Ask Farmer: Why is ‘passer rating’ still used as a go-to value stat, instead of ‘Total QBR’ or something similar?

Bills quarterback Nathan Peterman gets hit while throwing an interception against the Chargers in 2017.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Have a question about the NFL? Ask Times NFL writer Sam Farmer, and he will answer as many as he can online and in the Sunday editions of the newspaper throughout the season. Email questions to:

With all of the advancements in analytics, why does everybody still use “passer rating” (very limited and odd) as their go-to quarterback value stat, instead of “Total QBR” or something similar?

Mike Guersch


Avon, Conn.

Farmer: There’s not one catch-all statistic that paints a picture of how a quarterback has done in a game or season, so the league came up with the complex “passer rating” formula and has been relying on it for 45 years to determine the mythical “passing championship.” The game has evolved dramatically during that span but the formula hasn’t, taking into account passing attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and interceptions, and grading a player on a scale of zero to 158.3.

Sometimes, the results are bizarre and nonsensical. Buffalo’s Nathan Peterman completed six of 14 passes for 66 yards in his career debut against the Chargers last season, with no touchdowns and five interceptions. Passer rating: 17.9.

So what does a guy have to do to get a zero? Peterman found out against Baltimore this season, getting a 0.0 by completing five of 18 for 24 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions — better than five picks. Most of the time, passer ratings are a reasonably accurate way to attach a number to the way a quarterback played.

Legendary sports statistician Steve Hirdt, executive vice president of the Elias Sports Bureau, gave his opinion on the system.

“Why do we still pay attention to it? Because people are comfortable with it,” Hirdt said. “If you’re comparing the quarterbacks of this era over the last 15 years or so, with their own group, the guys with the highest ratings are pretty much the best quarterbacks of that era.”


A month ago, in response to reader Louis Valverde, we discussed the NFL moving the goal posts in 1974 from the goal line to the current position behind the end line. I spoke to former Rams great Jack Youngblood, who said the upright was a nuisance that receivers used as a pick but couldn’t recall anyone slamming into one.

Shortly after the answer ran in The Times, CBS Los Angeles sports anchor Jim Hill, a defensive back with the San Diego Chargers, Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns from 1968 to ’75, recounted how he ran headlong into a goal-line goal post early in his career.

“I was trailing a receiver who was running a crossing route,” Hill recalled. “He was smart, I was innocent — I say ‘innocent,’ coach said ‘dumb.’ But he used me as I was chasing him. He ran to one side of the goal post, and I ran right into it. Anything after that, I don’t remember. Guys had big fun with that at the team meetings watching the film.”

Hill did come away with a lesson.

“The goal posts don’t move,” he said. “The only way you move those is with a rules change.”