Who’s more responsible for the Pass Game, QB or WR?

Patriots opponents for 2021 NFL season set, including Tom Brady's Bucs -  Pats Pulpit

Analytics has done wonders in answering the age-old questions we’ve had about the game. They’ve explained to us that “defense does NOT win championships“, sold us on “RBs don’t matter” and “You don’t need to run to setup the pass“, just to name a few. However, one challenge that’s escaped “the football analytics field”, even to this day, is separating the value given to the person throwing the ball, vs the person catching the ball. Football Outsiders even admits that a weakness of their flagship metric, DVOA, is not providing a proper split of value on a pass play between QB and WR.

Not that we are going to solve this challenge today, but noting the strength of the PFF grades, and volume of data they have, we thought we’d take a shot by comparing the Passing Grades vs Catching Grades by team, to find which team’s offensive performance is most propped up by the QB, and which are propped up by the WRs. Doing this we hope to take a STEP towards answering this question, or at minimum have some fun supporting barguements of “Without Rogers, we’d suck” or “That QB would be nothing without those WRs”.

And yes, when the PFF grader is giving the QB a rating based on a pass play, he too is likely going to have difficultly in separating if the QB or WR had more/less responsibility for the success (/lack of) for the play. But, we are assuming that the larger sample sizes, across 5 years, taking the comparative data at its margin will at least take us a step in the right direction in determining what team’s pass games were propped up more by QB or WR.

Note: although we keep using “WR”, this grade is not reserved to the WR. This includes any target of a pass in a given season, in aggregate.

Here is how the last few years have shaped out (the higher the number the higher the “ownership” of performance the QB had on a team’s offensive performance):

Green Bay Packers90.794.579.38.7%6.5%5.4%0.1%7.2%5.58%
New England Patriots76.164.970.6-4.2%3.9%6.0%7.8%5.4%3.79%
Seattle Seahawks81.988.8795.8%6.4%3.0%0.1%2.9%3.63%
Oakland Raiders79.384.980.72.5%3.9%-0.8%4.5%4.8%2.97%
Kansas City Chiefs86.69085.12.8%1.7%4.0%0.8%3.5%2.56%
Indianapolis Colts82.476.777.1-0.3%-4.4%8.4%-3.1%7.9%1.70%
New Orleans Saints79.869.778-5.6%4.2%4.5%2.8%0.5%1.28%
Baltimore Ravens75.371.969.61.6%3.3%-2.9%4.2%-3.1%0.63%
Philadelphia Eagles67.358.465.6-5.8%3.0%1.6%1.8%2.2%0.55%
Atlanta Falcons76.483.478.33.2%-5.4%-0.7%3.6%-0.7%-0.01%
Dallas Cowboys71.269.274.1-3.4%-1.4%-1.5%1.0%-2.0%-1.45%
Buffalo Bills86.587.786.90.5%-7.4%-8.7%6.6%1.4%-1.54%
Detroit Lions77.57578.2-2.1%-4.9%2.0%-6.0%2.7%-1.68%
Minnesota Vikings84.380.789.9-5.4%4.1%-1.1%-4.2%-2.1%-1.73%
Pittsburgh Steelers69.669.969.90.0%-10.9%-1.1%0.8%0.7%-2.07%
Los Angeles Chargers71.677.678.3-0.4%-2.2%0.1%-1.7%-6.4%-2.14%
Cleveland Browns87.885.278.64.0%0.8%1.2%-11.5%-6.8%-2.44%
Cincinnati Bengals69.86971.9-2.1%-7.2%-0.1%0.9%-5.8%-2.88%
New York Giants7073.570.91.8%-4.4%-11.9%3.3%-5.7%-3.39%
Washington Redskins72.564.966.6-1.3%-6.9%-4.9%-3.4%-2.4%-3.78%
Chicago Bears73.563.775.2-8.3%-1.4%-10.8%2.6%-2.1%-4.01%
Tennessee Titans89.385.588.2-1.6%-1.4%-8.0%-1.8%-8.1%-4.17%
Houston Texans82.691.181.85.4%-0.6%-3.2%-12.7%-12.8%-4.80%
Jacksonville Jaguars69.160.871.5-8.1%1.2%0.4%-7.3%-10.3%-4.81%
Tampa Bay Buccaneers86.39281.66.0%-12.0%-6.2%-5.0%-7.4%-4.93%
Los Angeles Rams79.77275.4-2.3%-6.1%-3.4%-1.9%-12.0%-5.15%
Arizona Cardinals74.57475.4-0.9%-4.5%-14.3%-9.8%-3.9%-6.68%
Carolina Panthers72.865.471.9-4.7%-20.3%-4.5%-1.7%-5.8%-7.39%
San Francisco 49ers78.961.582.1-14.3%-7.3%-6.7%0.1%-8.9%-7.44%
Miami Dolphins72.768.776.5-5.4%1.8%-23.6%-13.5%-8.1%-9.75%
New York Jets64.253.166.3-11.1%-9.4%-8.6%-9.2%-11.3%-9.89%
Denver Broncos66.855.969.2-10.6%-9.0%-1.9%-16.3%-15.3%-10.61%
*Tom Brady5.83%

In the chart above you can see the the current (2020) team OFF, PASS and RECV (Offense, Pass/QB and WR grades) along with the last 5 years split between QB and WR grades and their 5-year mean. The higher the number means the more ownership of offensive performance the QB has, and vice versa.

We also included a section JUST for Tom Brady, as these grades are TEAM grades, not necessarily player grades. And as you can see the Patriots and Brady WOULD be the MOST “QB Propped” team (taking TB in 2020, and then NE in 2019-2016 mean). In other words, as its easy to see the Packers as an offense propped up by Rogers, Brady would actually take that prize if we were to view this from a player perspective.

During our research trying to split the QB and WR performance in the pass game, we noted that although (we know) sacks are more a function of the QB than the OL, we expanded the study to consider pass protection team grades as well.

The way to view the chart below is, based on PFF grades for a team in a particular year, the strength of their offensive pass performance was most (relatively speaking) propped up by:

-Passing the football (QB)
-Protecting the Passer (OL, mostly)
-Catching the ball/value after the catch (targeted WR/RB/TE)

In other words, what group, by year, is most responsible to your team’s success through the air for the past 5 seasons (averaged out).

mean_QB proppedmean_OL Proppedmean_WR Propped
Arizona Cardinals-1.27%-0.32%1.59%
Atlanta Falcons2.27%-2.93%0.66%
Baltimore Ravens-0.42%2.89%-2.46%
Buffalo Bills-1.11%2.89%-1.78%
Carolina Panthers-2.58%2.01%0.57%
Chicago Bears-1.26%1.54%-0.28%
Cincinnati Bengals0.11%-0.52%0.40%
Cleveland Browns-1.77%3.79%-2.02%
Dallas Cowboys0.62%-0.61%0.00%
Denver Broncos-3.36%1.49%1.87%
Detroit Lions0.43%-0.41%-0.01%
Green Bay Packers1.65%1.99%-3.63%
Houston Texans-0.39%-0.74%1.13%
Indianapolis Colts1.33%0.23%-1.56%
Jacksonville Jaguars-1.32%1.13%0.19%
Kansas City Chiefs2.22%-1.08%-1.13%
Los Angeles Chargers2.46%-4.80%2.34%
Los Angeles Rams-0.95%0.17%0.77%
Oakland Raiders1.96%-0.35%-1.61%
Miami Dolphins-1.54%-1.71%3.25%
Minnesota Vikings2.64%-4.92%2.28%
New England Patriots2.33%-0.47%-1.86%
New Orleans Saints1.62%-0.75%-0.87%
New York Giants0.13%-0.89%0.76%
New York Jets-3.16%1.49%1.68%
Philadelphia Eagles0.15%1.67%-1.82%
Pittsburgh Steelers-1.76%3.94%-2.19%
Seattle Seahawks4.64%-5.02%0.39%
San Francisco 49ers-1.76%0.13%1.63%
Tampa Bay Buccaneers0.30%-2.30%2.00%
Tennessee Titans-0.88%0.74%0.15%
Washington Redskins-1.29%1.73%-0.44%

*Note the higher the number the more responsible that group was over the past 5 years. Of Note:

-Seattle, unsurprisingly had the highest “QB propped” team, when considering all 3 facets of the pass game. Denver and NYJ on the other end of that spectrum

-Both the Steelers and Browns have been relatively propped up by their OL/Pass Pro, while the Seahawks, Chargers and Vikings have contributed the least value to THEIR pass game with protection

-Again, somewhat intuitive, but the Dolphins were by far the most “WR propped” pass game, with the Packers having the opposite situation

More to come soon, please don’t forget to subscribe (especially if you made it all the way down here 🙂 ).

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