QBR ranks: Wilson, Kaepernick set pace

The most athletic quarterbacks in the NFC West played the best in Week 12.

Seattle’s Russell Wilson (league-high 90.7 Total QBR) and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick (72.3) repeatedly made "wow" plays, both with their arms and their feet.

Wilson showcased instincts, elusiveness, arm strength and accuracy on a third-and-12 play at Miami.

The Dolphins attacked with five pass-rushers. One of them rushed up the middle unblocked. Wilson spun away, scrambled to his left and threw a pass across his body 26 yards past the line of scrimmage. Sidney Rice caught the perfectly placed ball along the sideline for an improbable first down.

Few NFL quarterbacks can make that play. Kaepernick probably could. His feel for the pocket might not be as fine-tuned just yet, but Kaepernick showed against New Orleans he can escape trouble. The Saints pressured him, but they could not sack him even once. When Kaepernick did escape the pocket, he completed 5 of 7 passes for 54 yards with one touchdown and four first downs.

Wilson was similarly effective outside the pocket. He completed 8 of 9 passes for 68 yards with one touchdown and six first downs on these throws.

Pro quarterbacks still must operate inside the pocket to succeed. Wilson and Kaepernick were just as good or better inside than outside the pocket Sunday. Both can move, but that doesn't make them running quarterbacks or even wholly unconventional ones.

Wilson completed 13 of 18 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown from inside the pocket. He also scrambled twice for 28 yards. Kaepernick completed 11 of 18 passes for 177 yards and his lone interception on these throws. His QBR score was higher inside the pocket (85.0) than outside it (69.2).

Anyone watching Wilson or Kaepernick could tell they were playing at a high level. Anyone watching Arizona’s Ryan Lindley toss four interceptions, two returned for touchdowns, knew he struggled.

Sam Bradford’s day for the St. Louis Rams defied easy categorization.

Bradford completed only 8 of 17 passes. He took two sacks and threw an interception in the end zone. But when Bradford did connect, he connected for huge gains. Bradford averaged 12 yards per attempt. His passes traveled 14.3 yards past the line of scrimmage on average, a high number. His completed passes gained 25.6 yards on average. His NFL passer rating was 106.3.

Bradford and the Rams won, 31-17. That’s all that matters, right? Not necessarily. If winning were all that mattered, Tim Tebow would be starting for the Denver Broncos. Alex Smith would be starting for the 49ers. Baltimore would have held onto Trent Dilfer following its 2000 championship season.

A 34.1 QBR score for Bradford runs counter to his triple-digit passer rating. It tells us the contributions attributed to Bradford weren’t critical to the game’s outcome, based on how Bradford’s actions affected the Rams’ probability for winning. It suggests the Rams won mostly because Janoris Jenkins returned two interceptions for touchdowns.

Three of the interceptions Lindley threw against the Rams cost Arizona a total of 9.2 expected points, measured by how similar plays affected games over a 10-year period. Bradford’s expected-points contributions for rushing, passing, yards his receivers gained after the catch, interceptions, sacks, fumbles, scrambles and penalties were nearly a wash, working out to minus four-tenths of a point.

By my reading, that explains why QBR didn't smile upon Bradford the way NFL passer rating did.

With that, let's take a closer look at NFC West quarterbacks in relation to Total QBR for Week 12:

  • Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (90.7 QBR, 125.9 NFL rating). Wilson completed 21 of 27 passes (77.8 percent) or 224 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions, two sacks and five rushes for 38 yards, including one rushing first down. Wilson set an NFL rookie record with 16 completed passes in a row. He completed 5 of 8 for 70 yards and a touchdown with four first downs and a 92.8 QBR score when the Dolphins sent five or more pass-rushers.

  • Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (72.3 QBR, 90.6 NFL rating). Kaepernick completed 16 of 25 passes (64 percent) for 231 yards with one touchdown, one interception, no sacks, no fumbles and six rushes for 27 yards, including one rushing touchdown and two rushing first downs. The Saints had deployed five-plus pass-rushers 65.1 percent of the time when facing the 49ers in the playoffs last season. They did so only 32.1 percent of the time Sunday. Kaepernick completed 3 of 7 passes for 91 yards on these plays. He also rushed twice for 18 yards. His QBR score was 93.7 on these plays. It was even higher (97.8) on third down, when Kaepernick completed 6 of 8 passes for 99 yards. He also had a 15-yard scramble on third down.

  • Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (34.1 QBR, 106.3 NFL rating). Bradford completed 8 of 17 passes (47.1 percent) for 205 yards with two touchdowns, one interception, two sacks and two rushes for one yard. He also fumbled. Bradford cost the Rams expected points when he threw an interception in the end zone on first-and-goal from the 7 with his team trailing by a touchdown. Bradford did strike for big plays, but the offense produced only 17 points. The two interceptions St. Louis returned for touchdowns played a huge role in the outcome. Bradford completed 2 of 5 passes for 40 yards with one sack and a 1.9 QBR score on third down. Bradford was playing against an Arizona defense that has given some top quarterbacks trouble. His opponent-adjusted QBR would likely reflect that ( I have not yet seen it). Also, Bradford overcame a hard hit that knocked him from the game for a play. That was impressive.

  • Ryan Lindley, Arizona Cardinals (17.6 QBR, 44.7 NFL rating). Lindley completed 31 of 52 passes (59.6 percent) for 312 yards with zero touchdowns, four interceptions, two sacks, no fumbles and one rush for one yard, with one rushing first down. Lindley threw all four picks in the absence of pressure. He threw two of them while the Cardinals trailed by four points.

2012 Relevant NFC West QBR Ranks: Week 12