The NFL's unfair passing grade

The Vick vs. Collins case study is an eye-opener in the way we measure quarterbacks

Originally Published: September 14, 2011
By Peter Keating | ESPN Insider
Michael VickDrew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesMichael Vick proved again against the Rams why he's so dangerous running the ball.

If you want one set of numbers to demonstrate why the NFL's passer rating is obsolete, Week 1 action served up this doozy:

Michael Vick's passer rating was 83.7.

Kerry Collins' was 82.3.

That's right, according to passer rating, Vick's Sunday was barely distinguishable from the game Collins had, and both were right around the league average (82.2 in 2010).

Of course, while Vick was throwing for just 187 yards, he did have two TDs, one of them game-tying, and he ran for 98 yards on just 10 carries. Oh, and the Eagles won. Meanwhile, Collins fumbled twice, took three sacks and piled up most of his yardage during garbage time in the Colts' blowout loss to the Texans. By the time Collins hit Reggie Wayne for a touchdown, the Colts were already losing 34-0 and many Colts fans had probably checked out.

As we kick off our weekly Next Level look at quarterbacks, let's run through the reasons why the traditional passer rating sees these performances as remotely similar, and how Total QBR differs. It's not an endorsement, just an exercise in clarity.

1. Rushing yards: Passer rating doesn't include them. And it turns out Vick added 5.8 expected points to the Eagles on running plays, by far the most of any QB in Week 1.

2. Ball-discipline skills: Passer rating doesn't include them, either. And Collins was awful at handling the football. Indeed, Collins' performance was a stark reminder of just how great Peyton Manning has been before the Colts were forced to start Collins in his stead. From 2008 through 2010, Manning took three sacks in a game only twice. And he fumbled a total of just six times. In fact, he cost his team as many points on fumbles (2.0) in those 48 games as Collins did in one start.

Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.