Friday, December 14, 2007

Quarterback Intangibles

There is no phrase used in NFL analysis that pisses me off faster than "Intangibles". "This QB has great intangibles" what does that mean and how do you know? Normally people talking about intangibles ramble on about what a great person the QB is and how hard he works and how tough and competitive he is. Of course he's hardworking, tough and competitive, he's one of the an elite few that have reached the top of his profession in one of the purest meritocracies you'll ever find. A NFL QB is one of less than 100 of the best of the best, a starter is one of the top 32, a QB that is considered good or even great is one of only a handful of people out of billions that can play the position to it's fullest. No one reaches that level without being extraordinarily gifted, hardworking, tough and competitive.

If something is intangible by definition it can't be perceived, realized or defined. How can someone know that a QB has intangibles if they can't be perceived, realized or defined. Ignoring the misuse of the word and defining it by context I understand it to mean "things that aren't measured by statistics". I'm sure that somethings a QB does aren't defined in his statistics. The NFL doesn't keep a stat for competitiveness or hours of gamefilm study. They don't need to because all of those things help a QB play better and the QB's statistics will show the improvement. If a QB is liked and respected by his teammates and this makes them play harder wouldn't that mean the QB is able to complete more passes for more yards and throw more TDs. Most things sited as intangibles are part of what creates the tangibles (stats). Adding in those intangibles on top of the stats gives more credit on top of what those intangibles have accomplished. It makes as much sense as randomly picking QBs and saying their yards count double.

I'm sure there are subtle things that a QB does that improve his team that don't get measured in his statistics. Things that are noticed by people that are with them throughout the season and can sense the subtle positives that the QB contributes. I don't doubt that this happens, but how does a guy sitting watching the game see this, whether it's from the stands, the couch or Bristol Connecticut. Even if you do spend time with a QB in his locker room and pick up on his "intangibles" how do they compare them to the rest of the league. I've never heard of a ESPN intangibles specialist who just chills in every locker room in the league and senses which QBs have great intangibles (I call that job). Do they have an intangibles meter that they can walk around with or just hold up to the QB in question.

So what are the intangibles that sports analysis always talk about? They aren't measured by stats, but can be determined by just feel. How does that QB feel to you? Does he make you all warm and fuzzy inside?
That's the basis of intangibles. How the QB seems to you through the TV. When you look at the stats and watch his teams performance you just feel that the QB is better or worse than what the numbers tell you? Do you know what that's called? It's called personal bias.
"Those numbers can't be right. When I watch I see how great (or awful) he is. The stats disagree. There's obviously something missing here."
Yes, there is. It's called
limited experience (you don't see every play) and selective perception (even if you do you don't remember all of them). You base your opinion on what you remember and the conclusions you reached from that (or on which plays you saw agree if the opinion you already have). When the stats disagree it's because they see everything and remember everything within that stats scope. Quarterback Intangibles is what analysis use to describe and allow them to include their personal biases, whether they realize it or not.

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