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A Stastistical Analysis of Zach Mettenberger's First Start

Breaking down Titans' rookie QB Zach Mettenberger's first start

Who wouldn't take selfies of that beautiful mug?
Who wouldn't take selfies of that beautiful mug?
Wesley Hitt

A lot has been said about Zach Mettenberger's first start. Some seem happy with his production, citing 299 yards and 2 TDs, others say that context matters, and he was garbage except against prevent defense. I set out to take a deeper look at the stats to try to figure out where the truth lies.

For this article, I charted each of Mettenberger's dropbacks (including those negated by penalties, and those tallied as sacks so that they don't contribute an official "attempt"). I put those dropbacks into 3 groups: 1st half, 3rd quarter, and 4th quarter to take a look at how they broke down during each portion of the game.

I'll also attempt to add some important context to give a little more insight into what the stats mean, rather than just presenting raw numbers.

That being said, it is important to point out that I am approaching this analysis more or less statistically. I am not attempting to make any statements about how good Mettenberger was with regards to reads, mechanics, or things like that. I simply want to look at the stats, and see how they fit into the context of the game as they occurred.

1st Half

In the first half, Mettenberger had 16 dropbacks. 3 were negated by penalties, resulting in an official 13 attempts. Of those 13, Mettenberger completed 8 passes, for a 62% completion percentage. While that number isn't bad, his 4.8 yards/attempt certainly isn't good, and he only accounted for 71 passing yards in the half, only about 1/4 of his ultimate total.

But as is constantly repeated in statistical conversations, context matters. In this half, 3 different drives were stalled with 1st down penalties. Average distance to go for each of Mettenberger's first half dropbacks was 12.8 yards. He had more than 10 yards to go on a total of 44% of his dropbacks. For a rookie making his first start, constantly putting him in 1st, 2nd, 3rd and long is a recipe for disaster.

Furthermore, because of these long down and distance numbers, there seemed to be some criticism of Mettenberger checking down too much, but I only counted 2 checkdowns in the first half (12% of his dropbacks) and both came up just short of the first down. In both cases, it seemed that things were well covered down the field, and the checkdown may have been a good decision.

The final piece of the context puzzle is how the rest of the team played. In addition to 3 penalties, on the first play of the game, Mett made a good read, threw at Hunter with good anticipation, and Hunter simply slipped and fell out of his break. On another play, Walker dropped a ball that was slightly behind him, but was certainly catchable. Then on another incompletion, Mett was hit as he threw, forcing an incompletion, and robbing us of good information about Mett's development as a QB.

If we remove all those dropbacks as well as the penalties, we can limit the pool of plays to plays where Mettenberger dropped back, was able to throw the ball to a receiver, and the water isn't muddied by a penalty, a dropped pass. or a mental error by another player. Limiting the pool in that way bumps Mettenberger's 1st half Y/A to 6.2. That is a much more respectable number.

The obvious cavaet is that you can't just take away the bad plays, and I understand that, but looking at the "clean" throws from Mett in isolation helps tell the whole story, I think.

Overall, it wasn't an excellent half of football, but in my opinion it's not the horrible half that some make it out to be. There are some great looking throws, and some bad ones, but much of the blame in this case can be put on needing to gain almost 13 yards for a first down on average when Mett dropped back.

3rd Quarter

I separated the 3rd and 4th quarters for a couple of reasons. First, he had so many more 2nd half attempts, it broke things up into more even chunks. Second, I think the 3rd quarter in isolation is where Mettenberger really shone yesterday.

In the 3rd quarter, he had 15 dropbacks. None were taken away by penalty, but one was ruled a strip sack, so he tallied 14 total attempts. He completed 79% of his passes on those 14 attempts for 95 yards and 1 TD producing 6.8 Y/A, a much more respectable number.

His one negative play in the half was JJ Watt's strip sack, and upon reviewing that play, it's my opinion that his arm was moving forward, and that that play should have been ruled an incomplete pass. Nevertheless, the officials counted it as a turnover, and that will be his lone scarlet letter in the 3rd quarter.

A lot as been said about soft, prevent defense in the 2nd half, but that unequivocally was not the case in the 3rd quarter. The Texans made bringing 5 or 6 pass rushers a habit in this quarter, and Mettenberger spread the ball around to WRs, TEs, and RBs without resorting to checkdowns, and without letting pressure and clutter in the pocket adversely affect him.

The highlight of this quarter, other than the TD, was a deep ball to Wright for 48 yards where the underneath routes were covered up by man coverage, and he split the seam in a MOFO look for big yards.

4th Quarter

The 4th quarter looks great on the stat sheet, too. 15 dropbacks that all count as attempts except for one sack. 65% completion for 142 yards and 10 Y/A.

This is where the "soft, prevent defense" complaints really start to be shouted the loudest, and with good reason. Towards the end of the drive, the defense was pretty soft, and a lot of the yards came by way of checkdown because the WRs were all covered deep. But that doesn't tell the whole story.

The Texans did not drop into a prevent defense until Mettenberger forced them to. On the 43 yard completion to Nate Washington, the Texans brought 6 pass rushers and played press man coverage. Mett and Nate made them pay, and after that big gain against an aggressive defense, the Texans loosened up.

The next several completions were underneath the soft defense, but the last two plays of the drive--a 15 yard completion to Walker and a 12 yard TD to Hunter--were not checkdowns. They were right into the teeth of the deep shell defense. The "soft" defense certainly did us no favors in that case, but Mett made some nice throws to find yards down the field in spite of the fact that that's what Houston was defending against.

Overall, Mett's 4th quarter looked great. He did get to take advantage of soft coverage on a handful of throws, and those helped to pad the stats a bit (especially that Y/A number), but he still made impressive throws into coverage leading to a TD.

The Takeaway

I think Mettenberger's first half was better than it looks on paper, and I think he, and the offense as a whole, were victim to some really ugly penalties on the offensive line.

I think the 3rd quarter is what we should look at moving forward as the true hope of things to come. Mettenberger was phenomenal against an aggressive defense in this quarter.

I think the 4th quarter numbers, while inflated, cannot be easily dismissed. There are still some really great throws in that quarter, and not all of the production can be chalked up to "prevent defense."

By the way, average distance to go in the 2nd half was 7.7 yards, and Mettenberger only dropped back needing more than 10 yards 3 times, drawing a stark contract with the first half.

That is not to say that there weren't some rookie moments. The interception was an ugly play, and there were some other passes that Mett tried to squeeze into too tight a coverage or plays where he overthrew open receivers, but overall, I think this game shows a potential bright future for Mettenberger.