NFL Quarterback Stats: Why Passing Yards Are Vastly Overrated

Matt MelbyeCorrespondent IOctober 10, 2011

CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 09:   Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers drops back turnover pass against the New Orleans Saints during their game at Bank of America Stadium on October 9, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Any hardcore NFL fan realizes that this game has changed immensely in just the past few years. The NFL has shifted from a grind-it-out running league to a pass happy league. It wasn't too long ago that experts would say "a great running game and defense is how you win championships."

We know that is not the case any more with the last two Super Bowl champions having almost no running game and not great defenses, but opportunistic ones.

Rule changes are the biggest factor to this shift in coaching philosophy. What do fans want to see? They want big plays, in other words passing.

The NFL knows this, that is why they changed many rules to favor receivers and quarterbacks. And finally most coaching staffs have caught on and changed their game-plans to take advantage of this.

All of a sudden it's not just Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers throwing for 350 yards in a game, it is any quarterback including rookies. So with everyone being able to do this now, is it really that special? I will say no, and I will also say that it doesn't even win you games.

Here are some stats that I compiled on this season so far. I took the top 30 quarterbacks (basically the guys who have started all games for their team) and split their stats in wins from those in losses.

Here is what I found:

In wins, the average passing yardage is 259. In losses, the average is 264 yards. Huh, that is kind of strange. I would guess that this is because of teams trying to come from behind slinging the ball around and racking up yards.

But even if that is the case, what do most people think when they see Cam Newton's box score of 400-plus yards in a losing effort? They say "wow he still tore it up even though they lost." No, actually the defense made him one-dimensional and had him where they wanted him.


Passing yards can be so deceiving in relation to success. I believe that there have been 10 400-plus passing games in the NFL so far this year. Seven of those 10 came in losses.

The stats that do matter are TD to INT ratio. The stats for the winners are 137 TDs to 51 INTs. Those QBs in losing efforts went 88 TDs and 84 INTs. This makes a little more sense.

Like I said before, this is a pass first league now and defenses know that. The goal of the defense is no longer to stop the pass because you can't anymore. You can slow it down and create turnovers.

So if you threw for 400 yards 1 TD and 3 INTs, the defense actually accomplished their goal and probably won the game.

The big problem is that we are so into fantasy football that stats are how we evaluate a player's success in real football. Why do you think there are no special milestones in football like there are in baseball like 3,000 hits or 300 wins?

It is because stats don't tell the whole story on a player in football like they do in baseball.

So next week when someone like Colt McCoy throws for 370, see if they also had any picks or lost the game before anointing them.