Matt Ryan has led the Atlanta Falcons to a 10-2 start with some clutch play, efficient performance on third down, and by being very good at avoiding negative plays. He is currently below the league average in yards per attempt. Such a fact would probably lead many to conclude that statheads who rely on yards per attempt couldn’t distinguish their yard marker from their abacus, which many are rumored to possess but which in actuality are usually stored away in a box in their mother’s basement.
I believe that yards per attempt is a good statistic, and if we had to pick just one thing to look at, it would probably be most useful. However, we don’t have to pick just one. There’s more to the Matt Ryan story. If we consider sacks (which I think we should with quarterbacks), then Ryan has been very good at avoiding them, which already moves him up the charts. Then, if we consider the completion percentage, well, he is more likely to make some positive plays, and when coupled with a good running game, increases the chances of third down conversions. Then, turnovers, especially interceptions. Ryan is very good at that too, and coupled with the lack of sacks, is not costing his team. Finally, touchdowns, and Ryan is completing an above average percentage of his passes for scores.
What we have then, is a bit of an anomaly. A player who is slightly below average category (albeit typically a very telling one), but above average in every other base indicator of quarterback play, and as a result, above average overall. One of the things I like to do is look at players who are similar to these kind of combinations, so in this case, I went looking for other quarterbacks who were below the league average at yards per attempt but above average everywhere else. The results should be encouraging to Atlanta fans.
Here are all other players since 1970 to throw at least 350 passes in a season, were below average at YPA and above average at everything else. I ordered them in terms of player age, because I think that is important here. The five “Advanced Passing” columns are in order: completion percentage, yards per attempt, td percentage, int percentage, and sack percentage. A score of 100 in a category is league average, and higher is better.