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Statistical quarterback comparison, part 1: Throw distance

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Today we are doing a statistical comparison of all the quarterbacks in 2016 in terms of throwing distance.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The quarterback play that the Denver Broncos got this year was a slight improvement over 2015, but it wasn’t enough to make a difference when it mattered most (on third downs) to compensate for the regression in our defense.

There was some criticism of throw selection and throw direction, so I decided to look at how our QBs compared to the rest of the League (29 total QBs in this) in terms of throw distance (part 1) and throw direction (part 2).

This will be very much a data post, and I will try to limit commentary unless it is otherwise needed to explain a table. All of this data was compiled from stats available at ESPN.com (if you know where to look).

How far are these guys throwing the ball?

Most teams will run plays with routes at different depths from the line of scrimmage and make it up to the QB to decide where to throw the ball. That being said, some QBs will force the ball down the field because of their confidence (in themselves and their targets), their arm strength and their need.

So here is the a breakdown by percentage of the distance of every throw made by these 29 QBs this season:

There are a couple of things to note here. Our QBs had the lowest combined total of throws behind the LOS by percentage - meaning that we not only threw very few screen passes but also that we very rarely hit running backs on swing passes.

I have highlighted the highest (in blue) and the lowest (in red) for each column. Note that Trevor Siemian had the lowest percentage in the league of throws in the 21-30 yard range while Paxton Lynch had that highest percentage. Lynch also had the highest percentage of throws in the 31-40 yard range with only Ben Roethlisberger and he above 4 percent for the season.

Both of Lynch’s numbers are from a small sample set, but they are both significant outliers relative to the league average. Sam Bradford had the highest overall percentage of short throws (either behind LOS or 1-10 in front of LOS) while Jameis Winston was the only QB with close to 50 percent of his passes being “long” (landing more than 10 yards beyond the LOS).

For comparative purposes going forward, keep in mind that Siemian was a de facto rookie, while Lynch, Dak Prescott, Carson Wentz, and Jared Goff were actual rookies.

Success and/or failure on long throws

Lynch (in admittedly only 15 attempts) did a much better job in this range than Siemian. Note how deadly Tom Brady was in this range and how horrible Brock Osweiler was. Twelve of Os’ 16 interceptions came in this range (only 4 of his 15 TDs). Also note how poorly Goff fared in this throw range.

Neither or our QBs were very good at throws in this range. While Lynch had a high percentage of his throws in this range, he only completed one of eight. League average was 36.7 percent completion in this range, so both of our QBs were below that.

The league-wide completion percentage goes down to 27.7 percent on throws that land 31-40 yards beyond the LOS. This is where Siemian was able to do some damage this year (however all six of his completions came in two games - CIN and KC in DEN). It would have been nice for him to complete a few of these on the road at least in the last month of the season. If you are looking for evidence of how/why Drew Brees is still an elite QB, look no further than this table. Only he and Kurt Cousins were able to complete better than half of their throws in this range.

As a team, the Broncos did not complete a single pass that landed 40 or more yards beyond the LOS (they were 0/6 with no INTS). There were two QBs who did not even attempt one pass in this range (Bradford and Ryan Fitzpatrick), and there were only a handful who had more than 10 attempts in this range.

Most of the QBs in the league seemed to few shots this far down the field, but there appears to be a group who are very accurate when they throw deep (the guys who completed 50 percent or better) and then there is everyone else.

It’s interesting to note that Cam Newton led the league in throws of this distance (15) and while he only completed five of them, four of those five were TDs. Newton only threw 19 TD passes this year and four of those were on extremely deep throws (21 percent of his TDs were on bombs). If you look back at the previous table you find that eight of Newtons 19 TD passes were on throw that landed 31 or more yards beyond the LOS. Only two other QBs had more than four TD passes that landed 31 or more yards beyond the LOS (Marcus Mariota and Philip Rivers both had five).

Comparative “deep” passing

So how did our two QBs fare on deep passes (throws landing 21 or more yards from the LOS)? League average was 33.5 percent completion on these throws. Our QBs this year were a combined 13 of 53 (24.5 percent) for 477 yards with 4 TDs and 2 INTs. The table below shows how that compares to the rest of the league.

From a team perspective, only taking 53 “shots” down the field is on the low end, although some QBs/teams (Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan and Bradford) were much better when they did take shots down the field, even though they only took about the same number as the Broncos did.

Those are the numbers, and they are presented without spin (for the most part). I’ll let you decide what they mean and who to blame (if warranted).

The second part of this will look at pass by direction to see if our QBs did something different from the rest of the league in terms of avoiding a particular area of the field.