Bernie Miklasz and I discussed third-down passing during our weekly conversation on 101ESPN St. Louis.
Arizona's Kevin Kolb ranks second in NFL passer rating on third down this season. St. Louis' Sam Bradford ranks seventh. Both have completed about two-thirds of their third-down passes. Neither has thrown a third-down pick. Both have triple-digit passer ratings on third down.
Therefore, Kolb and Bradford are playing great on third down, right?
There is more to the story.
Kolb has taken a league-high eight sacks on third down this season. Bradford has taken seven.
Quarterbacks share blame for sacks. They're fully at fault for some, partially at fault for others and blameless in some cases.
ESPN's QBR metric counts sacks, fumbles, scrambles, traditional passing stats and other factors in the context of game situations. Bradford ranks 18th and Kolb 26th in QBR for third down.
The metric says Kolb has cost his team about 5.2 points compared to an average quarterback in these situations. Bradford is within a point of even. Ben Roethlisberger ranks first at plus-15.8 points above average, well ahead of runner-up Andrew Luck (plus-8.5), Philip Rivers (plus-7.3) and Matt Schaub (plus-7.0).
But that isn't the full story, either.
The points-above-average metric measures players as though each is playing behind an average offensive line. In fact, the Cardinals are starting a third-string left tackle and a rookie right tackle. The Rams are starting a backup left tackle and a third-string left guard.
Kolb and Bradford have worse protection than quarterbacks playing behind average lines.
The overall team production matters more than assigning credit and blame.
The chart below breaks down the production from various angles, ordered by yards per attempt.
Seattle's 2.9-yard average per pass attempt on third down is the NFL's lowest by a wide margin. Jacksonville is next at 3.6 yards per attempt. San Francisco ranks 29th at 4.5. Arizona is 26th at 5.6. The Rams are seventh at 8.3, and if that figure holds up, I have a feeling we'll be talking about Bradford as the best quarterback in the division (that 8.3 figure would have ranked fifth in the NFL last season, when the Rams were tied for last at 5.6).