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As Week 1 showed, there's reward in risk for quarterbacks

Evan Vucci / Associated Press
Tony Romo completed 31 passes in Sunday's loss to the Redskins, but averaged just 6 yards on his 47 attempts.


You're bombarded with them every Sunday. They scurry across your screen with the subtlety of a cockroach crawling on your phone bill. They're recited more often than, "Don't tase me, bro!"

Stats.

As in statistic. It's enough to make you go ballistic.

But all stats aren't all bad. Here's one worth exploring further, one that showed its relevance in Week 1, and it doesn't even require a complex permutation with a TI-81 graphing calculator: Yards per attempt.

Greg Trott / Associated Press
Jay Cutler had the highest yards-per-attempt average of any starting QB in Week 1, and his Bears won.
QBs with at least 8.1 yards per attempt in Week 1
QB Yards Att. YPA W-L
Jay Cutler 372 35 10.6 W
Dennis Dixon 236 26 9.1 W
Vince Young 154 17 9.1 W
Kyle Orton 295 33 8.9 L
Eli Manning 263 30 8.8 W
David Garrard 170 21 8.1 W

This stat is a solid indicator of how effective a team is at getting quality over quantity in its passing game and what chance that team's quarterback has at winning. Simply put, QBs with relatively high yards per attempt come out ahead in the majority of games.

To figure out how your team's passer did last season, take their passing yards and divide it by their attempts. If it's anywhere near 7.5, they won more often than not. Guaranteed. In fact, the only quarterback that averaged more than 7.5 yards per attempt that didn't have a winning record was Eli Manning (8-8), and it took a defensive collapse by the Giants to ensure being .500.

Tony Romo averaged 8.2 yards per attempt last season, one of the highest marks in the league, and went 11-5 as a starter. In the 11 wins, he averaged more than 9 yards a throw, while only gaining 6.5 per toss in the five losses.

Sunday night's loss to the Redskins sang the same tune, as Romo only averaged 6.0 yards per attempt. Dallas' depleted offensive line forced coordinator Jason Garrett to call three- and five-step drops so as not to get Romo hit repeatedly. Thus, you saw a lot of dinks and dunks and, oh by the way, a Dallas loss.

Romo wasn't alone in Week 1. Matt Ryan averaged 5.7, Matt Moore 5.5, Alex Smith 5.0, and Sam Bradford 4.6. What did they all have in common? They all lost.

There were exceptions, however. Kansas City won despite Matt Cassel's dismal 3.1 yards per attempt.

Chad Henne put up a very low 5.4 yards per attempt in a win at Buffalo. But it sure didn't hurt that his counterpart was Trent "Captain Checkdown" Edwards, who averaged a miniscule 4.1 yards despite not throwing any interceptions.

Despite the anomalies, yards per attempt predicts winners. Thirteen of the top 14 quarterbacks in yards per attempt had winning records last season, while one -- Manning -- was .500.

This is not to say that broadcasters discussion of other stats like passer rating aren't important, it's just that the yards/attempt stat is more under the radar while being every bit as relevant. Yards per attempt is one of four stats that make up passer rating, but unlike the latter, it doesn't assign any subjective value to a touchdown or an interception. It's all about yards gained or not gained -- an accurate depiction of how much bang for the buck a quarterback is getting every time he throws.

Its main value lies in how it heavily penalizes the current breed of mediocre quarterbacks, "bus drivers" like Edwards. They might complete more than 60 percent of their passes in a given game, and avoid throwing bundles of interceptions, so as to seem efficient. But that's only because of their affinity for checking the ball down and throwing short, as opposed to pushing the passing game down the field.

The yards-per-attempt stat also rewards quarterbacks that take shots vertically -- deep ins and 9 routes -- despite the fact that those are lower-percentage throws.

Quarterbacks that get the most out of their throws win more than those who just avoid mistakes. It's all about quality.

One more look at Bears-Lions

1. If you're a Lions fan, you've probably spent the last 24 hours watching Point Break and downing a bottle of scotch. But you have to be encouraged that the guys Jim Schwartz banked the team's success on came through: Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh, and Kyle Vanden Bosch. Those are the players you want to be at the forefront, even in a "loss."

2. Chicago's offensive line needs help. Check out the final tally from Detroit's front four: 22 total tackles, four sacks, and a forced fumble.

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Final thoughts

» Watching all the games Sunday, one thing that stood out was Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb's posture and play against Green Bay, even before the concussion. Kolb's line: 5 of 10 for 24 yards and two sacks. More noticeable was his deer-in-the-headlights look.

» Larry Fitzgerald caught three passes, despite being thrown to 15 times by Derek Anderson. Still think quarterback-receiver reps in the preseason aren't important?

» The 49ers led the NFL in three-and-outs last season. Sunday they went 1 for 15 on third down. Yikes.

Elliot Harrison is the research analyst for NFL RedZone on NFL Network.

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