Why Aaron Rodgers’ grade was just average versus Chiefs

Ben Stockwell explains why Packers QB Aaron Rodgers' game grade versus Kansas City doesn't measure up to his box-score stats.

| 2 years ago
(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Why Aaron Rodgers’ grade was just average versus Chiefs

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers ended last night’s game with a -0.8 grade overall. This isn’t a bad game, just because the number begins with a minus, but it is an average grade very close to zero for a player who threw five touchdown passes, which seems crazy on the face of it. It’s not.

On the surface, Rodgers’ raw statistics paint the picture of one of the best games of the season. 333 passing yards, five touchdown passes, no interceptions, a 138.5 passer rating; Rodgers’ should be supplanting Carson Palmer in our team of the week as the top quarterback, not earning a grade with a minus in front of it, right?

Well, not if you dig a little deeper into Rodgers’ performance on a play-by-play basis. Looking first at his touchdown passes offers a view on how raw stats inflate the perception of a solid performance. Two of his touchdown passes were good or very good throws. His first touchdown pass on a whip to Ty Montgomery was a good throw leading his receiver away from the coverage for the score, so it earned a positive grade. His third touchdown pass to James Jones was a good throw on a back-shoulder pass yet again taking advantage of a free play, so it earned a positive grade.

The other three touchdowns, however, were passes thrown short of the end zone on speed outs to Randall Cobb. Were they bad throws? No, they were expected throws with the credit going to Cobb for fighting through contact or defeating the coverage with speed to the edge. That makes these zero-graded throws: Three passes that have a massive effect on Rodgers’ statistical performance but do not increase his grade.

However, those touchdown passes aren’t the story of what takes Rodgers’ grade from a grade with a plus in front of it to a grade with a minus in front of it. The story of what takes Rodgers’ grade below zero are two plays that you aren’t likely to see mentioned anywhere else today, but are taken into account of in a play-by-play grading system.

1. Rodgers had a fumble, which displayed poor pocket management, with 8:39 remaining in the second quarter. That play earned a negative grade.

2. With 12:58 remaining in the third quarter, Rodgers forced a pass that Josh Mauga could and possibly should have been returned for six points for Kansas City. If Mauga makes this interception, it would have tacked an ugly interception onto Rodgers’ stat line. Instead, Rodgers maintained his interception-less streak at Lambeau field, but it is a negatively graded play regardless. These are poor plays on Rodgers’ part that bring his game grade down that won’t show up on any widely quoted statistical analysis of his performance.

Context is crucial with everything in football, and if you believe we are saying that Rodgers had a poor game last night because his grade has a minus in front of it, then let me set your mind at ease; I do not think Rodgers played a poor, subpar game last night and neither does anybody else at Pro Football Focus. Rodgers did his job last night, but his job was executing simple throws, putting the ball quickly in the hands of receivers like Randall Cobb in favorable matchups on short throws, and allowing others to do the heavy lifting.

But for a couple of poor plays, his overall grade would have matched the sort of grade that you would be expecting to see from him, but those poor plays, coupled with the relative ease of some of his scores mean his performance last night was far closer to average than it was to the fantastic performance the box score suggests. The context surrounding his grade is crucial.

The greatness of Rodgers’ performance last night was in the intangibles. Recognizing the blitz, drawing the defense offsides, catching the Chiefs in bad situations and exploiting those scenarios with simple passes to open receivers. But you cannot — and we do not try to — quantify intangibles, or what comes pre-snap. Our system grades what can be graded — the execution of the play post-snap — and in that regard Rodgers did not stand out in the same way that his statistics did.

| Director of Analysis

Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.

  • Scott Markus

    Your score of Rodgers and subsequent defense of it is mystifying. You gave Rodgers a ZERO for all three TD throws to Cobb, yet your own FAQ gives “a GOOD SHORT PASS” a 0.5. So Rodgers throwing a short TD pass is the same as him handing off to a running back? I used to look forward to PFF rankings every week, but this score and your misguided defense of it invalidates everything on your site. Won’t be back.

  • wardi

    Ok, so here’s one of the key statements….”…Three passes that have a massive effect on Rodgers’ statistical performance but do not increase his grade…” Says who? The creators of some fictitious “statistical performance”? These “nerds” make stuff up, and then when it comes up with a “negative” rating they don’t question the rating, but accept their own made up process and question the guy that they are supposed to be measuring.

    To sum up with the big news of the last two weeks, these guys are measuring emissions for VW engines. Is that not enough said?

  • Sabyen91

    Every “negative” is totally subjective. What a stupid system.

  • croatpackfan

    OK, I understand your point of view. But can you really convince me that Aaron Rdgers does not have anything with how he plays easy? If we take Peyton Manning in this calculation, we can say that he also won against KC, but how? Or you think that this was more Peyton Manning plays then it was Broncos as team plays? Will you take Carson Palmer “superb” performance against defendless SF over Aaron Rodgers average to bellow average performance against very strong KC. You are joke…

  • Michael Olson

    What a stupid justification. So you are going to take two plays, a fumbled that never counted and an “almost” interception and use that to justify a negative score? You use those but don’t even mention his ability to avoid a safety and then turn it into a chunk of positive yards? How many qbs in this league would have ended that play with a safety? Safe to say a vast majority? You have resorted to using “almost” plays as part of your grading to what? Drive internet clicks? What a shame. By this theory, I guess we need to give Seatle all the credit in the world because they “almost” ended the super bowl with a touchdown. It you start grading “almosts”, good luck. No credibility in your “grading”.

  • sway21

    So, if hypothetically Rodgers were to finish his career with every game henceforth generating PFF numbers like that of the KC game, he’d enter the HoF with a -0.8 rating? I’m generally in agreement with the contention that statistical analysis has a much lower ceiling in football than in baseball, simply for reasons well-illustrated by the author, in such things as grading an offense predicated on receivers more known for yards after catch than being un-coverable. How do you weak a system of statistical analysis for a pass to Cobb predicated upon Cobb being able to beat or elude the tackle of the defender? Seems limited efforts are being made, since interceptable throws are being judged, though even there, where does it end if the DB has hands of stone, never having made an actual interception over the last five years?

  • George

    So one fumble and one almost-pick (which just about every QB has just about every game) erases a 5-TD performance? Ridiculous. Kind of like Marcus Mariota having a negative grade on the season despite 833 passing yards, a 63% completion percentage (that would be higher if not for at least 3-4 drops per game by his receivers), 8 TDs, 2 INTs (in which Delanie Walker caught the ball, was turning to run with it and got hit hard, dropping the ball into a DB’s hands, and wasn’t Mariota’s fault at all), and 2 lost fumbles, a 2:1 TD-to-turnover ratio. By the way, since PFF gives a negative grade for should-have-been picks, does it give positive grades for throws that would have been TDs or large gains had the receiver not dropped the pass? Apparently not.

  • Andrew Dellis

    Apparently, the PFF QB index is actually just the QB Arm index. That’s the only reason you would grade the 3 short TD passes as “zero-grade plays.” The abilities to read the defense correctly, make pre-snap adjustments, & find the right matchup don’t matter. How about the footwork and quick release needed to get the ball out less than a second after the snap with both accuracy and zip? Not important says the PFF team.

    Tom Brady must be terrible.

  • David Wendorf

    Just a ridiculous formula, period. We are the best because we grade every play by every player, although we disregard half of the evaluation criteria, count plays which don’t count toward stats, and don’t count plays that we think every player should make (even knowing full well that they don’t). Why wouldn’t you want to pay to see our analysis? :)

  • Al

    Now I know why your QB ratings are not very good. You introduce complete subjectivity into the equation. You cannot grade a TD throw negatively. Good lord. Glad I didn’t waste my money on this site – I seriously considered it this offseason.

  • Curly Gus

    PFF is a joke…they treat everyone like they should be a machine…..This is my first and last time at this website.

  • Stevo One

    Yep., And Geo. Washington and Abe Lincoln were just sucky presidents. You have a system that a Wall Street quaint could love. Total baloney.