3 Week 8 Storylines to Watch: Joe Flacco's Rough Start

Flacco isn't playing up to par this year. What else should you watch for this week?

Week 7 offered us a small taste of everything.

We had a wild 33-30 overtime win for the San Diego Chargers over the Atlanta Falcons, a sloppy slugfest between the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks ending in a 6-6 tie, and the New England Patriots going on the road, taking care of the Ben Roethlisberger-less Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-16.

In last week's article we touched on the Falcons' Super Bowl chances, which despite losing last week, still have the seventh-best odds to win it all based on our team rankings. Brock Osweiler continued to struggle, probably predictably, against the Denver Broncos, and Jay Ajayi became just the fourth running back in NFL history to rush for 200 yards in back-to-back games.

Onto Week 8.

Joe Flacco's Rough Start

Over the course of his nine-year NFL career, Joe Flacco has completed just 60.9 percent of his throws and has failed to reach 4,000 yards passing or 30 touchdowns in any individual season. From a raw statistical perspective, he’s been an average NFL quarterback.

From an efficiency standpoint compared to the average quarterback with 100 or more drop backs since 2008 -- with the help of our Net Expected Points (NEP), metric which shows how many points are added to a team’s total by an individual player -- Flacco has been slightly above average over the span of his time as an NFL starting quarterback.

Player Passing NEP Passing NEP/P Passing Success Rate
Joe Flacco 31.40 0.06 44.69%
QBs with 100+ Drop Backs 25.98 0.03 45.42%

As far as the 2016 season goes, Flacco has been pretty awful in terms of efficiency. He currently ranks 29th in Passing NEP per drop back (-0.03) among 32 quarterbacks with 100 or more drop backs, worse than Ryan Fitzpatrick, Blake Bortles, and Ryan Tannehill through seven weeks.

From 2008 to 2014, the Baltimore Ravens did not register a losing season, both masking Flacco’s average play while at the same time propping him up to levels of praise that he probably did not deserve.

Now with just 6 wins in his last 17 starts, it’s much easier to see what exactly Joe Flacco is: just a slightly above average quarterback over his career who is having a season that could end up being the worst of his career from an efficiency standpoint.

Are We Underrating Andrew Luck?

Moving from one quarterback to another, Andrew Luck has been a hot topic of discussion since entering the league. Through his first three seasons, Luck appeared to be heading on an upward trajectory:

Year Games Completion Pct Yards TD INT
2012 16 54.1 4374 23 18
2013 16 60.2 3822 23 9
2014 16 61.7 4761 40 16
2015 7 55.3 1881 15 12
2016 7 64.9 2074 14 4

Despite the team struggling to win games -- due in large part to a historically bad defense -- Luck is actually on pace to set a career-high in completion percentage and a career low in interception rate, both very positive signs.

And based on career-long efficiency metrics, Luck has been an above average quarterback since entering the league in 2012:

Player Passing NEP Passing NEP/P Passing Success Rate
Andrew Luck 53.31 0.09 45.51%
QBs with 100+ Drop Backs 35.16 0.06 45.94%

So far in 2016, Luck has performed right at his career average in terms of Passing NEP per play (0.09) and slightly above his career average Passing Success Rate (46.51%). Against other quarterbacks with 100 or more drop backs this season, however, Luck ranks 22nd in Passing NEP on a per-play basis among the 32 quarterbacks with 100 or more drop backs.

It’s unlikely that Luck will finish 2016 with statistical or efficiency totals anywhere near his monster 2014 campaign. And compared to other quarterbacks, he’s having a down year in terms of efficiency.

At 27 years old, Luck can certainly still improve. But it could be time to start re-shaping our perception of him and understand that, while he is a good starting NFL quarterback, he may never reach the lofty expectations many laid upon him coming out of Stanford.

Michael Thomas's Impressive Start

If you’re looking for bright spots for the 2-4 New Orleans Saints, look no further than rookie wide receiver Michael Thomas. On a team with a dumpster-fire defense and just a 9.2 percent chance of making the playoffs according to our team rankings, Thomas has done well to provide Drew Brees with a relatively reliable target to complement Brandin Cooks.

He currently leads the league in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns among all rookie wide receivers:

Week Targets Tar Market Share Receptions Rec Market Share YD YD Market Share TD
1 6 14.3% 6 21.4% 58 13.7% 0
2 5 11.4% 4 13.8% 56 21.3% 0
3 11 20.4% 7 19.4% 71 18.9% 1
4 9 25.0% 4 17.4% 44 21.4% 1
6 5 10.2% 5 14.7% 78 16.8% 1
7 13 27.1% 10 27.0% 130 35.4% 0

Although Thomas’ weekly target share has yo-yoed a bit, he has seen more than20 percent of the team’s targets three times in the first six games, a promising sign that Brees wants to feed him the football.

Thomas has also been extremely efficient. Among 74 wide receivers with 30 or more targets this season, Thomas ranks 7th in catch rate (73.5%) and 23rd in Reception NEP (38.09). On a per-target basis, Thomas has been better than Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, Allen Robinson, and teammate Cooks.

2016 is turning into a lost season for the Saints. Unless *insert your favorite deity here* finds favor with New Orleans and makes their defense improve, they will likely struggle to win games.

But for Michael Thomas, building a solid foundation during his rookie campaign is crucial for his future development, and he’s well on his way.