Is Kaepernick better than Brady?
Posted Jan. 17 at 03:59 PM
I find the quarterback position to be intriguing this week. There might be less separation between the four quarterbacks than any other four in conference championship game history. I’m not going to get out the historical numbers and try to prove that, but that’s the way it seems.
Tom Brady and Matt Ryan, of course, are the elite-type passers. But they’re both going up against tough defenses. Joe Flacco has been playing well recently; he has a good history against New England – and on the road in the playoffs. Colin Kaepernick isn’t half the passer as those guys, of course, but he’ll run for more yards than all of them combined, and rushing production tends to be richly rewarded in most fantasy scoring systems.
I will start with Brady, since I think he’s probably the No. 1 quarterback in most people’s eyes. He averaged 302 yards in the regular season, with 34 TDs. He was a surgeon against Houston, picking them apart for 344 yards and 3 TDs. If you go off your gut, without looking at anything too carefully, he’s definitely the No. 1 quarterback.
But let’s look at him a little closer. Baltimore’s defense was pretty ordinary for much of the regular season, but it’s got all of its key guys healthy now. And Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and the guys have a good feel for how to play against Brady. They’re 2-4 against him, and it easily could be 4-2. There were a bunch of dubious penalty calls in their 2009 loss up there, and they blew chances at the end of last year’s AFC Championship. Billy Cundiff missed a game-tying field goal, and Lee Evans had the winning touchdown slapped out of his hands.
The Ravens defense has some kind of feel for how to rattle quarterbacks inside the red zone. They’ve allowed only 18 TD passes in 18 games. It’s unlikely (possible, but unlikely) that Brady will throw 3 TDs in this game.
Brady, remarkably, has thrown only 7 TDs in his last six games against Baltimore. He’s thrown more interceptions (8) in those games. I remember last year’s AFC Championship. The Ravens played with a lot of extra defensive backs, so the Patriots ran the ball more than usual. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has a good game. Brady was every bit as good as a quarterback last year, yet winded up with 239 yards and no touchdowns in that game, with 2 interceptions.
TOM BRADY AGAINST RAVENS
Year Score Com Att Yds TD Int
2007 27-24 18 38 257 2 1
2009 27-21 21 32 258 1 0
2009 14-33 23 42 154 2 3
2010 23-20 27 44 292 1 2
2011 23-20 22 36 239 0 2
2012 30-31 28 41 335 1 0
New England is a 9-point favorite, but I think that’s out of whack. The Baltimore defense is playing too well. I don’t see them getting simply overrun. I think they’ll be able to turn it into more of a chess match at times. I will set the over-unders for Brady at 280 passing yards, 1.7 TDs and .8 interceptions.
Now, Brady obviously won’t throw 1.7 TDs and .8 interceptions, by that I mean that I expect Brady will throw 1-2 TDs, with 2 TDs about twice as likely as 1 TD. Brady has thrown only 8 interceptions in 17 games, but I think he’ll probably throw one in this game. Brady wasn’t intercepted in his last game against Baltimore, but he threw multiple interceptions against them in his previous three.
Brady isn’t a factor as a runner, but he does get used some on quarterback sneaks at the goal line. He’s scored 8 TDs in 36 games the last two years – about one every 4-5 games. In a rough sense, there’s a 15-20 percent chance he’ll run for a touchdown in this game. He’s run for touchdowns in 2 of his last 6 games against the Ravens.
But enough on Brady. Let’s take a look at the other quarterback in that game, Joe Flacco. This guy might be better than we are giving him credit for. He’s won 5 of 9 career playoff games on the road. He’s thrown multiple touchdown passes in four straight playoff games. He won a playoff game up in Foxboro three years ago, and he played well enough to win there in the AFC Championship game last year. Sterling Moore made the nice play in the last minute, having the wherewithal to slap the ball out of Lee Evans’ hands.
In each of the last three games between Baltimore and New England, in fact, Flacco has finished with better passing numbers than Tom Brady.
Flacco in last three NE-Balt: 973 yards, 7 TDs, 2 interceptions
Brady in last three NE-Balt: 866 yards, 2 TDs, 4 interceptions
Flacco isn’t facing a great pass defense. New England allowed 27 TD passes in the regular season – 12 more than Baltimore. It’s a group that’s upticked a little late in the year, with Aqib Talib helping out at cornerback, but it’s just an average pass defense.
We will set aside Baltimore’s Week 17 game (in which they pulled a bunch of guys early). Setting that aside, Flacco has averaged 257 passing yards per game, with 25 TDs. He’s shown he can play well on the road and in playoff games. He’s played well recently. He’s hitting on some of these haymaker type bombs downfield, letting Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin make plays. And he’s facing a defense that’s average at best.
The logical expectation for Flacco, I think, is about 260-270 passing yards and 1-2 TDs. Flacco has thrown 27 TDs, while Patriots have allowed 29. That’s 56 in 35 games, or 1.6 per game – 1.53 if you go off only the regular-season numbers. He might be right there with Brady statistically, given the matchup. Brady gets the edge in the QB sneak department (which factors into the rankings). Brady has outscored Flacco 8-4 over the last two years. So in a ballpark sense, we’ll say Brady is about twice as likely to run for a touchdown. But Flacco isn’t bad.
In the other game, we’ve got Matt Ryan, who was playing at a Brady-type level early in the year. But he wasn’t as effective in the second half of the season. In his first nine games, Ryan averaged 308 passing yards and threw 20 TDs. In his final seven games, he averaged 30 fewer yards per game, and with just 12 TDs in seven games.
Ryan is facing a good defense. The 49ers allowed only 59 percent completions in the regular season, with just 19 TDs. The 49ers allowed only 217 passing yards per game during the regular season, and STATS, Inc., pointed out the other day that they’re 6-0 in the eastern time zone the last two years. Ryan, of course, just played pretty well against a similarly good Seattle defense, finishing with 250 yards and 3 TDs, but this is definitely a below-average matchup for him. Atlanta is a 4-point underdog. Can it contain San Francisco’s grinding running game?
In a typical matchup against an average defense, we would project Ryan to pass for 280-285 yards and close to 2 TDs. But given the matchup, and the way both teams have been playing, we see Ryan as more likely to finish with something like 260 yards and 1-2 TDs. He passed for 32 TDs in the regular season, while San Francisco allowed 19. That’s 51 touchdowns in 32 games, of an average of about 1.6 per game. He’s not a big factor as a runner, averaging 7 rushing yards per game over the last three years, with 3 TDs in 48 games. In a ballpark sense, he looks pretty similar to Flacco.
Then there’s Colin Kaepernick. He’s been driving me crazing all year. When he took over as their starter, I expected him to make a Newton-Tebow type impact as a runner, but that didn’t happen. He ran for more than 31 yards in only two his seven regular-season starts. And with only good, not great, rushing production, he wasn’t quite the fantasy quarterback I expected.
But that was the regular season.
The stakes are higher now, so the team – apparently, anyway – will use him more as a runner now. He ran for a record 181 yards against the Packers, with 2 TDs. I’m not sure if the plan in limiting him (in the regular season) was to preserve his health or to not give defenses as much time to prepare for him. But whatever, the bubble wrap is off now. He’s the legit two-way threat this quarterbacking group.
As well as he runs, I think it’s safe to say he’ll run for at least 50 yards in this game. He might run for 80-90, and he’s probably about as likely as Frank Gore to run for a touchdown in this game. He might be involved in all of San Francisco’s touchdowns. And that rushing production significantly enhances his value in fantasy leagues. If you’re in a league where it’s 1 point for every 20 passing yards and 1 point for every 10 rushing yards, it will be tough for you to work through the numbers, try to project each quarterback and not have Kaepernick come out ahead of Brady, Ryan and Flacco. That’s just the way the 20-10 fantasy scoring system is structured.
Kaepernick’s No. 1 trait is his mobility, but he’s not chopped liver as a passer. He’s started eight games, and he’s averaged 233 passing yards, with 12 TD passes (1.5 per game). He faces an average-type defense here, I think. The Falcons allowed a league-low 14 TD passes in the regular season, but they were a bottom-10 group in terms of passing yards. Russell Wilson got off to a slow start against them last week but finished with 385 passing yards and 2 TDs.
I’m not too putting too much weight into Atlanta allowing just 14 TD passes. That defense will be stretched and pulled, trying to handle San Francisco’s running game and Kaepernick’s ability to scramble. That should open some opportunities to make pass plays.
The Falcons have played four games against Cam Newton the last two years. He’s a Kaepernick-type quarterback, and that experience could help them. But they haven’t played well against Newton. They were 1-1 against him this year, and he passed for 2 TDs and ran for a touchdown in each of those games. He ran for 86 and 116 yards in those games, and passes for 215 and 287.
Further down in the pecking order, Kaepernick has played two games in domes this year, and he wasn’t impressive in either one. The 49ers scored 31 points at New Orleans, but two of their touchdowns came on interception returns. And Kaepernick led the team to only 13 points in a loss at St. Louis.
I am putting down Kaepernick for 220 passing yards and 55 rushing yards. If the 49ers score in the mid-20s in this game (and I think they will), he’ll probably have a hand in 2 TDs rushing and passing. And if you use the 20-10 type fantasy scoring system, that makes Kaepernick, not Brady, the No. 1 quarterback on the board this week.
QUARTERBACK RANKINGS FOR THIS WEEK
1. Colin Kaepernick
2. Tom Brady
3. Matt Ryan
4. Joe Flacco
Ryan and Flacco are almost interchangeable. On my first draft of the projections, I’ve got Flacco higher than Ryan in a TD-only format. I may go back and re-visit the issue after I look at the running backs.
Kaepernick is far enough ahead of Brady that I would be surprised if I see anything with the running backs that will cause me to change that ranking.
How do you guys see it? Kaepernick over Brady this week?
Posted by PETER DEBIASE | Jan. 18 at 06:53 AM
Roman put the read option on ice for a couple of weeks, most likely to throw his first playoff opponent off, but rolled it out again with incredible results last week so I have to agree on Kaepernick. You could make the argument that Atlanta has now had a week to study it on tape, but seeing it and stopping it are two different things. Considering their inability to stop Newton, and being a rather poor run defense to begin with against arguably the leagues best run blocking O-Line, I can't see them stopping Kappy. But I have a strange feeling that Atlanta is going to the Super Bowl.
Posted by MARTIN DONNELLY | Jan. 18 at 08:16 AM
Is that like separation among the four quarterbacks?
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