Quality starts for quarterbacks

The quality start has been a statistical staple in baseball for nearly three decades now. If a pitcher goes six or more innings and allows three or fewer runs, he’s credited with one. It’s called Giving Your Team A Chance To Win.

The NFL should have a similar stat for quarterbacks. It wouldn’t be too hard to come up with the criteria. For instance: The league-wide passer rating last season was 84.1 (an all-time high). What if you said, “OK, if a starting QB posted a rating higher than that in a game — if his play was above average — we’ll award him a quality start.”

Sound reasonable? By that standard, here are the only passers who had 10 or more ratings of 84.2 or better:

2013 NFL LEADERS IN QUALITY STARTS

Quarterback, Team Quality Starts
Peyton Manning, Broncos              15
Philip Rivers, Chargers              13
Matt Ryan, Falcons              12
Colin Kaepernick, 49ers              11
Tony Romo, Cowboys              11
Russell Wilson, Seahawks              11
Drew Brees, Saints              10
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers              10
Matthew Stafford, Lions              10

(Minimum: 5 attempts in a game. Maybe you’d prefer this to be more — 10 or 12 or 15. Problem is, when you go back in time, the number of attempts tends to decrease. Bob Griese threw just seven passes in the Dolphins’ Super Bowl VIII win over the Vikings, completing six for 73 yards and a 110.1 rating. That isn’t a quality start?)

Tom Brady, who would normally be on a list like this, only had nine — largely because of all the issues the Patriots had with receivers. Nick Foles, whose 119.2 rating was tops in the NFL, only had nine, too. But remember: He started just 10 games.

At any rate, you get the idea. A quarterback doesn’t have to be spectacular to chalk up a quality start. He just has to be better than ordinary.

The season-by-season quality starts leaders for the rest of the 2000s, in case you’re curious:

Year League Avg Quality Starts Leaders
2012        83.8 Peyton Manning 14, Aaron Rodgers 13, Matt Ryan 13, Russell Wilson 12
2011        82.5 Tom Brady 14, Drew Brees 14, Rodgers 14, Tony Romo 12, Matt Stafford 12
2010        82.2 Brady 14, Joe Flacco 12, Philip Rivers 12
2009        81.2 Rivers 16, Rodgers 15, P. Manning 14, Matt Schaub 14
2008        81.5 Chad Pennington 12, Rivers 12
2007        80.9 Brady 13, Romo 13, David Garrard 12, Matt Hasselbeck 12, P. Manning 12
2006        78.5 P. Manning 14, Carson Palmer 13, Brady 12, Brees 12, Rivers 12
2005        78.2 Palmer 14, Hasselbeck 13, P. Manning 13, Jake Delhomme 12, Trent Green 12
2004        80.9 P. Manning 15, Daunte Culpepper 14, Brees 12, Green 12
2003        76.6 Hasselbeck 13, P. Manning 13, Culpepper 12, Steve McNair 12
2002        78.6 Rich Gannon 13, P. Manning 12, Pennington 12
2001        76.6 Gannon 14, Jeff Garcia 14, Brett Favre 12
2000        76.2 Gannon 13, Garcia 12, Elvis Grbac 12, P. Manning 12

I must admit, I came away with a new appreciation for Gannon after taking a look at these numbers. When he was with the Raiders at the end of his career, he led or tied for the lead in quality starts three years running. The only other quarterback who’s done that in the modern era (read: since 1960) is John Hadl of the AFL’s Chargers from ’65 to ’67.

And how about Rivers? In ’09 he had 16 quality starts in 16 games. Who knew?

In fact, he’s one of just five modern QBs who’ve had a quality start in every scheduled game. The club:

QBS WHO HAD QUALITY STARTS IN ALL THEIR TEAM’S GAMES (SINCE ’60)

Year Quarterback, Team Quality Starts Result (W-L-T)
2009 Philip Rivers, Chargers              16 Won division (13-3)
1992 Steve Young, 49ers              16 NFC finalist (14-2)
1984 Dan Marino, Dolphins              16 Super Bowl finalist (14-2)
1973 Fran Tarkenton, Vikings              14 Super Bowl finalist (12-2)
1960 Milt Plum, Browns              12 Missed playoffs (8-3-1)

● Young was a machine in the ’90s. He had a streak of 23 straight quality starts from ’91 to ’93 and another of 21 straight from ’94 to ’95. Marino’s best streak was 22 from ’83 through ’84. More recently, Peyton Manning had a 23-game streak snapped last season in that wild Sunday nighter against the Patriots. Streaks of 20 or longer are extremely rare. (Note: In all four cases, playoff games are included.)

● A little respect, please, for Fran Tarkenton. In addition to his gem of a 1973 season, he had 12 quality starts in his final year (1978) at the age of 38. Only one quarterback in the league had more (Archie Manning, Saints, 13).

● Plum’s forgotten season is one of the greatest in NFL history. Through 11 games — they only played 12 back then — he had just one interception. He finished with a rating of 110.4, which is still the 11th-highest of all time. And get this: The rest of the passers in the league had a combined rating of 57.8, barely half of his. Incredible.

One more note:

● In 1986 Jim Kelly tied for the league lead with 13 quality starts. The Bills went 4-9 in those games.

Which brings us to . . .

MOST QUALITY STARTS, LAST FIVE SEASONS

Quarterback,Team Quality Starts
Philip Rivers, Chargers              62
Aaron Rodgers, Packers              60
Tom Brady, Patriots              59
Drew Brees, Saints              58
Peyton Manning, Colts/Broncos              53

Obviously, Manning missed all of 2010 and Rodgers nearly half of last season with injuries, but aren’t any real surprises here, are there? Except maybe that Rivers — the only one who hasn’t won (or even been to) a Super Bowl — ranks right up there with Big Boys in the week-in, week-out performance department.

The only drawback to my definition of a “quality start,” of course, is that you don’t know what the league-wide passer rating is until the regular season is over. (Last year it was 84.1, the year before that 83.8, the year before that 82.5.) In baseball, we know as soon as a pitcher heads to the showers whether he’s met all the requirements.

But there’s no question the NFL needs a stat like this. It’s just a matter of where the league wants to set the bar. I mean, how can you keep track of Yards After Contact for running backs and Yards After Catch for receivers and not have quality starts for quarterbacks?

Sources: pro-football reference.com, The National Forgotten League.