"Thou shalt not covet thy QB's passing yards!
So it is written. So it shall be."
- Pigskin Moses
By Kerry J. Byrne, Cold, Hard Football Facts Prophet of Pigskin
During our years leading the Exodus out of the Egypt of ignorance that defined football reporting before our creation, we have come to learn that there are certain ways to measure success in sports and in the sad, pitiful existence that the average CHFF reader calls his "life."
In baseball, a pitcher's success is best represented by his earned run average. Baseball broadcasts and news stories dutifully report this telling indicator of success to sports fans at every possible moment.
In hockey, a goaltender's success is best represented by his save percentage and goals-against average. Hockey broadcasts and news stories dutifully report these telling indicators of success to sports fans at every possible moment.
In the sad, pitiful existence known as a CHFF reader's "life," success is best represented by the number of hot little cheerleaders they de-flowered in high school. Teenage future trolls dutifully report this telling indicator of success to their friends at every possible moment (though, in our case, it didn't take very long to report zero).
When it comes to football, however, broadcasters and reporters routinely fail to follow these tried and true standards of sports media and high-school soap-opera excellence. They routinely fail to report a quarterback's average per pass attempt.
It's a failure that:
- Short-changes football fans
- Perpetuates a powerful form of ignorance that pervades football media and fandom
- Sadly ignores the single most important indicator of success on the gridiron
The sports media have an obligation to right this wrong.
Therefore, the Gridiron Moses, the Cold, Hard Football Facts, stands atop of the Mt. Sinai of the sports media today and commands all below to incorporate passing yards per attempt into their reporting during the 2010 football season and beyond.
(Oh, sure, we could make a request of the sports media. You catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar, as they say. But humility does not look good on us. In fact, there's not much that looks good on us, 'cept maybe some rich-red flowing desert robes, or the occasional lap dancer.)
A kind and benevolent prophet
The Cold, Hard Football Facts are a kind and benevolent prophet of pigskin, so we are compelled to offer the reasons behind our Commandment to the sports media.
To put it most simply, passing yards per attempt is the single most important indicator of success in all of football.
We have chronicled the importance of passing YPA in great detail over the years, to the point that it can no longer be refuted. But feel free to click here
for evidence. There are hundreds of other examples in our archives.
The short version is this:
- Teams that win the passing YPA battle almost always win the game.
- Teams that lose the passing YPA battle almost always lose the game.
- The winningest teams in history are typically the teams with the best passing YPA average
- The winningest quarterbacks in history are typically the quarterbacks with the best passing YPA average
Despite the all-encompassing importance of passing yards per attempt, the standard broadcast graphic or postgame news story that reports on a quarterback's performance fails to report on his average per attempt. Instead, the typical broadcast graphic looks something like this:
- David Joshua: 12 of 18, 175 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
The typical news report, meanwhile, follows a similar pattern.
In many cases, the broadcast graphic or news report will also include completion percentage and/or passer rating. That's all well and good.
But, with the exception of passer rating, which also has a high correlation to success, they're providing mostly useless information.
- A passer's number of attempts, number of completions, and completion percentage have little correlation to success.
- Touchdown passes have only a marginal correlation to success (INTs are more important).
- And yards, as all CHFF readers know, have absolutely zero correlation to success.
Thou shalt not covet thy QB's yards
Passing yards are the locust hordes of NFL analysis, filling the air with a lot of noise and nothing else. Just how meaningless are passing yards?
Well, the last quarterback to lead the league in passing yards and win an NFL championship was Johnny Unitas back in 1959 – that's a full half century ago for those of you keeping score at home. Drew Brees in 2008, meanwhile, became just the second passer in history to top 5,000 passing yards in a season. His 2008 Saints went 8-8 and finished in last place in the NFC South.
Drew Brees is 2009, however, passed for 4,388 yards. But his average per attempt blossomed from 8.0 YPA in 2008 to 8.5 YPA in 2009. The 2009 Saints went 13-3 and won the Super Bowl.
Yet broadcasters and reporters continue to stare in starry-eyed wonder at quarterbacks who put up big volume numbers – attempts, completions, yards. This is known as Dan Marino Syndrome. They're so obsessed by volume numbers that they overlook the most important factor: yards per attempt.
Fans who rely on media for information are similarly misled, and come to put far too much emphasis on volume stats and not enough emphasis on the far more telling yards per attempt. (The mentally disfiguring scourge of fantasy football, which actually values total passing yards, adds to this problem.)
So the basic relationship fans and media have with the game is corrupted by a failure to properly consider the most important stat in football.
Media can right this wrong by obeying our Commandment in 2010 and beyond.
Ramesses vs. Moses
Now let's consider the respective performances of two quarterbacks from a hypothetical game:
- Ramesses: 22 of 39 (56.4%), 365 yards, 9.35 YPA, 3 TD, 1 INT, 103.0
- Moses: 14 of 22 (60.9%), 250 yards, 11.36 YPA, 2 TD, 1 INT, 113.8
Who had the better day? Well, most broadcasters and reporters would zero in on Ramesses' gaudy 365 passing yards and drool all over those three touchdown passes, especially if the quarterback had a quick or pretty release. Dan Marino Syndrome is a powerful aphrodisiac.
But given these stats, armed with the all-important YPA statistic, we would sit back and tell you that there's an incredibly high likelihood that Moses's team escaped with victory. Teams that win the passing YPA battle almost always win the game.
Ramesses' 9.35 YPA is actually very, very good (6.9 is the modern average over the course of a season). But Moses performed something of a miracle, parting the defense with his stellar 11.36 yards per attempt. Despite 17 fewer attempts and 115 fewer passing yards, Moses had the better day and history tells us that he was far more likely to win the game.
Passer rating is also a fairly effective measure of team success, as we've chronicled so many times through the years. But it takes a master's degree in hieroglyphics to decipher passer rating, and the man-made number it spits out really has no direct relationship to the events the casual fan sees unfold before their eyes.
Passing yards per attempt, however, is an extremely easy concept to grasp for even the most casual observer. It has a direct relationship to a basic concept in football (yards). And it offers a very high correlation to success in the win-loss column.
Exodus from Ignorance
When media start obeying our Commandment here in 2010, when media and fans are routinely armed with the passing YPA figure, an interesting phenomenon will take place.
Over the course of the first season alone, the correlation between passing YPA and victory will grow apparent to everybody – even to former MNF broadcaster Tony Kornheiser.
People will see that the guy who threw for more yards lost as often as he won. People will also see that the guy with the better average per attempt won far more often than he lost ... week after week after week.
After several seasons of reinforcement, as TV graphics and postgame reports continue to provide the single most important stat in football, people will come to accept as gospel the importance of passing yards per attempt, much like baseball fans understand the importance of earned run average. They'll even come to learn that passing YPA in football is actually even more important than ERA in baseball.
Fans and media, then, will grow a new appreciation for those stats in football that actually matter, what we call "Quality Stats." And our effort to the lead our football flock out of the Egypt of ignorance will largely be completed ... and then maybe we can go star in Ben-Hur in something.