his performance didn't decline much against better competition. In other words, if your defense is good, and you're an average quarterback, that doesn't hurt you against bad teams - you're still going to win most of those games. And if you're playing a good defense, and you remain average despite the tougher competition, you're essentially playing equal to a good quarterback whose performance drops (like most) in that case.

One easy way to gauge how quarterbacks fare against better competition is to look at their postseason stats. You'd think the given greater percentage of bad weather games and the higher quality of defenses a quarterback's postseason numbers would be worse than his regular season ones. In fact that's the case for Peyton Manning and even Tom Brady who is considered more clutch. Let's look at a few of the best quarterbacks of the last 30 years, comparing their regular and postseason stats:

QB G PS G Career YPA PS YPA YPA Diff Career QB Rate PS Career Rate Rate Diff
Peyton Manning 238 20 7.7 7.5 0.2 96.9 88.4 8.5
Tom Brady 191 24 7.5 6.7 0.8 95.9 87.4 8.5
Joe Montana 192 23 7.5 7.9 -0.4 92.5 95.6 -3.1
Steve Young 169 20 8 7.1 0.9 96.8 85.8 11
Dan Marino 242 18 7.3 6.6 0.7 86.4 77.1 9.3
John Elway 234 22 7.1 7.6 -0.5 79.9 79.7 0.2
Aaron Rodgers 93 9 8.2 7.9 0.3 105.2 103.6 1.6
Brett Favre 302 24 7.1 7.4 -0.3 86 86 0
Drew Brees 184 9 7.5 7.6 -0.1 95.1 103.9 -8.8
Ben Roethlisberger 141 14 7.9 7.7 0.2 92.9 73.7 19.2
Troy Aikman 165 16 7 7.7 -0.7 81.6 88.3 -6.7
Eli Manning 151 11 7.1 7.1 0 81.4 89.3 -7.9
Joe Flacco 94 13 7 7.2 -0.2 84.6 86.2 -1.6

Flacco in fact has been slightly better in the postseason, but I thought it would be by a greater margin given how pedestrian his regular-season stats are and his huge postseason in 2012. Prior to last year he had actually been worse in the playoffs. On average the top quarterbacks declined slightly, but there's a lot of variance among players - Joe Montana and Troy Aikman played a lot better in the playoffs, while Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino and Steve Young a lot worse.

So there's not much to go on here.

ESPN created its own metric (QBR) to capture situational success and how much a QB's play leads to winning, and Flacco doesn't grade out particularly well there, either.

While Flacco's lack of elite weapons, cold-weather home venue, consistent presence in the postseason and poised demeanor make him seem to me like a good quarterback - and apparently the Ravens were convinced as they gave him the $120 million deal - it's hard to find it in the numbers. That doesn't mean he isn't very good. It just means I haven't yet found a way to measure it other than by team success and watching him play in big games against good defenses.

One oddity about the NFL that makes it harder to evaluate individual players is the rule that you have four downs to get 10 yards. This means a running back that averaged three yards per carry, but never got fewer than 2.5 would be the greatest player in NFL history as you could give it to him every play and be guaranteed to score on excruciatingly long drives every time. Even someone as excellent as 2012 Adrian Peterson would get stuffed at some point, and his team would eventually turn the ball over on downs.

So per-play-average stats like YPA and YPC while largely revealing of a player's skill level leave out part of the picture. Consistency, volatility, timing, context all seem to matter.

On the flip side you'll get a player like Aaron Rodgers who doesn't make many comebacks because he's so good, his team usually has a big lead.

The Greatest Kicking Day in NFL History

I have no idea why this is such a Ravens-centric column - I actually hate the Ravens. But Justin Tucker just had the greatest kicking day in NFL history given the stakes (essentially a playoff game between the two teams), the distance of his kicks (three went for 49, 53 and 61) and the timing of his last kick that won the game and was tied for the eighth-longest in NFL history. Tucker's also made 33 straight field goals, nine short of the all-time record set by dome kicker Mike Vanderjagt. Finally, after the game, Tucker - instead of thanking God or offering up some empty platitudes about it being a team game - touted what he did for fantasy owners including himself! Normally, I'd never pay more than $1 for a kicker in our auctions, but I'll have to go $2 on someone who's starting himself and cares enough to mention fantasy after a huge real-life win.

Quarterback Play in Your Semifinals

Take a look at the top-six fantasy QBs this week, and you'll probably consider punting the position next year:

1. Ryan Fitzpatrick
2. Nick Foles
3. Alex Smith
4. Matt Cassel
5. Kirk Cousins
6. Matt Flynn

While Drew Brees was seventh, Ryan Tannehill was eighth and EJ Manuel ninth. Tom Brady was 11th, Tony Romo 12th, Peyton Manning 14th, Colin Kaepernick 15th, Andrew Luck 18th, Russell Wilson 20th, Cam Newton 21st, Philip Rivers 22nd, Matt Stafford 25th and Matt Ryan 28th.

The Importance of Gratitude

It's been documented feelings and expressions of gratitude are strongly correlated with happiness and well being. To that end, I'd like to acknowledge how blessed I've been as a Giants fan to witness the Wade Phillips/Jason Garrett era for the Cowboys. No matter how bad it gets for my own team (or in my personal life), the Cowboys are a wellspring of joy, especially when their '90s band-wagoner credulous fans take them seriously. There's no point in going over Jason Garrett's gaffes in detail this week - for one, they're so common it's an exhausting task and secondly, I was mostly oblivious to the specifics of the game in real time. I will say Tony Romo is a borderline Hall of Fame-level quarterback whose career is being squandered in a way that should make even Dan Marino aghast. If anything, I feel badly for him and Dez Bryant who takes crap like this from local writers when he's one of the few things that's right with that team.

Week 15 Observations

The Giants offense is arguably the worst in the NFL right now. Their defense is still decent, but Russell Wilson is so difficult to corral and able to make plays when he escapes.

Mike Shanahan was right to switch to Kirk Cousins and right to go for two even though it failed.

The Vikings nearly won in Baltimore, then smoked the Eagles without Adrian Peterson. While Taiwan Jones' failure last year kept me from investing in Matt Asiata (I vowed to avoid the region entirely), Asiata is probably the worst real-life RB ever to score 20 fantasy points in a game.

The Chargers were a better team than the Broncos Thursday night, and the game was in Denver. San Diego's offense was more crisp, more consistent and able to control the game. The Broncos offense made occasional plays, but they couldn't run and had no sustained rhythm.

The Niners always beat up on bad teams, and the venue doesn't matter.

Ryan Tannehill is quietly on pace for about 4,100 yards and 27 TDs, despite a terrible offensive line, no running game of which to speak and mediocre weapons.

Matt Ryan is not and never has been a good fantasy quarterback without Julio Jones. Ryan gets the 49ers next week and Panthers in Week 17, so you can safely drop him.

There's no greater joy in life than checking the box score in the Jets-Panthers game and noticing my defensive lineman in the Steak League, Sheldon Richardson, got a rushing touchdown. That's the league were we have a side bet on who's buying steaks based on season-long point totals.

The Saints are 3-4 on the road and 7-0 at home.

If you subtract Jamaal Charles' receiving yards from the Chiefs offense, there's only 92 passing and 78 rushing yards left. But the Chiefs scored 56 points.

DeMarco Murray leads the NFL with 429 rushing yards over the last four games and draws Washington this week. Of course, you can't count on anything with the Cowboys.

Peyton Manning has 47 TD passes, Drew Brees has 34 and the next 14 QBs have between 21 and 29.

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