The following, culled from nfl.com, analyzes Kyle Orton's and Jay Cutler's stats for passes 1-10, 11-20, 21-30, and 31+ in a game, and their performance during the first, second, third and fourth quarters. The desirability of such a comparison occurred to me while I was reviewing Orton's stats and discovered that he appears to be extraordinarily effective early on and then tails off. I wondered why that was so and also how it differed from Cutler's pattern. First, the stats themselves. For each line I list the completion percent, yards per attempt, TD-INT ratio, first down percent and quarterback rating.
Comp% Y/A TD-INT 1st Down% Rating
1-10 65.3 7.3 7-1 34.7 99.8
11-20 57.6 5.8 3-3 27.8 72.7
21-30 52.1 6.2 6-8 28.1 60.2
31+ 56.0 5.7 2-0 30.6 86.0
1-10 64.4 8.0 8-6 40.6 90.3
11-20 66.2 8.0 5-4 38.1 90.6
21-30 59.2 6.8 4-3 30.6 80.3
31+ 59.1 6.4 8-5 34.2 82.0
1st quarter 70.5 8.2 6-0 38.9 116.1
2nd 56.3 5.8 5-3 27.5 76.2
3rd 52.7 5.8 5-5 24.5 66.5
4th 57.1 6.0 2-4 31.2 65.7
1st quarter 65.7 7.4 7-5 39.9 89.4
2nd 62.3 7.6 5-4 34.9 85.5
3rd 61.9 7.2 2-5 34.4 74.9
4th 59.9 7.3 11-4 35.3 94.2
Notice that Orton has a QB rating of 116.1 for the first quarter, 76.2 for the second quarter, then 66.5 and 65.7 for the third and fourth quarters. The 116.1 is the number that jumped out at me and ultimately led to this mini-project. It was totally unexpected. Why was he so brilliant so early and so ordinary thereafter? Further, notice that his rating for the first 10 passes is lower, meaning he was especially effective the first 6 or 7 passes (because on average he'd have thrown fewer than 10 passes per quarter). I included Cutler to see how his pattern differed. We know his overall numbers, except for red zone and last two minutes, are much better, and we've already, in numerous threads, speculated about the extent to which having a better line, receivers and coaching, and a more pass-friendly offense, was a factor. What I'm interested in here is how and why their numbers changed over the course of a typical game.
On the face of it, especially in the breakdown by quarters, Orton tended to start strong and finish weak, with a drastic drop-off between the first and second quarters and a much smaller but still noticeable dip between the second and third. Cutler, in contrast, was solid in the first half, had a noticeable dip in the third quarter, then bounced back for a strong fourth-quarter finish. Was he better in crunchtime or was he playing catch-up against a prevent defense with the Broncos trailing by one or more TDs? Did Orton start strong when playing for the lead and then play defensively and less effectively trying to protect that lead? Was the coach's offensive play-calling, when the Bears were ahead, a factor in Orton's performance?
One reason I included both sets of stats, even though they cover much of the same ground, is that the analysis by passes rather than quarters reveals an interesting subpattern, namely that Orten tended to drop off after the first 10 passes, Cutler after the first 20. Did Orton tire sooner than Cutler? We've talked about arm strength but not arm endurance, how much a QB's passing performance falls off due to fatigue over the course of a game. It could be argued that Cutler has so much excess strength that even when fatigued he throws a powerful ball when lesser QBs are reduced to wounded ducks. But it's also possible that in addition to QB fatigue and coaching strategy, receiver performance over the course of the game is a factor. How well-conditioned and disciplined were the Bears' receivers? Did their performance deteriorate as the game went on?
I haven't offered as many answers as I usually do in an article. Instead, I've highlighted an interesting anomaly and offered a sketchy preliminary analysis in hopes that others might join in and offer their own thoughts about the cause and significance of these differences. Thanks to all who take the time to read and ponder this.