Many people have said that Andrew Luck's traditional stats are lacking. They are.
How do we reconcile that? How has Luck been so special if his traditional stats simply aren't that good? Well, as much smarter people have said before me, this is a case in which the traditional stats are not telling the story accurately. The vertical offense, the lack of talent around him, and the sheer magnitude of the responsibility he bears cannot be told through traditional stats, nor advanced metrics. He truly is a player that must be seen to be understood.
But not every stat paints Luck as a bottom ten quarterback in the NFL. In fact, some of the very important, telling stats tell us the exact opposite.
One such statistic that is not widely available is 3rd down conversion percentage. When a quarterback absolutely needs to get yards to keep a drive moving, can he get them? Well, from what I've seen from Andrew Luck, I'd say he's pretty darn good on third down. So I used Pro-Football-Reference's handy-dandy game-play finder, threw out any spikes or kneel-downs, and ran the numbers for every starting quarterback in the league.
The results surprised even me.
First, let's look at the simple numbers: Quarterbacks passing on third/fourth downs. (click to enlarge)
Some notables here:
- Obviously, Andrew Luck at 7th in the league is pretty remarkable for a rookie quarterback. Look at the other rookie quarterbacks: Wilson- 15th, Foles- 23, RG3- 25, Weeden- 28, Tannehill- 31. ALL of the rest of the top 10 are seasoned veterans.
- Tom Brady converting more than 50% of his third downs is pretty remarkable. As a Colts fan, it pains me to say it, but that's ridiculous.
- Oh hi Peyton, it's nice to have you back in football.
- One reason why the Packers have struggled: Aaron Rodgers was exactly 50% on third downs last season, this season he's dropped a little.
- Jay Cutler doesn't look bad at 14th, just over 40%. But he doesn't look great either. Of course, when you take into account that Jason Campbell is 2-20 on third downs this year, you understand why Chicago is relieved to have Cutler back in the lineup.
- Jacksonville quarterbacks are bad and should feel bad.
- People thought Joe Flacco was going to "take the next step" this season. He hasn't. He's in the company of Mark Sanchez, Kevin Kolb, and Brandon Weeden.
- So far, Colin Kaepernick has been a little bit better than Alex Smith on 3rd down. Not a ton, but enough to matter.
- Michael Vick actually was converting 3rd downs at a decent rate. If only he could have stopped embracing defenders in the backfield and throwing the ball to their teammates.
- Spikes are excluded in this data. So far this season, there have only been three spikes on third or fourth down, which makes sense. Luck had one (against Buffalo), as well as Roethlisberger and Palmer.
Now, this doesn't take into account runs/scrambles. So, for mobile quarterbacks, that's a big part of their game that we're missing. We're missing the ELECTRIC factor! So, here is how adding rushes and scrambles to the totals changes things:
- I highlighted the top six running quarterbacks on third down. The ones in green benefited heavily from the addition of runs, the ones in red did not. Luck was the most efficient with his runs (82%), then Newton (61%), Wilson (55%), Griffin (50%), Freeman (46%), and finally Vick (41%).
- Aaron Rodgers also moves up quite a bit with the running, although he still is about 5% short of last seasons' mark.
- The least efficient runners on third down, with at least five carries? Fitzpatrick (29%), Sanchez (33%), Ponder (38%), and Kaepernick (40%).
- These numbers do not include kneeldowns, in case you were wondering. Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler are the only quarterbacks with three, the rest have two or less.
Now, this is all fine and dandy, but what I'm really interested in is how quarterbacks fare when passing on long 3rd downs, which is generally defined as eight yards to go or more. So, for that, I go back to the handy-dandy PFR game play finder.
This is where things start to get interesting.
- Andrew Luck is beyond anything we've ever seen as a rookie. Scott Kacsmar pretty much said this yesterday, and now I'm saying it (solely relying on Scott's wonderfully brilliant historical/statistical knowledge). There is no reason why he should be second in the league. And it's not just because he's built like Big Ben. Roethlisberger (who is now known for his ability to make big plays on third down) was just 9 of 51 on long third downs during his rookie year.
- That being said, the big bodied, athletic quarterbacks like Roethlisberger and Luck succeed partially because their body type allows them to create things. Against Detroit, there were two separate plays where Luck literally just bounced off of defensive tackles. It was great.
- Peyton Manning used to be the king of this stat. I did a little bit of research into this last season, and it was clear that Manning was the unquestioned king of long third downs, among active quarterbacks (Roethlisberger was second, I believe). 2010 was one of his worst years in a long time, and even then he was 36%, which would be third in the league this year.
- That being said, he's clearly struggling there this season. We all think that his arm must be fine, since he's playing fantastically. But, there's no question that he's older, and not as strong in that arm. I think that shows here.
- Kaepernick may have Smith beat in 3rd downs overall, but Smith crushes him on long third downs. Interesting conundrum for the 49ers.
- This is why Henne brings something to the table for Jacksonville. His 26% vs Gabbert's 16% is very significant.
- Robert Griffin III is downright awful on long third downs. Terribly, horribly, putridly awful. Just 5 conversions all year. To put this in perspective, Blaine Gabbert more than doubled Griffin's conversion rate during his rookie year (22%). To put this into even more perspective, Curtis Painter's rate from 2011 triples Griffin's 2012 rate. Here are a few more things that are better than RG3 on long third downs: oatmeal raisin cookies, The Phantom Menace, this guy, any movie with Shaq in it, and public buses.
Again, before any Washington fans get hissy, I did do a chart that includes rushes, and yes, it helps RG3.
Yeah, it helps RG3 move all the way up to 2nd worst! Seriously though, Griffin's numbers on third and long are fascinatingly bad, and if it wasn't for the rushes, they'd be historically bad.
- Andrew Luck is an alien. I don't think he belongs with the rest of us on earth. We knew that he was really special for a rookie, but this goes beyond that. Leading the league in long third downs as a rookie? Unreal. One of the most incredible things about Luck is how intelligent he is. He doesn't scramble unless he thinks he can get it. He's converted four out of five long third downs with his legs, the best ratio for quarterbacks with multiple attempts on the ground. Meanwhile, Griffin is six of fifteen, Freeman is one of six, and Vick is one of eight.
- Locker is up there by virtue of not having many attempts, and then having a very good run ratio (tied Luck with 4 of 5). If you just look at his pass numbers, he's 22nd, which makes more sense.
- Fitzpatrick is a little surprising, as is Cassel, but there rest isn't all that different than we would expect.
- Luck not only leads the league, but is the only rookie inside the top 15: Foles-18, Wilson- 22, Kaepernick- 31, Weeden- 34, Tannehill- 35, and RG3- 37.
Look, 3rd downs and long 3rd downs are not the only part of quarterbacking. Afterall, the quarterback is often a part of the reason why the team is in a long third down in the first place. Nevertheless, teams WILL get in those scenarios occasionally, and it's important for a team to be able to trust their quarterback, even in situations when the defense knows what's coming.
When it comes to the Colts, opposing defenses know what's going to happen. The ball is going to be in Andrew Luck's hands.
The only question is: Can you stop him?
So far, the answer has been no.
Kyle, this took a lot of work and it shows. Nicely researched and great presentation. It doesn't hurt that it's good news, too ;-)
We can all agree that traditional stats fail to give a correct picture of Luck's season, and it's certainly a good idea to try to find stats that give a more accurate assement. However, I don't think this data is better than the traditional stats. Any data that puts Ryan FitzPatrick 20 positions ahead of Peyton Manning is flawed. If I'm facing a 3 and long, I would rather have Peyton Manning in my team than Christian Ponder, Nick Foles or Matt Cassel. If Peyton is unavailable I'd rather have Aaron Rodgers or Matt Schaub, than any of those guys. I don't see why this data would indicate that Peyton is losing his arm strength or simply getting old, as he is having a great season on first and second downs. I think it's simply a case of data mining with too small a sample.
Nice article! It really does beg for a follow-up article looking at why Luck's overall 3rd down conversion success rate isn't as good relative to other QBs as his 3rd and long rate. Either he's worse than normal at easier 3rd down conversions or a higher percentage of the 3rd downs he's faced have been 3rd and long than for other QBs.
@yadda1 From what I have already seen of that data, it's a little bit of two things: A. He has faced a pretty high percentage of long third downs. B. His rate for "regular" third downs isn't worse than average, it's just not as good as his long 3rd/4th downs, which is ridiculously good. Right now, Luck has the highest career conversion rate since 2000 on long third downs.
@Kyle Rodriguez Thanks. If his "regular" 3rd downs is average, not below average, then that bodes well. Presumably it is a combination of the low completion percentage and pass attempts that are further downfield that lead to more long 3rd/4th downs.
Just wanted to say really great article! I'm a 49ers fan (and a closet Luck fan), and really appreciated the work that went into this.
Great Work! It really clarifies the value of Luck. 3rd and long is most QB's nightmare and we are getting it almost half the time. That is huge. It also helps explain how Luck is able to go on long game tying drives. Just think of how dangerous he will be when he gets even better at reading coverage and our offense evolves to make better use of our TEs.
One quibble. I wonder how much of Luck's success on third and long has to do with BA vertical offense. Thinking of our last game on third down every receiver was at or past the first down marker. As many of us have complained about there was no safe check down. This means if Luck got a completion he got a first down. Obviously Luck still has the incredibly difficult job of completing the pass, but it seems this all or nothing approach might actually help his stats since it pretty much removes the possibility for a completion that does not go for a first down. It would also help his running on third down since it would move everyone except for the rushers beyond the first down.
Great article. Well researched and presented. I appreciate the full league context given here. And as a Colts fan, I'm happier with Luck than RGIII. Be careful with the twitter hash #ThingsBetterThanRG3on3rdandLong – threatens to make it look like you have a bash-RG3 agenda vs. a look-how-good-Luck-is agenda.
A lot of folks may miss the context on twitter, and since CA didn't bring over the "it isn't homerism if you're right" tag from 18to88, it may undermine your credibility.
For the record though: Luck's neckbeard #ThingsBetterThanRG3on3rdandLong
@matt_has That neckbeard is pretty impressive, though.
@bradicus18 @matt_has If I had to pick between the neck beard and the Donna-Summer-hot-pink-compression-sleeve, I'd uh, definitely look for Option #3. Maybe an Aaron Rodgers porn stache. At least Luck admits the neard isn't atractive--it'just lazy.In a few years he may look like vintage Fouts, or, God forbit, Brett Kiesel.
Great read, Kyle! I think part of the reason the Colts end up in 3rd and long so often is the lack of a Marshawn Lynch/Wilson or Alfred Morris/RG3 rushing attack. Luck scrambles only when he has to and the running game is just not there. It's nice to see just how good this kid is and will be even without much run support.
I did read Scott's wonderful piece as well. I managed to read about six of the RG3/Wilson fans' comments at the end and I was done.
BUT RG3 IS REVOLUTIONISING THE POSITION, HE HAS MAGIC FUMBLING AND HE'S SO FAST, HE MUST BE THE BEST ROOKIE QB AROUND!!!!!!!
Really nice work, Kyle.
(I tried to think of a pithy remark, but a piece this good doesn't need it.)
Nice write up, one thing I also took away from this is that we are not a good 1st and 2nd down team, I believe that Luck has the highest amount of 3rd down and long attempts as well, hopefully in the future that will not be the case.
This is simply brilliant!
Other things better than RGIII on third and long:
-Rex Ryan handling a QB controversy
-Bill Belichick at washing his clothes
-The GOP at running for president
@mattshedd What would have Rex Ryan do? Start Tebow? Be completely honest in his pressers and be like "Sanchez is bad, but our other QBs are worse."?
@Heracleitus He has handled this poorly from the beginning. He knew that fans (read: espn) would create a controversy between Tebow and Sanchez, but rather than take a hard line for Sanchez, he chose to say that Sanchez would start but they would give snaps to Tebow. Rather than move Tebow down the depth chart, he continues to wait until Wednesday each week to assure people that Sanchez is his guy. Shoot, he could've moved Tebow to H-Back and had him on the field working with Sanchez instead of creating competition.
Further, Sanchez took a major step backwards this season, which could be attributed to him pushing to make plays to outperform Tebow.
Finally, why has he not adjusted his scheme to maximize one QB or the other?
@mattshedd I agree that the JETS have handled the thing poorly, but it's hard to tell, given the way franchises are run, how much that has to do with Ryan.
Who knows if Ryan even wanted Tebow or if Woody Johnson brought him in as a publicity stunt to keep butts in seats. If it's the latter, Ryan might not be allowed to move Tebow to H-back as it would end the ridiculous controversy (and media attention) the issue is getting.
And if you're going to blame Ryan for allowing Tebow to pressure Sanchez into poorer play, then Jim Harbaugh deserves the same blame for claiming (and proving) that the 49ers QB position was an open competition. However, Alex Smith didn't regress under the same pressure.
The Jets are a mess and it's highly likely that Ryan deserves part of the blame for that, but I'm not sure how much of the blame is on him and how much should be attributed to the FO/owner,