Matt Schaub and the Value of the Pick-Six

Matt Schaub has mastered the art of throwing touchdowns to the opponents. How much does that cost his teams?

Everyone’s favorite bit of trivia about Baltimore Ravens quarterback Matt Schaub used to be that he led the league in passing yards in 2009, when he was with the Houston Texans. We used to excuse his following seasons – in which he completely fell apart as a starting NFL quarterback – as just that the league passed him by and became more high-powered on offense. In the six seasons since then, though, his play has declined even more, and he gained a different sort of reputation.

Schaub has perfected the practice of the “pick-six” – an interception returned for a touchdown by the opposing defense.

A modern master of the ancient arts of inaccuracy, Schaub is now essentially the active pick-six sensei of the NFL.

With Miami Dolphins defensive lineman Derrick Shelby helping sustain his streak in Week 13, Schaub’s narrative is solely about this seemingly random play. Yet, it’s worth exploring his infamous place in history as the current shogun of the defensive passing touchdown, as well as the value he’s cost his teams due to these incredible gaffs.

Schaub will certainly go down in history, but just how much have these errors cost?


To properly understand the impact of the pick-six on football, we have to look deeper than the surface stats. We have to dig into the data beyond the field and see just how much this one play can swing the outcome of a game. For that, we look to numberFire’s signature metric, Net Expected Points (NEP).

NEP helps us take the numbers we get from the box score and assign them contextual value so they relate even closer to the game on the field. By adding down-and-distance value, we can see just how much each play and each team as a whole influence the outcome of games. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.

Think of a turnover’s expected points value like potential energy in physics. In the same way that dropping a ball from ten feet high gives up ten feet of height, by giving up the ball to the opposition without scoring, you not only stop being able to generate points, you reduce your expected points on that drive to -7.00 (essentially, giving up a touchdown). On, we have a live, in-game tracker for Net Expected Points and win probability that shows this effect in real-time.

When we look at a few of the other pick-sixes that occurred in Week 13, we can see the variety of values that each cost their teams. This will help us to put in context just how much value Schaub has cost the Ravens already in 2015.

Shadow Warrior

The first pick-six of 2015’s Week 13 occurred with 2:58 left in the first quarter of the Chicago Bears game at the San Francisco 49ers. On this play, a 2nd-and-9 on the Chicago 34-yard line, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler threw a bubble screen to the right. It was jumped by 49ers cornerback Jimmie Ward and taken to the house without impediment. Per numberFire Live, Chicago had a 76.76% win probability at the beginning of that play; by the time Ward scored, Chicago’s win probability was down to 63.22%, a loss of 13.52%. Since they had begun the play with an Expected Points mark of 0.78, the play itself cost them 7.78 EP in total – and that was just from their own 34.

The last and most magnificent of the pick-sixes on the day, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw an egregious  third quarter red zone interception on third down from the Philadelphia Eagles’ 5-yard line to safety Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins slipped and shook his way to a 99-yard return for the score. At the beginning of that series, on the Philadelphia 1-yard line, New England had 6.24 expected points and an 80.51% win probability. At the beginning of that play, they’d set themselves back to just 4.02 based on down and distance. That boneheaded play set the Patriots back net -11.02 Expected Points and pushed them to 57.08% win probability (-15.86%).

We can tell that the closer a team is to the opposing end zone when the interception is thrown, the more it will cost them in terms of Expected Points. Similarly, the earlier in the series (e.g. first down), the more it will cost them in expected points – opportunities lost – and both of those factors also apply to win probability as well. The later in the game it’s thrown, too, the more it affects win probability.

So, how much did Schaub cost his Ravens in Weeks 12 and 13?

To Live

Schaub, the guru of the giveaway, tossed his Week 13 pick-six with 1:34 remaining in the  second quarter of his Ravens’ game against the Dolphins. The play was 2nd down with 4 yards to go on the Baltimore 37, and – as I said before – was batted up by Shelby, grabbed, and cradled into the end zone. The Ravens came into that play with 1.21 expected points on the drive and a 29.40% win probability. They walked off of it with a net -8.21 expected points and 11.76% win probability remaining (-17.63%).

In his Week 12 pick-six to the Cleveland Browns, he threw it with 12:27 remaining in the  third quarter on a 3rd-and-7 from the Baltimore 39. As such, they began the play with a lower 0.48 expected points – they had a first-down incompletion and a short second-down rush; this was the third play of the drive. Since the game was close at the time – they went into the half at 17-13 – the Ravens’ win probability was at 57.21% to start the play. When Schaub was picked off by inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, he rumbled into the end zone to ding the Ravens a net -7.48 expected points and put them at 35.97% win probability (-21.56%).

This means that, over the past two games alone, Schaub’s pick-six propensity has cost his team 15.69 Net Expected Points (essentially two touchdowns with two-point conversions). With the Ravens wallowing at the bottom of the league and playing solely for draft position, they surely won’t mind Schaub’s indiscretion with the ball. They might even be glad to know that with his most recent “other-way touchdown” toss, they now have the undisputed active champion of the pick-six rate.

The table below shows the company Schaub is in for this dubious honor, sorted by total pick-sixes, then Pick-Six Rate.

Rank Player Pick-Six Career Pass P-6 Rate
13 Lynn Dickey 17 3,184 0.54%
14 Babe Parilli 17 3,395 0.50%
15 Ken Stabler 17 4,144 0.41%
16 Jon Kitna 17 4,512 0.38%
17 Kurt Warner 17 4,532 0.38%
18 Ben Roethlisberger 17 5,259 0.39%
19 Warren Moon 16 7,226 0.22%
20 Matt Schaub 15 3,271 0.46%
21 Steve McNair 15 4,855 0.31%
22 Mark Brunell 15 4,947 0.30%
23 Drew Bledsoe 15 6,969 0.22%

This is an impressive list of awful throughout history, and Schaub sits at the 20 spot. In fact, no active quarterback with more than 2,000 career passing attempts has a higher pick-six rate than him, and only the aforementioned Dickey, Parilli, Stabler, and Joe Namath have as many attempts as him and higher pick-six rates. 

So, forget about breaking his consecutive games pick-six streak -- Matt Schaub has a chance to be one of the best bad quarterbacks across his whole career if he keeps this up.

He brings us all entertainment, even if there’s no honor for him and negative value for the Ravens in the pursuit.