Defenses have blunted superstar quarterbacks this season. What happened?

After two decades of booming production, quarterbacks across the NFL have hit a wall this season.

Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, as you would expect, have been great at times this season. But they’ve also suffered down spells, fighting against iffy schemes, rough offensive line play, injuries or illness.

Sometimes the eye test can be wonky though. However, the statistical case is unimpeachable.

Let’s use Expected Points Added (EPA) as a measuring stick. EPA measures the value of each play, assigning a positive or negative score to the offense, defense, and individual player for how they perform above or below what was expected based on the historical precedent.

The current leader among quarterbacks in EPA per play is Kyler Murray. The Cardinals star is the only quarterback in the NFL this season to rank above the 0.250 threshold that marks great play at the position – his current EPA per play sits at 0.263.

Yet that figure would have been unremarkable over the past five seasons. Murray’s current mark would have seen him finish sixth among eligible quarterbacks a year ago, with seven quarterbacks clearing the 0.250 threshold. The year before that, four quarterbacks cleared the mark. The year before that: four again.

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Murray, it should be noted, has missed three games this season. He may well have stretched his lead, but he could also have fallen back towards the pack.

The deeper you dig, the more telling the decline. The league’s middle-class has regressed: The sixth highest-ranked passer this season would have been 16th a season ago. And since Week 9, by which point a whole bunch of teams had hit their all-important bye week and been given the opportunity to tweak their offense, the most effective quarterback in football has been … Taylor Heinicke. And by some distance:

There are caveats in those figures – different strength of schedules and…

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