Bryan just called me asking what I thought of Kerry Collins’ negative-seven yard passing performance yesterday. I pulled up the box score for the game to review his stat line (2 for 12 for -7 yards, 0 TDs and a pick) and said “well there have been worse performances.” After Bryan understandably expressed his confusion about my confidence in that remark I read the last number on the stat line: “as bad as it was he still had a 4.9 passer rating and we know that there are definitely players who have had passer ratings of 0.0” to which we wondered just how bad a quarterback would have to play in order to earn that dreadful 0.0 mark. Well after some brief discussion on the matter Bryan pointed out that this could turn into a pretty good post to which I simply responded “I’m on it.”
Instead of having this post be solely about passer ratings of 0.0, which could certainly have an entire post written about it, I thought I would just take this opportunity to explain exactly how the NFL passer rating works. I’m not going to claim to be an expert on the subject but I do think I understand it significantly better than the average person. This is primarily because I love the QB rating system. It was created in 1973 by Don Smith, who was the Vice President of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the rating has been retroactively applied to previous years.
It takes into account the four main statistics when looking at a quarterback’s performance: completions, yards, touchdowns and interceptions. It then weighs them against the number of attempts. This way you can compare the numbers of players who had different amounts of attempts. For example if one quarterback throws 49 touchdowns in a single season and another quarterback throws 50 in a single season then it would appear at first glance that the second quarterback had a better year, but when you take into account (like the passer rating formula does) the fact that the second quarterback had 80 more pass attempts it’s suddenly not as clear cut. This “fictional” example is actually comparing Peyton Manning’s 2004 season to Tom Brady’s 2007 season, in which Brady broke Peyton’s record for most touchdowns thrown in a season, but had 81 more attempts. Peyton’s 2004 passer rating was 121.1, while Brady’s 2007 rating was 117.2. Those two ratings rank first and second all-time for a single season. Steve Young holds the record for best career passer rating with a 96.8.
I’ll jump into this by explaining the basic math behind the formula. This is a five-variable equation, we’ll use the letters C, Y, T, I and A for each.
C – completions; Y – yards, T – touchdowns, I – interceptions, A – attempts. Here is the formula:
Now the first thing I feel the need to explain is that there are four components here. The part that is 100C/A – 30 all over 20 we will call the C-component, the part that is Y/4A – 3/4 we will call the Y-component, the 20T/A will be the T-component and the 2.375 – 25I/A can be the I-component. Each component to the formula has a floor and ceiling. The basic way to explain this is saying that the floor for each is zero and the ceiling is 2.375. If any given component of the formula has a value higher than 2.375 or lower than 0.0 the value is to be defaulted back to the maximum or minimum value (2.375 or 0.0) and this is why the 158.3 passer rating is deemed perfect.
The perfect passer rating is rare, having only been accomplished 56 times (four of which were in the post season) since 1960, which averages out to be less than once per year. The first qualifier for a player to be said to have had a perfect passer rating in a game is that he must have attempted at least ten passes, otherwise running backs who pass on a trick play, or punters who throw on a fake punt could be added to the list. The only other qualifier is that they must have a 2.375 in each of the components I mentioned before. This is the trickier part. For a player to get a 2.375 in the C-component they must have a completion percentage of at least 77.5. For the Y-component they must have an average of at least 12.5 yards per attempt. For the T-component a minimum of 11.875 percent of the passes must be for touchdowns. And finally for the I-component they simply must not throw a single interception.
Only 46 different players have had a perfect passer rating in a game since 1960, and only six have done so more than once. Peyton Manning has done so the most number of times with four, and the other five are Ben Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner, Craig Morton, Dave Krieg, and Ken O’Brien. 1989 was the only season in which two different quarterbacks for the same team threw perfect passer ratings in the same year. That year the San Francisco 49ers had both Joe Montana and Steve Young. Only four players have ever had a perfect passer rating and had their team lose that same game: Daryle Lamonica, Bobby Hebert, Mike Buck and Chad Pennington. Lamonica and Buck did not start in those games.
Ken O’Brien has the crown of the most attempts in a game with a perfect passer rating at 32 and is also the only player to ever do it while also throwing for 400 or more yards, which was in the same game. It has only happened six times when a player has thrown for five or more touchdowns, Peyton Manning is the only of which to do so twice. Drew Bledsoe is the only player to have a perfect game as a rookie and Eli Manning is the most recent player to have a perfect passer rating, when he did it on October 11, 2009 against the Raiders. The only four players to have a perfect passer rating in the playoffs are Terry Bradshaw, Dave Krieg, Don Meredith, and Peyton Manning. Manning is the only player ever to have one in January.
Now for the opposite end of the spectrum, the 0.0 passer rating (which doesn’t have a cool nickname like “perfect rating” so I am deciding in this moment that from here on out it should be known as the “epic fail rating”) we start with the same initial qualifier; the player must attempt at least ten passes. And similar (except the exact opposite) to the perfect rating, the epic fail rating’s only other necessity is to have a 0.0 in all four components. In the C-component a player must have a completion percentage of 30 or less to get a 0.0, for the Y-component he must have an average of three yards per attempt or less, for the I-component a minimum of 9.5 percent of his passes must be intercepted and he can’t throw any touchdowns.
The epic fail rating is nearly as rare as a perfect passer rating, having only happened (I think) 66 times since 1960, which is just over an average of once per year. This has been done by 57 players in that time, with Terry Bradshaw, who had three career games of a 0.0 passer rating, being the only one to have done so more than twice. Seven other players did so twice though: Warren Moon, Joe Namath, John Hadl, Dick Wood, Dan Pastorini, Cotton Davidson, and Gary Keithley. Craig Morton is the only player to ever post an epic fail rating in a Super Bowl, when his Broncos lost to the Cowboys but both Tommy Thompson and Otto Graham had done so in NFL Championship games and Thompson’s is the first known player to ever record an epic fail rating in a win; his team won 7 to 0. There was one game on December 9, 1973 that both starting quarterbacks had an epic fail passer rating. Bob Lee of the Atlanta Falcons and Gary Keithley of the St. Louis Cardinals had 0.0 ratings; the Cardinals won 32 to 10, which makes Keithley one of only seven players to ever have an epic fail rating in a winning game.
Randy Fasani had an epic fail rating in his only ever career start, while both Tony Graziani and Gary Keithley joined Fasani for having epic fail ratings in their first career start, but both went on to start more games. In fact Keithley went one-up on the other two by having 0.0 passer ratings in his first TWO career starts and is the only player to do so in back-to-back games. Cotton Davidson is the only other player to have two epic fail ratings in the same season, though Rex Grossman almost joined them when he posted his epic fail rating in 2006 and had a 1.3 rating earlier that season. Both Dave Wilson and Don Gault did so in the last games of their careers; talk about not going out on top. Twice have two quarterbacks for the same team thrown epic fail ratings in the same game, and both times were on December 12. Richard Todd and Joe Namath in 1976 against the Bengals and Cliff Stoudt and Terry Bradshaw in 1982 against the Bills. So if it’s December 12 and your quarterback is having an off day, don’t chant for the backup, because he’ll likely do just as bad. Eli Manning also had his only career epic fail rating on December 12.
The NFL passer rating is also used for the CFL (Canadian Football League) but the NCAA has an entirely different one that I honestly don’t understand at all. Though if there were one thing I could change about the NFL passer rating it would be to eliminate the floor and ceiling marks of 0.0 and 2.375. Let players have negative passer ratings and ratings in the 180s and higher. That way we could compare to determine which perfect passer ratings were the most impressive and which epic fail ratings were the most embarrassing. I understand that the floor and ceiling are in place to make all four components weigh in equally but I think they should do both. Call one the passer rating and one the adjusted passer rating or something because it would give us a whole extra angle to look at this from. If you have any questions, ideas or thoughts in general about the NFL passer rating formula/system feel free to leave a comment.
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