The MVP Debate: No passing fancy

| December 1, 2010

There was an elementary school campaign that some of us were treated to as kids that emphasized “The Three Rs,” namely Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic.

Well, this year’s MVP race is also shaping up as the Three Rs right now, namely Rivers, Ryan and Rodgers.

Philip Rivers retained the top spot by the cumulative voting of our 10 selectors, but lost two of his first-place votes to Matt Ryan (and one to Peyton Hillis. The football world is starting to catch up to our praise of Ryan (the No. 1 passer in our rankings), and a surgical effort vs. Green Bay in a big national game didn’t hurt.

Aaron Rodgers was similarly good in that NFC showdown, and moved up a spot this week despite the loss (and a key fumble).

1.Philip Rivers, San Diego (92 points, six first-place votes)

Rivers is coming off two good games (as opposed to the usual great); he hasn’t had that one unbelievable game all year, but no other player in the league is as consistently good as he is. His only negative is penalties; he’s taken nine this year, tied with Brett Favre and Alex Smith for most in the NFL.

2. Matt Ryan, Atlanta (73 points, two first-place votes)

Ryan is catching up fast here; he’s No. 1 in our grades, and over the past six weeks he’s been just spectacular. His most spectacular stat? In 124 dropbacks while facing pressure, he hasn’t thrown a single interception.

3. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay (59 points)

Another product of the Golden Age of Quarterbacks. He’s only thrown 25 incompletions over his last three games, and he’s averaged 9.3 yards an attempt to prove it’s no West Coast fluke.

4. Trent Cole, Philadelphia (54 points)

Cole was great in the Eagles’ loss to Chicago, terrorizing the Bears to the tune of two sacks and six pressures. Good to see him picking up the raw numbers (six sacks in six weeks) that will help him toward the Defensive Player of the Year award he still clearly deserves.

5. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis (40 points)

Manning was the clear No. 1 choice just five weeks ago, but he fell completely off two of our ballots this week. But while his raw numbers (and interceptions) have gone in the tank over a five-game span, he’s continued to get very good grades from our analysts. In other words, he’s the same old Peyton. And just how bad would this team be without him?

6. Michael Vick, Philadelphia (33 points)

Don’t blame Michael for the loss to Chicago. Against a very tough defense, Vick graded at 5.1 and made plays all over the field.

7. Julius Peppers, Chicago (29 points)

Peppers wasn’t his best against the Eagles, as Jason Peters gave him a run for his money – Peters lost the battle, but Peppers didn’t go wild, either. But on a night when Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs were both off, Peppers gave them enough to win.

8. Peyton Hillis, Cleveland (28 points, 1 first-place vote)

He’s not the best back in the league, but he sure is playing like it. Great in all phases of the game this year for the Browns, and has 100+ yards from scrimmage four weeks running (with seven TDs).

9. Kyle Williams, Buffalo (27 points)

The defensive version of Hillis. He’s not on a good team, and he was no blue-chip talent, but this guy is absolutely tearing up the league. He looks like your buddy from the softball team, but he’s playing like Dan Hampton. He leads DTs in stops (39) and pressures (30), and is playing just about every snap.

10. Tom Brady, New England (26 points, 1 first-place vote)

Brady continues to be the center of debate both inside PFF and among our readers. He is only listed on four of our 10 ballots, with the consensus among our analysts that other QBs are simply having stronger seasons. They call them as they see them, whether it agrees with conventional wisdom or not.

Others receiving votes: Tamba Hali (20 points), Drew Brees (15), Brandon Lloyd (12), Brandon Flowers (8), Roddy White (8), Jamaal Charles (6), D’Brickashaw Ferguson (4), Clay Matthews (4), Bart Scott (4), Cameron Wake (3), Carl Nicks (3), Jake Long (3), Matt Schaub (3), Justin Smith (3), Dwayne Bowe (2), Ray Lewis (1), Maurice Jones-Drew (1), Sam Bradford (1).

  • rw1251

    Good to know what your “expert” analysts think after reviewing TV copies of the game and producing completely meaningless and inaccurate “grades”. That’s really valuable stuff.

    • http://www.profootballfocus.com Jonathan Comey

      Oh good, we have our first grumpy commenter! Welcome!

  • rw1251

    Hey, you ask for constructive criticism on your page describing your convoluted grading system.

    Bill Belichick once described viewing TV copies of the games as worthless towards scouting. Yet you guys charge people money to have AMATEUR scouts view these worthless copies and make evaluations.

    Until you stop charging people money for analysis that ultimately has such a wide margin for error that it results in ridicolously imprecise “grades” that are presented as precise, I’ll continue to bother you.

    The Player Participation stats are great, and the analysis of the Line play, in theory, is acceptable. Everything else is utter garbage and cannot be taken seriously.

    • http://www.profootballfocus.com Jonathan Comey

      Not sure “utter garbage” would be in the realm of constructive criticism, but have at it my man.

      • rw1251

        Well, don’t take it from me. Again, take it from Belichick who was speaking directly on trying to scout from TV tape.

    • Neil Hornsby

      I guess the multiple NFL Scouts, coaches, teams and players that pay for our information must disagree with both you and Mr Belichick then?

  • http://www.profootballfocus.com Sam Monson

    And Raheem Morris says stats are for losers, and Bill Parcels said he’d never take another coaching job again…before his last 3 coaching jobs. Sometimes coaches are wrong, sometimes they’re lying.

    Complaining about the limitations of what we do because Bill Belichick says TV tape sucks is a pretty groundless form of criticism. If you have a legitimate and specific concern, we’ll more than happily listen to and answer it, or take it on board as a possible way we can improve.

    Also professional scouts should hardly be deified just because they’re paid by NFL teams for it. The majority of NFL scouting departments are extremely low paid entry level jobs that eager people get when they’re breaking into the field. Sure there’s old hands at it, but just being a paid NFL scout doesn’t mean you can’t be wrong, or even that you’re fantastic at what you do.

    • rw1251

      Belichick’s comments were not the grounds for my criticism – merely, my reasoning is the same is his. Without the eye in the sky view, you can’t accurately tell coverages, you can’t tell routes, you have absolutely no way to evaluate quarterbacks, receivers or the secondary. None.

      Limited to TV tape, you can throw decision making out the window. Your staff does not have enough visual data to weigh in on that. That’s a fact. Which may be besides the point, b/c I don’t see the credentials to suggest they would have the football knowledge to even make the right conclusions even if they had coaches’ tape.

      Which – when it comes to the passing game – leaves you with accuracy, theoretically. However, again, without a look at coverages & routes, it is impossible to judge a quarterback’s accuracy. After all, the ball may have been where it needed to be, and the receiver not. The subjectivity leads to such an incredible margin for error.

      There is absolutely no science to what you guys are trying to do, but you present it as such. I appreciate the effort to look to the tape – because that is the only way to evaluate these players. But you cannot do it without at least two things: coaches tape and an in-depth understanding of the game. Your staff has neither.

      And while I agree “Stats are for losers”, ultimately, even an in-depth statistical analysis like Football Outsiders which adjusts for things such as the opposition is of more value than a clearly inadequate film analysis.

      Stick to game participation #’s and evaluate the line play if you wish. Anything more than that is without any value, and criminal to charge for.

      • http://www.profootballfocus.com Jonathan Comey

        Let’s agree to disagree.

  • PaulK

    Does Brady get any credit for holding together the youngest bunch of starters in the NFL, average age 25.2 years old? Gronkowski and Hernandez are rookies. Vollmer and Tate are second-years but Tate didn’t really play last year. Branch just showed up in midseason. So did Woodhead.

    • http://www.profootballfocus.com Ben Stockwell

      In simplest terms the answer is no. Our whole grading system is based around not taking the players performing the plays into account. What we see when we see & grade a pass is QB “X” passing to WR “Y” with CB “Z” in coverage, not Tom Brady passing to Aaron Hernandez with Darrelle Revis in coverage. When we’re grading a running play it’s RG #63 vs DLT #95, not Dan Connolly vs Kyle Williams. As a result the player dynamics of a veteran QB & a young WR aren’t taken into account, it’s all based around the individual player performance. Certainly you can view the output of the grades and apply things like the supporting cast a QB has and say that someone is doing an outstanding job in the circumstances even though he doesn’t grade as high as someone else, but it doesn’t factor into the “input” phase of the grading.

  • Rai

    Lol, so many mad Patriots fans in here. I actually had stats up through week 6 which showed team’s passing games. Through week 6, there were only 4 teams that averaged less than 4 YIA (Yards in Air) per completion. They were the Raiders, Chiefs, Patriots and Lions. We all know about the Lions QB woes this year. Matt Cassel has recently boom’d with his 19TD/1INT over the last 6 weeks and the Raiders have a terrible OLine but I’m sure the emergence of Jacoby Ford has helped them. That leaves the Patriots. How can supposedly the greatest QB in the NFL be expected to throw for 3.6 YIA/Completion. For every completion, up through week 6, Brady’s average throw would be just 3.6 yards. Compare that to Manning, Ryan and Rivers who have 6.8, 6.6 and 6.6 respectively. Rodgers also has 6.6. Highest was Kyle Orton with a huge 9.4.

    Unfortunately I don’t have these stats past week 6 which is a shame but you don’t really expect much to change with the Patriots O though, do you? Brady is still there passing and the OLine is still one of the best. The other teams with sub-4.0 were in far worse situations than the Patriots O was in. Face it, Brady is a product of a system. These stats are good hard facts and I don’t expect the Patriots O system to have changed much from the first 6 weeks to recently.

    • rw1251

      1) How can you demerit Brady for short throws while acknowledge the Pats OL is still one of the best. A short passing game benefits the O-Line as well – perhaps even moreso. Short throws are still difficult throws.
      2) A high YAC total should not be a demerit for the QB either – the QB is still responsible for the yards after the catch, given he made the decision to hit that receiver where he was, with the ability to pick up more yards.
      3) Brady is averaging 6.5 YPA, 3rd, behind only Rivers and Vick – and a full yard ahead of Manning.
      4) The current leaders in deep throw % (pass attempts > 15) include Vince Young, Matt Moore, Derek Anderson & Jason Campbell. Towards the bottom are Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Tony Romo. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from that.
      5) Brady is now averaging 5.7 YIA per completion. (SI.com carries YAC #s per team, you can do the rest of the math) For reference Manning is now 5.9.
      6) I doubt the validity of your stats through Week 6. I do know that Brady’s is 5.7 now.
      7) Any QB stat that ignores incompletions (you know, those passes that go for 0 yards) might not have a ton of merit.

      • Nathan Jahnke

        3) I’m not sure where you’re finding the 6.5 yards per attempt. I’m seeing 7.6, which puts him around 9th(depending on what you consider qualifying)
        4) Using pass attempts > 10 yards rather than 15, since we keep track of throws in 10 yards increments, the top deep ball throwers are Young, Roethlisberger, Derek Anderson, Bruce Gradkowski, Flacco, Rodgers, Cassel, Campbell, Eli Manning and Jay Cutler. Each of them throw beyond 10 yard 39% of the time or more. There is a wide range of QB’s on the list. On the top short ball throwers, we have Jimmy Clausen, Jon Kitna, Sam Bradford, Kevin Kolb, Tom Brady, Alex Smith, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, Shaun Hill and Donovan McNabb. Each of those throw the ball beyond 10 yards 33% of the time or less. I really don’t see much of a difference on the lists in terms of talent, just differences in team philosophy(Oakland has 2 of the top deep throwers, Dallas two of the short throwers) and lack of experience for 3 of the top 4 on the short pass list.

        On another note, I’d be curious to see how Brady’s 2007 would be rated.

        • rw1251

          Well, I tried to respond to this, but it seems I am now being censored for exposing the racket that is this “expert” pay-site. Oh well.

          To be honest, if I ran or was involved in this site, I would be ashamed I was taking people’s hard earned money for providing – at best – amateur analysis.

      • http://www.profootballfocus.com Sam Monson

        2 – A high YAC does not necessarily downgrade the QB, but it clearly shouldn’t be an automatic plus either, because by definition you are giving the QB credit for somebody else’s work. Now he may have led the receiver into space to pick up YAC and a 1st down or a TD, but equally he may have thrown an ill-advised pass to a covered screen receiver who beats a defender to the ball, then breaks 3 tackles and gains 50 yards. You want the QB to get something positive for that throw because of what the receiver was able to do?

        The whole point about our grading is we are able to differentiate between those throws and not just repeat raw statistics at people because there are so many factors that go into them you simply can’t show a raw number and make an assertion as to what is happing.

        4 – Those leaders also include Peyton Manning and Phillip Rivers. Cherry picking statistics is meaningless.

        7 – Who is ignoring incompletions?

        If you’re going to criticise the site and what we do, it might be an idea to have a vague idea what exactly that is, rather than just writing us off because of a bunch of things that are completely off base and invalid.

  • rw1251

    Thats rich, that post gets in and my fact-based one didn’t….OK, well anyway, my numbers were Adjusted Yards Per Attempt found on the Advanced NFL Stats website.

    Brady’s 2007 #s can also be found on that site. His YIA per completion were obviously higher, given he was throwing to Moss in his prime, and of the 1493 yards the two connected for, only 293 came after the catch. Meaning he averaged 12.24 YIA per completion to Moss. Obviously, that affects the overall numbers.