Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Not Everyone Was A Fan Of Aaron Rodgers' Dismantling Of The Chiefs

I love Pro Football Focus because each week (and season) it assigns a grade to each player, and this is especially helpful for players like offensive lineman who rarely generate any traditional stats at all. PFF assigns one point for a good play and one negative point for a bad play. The only problem is that it's subjective; a person assigns the grade and different people focus on different things.

It's like with scouting, where some teams see QB Aaron Rodgers as worthy of a 1st round pick and 22 other teams (the Vikings twice!) decide he's not the best available player on their 2005 draft board. Different scouts have different opinions. I'll look at other stats when they're available for players, such as ESPN's QBR and Football Outsiders, and add additional facts to PFF's grades, such as I did last week about how the huge negative grade PFF assigned to David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay against the Seahawks wasn't the whole story.

So PFF got a lot of flack (deservedly) this week for assigning a negative grade to Rodgers after he threw for 5 touchdowns and no turnovers. Their defense of this grade has generated over 700 comments. For some comparison, they gave a positive grade to QB Nick Foles as he led the Rams to 6 points, no touchdowns, and the loss at home against a weak Steelers defense.
So how did Rodgers earn a negative grade?

Of his five touchdown passes, only two of them earned him a positive grade. The other three were "expected throws" to WR Randall Cobb and Cobb earned the positive grade (not Rodgers) for "fighting through contact or defeating the coverage with speed to the edge."

He earned negative grades for two turnovers that didn't happen. One of them, a dropped INT by LB Josh Mauga, was a real negative for Rodgers. He either didn't see him standing there or threw an ill advised pass. The other was a fumble in the second quarter when he stood in the pocket too long, but it was overturned by a penalty on CB Marcus Cooper. Rodgers picked on Cooper the entire game, and when he fumbled the ball, Rodgers was looking into the corner of the end zone where Cooper was defending. The flag was for illegal contact, and while sometimes those flags are called for a quick jab after 5 yards, on that particular play, Cooper was riding the receiver out of the back of the end zone. Somehow, PFF didn't appear to give Cooper a negative grade for that terrible penalty. The only reason it wasn't pass interference was that he didn't actually throw the ball. He held the ball too long because his intended receiver was being ran right off the field.

So two positive touchdown grades, and two negative turnover grades, and something else slightly bad, pushed him down to a negative 0.8 grade. That would be OK so long as you ignore everything else that was going on:
Rodgers is like an offensive coordinator standing on the field. He's watching everything, reading defenses, and picking them apart, like he did to the Chiefs on Monday. How about a positive grade for every time he adjusted the pass blocking? Or every time he saw single coverage while he was lined up before the snap and threw the receiver open? Or whenever he saw CB Tyvon Branch was "covering" someone and threw the ball to that receiver? Did he get any points for his two hard counts, when he drew off-side penalties and threw a long pass/touchdown while the defense was standing around? He made a 100 little decisions that made it look easy to throw 5 touchdown passes against the Chiefs, but he appeared to have received no points for it.

Many NFL QBs (such as Nick Foles) didn't manage a single TD pass last week, but Foles didn't receive any negative grades for the passes he couldn't even attempt because he couldn't move his team's offense into scoring position. It's a flawed scoring system that considers any NFL touchdown an "expected throw" because it's never that easy. Quarterbacks are so important to any offense that they always deserve some of the credit for their team's success.

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