Offense Sustaining Drives And A QB Comparison

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What's the best way to determine how good a quarterback is compared to another?  Sure, wins are one measuring stick, as are any number of comparative statistics, like completion percentage, QB rating, yards, TD's, etc.

If you're into an in-depth breakdown that has some awesome stats, check out Arif Hasan's fanpost on the QB mid-season review, it's a great read.

But as good as that fanpost is, those numbers don't really tell the whole story, especially when you have a small sample size to compare to...like, for example, the amount of snaps Donovan McNabb has taken this season in relation to wunderkind Christian Ponder.  So I wanted to kind of expand on that fanpost and try and scratch the itch that those numbers weren't telling me.

And sure, it's also easy to say. 'well, Ponder passes the eye test, where McNabb fails', and I'd agree with you, but to a point.  I'll give you that McNabb couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat, but there have been times when McNabb looked okay, and Ponder struggled.

So I wanted to look at offensive drives--specifically how long they took, at least in terms of total plays.  I think you can tell a lot about a quarterback and how he can run an offense based on long he has the offense on the field, sustaining drives, getting first downs, and eventually scoring.

So far this season, we've talked around the edges about how many three and outs the Vikings had under McNabb, and how many third down conversions Ponder has made in his brief time as starter, and I wanted to do a little comparison.  Thanks to the wonder of the NFL.com game recap in handy dandy PDF form, I looked at all the drives the Vikings have had this season, and what the results have been.

I broke down the Vikings drives so far between the two quarterbacks, and then further by length:  0-5 plays, 6-10 plays, and then 10 or more plays.  Here's the chart that breaks down the Vikings drives so far this year:

Drive Length (In Plays) McNabb Ponder
0-5 41 11
6-10 18 7
10 or more 6 5

 

Donovan McNabb has been at the helm for 65 drives, 41 of which have been 5 plays or less.  That's 63%, or more than one out of every two drives, that ended in 5 plays or less.  Now, for full disclosure, 6 of those drives were what I call 'quick strike, or TD drives...but four of those came in the one game against Arizona. 

Ponder, on the other hand, has a total of 23 drives, to include the 2 fourth quarter drives against Chicago in the Sunday night dumpster fire.  Only 47% of those drives were 5 plays or less, a full 16% below McNabb.  Moreover, Ponder has 5 drives of 10 or more plays in just over two games, or only one less than McNabb managed in over 5+ games as the starter.

Not coincidentally, the results are stark.  Both McNabb and Ponder have one win.  The Arizona win win was one that in many respects the Cardinals gave to the Vikings, with several turnovers well within Vikings territory.  Compare that with the Carolina win--on the road, having to come from behind in the second half to win.

For me, it's further validation than 'the eye test' or any other number of statistics.  McNabb's TD:INT is better, his QB rating is better, and he has a lower interception percentage.  But when the Vikings need to sustain a drive, keep the offense on the field, and get points, Ponder has proven more capable of doing it than McNabb has. 

But when you add in the length of drives and the point differential (the Vikings averaged 16 points a game with McNabb, and they are averaging 26 points with Ponder) it seems like a no brainer that the Vikings made the switch.

I just wish they had done it sooner.

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