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David Garrard and Quarterback Rating

After throwing his 15th touchdown pass on the final play of Sunday’s game, David Garrard now has the second highest passer rating (104.9) in the league, behind only Michael Vick. Since most people have no only a vague sense of what is behind the curtain of passer rating, I thought I’d break down why he ranks where he does.

  • His yards per attempt is a very healthy 8.0 yards per attempt, which has him tied for 4th with Kyle Orton and Jon Kitna, behind Rivers, Vick, and Roethlisberger.
  • He is completing 69.4% of his passes, which is insanely high and way out of norm with his career to date.  For the rest of his career, he had completed 61.1% of passes.
  • He has a freakishly large touchdown rate (8.3% of his passes have ended with a touchdown).  To put that in perspective, the only three guys since 1980 who have had a slightly higher TD rate are Dan Marino ’84, Peyton Manning ’04,  and Tom Brady ’07.  One of this things is not like the other, which brings us to . . .
  • Passer rating, like all other pure efficiency stats, does not utilize the number of attempts. In this case, though, Garrard has thrown only 180 passes in 7.5 games (he left Tennessee early, and missed one game with the concussion). That 31st pass – the hail mary – he threw against Houston was the most he has thrown in a game all year.
  • Passer rating is not adjusted for opponent, and Garrard has had it good.  He has played the four worst pass defenses by passer rating allowed (excluding his own team).  Against the three best pass defenses he has faced, he has been benched for throwing four interceptions in one, and knocked out with a concussion in another.  Weighting his throws, he has faced pass defenses that have allowed a 91.0 passer rating, or the equivalent of playing the Washington Redskins on average.

While most quarterbacks throw a roughly similar number of passes, Garrard has thrown a below average amount in almost every game. There is pretty good reason to believe that his rating will come down dramatically with more attempts, because his touchdown rate is likely unsustainable, and his completion percentage is so out of norm.

Of course, there is also the issue that I have crusaded against. Okay, crusaded is a strong word. The issue I have occasionally mentioned, which is that sack rate should be part of how we evaluate a passer. Garrard has taken 17 sacks this year, and has been sacked on 8.6% of his dropbacks, which ranks him 34th out of 37 qualified passers. If he had managed to throw 6 of those passes away, his completion percentage would have dropped over 2%, affecting his rating, but helping his team.

To look at other quarterbacks who have had a better passer rating because of increased completion percentage (which is overweighted in the current formula) and because sack rate is not included, I found all quarterbacks since 1970 who threw 300 passes and were above the league average in passer rating.  I then used the advanced statistics at pro-football-reference.com, and found everyone that had a difference of 10 points in their Rating+ score and their ANYA+ score (which does not include comp%, but does include sacks).  I also looked at the points scored by those teams, and compared whether the points scored were more in line with their Passer Rating, or their ANYA.  Here is the complete list of guys we might say were overrated by passer rating:




Year Player Rate+ ANYA+ Points Rank Closer to Pts Rank
1992 Cunningham 115 99 5 RATING
1980 Fuller 106 91 14 DRAW
1990 Cunningham 122 109 3 RATING
2007 Roethlisberger 130 117 9 ANYA
2010 Garrard 122 109 17 ANYA
2006 Carr 101 90 28 ANYA
1995 Brunell 106 95 27 ANYA
1996 Hostetler 108 97 12 RATING
1987 Cunningham 111 100 12 DRAW
1997 Harbaugh 111 100 20 ANYA
1987 O’Brien 111 100 14 ANYA
1972 Dawson 109 99 15 ANYA
1985 Brock 110 100 15 ANYA
1979 Anderson 115 105 13 ANYA
1977 Griese 125 115 3 RATING
1983 Bartkowski 127 117 10 ANYA

Of those 15, 9 of them were closer in points rank to their lower ANYA score, 4 were closer to their passer rating score, and 2 were draws.  Randall Cunningham accounted for two of those passer rating wins, and a draw, and he was an extreme runner.  As I talked about earlier, a quarterback rushing attempt is usually a sack avoided. If we remove the Cunningham and his extreme scrambling ability, virtually all of the other quarterbacks on this list appear overrated by passer rating, compared to the points their teams actually score.

In Garrard’s case, his team ranks near the middle of the pack in points scored in 2010, yet passer rating tells you he is elite.  Follow the points here.  Garrard has been slightly above average, but his low number of attempts, schedule luck, and limited throws in games he played against good pass defenses has allowed some freakishly high numbers to skew his rating.

[photo via Getty]

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