Passer Rating? QBR? How About Neither?

ESPN's Quarterback Rating (QBR), "born" in 2011, has attained a status on a par with the NFL's official Passer Rating System, officially "born" in 1973, but has since been made retroactive to previous seasons, or very close to it.

But there is one passer rating evaluation system out there that is vastly superior to both — college football's passer rating system.

First, let's examine the flaws of both ESPN's and the NFL's ways of doing things.

The QBR is determined by a panel of three self-declared "experts," presumably none of whom ever played the game on any level, using totally subjective criteria, with no mathematical formula to arrive at the rating they come up with.

Worse yet, the QBR weights a quarterback's production by quarter, giving the quarterback more credit for completions, yards, and touchdowns made in the fourth quarter, then down the ladder, giving the quarterback the least credit of all for completions, yards, and touchdowns made in the first quarter.

Did the NFL change its rules when no one was looking, and is now counting a touchdown scored in the fourth quarter as 10 points, in the third quarter, 8 points, in the second quarter, 6 points, and in the first quarter, only 4 points?

Maybe no one should give the parity-obsessed NFL owners any ideas.

In addition, while a quarterback's single-game QBR and single-season QBR are compiled, his career QBR is not.

The NFL's system suffers from several flaws: first, a completion percentage of 30% is treated the same as a completion percentage of 0%, a completion percentage of 100% is no better than a completion percentage of 77.5%, 99 yards per attempt confers no higher rating than 12.5 yards per attempt (and three yards per attempt is treated no better than zero yards per attempt), a percentage of passes that went for touchdowns earns the same score if it is 11.875% or 100%, and the percentage of passes that were intercepted produces the same result if it is 9.5%, or 100%.

While it is rather obvious that none of these factors is likely to affect a quarterback's passer rating over the course of an entire season, it will definitely do so for an individual game.

A perfect example of what we are talking about here involves Tom Tupa.

Tupa, mainly a punter by trade, threw one pass during the entire 2002 season. That pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown (actually picked off in the end zone itself) in overtime, resulting in a 26-20 home loss to New Orleans for the Buccaneers, for whom Tupa played at the time.

(Of course the 2002 Bucs lived to tell just fine: they became the first — and still only — team ever to win the Super Bowl after not having made selections in either of the first two rounds of the previous spring's draft, the first — and still only — team ever to win the Super Bowl after having lost at home on opening day, the first team ever to win the Super Bowl after having averaged less than 100 yards rushing per game, and the first team ever to win the Super Bowl after having been eliminated in the wild-card round of the previous season's playoffs).

Tupa "earned" a zero passer rating for 2002, under the NFL's passer rating formula — but under the NCAA's formula, the rating would have been minus 530.0 — because under the latter formula a "pick six" counts as minus one touchdown, and a negative value accrues not only to that stat, but also because 100% of his pass attempts resulted in interceptions.

(Conversely, if a quarterback throws one pass in an entire game and it goes for 99 yards and a touchdown, his rating for that game is 1,261.6 in college — not 158.3 as in the NFL).

Eleven years earlier, however, Tupa was on the opposite end of this equation — at least sort of: As a member of the then Phoenix Cardinals, he completed 6-of-19 passes in a Week 2 game at Philadelphia — but those 6 completions went for 218 yards, or 36.3 yards per completion, setting a new NFL record for yards per completion in a game.

But Tupa's record would stand for just four years, because Jim Kelly went 4-for-21 for 176 yards — 44 yards per completion! — in a 1995 home game against first-year-expansion Carolina, also in Week 2 (the starting quarterback for the Panthers that day was Frank Reich, a former Bill who led Buffalo back from a 35-3 deficit to defeat the then Houston Oilers 41-38 in overtime in a 1992 AFC wild-card playoff game — the most points overcome to win any game in NFL history, postseason or regular season — and is now the head coach of the Colts).

So many pundits have tried to build a better mousetrap when it comes to rating quarterbacks.

It turns out that the better mousetrap has been right under our noses for decades.

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