Gruden: "I'm concerned about it. I'm excited about it. But I'm skeptical."

Jaworski: "I like the word 'Total. ...'"

Tirico: "Can Jaws sell Jon? ... Total Quarterback Rating revealed, which you will see on ESPN. A SportsCenter special."

The SportsCenter special airs. A list of the league's top 10 quarterbacks according to Total QBR is provided. On Aug. 7, a writer for ESPN Dallas wonders what Total QBR means for Tony Romo.

This is the scientific method as brought to you by ESPN. Everything carrying that neato-whizbang air of a toy commercial. Everything masturbating everything else. Everything branded within an inch of its life. (That "Year of the Quarterback" logo shows up wherever Total QBR is mentioned. I still don't understand this. Was there ever a year that wasn't, in some way, a year of the quarterback? Was there a "Year of the Nose Tackle"? Are quarterbacks somehow more central to football now than they were last year? Calling any given year a "Year of the Quarterback" is like calling it a "Year of Playing Football.") The stat was being adduced to barstool-level arguments before any discussion of its blind spots—blind spots that Dean Oliver will readily acknowledge—had developed. The whole rollout was all so very Bristol that I think I saw Gottfried Leibniz on the Budweiser Hot Seat.


You wish someone at ESPN would've pointed out the flaws of the Clutch Index, which rewards quarterbacks for playing on teams with bad defenses (as Schatz points out, having a big game in a close victory will produce a better Total QBR than having the same big game in a blowout). You wish the rating weren't proprietary, which is of course ESPN's right but which also seems more than a little wrongheaded when the stat's component parts—all the charting, for instance—are every bit as interesting as whatever shows up to the right of the equals sign. You wish a lightbulb hadn't gone off in a producer's head the moment Tirico said, "Can Jaws sell Jon?"

You wish ESPN could embrace the smart stuff without also being so brutally dumb about it. (On Sept. 12, ESPN2 will air something called Numbers Never Lie, which "will feature lively roundtable debate pitting the wisdom of former professional athletes against the pragmatism of statisticians.") Total QB has already suffered the fate of everything the network touches: The frantic selling of the thing has obscured its virtues. Just read that entire Football Outsiders comment thread, where opinion runs maybe 90-10 negative. For all its problems, Total QBR is a great tool. It's a huge improvement over the mostly useless passer rating. It tells you what happened both quicker and more cleanly than any other metric, even if it may not tell you what will happen.


And more importantly it suggests that ESPN is willing to throw its considerable resources behind efforts like this. Ex-football players are talking about expected point value on SportsCenter, and ex-baseball players are talking about FIP on Baseball Tonight. These are men whose use of applied mathematics to this point had been restricted to calculating tips in the champagne room. That's a good thing. It's a welcome development when ESPN is insulting our intelligence in fewer ways. Only The Borg could do something like Total QBR, which means we will have to live with how The Borg does it.