Overrated or MVP? A pair of ESPN stat gurus have opposing views on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco

The Baltimore Sun

As recently as last week, at least one national writer was still throwing haymakers at Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, saying that his reputation as a winner had more to do with the Ravens defense than it did his own performance. That’s an argument that has become, to quote the great wordsmith Fergie, so “2000 and late.”

But the point of this post is not to quibble with Grantland’s Bill Barnwell, who based his argument on box scores from 2008 to 2011, though I’m not sure why he decided to pick this battle with the quarterback now.

Flacco is third in the NFL with 1,269 passing yards, his 8.14 yards per attempt is fifth, and he is sandwiched between Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers with a 95.8 passing rating that ranks 11th among qualified quarterbacks. More importantly, the Ravens are 3-1 due in large part to an offense that ranks second in total yards (424 yards per game) and fifth in scoring (30.3 points per game). The Ravens have scored at least 23 points each game, and they needed every one of their 31 points to beat the New England Patriots in Week 3.

But Barnwell isn’t the only statistician over at the Worldwide Leader who recently spent time crunching Flacco’s numbers. ESPN Insider Ben Alamar has done it, too, and he believes Flacco is making a case for MVP.

So how did Alamar draw this conclusion? First, he focused on quarterbacks because eight of the past 10 MVPs were passers. Then he weeded out quarterbacks who didn't rank in the top 10 in QBR (ESPN's answer to the NFL's passer rating) and whose team didn't rank in the top 10 in total offense. He then looked at a stat called Total EPA, which reflects how much of the team's points were created by the quarterback's play.

The three men left standing? Flacco, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady.

Brady is a two-time MVP with three Super Bowl titles for the New England Patriots, and Ryan, who was selected 15 picks before Flacco in the 2008 draft, has been getting a lot of MVP buzz for the undefeated Atlanta Falcons this season.

But Joe Flacco? Does he really belong in this conversation? Alamar believes so. He pointed out many of the standard stats I referenced above, but he also dug up three other interesting stats to support his case.

First, he said that Flacco's passes have averaged 10.7 yards in the air -- the highest total in the league and 2.5 yards higher than the league average. Second, Flacco's accuracy on those long throws has also improved, as he has completed 11 passes longer than 20 yards this season after completing 17 of them a season ago. Third, Flacco has been sacked nine times and the average time in the pocket for those sacks was 2.9 seconds.

It’s probably too early to seriously debate the MVP merits of Flacco and his peers, but I feel comfortable boldly concluding after four games that Flacco has gotten better. And based on early returns, it looks like the Ravens offense should finish in the top 10 for the first time since 1997. But maybe we should cool it and wait a few months to decide if Flacco is “elite” or if he is worthy of taking home some individual hardware.

Yeah, right.

If he puts forth an absolute dud in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, you and I both know it will be open season on Flacco again. The reality is that until he wins a Super Bowl or becomes consistent enough to go to a couple of Pro Bowls, critics will bash him and then supporters will come out of the woodwork to defend him. But hey, at least it’s better to have to endure this quarterback debate instead of the one currently going on in Kansas City.

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