QBR ranks: Alex Smith's playoff victory

January, 16, 2012
1/16/12
11:08
PM ET
History cares little about how Joe Montana and Dwight Clark played before combining for "The Catch" to send the San Francisco 49ers into the Super Bowl.

That single moment defined the 49ers' 1981 season. It still defines Clark and, to a degree, Montana as well.

The fact that Montana finished that NFC Championship Game against Dallas with three touchdowns, three interceptions and an 81.4 NFL passer rating is irrelevant.

Thirty years later, Alex Smith's 28-yard touchdown run and winning 14-yard scoring pass to Vernon Davis -- all in the final 2:11 of the 49ers' 36-32 playoff victory over New Orleans -- have given NFL history two more iconic plays.

We know those plays were pivotal and Smith deserves credit for his role in them. The question is always, how much?

Not long after the game, several people wanted to know what ESPN's quarterback metric said about the most significant performance of Smith's NFL career.

Hey, I wonder if Total QBR gave Smith his due. It did, but probably to an unsatisfying extent.

The figure was 78.1 out of 100, third-best in the divisional round, behind those for Tom Brady (95.1) and Eli Manning (88.8). Aaron Rodgers (66.9) and Drew Brees (62.0) also fared above the 50-point level representing average play.

"If Smith only had a [78.1] QBR, that system is horrible," came one response. "Four TDs and no picks?"

I'd give Smith a perfect score for coming through in epic fashion. QBR measured Smith's performance on different terms. To what degree did his play affect win probability throughout the game?

On the bad side, Smith took three of his four sacks on third down. He fumbled twice, losing one on third down. On the good side, he won the game with clutch fourth-quarter throws, including well down the field. His QBR for the game jumped from 25.7 to 64.2 on his 28-yard scoring run. It rose to 78.1 with his 14-yard pass to Davis for the win.

Better yet for Smith, his fourth-quarter QBR was 99.7, the third-highest for any player in a fourth quarter this season. His score for the game was his fourth-highest of the season. The team is 12-0 when his QBR exceeds 41.4 (50 is average).

The first chart shows Smith's QBR scores by game in descending order.

The chart below shows scores for all quarterbacks in the divisional round. The columns with "EPA" show how many expected points were added through the quarterback's contributions. Every situation carries a certain amount of expected points. A negative play reduces the expected points for a given situation.

The clutch-weight average column reflects game situations, not how well players performed during those situations. Any clutch average above 1.0 reflects a quarterback performing in higher-pressure situations.

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