October 21, 2014

Rookie Of The Year: Dalton Or Newton?

On Saturday, the NFL will pass out its awards for the 2011 season, including Rookie Of The Year. While the Bengals have two legitimate candidates for the award, we all know that they will get very little real consideration and that the award will be given to Cam Newton based solely on one number: 4051.

The case between Cam Newton and Andy Dalton is not nearly so simple.

Total Passing Yards

Newton will win the ROY award because of his 4051 passing yds. That’s an impressive number. He surpassed Peyton Manning’s rookie record of 3739 yds, bettering him by 312 yds. He passed for over 400 yds in each of his first two games. Clearly he was a major force for his team. And he came into the league far better prepared to succeed than many of the experts thought he was.

By contrast, Dalton only had 3398 passing yds. That’s only the fifth highest amount by a rookie, behind Newton, Manning, Bradford and Ryan. But Newton topped him by 653 yds, and that’s all that will matter.

If you care to look a little deeper (ROY voters won’t), you’ll see something interesting. When experts discuss teams, strength of schedule gets a lot of run. But you won’t hear SoS that discussed when comparing stats between Dalton and Newton.

In logging his 4051 yds, Cam faced all of one top-5 passing defense, the Texans. If you want to look at top-10 passing defenses, add one more name, the Jaguars. Cam had two of his three worst games against those two opponents, throwing for only 307 yds combined (153.5 yds avg).

Dalton faced many of the top passing defenses in 2011.

Care to guess how many games Dalton played against top-5 passing defenses in the regular season? SEVEN!!! Pittsburgh (#1) twice, Cleveland (#2) twice, Houston (#3), and Baltimore (#4) twice. If you want to look at top-10 passing defenses, add St Louis (#7) and Jacksonville (#8). That’s more than half of the season throwing against top-10 defenses! In fact, the worst passing defense that Dalton faced was Buffalo at #19. (We can only speculate how many yards he might have thrown for had Andy played 11 games against bottom-half passing defenses like Cam did.) In those nine games, Andy threw for 1808 yds (200.9 yds avg).

Clearly Dalton was better when facing quality passing defenses.

Total Rushing Yards

Newton ran for an impressive 706 yds on 126 rushes, making him the #26 rusher in the league. Dalton ran for only 152 yds on 37 attempts. This does give Newton’s game a dimension that Dalton simply does not have, and it will further cement the (misguided) notion that Newton is a prohibitive favorite for the ROY award.

While this is not a completely irrelevant factor, I do not weight the rushing yards heavily simply because it is not something we require to call a guy an “elite” QB. Let’s look at the rushing stats for guys we generally consider the best in the biz.

  • Aaron Rodgers: 249 yds on 60 att
  • Drew Brees: 86 yds on 21 att
  • Tom Brady: 109 yds on 43 att
  • Eli Manning: 35 yds on 15 att
  • Ben Roethlisberger: 70 yds on 31 att
  • Matthew Stafford: 78 yds on 22 att
  • Matt Ryan: 84 yds on 37 att
  • Philip Rivers: 36 yds on 26 att

That’s 747 yds among 8 QBs combined. Again, I’m not saying this is totally irrelevant, but asking “Who is the better rusher?” is not among the top-level or even mid-level criteria I use to compare QBs.

Common Opponents

The Bengals and Panthers had five opponents in common, all of the AFC South and the Cardinals. Let’s see how the two QBs fared against common opponents.

AZ: The Cardinals are the most difficult to compare because of how bad their defense was at the beginning of the season (they started out 1-6) and how good they were at the end (they finished 8-8). The Cardinals and Panthers squared off in Week 1. While Newton had a huge passing game against the Cards (422 yds), the Panthers scored only 21 pts and gave the Cards their only win in Sept/Oct.

Meanwhile, the Bengals played the Cardinals in Week 16, who were 6-1 in Nov/Dec. Dalton threw for only 154 yds as a vastly improved Patrick Peterson did a solid job against A.J. Green. But those 154 yds were enough to get a 23-16 win over the Cards.

IND: The Bengals played the Colts in Week 6, while the Panthers played the still-winless Colts in Week 12. Both teams scored 27 pts to beat the Colts. Dalton threw for 264 yds, while Newton threw for 208 yds and ran for 53 yds.

JAX: In Week 3, the Panthers scored 16 pts behind 158 yds passing and 27 yds rushing by Newton, which was enough to beat the Jaguars in Blaine Gabbert’s first game. Two weeks later, the Bengals dropped 30 on the Jags behind 179 yds passing by Dalton in a game that was close into the 4th qtr while facing a Gabbert who was beginning to get comfortable with the NFL game.

TEN: In Week 9, the Bengals turned a 10-point halftime deficit into a 7-point win as Dalton threw for 217 yds and 3 TDs. The following week, the Panthers managed to score only 3 points despite 212 yds passing by Newton.

HOU: In Week 14, the Bengals lost a heartbreaking game in which they led for all but the final 2 seconds, continuing their bafflingly bad record against rookie QBs like T.J. Yates. Dalton threw for 189 yds. The next week, Newton threw for 149 yds and ran for another 55 yds as Yates’ rookie luck ran out in a 28-13 Panthers win.

In all, Newton went 3-2 in these games while Dalton was 4-1. Newton threw for 146 more yards in these 5 games, but the Bengals scored 123 pts while the Panthers scored only 95 pts in these 5 games. Again, more yards for Newton, more wins for Dalton.

Wins

Aren’t wins the ultimate gauge of effectiveness in the NFL? Dalton led a team that appeared in serious disarray (most experts doubted they could win three games) to a 9-7 record in the toughest division in football and a playoff berth. Yet somehow that is being largely overlooked for a guy who threw for a ton of yards but ultimately ended up 6-10.  **facepalm**

In the end, I am not bemoaning the fact that Cam Newton will win the Rookie Of The Year award on Saturday. Both he and Dalton had incredible rookie campaigns, and unless you want to advocate a wimpy “co-winner” award, someone has to lose out.

The travesty here is that Andy Dalton is receiving nothing better than “also ran” treatment when he has a legitimate case for anyone willing to look at the numbers. Andy was significantly better when facing elite passing defenses. I consider them roughly tied against common opponents, leaning a little to Andy’s favor since he came up one win better. Yes, Cam can run. But Andy carried his team to the playoffs.

All the award voters will care about is 4051.