Predicting Performance of Dual Threat QBs
Determining the quality of matchup for most QBs is quite easy. Pick guys with high team point projections going against bad pass defenses. But with dual threat QBs like Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, and RG3, is pass defense all we care about? What are the attributes we should look for in opposing defenses to signal great games from dual threat QBs? I will try to answer this question by looking at both the best games in these players careers, and looking at what defensive attributes may have signaled those performances.
Robert Griffin III
In the majority of these games, the QBs team either blew out the other team or had comfortable early leads.
It makes sense to look at the common teams each year and look at the attributes of each of those teams according to FootballOutsiders and PFF data.
In 2012, RG3 and Newton both performed well against the Eagles and Saints. Both were bottom 5 in defense DVOA, relatively equally in run and pass. Both teams had extremely bad safeties and linebackers specifically. The biggest difference was the Eagles had a superb pass rush, while the Saints pass rush was no existent.
Newton beat up on the Falcons twice, an average overall defense that was much worse against the run than the pass. The defense had an extremely bad safeties and defensive line, and only slightly poor linebackers.
In 2013, RG3 and Newton beat up on two different teams, the Giants and the Vikings. The Giants had a top 10 defense that year, while the Vikings struggled mightily against the pass. The Giants only weakness was linebackers pass coverage, an attribute the Vikings were even worse at.
Newton beat up on the Buccaneers twice in 2013. The Bucs defense was actually top 10 in the league that year. The team had a great LB and Gerard McCoy who played like one of the best defensive ends in the league, as well as Darrelle Revis, the NFL’s best corner. The rest of the team however was god awful, and safety was the weakest overall position.
The 2012 and 2014 Rams both had awful linebackers and safeties, and were beat up by RG3 in 2012 and by Kaepernick in 2014.
The majority of the teams these players faced had very poor run defenses.
Extrapolating Signals From The Data
One of the clearest signals we see here is scoring margin. Most of the time, QBs want to play from behind or in a close games to maximize fantasy points. These QBs showed the opposite tendency. Because dual threat QBs have a strategic advantage over the defense because of the threat to run or pass the ball on any play, playing from behind limits the running option and makes their offense too predictable. This signal makes sense, and therefore it seems we should favor dual threat QBs in games where they are big favorites.
Poor Run Defenses and Poor LBs and Safeties
Unlike with most QBs, dual threat QBs seem to thrive against poor run defenses. You can see pretty easily why when you think about the strength of the read option attack. The read option puts the most stress on LBs and safeties, whose ability to read the play based on the QBs movements is integral to getting into the right position to defend against the run or pass. The deception of the fake in the read option makes it extremely difficult to read who has the ball, let alone if the play is a run or pass. Bad safeties and LBs are often not able to read the backfield action well, and find themselves way out of position selling out for the run or being to cautious about the pass fake on a run play. I used FO defense data to determine run matchup, as well as PFF to determine quality of LBs and safeties.
Dual threat QBs like Newton, Griffin, and Kaepernick do not thrive on typical QB matchups. In their careers, their best games have been the result of a variety of matchup attributes. The first is scoring margin, the bigger their teams are favored to win, the better. The second is poor run defenses, who’s inability to stop the run causes issues in the passing game through play action and read option. Last is the quality of LBs and safeties, who’s ability to read the action in the backfield action is integral to getting in the right position to defend a pass or run.
Given these attributes, here are the best dual threat QB matchups for 2014.
New York Giants (28th in Rush DVOA, below average LBs and Safeties)
Cincinatti Bengals (32nd in Rush DVOA, awful LBs)
Atlanta Falcons (24th in Rush DVOA, awful LBs and Safeties)
Should be interesting to see how Kaepernick and Newton fare this week against the Giants and Falcons respectively. However, this research suggests they are both in for great games.
View all posts by Daniel Steinberg