Quarterbacks were on display in Thursday’s season opener, as both Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees had prolific offensive performances. As the Elias Sports Bureau notes, it was the first time in NFL history that opposing quarterbacks both had 300 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in their teams' season opener. With 107 more passing yards, you might even think Brees had the better overall game.
Total QBR helps look inside those numbers. While Brees’ performance was still quite good, it was Rodgers who was truly excellent.
As a reminder, Total QBR is a quarterback rating that takes into account all contributions to his team’s scoring and winning. It then summarizes that into one number on a 0-100 scale that can be interpreted as a percentile. A score of 80 means his performance was better than 80 percent of all quarterback games. The average Total QBR is 50.0. (Dean Oliver provides a more in-depth description.)
Aaron Rodgers: 91.1 Total QBR
Rodgers’ standard numbers were impressive: 27-35, 312 yards, three touchdowns, zero turnovers. But a closer look at his contributions reveals an even stronger game.
RodgersRodgers’ 91.1 Total QBR was helped by the fact that 195 of his 312 yards (62.5 percent) came in the air as opposed to yards after catch. Remember, quarterbacks get relatively more credit for yards the ball traveled in the air as opposed to yards after the catch.
He was also at his best in the first quarter (14-15, 188 yards, 3 TD) when the game was closest in terms of clutch weighting. His Total QBR for the quarter was an amazing 98.9 on 20 action plays.
The end result? Rodgers’ 91.1 Total QBR was his seventh-highest in 48 career starts. Since 2008, it stands as the fifth-highest QBR in a season opener. (The highest? Jay Cutler’s 98.8 in 2008 against the Raiders.)
Drew Brees: 71.6 Total QBR
Brees’ score may seem low based on his gaudy box-score stats (32-49, 419 yards, 3 TD, 0 Int). Keep in mind, that it is still better than more than 70 percent of all games and higher than his season average (65.9) from last season.
That said, there’s good reason Brees’ Total QBR was nearly 20.0 lower than Rodgers despite comparable numbers.
BreesMost notably, Brees went just 3-9 on pass attempts in the red zone, as the New Orleans Saints scored a touchdown on just one of five trips. That included an incompletion on fourth-and-1 on the 7. Down by eight in the third quarter, that play was almost as bad as a turnover.
Brees also had 17 incompletions, only one of which was a drop. Eight were off-target, and another six were defended or batted away.
Overall, the game provides a good example of how overall passing stats can be deceiving. A more complete play-by-play analysis helps differentiate Rodgers’ excellent performance from Brees’ very good one.
(For exclusive video, stories and blogs about quarterbacks from every level of competition, check out ESPN's "Year of the Quarterback" page.)