Studying the Quarterback Position

Opening Statement

When measuring the quarterback position compared to any other position in football, or in all of sports, the standards and expectations are unique.

Quarterbacks not only touch the ball on every snap (yes, the center does, too), but they also have the potential to have the greatest impact.

While passing is the single most important element of being a good quarterback, there is so much more about succeeding in the NFL as a quarterback than being capable of throwing from point A to point B.

Here is a list of tasks, some simple, that quarterbacks must perform in a matter of 40 seconds (play clock):

Before the snap

  1. Know the situation - down, distance, time left, timeouts, score
  2. Communicate the play to the rest of the offense
  3. Ensure the offense lines up correctly
  4. Read the defense and interpret their intentions as well as a possible weakness
  5. Change the play if a better one can exploit a weakness perceived in the defense
  6. Identify the possible blitzing defenders, continue to communicate with the receivers and backs
  7. Use motion or proper snap count to manipulate the defense

*There are certainly others - these are just some of the most common actions performed before the play.
First 1-3 Seconds of the play

  1. Control the snap from the center, whether the QB is under center or in shotgun
  2. Use proper footwork and hand fakes to get into the proper throwing motion or to hand off the ball
  3. Make the first 2 reads for receivers if a pass, make a hand-off to the running back if a run
  4. If the play is a pass and one of the first 2 receivers are "open", set your feet and drive the ball with a quick-fluid motion and deliver a pass that is away from the defenders and in a position the receiver can catch the ball and run
  5. If an extra defender is near the desired target, use play-fakes and look elsewhere to move the safety and get corners to "bite"
  6. If a defender creates pocket pressure, move throughout the pocket to find open space to avoid a sack
  7. Meanwhile, maintain eyes down field and use proper footwork to get into a position to make an accurate throw

The Remainder of the Play

  1. After avoiding the rush, make the throw to the first or second "read"
  2. If the first two are not available, continue through the progressions
  3. If one of the receivers is open, use the proper fundamentals in a throw to deliver a pass
  4. Otherwise, look to scramble, extend the play, or throw out of bounds to avoid a negative play

Repeat the Process.

While this is not what happens on every play, most of these things do happen on each play and the quarterback is required to process a lot of information in a short period of time. Quarterbacks that can execute these tasks effectively and smoothly tend to have more production that those that struggle with the nuances of being a quarterback.

So how do we measure which quarterbacks perform these tasks better than others?
The best way is to study the film, but that requires the viewer to know the play drawn up for the offense, the play's purpose, the blocking scheme, the tendencies of the receivers, the communication between the quarterback and the offense as well as the proper fundamentals of throwing a football.

The casual fan may not always know why a mistake occurs. Whether a missed route, a timing issue, an over-throw, a missed block, a tip or any other issue, errors are not solely on the quarterback. Sometimes errors or poor performances are covered up by superior performances by the other teammates.

In order to accurately measure a quarterback in what he can control and his impact on the offense, an observer must remain objective and pay attention to all the small details.

While some are trained and can do this much more effectively than others, it is not as simple as just watching like a movie and then noting the first impression.

This process also requires an individual to watch every snap for a quarterback in a season if he truly wants to gauge how well he played for the season.

Unless its Peyton Manning this season, I do not know how many Broncos fans are willing to do this for Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, RG3, Cam Newton, Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, Matt Cassel, Tarvaris Jackson, Matt Stafford, Matt Schaub, Mark Sanchez, Alex Smith, Joe Flacco....

Unless you are watching your favorite team, you probably will miss most of the plays by every quarterback in the NFL. Highlights do not count, because they are highlights and not every play. Whether good or bad, the media hypes players in one way or another. Some are just ignored because of their team's market.

A Solution

Notice I said "a solution" and not "the solution". Every fan processes information, speech and images differently. Every fan looks at the game of football from a unique lense, or perspective. This solution is designed to be used by each fan according their personal preferences if they want to learn more about a specific player or team.
The Basics

  1. Watch as many games as possible. If you have to watch the highlights, also read as many different takes on the game as possible to get an idea of what happened. As you watch more film, patterns will arise and you will start to notice them.
  2. Keep a mental note of key plays, whether positive or negative.
  3. Ignore as much of the media as you can. Remember, the media is a business and they are actually very good at what they do. Their goal is mainly to bring in as many viewers and get as many comments on articles as possible.
  4. Use the right statistics when and if they are appropriate. This means you need to know which statistics have the highest correlation to success and are important when measuring players and teams. Statistics never lie - most people use them incorrectly by assigning too much value or too little value to them. These numbers are simply data that provide quick and accurate summaries of what happened. Just because QB A completed 65 percent of his passes while QB B completed 62 percent of his passes, it doesn't mean QB A is more "accurate" than QB B. If QB A completes a higher percentage for the season, then he still only completed a higher percentage. When a quarterback completes a higher percentage than another over time in multiple seasons, that is when he can be regarded as a more accurate quarterback.

Researching the Value of Statistics

The example in number four above is just one of many ways fans and media personnel label quarterbacks prematurely or without merit. Over the next couple of weeks, I thought I'd look into the numbers and try to show what they actually mean.

How important are passing yards? Is yards per attempt better? How about accuracy? What impact do touchdowns and turnovers have on quarterback success?

There are many questions when attempting to make sense of all the numbers that are most commonly used to measure a quarterback's performance for a single game, a season and his career.

In this study, I will discuss my findings with regards to yards. More specifically, this research will try to show how important throwing for 300 or more yards in a game is compared to 200-299 yards and then less than 200 yards in a single game.

Further down is a chart of current quarterbacks and their record when throwing for over 300 yards, between 200 and 299 yards and then under 200 yards. I separated them by the number of 300+ games they have had in their careers and then sorted by winning percentage when they achieved that mark. The first group has had more than 10, the second group as had between 6-10, and the rest have had 5 games or less.

Here are some quick statistics of what I found of what will be displayed in the charts. These numbers are from the regular season, only.

  • The 37 quarterbacks used in the study totaled 537 games for their entire careers with at least 300 yards passing. Quarterbacks have a winning percentage of 0.588 in these games.
  • These same quarterbacks totaled 1150 games with total passing yards between 200-299. Quarterbacks have a winning percentage of 0.586 in these games.
  • These same quarterbacks totaled 932 games with total passing yards less than 200. Quarterbacks have a winning percentage of 0.534.
  • Only 6 players have at least 30 300+ passing games (Tom Brady, Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Kerry Collins). These six players (16.2 percent) have combined for 258 of the 537 300+ games (48.0 percent).
  • Only 12 players have won at least 10 games when throwing for more than 300 yards.
  • 16 of the 37 players have won more games than they have lost when throwing for at least 300 yards.
  • 9 of the 37 players have won at least 68 percent of their games when throwing for at least 300 yards. That number is only 7 if you take out Tim Tebow and Matt Moore, who are only 1-0 in their only 300 yard games.
  • Excluding Tebow and Moore, only 3 have won at least 75 percent of their games when throwing for at least 300 yards.

The Veterans

Player W 300+ L 300+ Perc. W 200-299 L 200-299 Perc. W <200 L <200 Perc.
1 Tom Brady (NE) 39 6 0.87 56 16 0.78 26 14 0.65
2 Donovan McNabb (MIN) 24 7 0.77 49 30 0.62 23 26 0.47
3 Drew Brees (NO) 42 15 0.74 29 28 0.51 20 17 0.54
4 Aaron Rodgers (GB) 15 7 0.68 18 12 0.60 8 2 0.80
5 Tony Romo (DAL) 21 10 0.68 21 14 0.60 6 5 0.55
6 Philip Rivers (SD) 16 10 0.62 31 14 0.69 17 9 0.65
7 Peyton Manning (DEN) 38 25 0.60 80 27 0.75 21 11 0.66
8 Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) 12 8 0.60 37 15 0.71 30 11 0.73
9 Matt Hasselbeck (TEN) 13 9 0.59 40 28 0.59 26 29 0.47
10 Eli Manning (NYG) 11 11 0.50 28 22 0.56 30 17 0.64
11 Jay Cutler (CHI) 7 9 0.44 25 14 0.64 9 12 0.43
12 Matt Schaub (HOU) 10 13 0.43 17 12 0.59 5 5 0.50
13 Kerry Collins (IND) 13 18 0.42 35 45 0.44 36 36 0.50
14 Kyle Orton (DEN) 4 7 0.36 10 11 0.48 20 16 0.56
15 Carson Palmer (OAK) 6 15 0.29 27 27 0.50 17 14 0.55


  • Only 3 quarterbacks have a winning percentage of at least 70 percent. Even though Rodgers and Peyton Manning have HOF talent, they haven't won as much as one would expect when throwing over 300 yards.
  • Only 4 QBs (Brady, McNabb, Romo, Hasselbeck) improve in winning percentage as their yards increase from less than 200 yards to 200-299 yards and then 300+ yards.
  • 5 QBs (Palmer, Orton, Collins, Eli Manning, Roethlisberger) improve in winning percentage as their yards decrease.
  • 10 of the 15 QBs have a higher winning percentage in one of the other categories besides the 300+ passing yards.
  • Romo has the highest percentage of 300 yard games in his career at 40.3 percent. Brees (2nd - 37.7), Schaub (3rd - 37.1), Rodgers (4th - 35.5) and Manning (5th - 31.2) round out the top 5.
  • As a group, the veterans have a winning percentage of 0.615 when they throw for 300+ yards, 0.615 when they throw for 200-299 yards, and 0.568 when they throw for less than 200 yards.

The Potential Rising Stars

Player W 300+ L 300+ Perc. W 200-299 L 200-299 Perc. W <200 L <200 Perc.
1 Joe Flacco (BAL) 7 1 0.88 17 8 0.68 20 11 0.65
2 Matthew Stafford (DET) 6 3 0.67 7 8 0.47 0 5 0.00
3 Matt Ryan (ATL) 5 5 0.50 23 8 0.74 13 6 0.68
4 Michael Vick (PHI) 4 4 0.50 20 10 0.67 29 25 0.54
5 Matt Cassel (KC) 3 3 0.50 13 9 0.59 12 13 0.48
6 Jason Campbell (OAK) 3 7 0.30 11 15 0.42 17 17 0.50
7 Chad Henne (MIA) 2 5 0.29 5 7 0.42 6 7 0.46


  • Joe Flacco is the only quarterback with a winning percentage of at least 70 percent when throwing for 300+ yards.
  • Only 2 (Flacco, Stafford) are the only QBs to improve in each category in winning percentage as their yards increase.
  • 2 QBs (Campbell, Henne) improve in each category as they throw less.
  • 5 of the 7 QBs have a higher winning percentage in a category other than throwing for 300+ yards.
  • Of the 15 "veterans" in the first chart, Matt Hasselbeck has the lowest percentage of 300+ games at 15.2 percent. 3 of the 7 (Stafford, Henne, Ryan) have a higher percentage of 300+ games than the lowest of the veterans.
  • As a group, these quarterbacks have a winning percentage of 0.517 when they throw for 300+ yards, 0.596 when they throw for 200-299 yards, and 0.536 when they throw for less than 200 yards.

The Young QBs *Note: While not all of these QBs have 3 years of experience or less, their totals are as few as many quarterbacks that have just entered the NFL.

Player W 300+ L 300+ Perc. W 200-299 L 200-299 Perc. W <200 L <200 Perc.
1 Matt Moore (MIA) 1 0 1.00 4 3 0.57 6 8 0.43
2 Tim Tebow (NYJ) 1 0 1.00 2 1 0.67 5 5 0.50
3 Kevin Kolb (ARI) 3 1 0.75 2 7 0.22 0 3 0.00
4 Mark Sanchez (NYJ) 3 2 0.60 6 9 0.40 17 9 0.65
5 Rex GrossMan (WAS) 3 2 0.60 9 12 0.43 16 6 0.73
6 Ryan Fitzpatrick (BUF) 2 3 0.40 7 12 0.37 9 16 0.36
7 Josh Freeman (TB) 1 2 0.33 12 8 0.60 4 13 0.24
8 Sam Bradford (STL) 1 2 0.33 3 7 0.30 4 9 0.31
9 Alex Smith (SF) 0 2 0.00 13 11 0.54 19 22 0.46
10 Andy Dalton (CIN) 0 2 0.00 4 1 0.80 5 4 0.56
11 Blaine Gabbert (JAC) 0 0 0.00 1 2 0.33 3 8 0.27
12 Cam Newton (CAR) 0 3 0.00 3 6 0.33 3 1 0.75
13 Christian Ponder (MIN) 0 1 0.00 1 2 0.33 1 6 0.14
14 Colt McCoy (CLE) 0 1 0.00 2 10 0.17 3 4 0.43
15 Tarvaris Jackson (SEA) 0 2 0.00 6 5 0.55 12 12 0.50


  • Only 8 out of the 14 QBs have won a game when throwing for 300+ yards.
  • Only 5 out of the 14 QBs with a 300+ game have a winning record in those games.
  • Gabbert is the only QB who has not thrown for 300 yards or more in his career.
  • Kolb and Newton are the only QB with a 300+ yard game in at least 15 percent of their career games.


Sifting through all the numbers and percentages, I have discovered a number of trends that I feel are important when discussing the passing yards statistic and how it relates to team success.

  • With the overall winning percent for the 37 quarterbacks at 58.8 percent, the idea of throwing for more than 300 yards has a very low correlation to success. One of the most common statistics used is turnovers. Teams that win the turnover battle win over 80 percent of the time, a significant jump from the sub-60 percent mark for 300-yard games.
  • Most quarterbacks headed to the HOF have a good winning percentage in these games but also a higher percentage of them in their careers compared to the younger, more average quarterbacks. Tom Brady leads the way with an impressive 0.87 winning percentage in 300-yard games with a record of 39-6. Drew Brees (42-15, 0.74) and Peyton Manning (38-25, 0.60) are the only other quarterbacks with at least 40 300+ games.
  • QBs on the fringe of making it to the HOF have mixed results when throwing for 300+ yards. McNabb is the best of the group with a record of 24-7 (0.77). While I do not believe he had HOF talent, he performed very well during his career. Philip Rivers has the highest winning percentage of the famous 2004 draft class, while Roethlisberger and Eli Manning have not benefited from their 300+ games as much as people would have us believe. Again, it is about efficiency and not volume. Roethlisberger has a very high winning percentage when he throws for less than 300 yards (67-26, 0.72). Eli Manning has won the most (0.64) when he throws the least, going 30-17 in games with less than 200 yards. While he has won 2 Super Bowls, Eli Manning has not been a great quarterback at any time in his career except for a handful of games. Fortunately for him, these happened to be in the playoffs during the two season they won the Super Bowl.
  • Even though Manning has not won as high of a percentage, he still ranks 9th out of 22 in winning percentage in 300+ games. Manning does rank 5th in highest percentage of 300+ games in his career. Manning's strongest statistic in his record in games where he throws 200-299 yards, where he has gone 80-27 (0.75). He has been so efficient in the majority of the games in his career that he hasn't had the need to throw for over 300 yards. Only Tom Brady (56-16, 0.78) has a higher winning percentage when throwing from 200-299 yards.
  • Most young quarterbacks struggle to win games when they throw for 300+ yards for two reasons. First, many of these QBs are drafted on bad teams that need a lot of help, often times on the defensive side of the ball. Second, many of these QBs are unable to handle the pressure and the responsibility of orchestrating the passing game at a high level in volume. Young quarterbacks need strong defenses and a good running game to help them win early in their careers and they are rarely in that situation.
  • Young quarterbacks like Flacco and Matthew Stafford have good winning percentages when throwing for over 300 yards, but one thing separates them. Flacco rarely throws for that many yards and struggles to carry the bulk of the responsibility for Baltimore's offense. Compared to Flacco's low percentage of 300+ games in his career at 12.5 percent, Stafford has done it in 31 percent of his games and appears more capable of being efficient when the volume of his workload increases.

It appears that throwing for a lot of yards has very little correlation to success in the NFL today for the average quarterback. Much of the quarterbacks' success appear to have an inverse relationship with yards - as the yards go down, the wins go up.

This statistic simply measures which quarterbacks are throwing more frequently because of need, with only a handful of quarterbacks showing the skill set to win frequently when throwing for such high volume.

It is also important to note that every quarterback handles an increase in the passing game differently. Not all good or great quarterbacks are at their best when they accomplish this feat, even if much of the media loves 300-yard passers and 4,000-yard seasons.

The next statistic I will research in the same manner is average yards per throw.

As always, go Broncos!

This is a Fan-Created Comment on The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff of MHR

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