Signature Stats: Play Action & Deep Passing
At PFF we offer a whole host of Quarterback statistics that go beyond the box score. So many, in fact, that I found it hard to choose just one to focus on. So this week I’ll be exploring play action passing and deep passing from the quarterback position. These are just two of the six quarterback Signature Stat categories that also include Time in Pocket, Passing Under Pressure, Accuracy Percentage, and QB Rating.
Play Action Passing
We’ve only been collecting this data for two years, but so far we’ve seen vastly different philosophies and performances from team to team when it comes to using play action. The table below shows some of the differences and why play action is a weapon that some teams underutilize.
|w/ PA||w/o PA|
These comparisons make it pretty clear that play action leads to better performance on average. The dramatic difference though is quite surprising. A difference of 1.8 yards per attempt over every pass thrown this season is enormous, especially considering completion percentage and interception rates stay about the same. Only nine out of 39 qualifying quarterbacks (125 drop-back minimum) have their ratings drop when using play action.
It’s often said that you need to have a successful running game to be effective with play action. This isn’t always true, as we’ll see later, but coaches sure seem to believe it. Seven of the Top 10 quarterbacks have running games that are above the league average in YPC while no team in the Bottom 10 is above the league average.
Top 10 play action usage:
|5||Robert Griffin III||WAS||29.9|
Bottom 10 play action usage:
Play Action QB Rating
Here we see that an effective running game isn’t always necessary to flourish with play action. Tony Romo, Ryan Tannehill and Philip Rivers all have made a killing with run action despite having below average running games. It’s uncertain whether they’d be having the same success if they used play action more often, but the league-wide averages suggest it never hurts to have more play action.
Top 10 QB Rating with play action:
|#||Name||Team||NFL QB Rating|
If you saw our 2012 play action numbers, one name in the bottom 10 should be jumping off the screen. Robert Griffin III was the play action king his rookie season. The Redskins’ quarterback showed a run fake on an NFL high 39.9% of his drop-backs and averaged 11.8 yards per attempt with a quarterback rating of 116.2. His numbers this year are a shadow of his rookie season’s as his yards per attempt figure has dropped by 4.8 and his quarterback rating by 41.5.
Bottom 10 QB Rating with play action:
|#||Name||Team||NFL QB Rating|
|33||Robert Griffin III||WAS||74.7|
We set the baseline at targets aimed at least 20 yards downfield when defining a deep pass attempt. At this distance you’ll almost exclusively see vertical routes (posts, corners, go’s, etc.). Hitches, ins, and outs make up just 8% of the targets 20 yards down the field while variations of the go route make up 51%.
One doesn’t need to see these stats to understand that deep targets are more volatile, but the numbers do a good job of showing the extent. Interception rates and touchdown rates triple while yards per attempt doubles and completion percentage is nearly chopped in half. Surprisingly though with all those variations, quarterback rating is almost unchanged.
While success with deep passes fluctuates wildly, the rate at which quarterbacks throw them are much less deviated than even play action. The lowest rate in the league is a mere 11.2 percentage points behind the highest compared to a difference of 24.1 for play action. Assuming 35 attempts a game, that difference translates to about four throws a game and 63 for a season.
Top 10 Deep Passing attempt percentages:
Bottom 10 Deep Passing attempt percentages:
|37||Alex D. Smith||KC||7.7|
Deep Passing Accuracy Percentage
If there has been one aspect of Russell Wilson’s game that stands out above all over his brief NFL career, it’s his deep ball. No one can match the frequency and precision that Wilson has shown on targets over 20 yards the past two seasons. For Wilson’s career he has gone deep on 15.6% of his passes, been accurate on 48.6% of those, and averaged 16.5 yards per attempt.
Top 10 Deep Passing Accuracy Percentages:
|5||Alex D. Smith||KC||34||12||52.9|
Bottom 10 Deep Passing Accuracy Percentages:
|34||Robert Griffin III||WAS||44||11||29.5|
Maybe Jake Locker should reign in the deep balls a little next season. He’s attempting them at the second highest rate yet he’s accurate on by far the fewest. He’s amazingly almost 40 percentage points behind the leaders in terms of accuracy. That number could very well just be an aberration though as he was accurate on 40.8% in 2012.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @PFF_MikeRenner