The Future of NFL Stats is ‘In The Air’

NFL Quarterbacks are the most admired, scrutinized, high-profile athletes in sport. Controlling games, calling plays, dating supermodels and chucking the pigskin downfield on Sundays. Whilst I respect their roles and talents, I think it’s time we look into the stats and see just how much they are to credit/blame for a team’s success.

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Image courtesy of LA Times

Whilst there are dozens of stats developed to rate QBs, most recently QBR, many of them are based, or place heavily reliance, on the passing yards they gain throughout a game.

To clarify passing yards, if a QB gets rushed and dumps a pass off 5 yards forward to a receiver, the receiver then runs 80 yards to the endzone, the QB has effectively thrown an 85-yard touchdown pass. The receiver also gets credited with 85 receiving yards.  My point is: at what point are we giving QBs too much credit for the excessive yards they appear to gain?

Before you start shouting and kissing your Tony Romo/Tom Brady shirts, let me point out some obvious talking points.

I understand that a QBs job is not simply to complete a pass, but place the ball where only his receiver can catch it, and most of the time, where they can run into space and gain yards. A good QB leads his receiver to the space, a bad QB may complete passes, but limits additional gains.

Where am I going with all this? Valid question.

Whilst I am sure it exists already, I would like to see more emphasis placed on ITA yards (In The Air). Just because Peyton Manning threw for 350 yards and 3 TDs doesn’t automatically mean that he is the reason for his team’s success. What if his ITA yards were a mere 94 yards? And his receivers (TEs and RBs) gained him and the team an additional 256 yards after-the-catch.

Perhaps Peyton lead them into space and his accuracy enabled additional yards. Or perhaps he avoided the deep throws concerned about taking hits and too-often dropped the ball off to a nearby receiver.

Teams could use the ITA stat to decide whether they are ‘airing it out’ enough, and whether they pass plays are balanced enough. Alternatively, if the ITA yards are accounting for the large majority of a team’s passing yards, perhaps the receivers are not doing enough after the catch, or the passes are limiting additional yards. Similarly, defenses could build and gameplan their secondary based on the ITA trends of the team(s) they are facing.

Here’s a comparison of the two Superbowl QBs and how they rack up (in the postseason) using ITA yards.

Colin Kaepernick (49ers) 496 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 105.9 Passer Rating
299 yards ITA (In The Air) 60% ITA yards

Joe Flacco (Ravens) 853 yards, 8 TDs, 0 INT, 114.7 Passer Rating
663 yards ITA (In The Air) 78% ITA yards

*This is merely a passing stat, and of course does not bring into play the running ability of a QB which is clearly becoming more and more prevalent with Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, RGIII and Cam Newton in the league. 

So what do you think? Does this have weight? Would it be interesting? Or is it another example of stat-overkill. Comment and let me know what you think.

In the meantime, this whole blog was written with this song in my head, so enjoy:


Shame on you if you didn’t join in the drum solo. Shame on you.

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About jamieonsport

My name is Jamie and I have been addicted to sports since I was 6. As a method of self-prescribed medication for the illness, I thought it would be good to detail my thoughts on the sporting world. So welcome to the workings of my inner-monologue. Join in, ignore, share, laugh, cry, be offended, be inspired, take my ranting however you will, but thanks for checking in.
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