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Real Quarterback Rating Differential: Where Does Dallas Need To Get Better In 2017?

Showing a higher correlation with winning than the better known Passer Rating Differential, what can Real Quarterback Rating Differential tell us about the Dallas Cowboys and where they need to get better?

NFL: Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

What is Real Quarterback Rating Differential, and why is it important to study? This stat was developed by Cold Hard Football Facts. Let’s let them tell the story.

We introduced Real Quarterback Rating before the 2011 season as a way to quantify all aspect of QB play. It’s been a TOTAL score behind your wildest dreams. Teams better in Real QB Rating in 2011 and 2012 went an incredible 441-70 (.863), proving that winning in the NFL is almost always about more efficient play at the QB position.

How is it calculated, and how does it compare to the more commonly known passer rating?

The current passer rating is just that, a measure of passing effectiveness. Real Quarterback Rating includes rushing attempts, rushing yards, rushing TDs, fumbles and sacks to produce a new kind of rating that measures a quarterback’s overall performance with the ball, not just as a passer when he actually releases the ball (which is all that passer rating currently measures).

In other words, for quarterbacks like Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, and even Aaron Rodgers who use their legs as well as their arms, Real Quarterback Rating (RQR) attempts to capture the value those plays add to an offense. Rushing touchdowns for quarterbacks are treated equally with passing TDs.

But that’s just on the offensive side. On the defensive side, teams get credit for holding down the opposing quarterback. With rushing plays melded with passes, fumbles added to interceptions, the idea is to capture more data than the traditional defensive passer rating numbers do.

All of this would just be an academic exercise if it weren’t for its correlation with winning. Let’s compare how passer rating differential (PRD) and real quarterback rating differential (RQRD) correlate with winning over the last five years. The percentages indicate how often the team winning PRD or RQRD won games over these years.

Year 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
PRD 82.30% 77.30% 81.50% 80.40% 82%
RQRD 87% 87.50% 85.80% 85.90% 85.50%

Let’s look at this another way. Where have Super Bowl opponents ranked under these two stats over the last five years?

Year SB Team RQRD Rnk PRD Rnk
2016 New England 1 1
Atlanta 2 2
2015 Carolina 1 2
Denver 12 18
2014 Seattle 2 4
New England 4 5
2013 Seattle 1 1
Denver 2 2
2012 San Francisco 4 4
Baltimore 12 12

Of the ten Super Bowl teams since 2012, six have ranked first or second in real passer rating differential, two more have ranked fourth, and two have been 12th. Plus, all 10 teams have ranked as high or higher than they ranked in passer rating differential.

As you can see, real quarterback rating differential (RQRD) is a superior stat. It stands to reason that teams should strive to maximize their real quarterback rating on offense, and minimize the opponent’s real quarterback rating on defense to give themselves a better shot at the Super Bowl.

How Have The Dallas Cowboys Fared At Real Quarterback Rating Differential Lately?

To get a sense of how the Cowboys have performed, let’s look at the last five years.

Team Year ORQR Rank DRQR Rank RQRD Rank
Dallas 2016 97.12 3 85.78 23 11.34 5
Dallas 2015 70.97 31 89.47 22 -18.5 30
Dallas 2014 99.7 2 85.8 23 13.9 5
Dallas 2013 88.14 7 90.88 28 -2.74 20
Dallas 2012 84.14 10 86.35 27 -2.21 16

(In this table, ORQR is offensive real quarterback rating, and DRQR is defensive real quarterback rating. The difference between the two is the real quarterback rating differential we have been discussing.)

Dallas has been in the top five twice in the last five years, but that’s typically not enough if you want to win the Super Bowl. Only two of the ten Super Bowl contestants in recent years have been outside the top five — Baltimore in 2012 and Denver last year.

The obvious reason Dallas has not ranked higher is because it’s defense against opposing quarterbacks has not ranked higher than 22nd over the last five years, and ironically, that was during it’s worst season, 2015.

But that’s not the only reason. As Atlanta is showing this year, an astounding offense can make up for a below-average defense. Atlanta is ranked 21st this year on defense, just two spots and less than half a point better than Dallas.

Early this season, I penned an article suggesting that teams can win Super Bowls without a top-ranking defense, but we used points scored as the measure, not real quarterback rating differential, which didn’t exist as a stat before 2011. So perhaps Dallas doesn’t have to become a top-ranked defense against quarterbacks to have a shot at a Super Bowl. But, of course, it wouldn’t hurt.

That’s as far as this article is going to go for now. In subsequent pieces, we will take a look at what Dallas might do to improve these stats on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.

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