Saturday, January 17, 2009

Peyton Manning's Playoff Performance: By the Numbers

A very interesting observation was brought to my attention by a poster here on Bleacher Report. I recently wrote an article arguing that there is a stronger resemblance between the careers of Kurt Warner and Peyton Manning than there is between those of Manning and Tom Brady. Most of the posters disagreed, some strongly.

But one poster, a B/R newbie named John Ortiz, put into numerical form the problem that I and many others have with the elder Manning.

Mr. Ortiz fired the opening salvo in a statistical attack on Peyton's postseason performance.

Since some people—for whom I have a good deal of respect—still defend Peyton Manning's place amongst the National Football League quarterback glitterati, I'm gonna follow John's introduction to its conclusion. Partly because I want to see if I'm justified, partly because I want to see if I can change anyone's mind.

If you're a Peyton Manning fan, it's probably gonna be a bumpy ride. Nothing personal.

First, the raw data (more recent games first):

Opp Score
Comp Att Yds TD INT Comp. % QB Rating

Wild Card L @ SDG 17-23 25 42 310 1 0 59.5 90.4
Division L SDG 24-28 33 48 402 3 2 68.8 97.7
Wild Card W KC 23-8 30 38 268 1 3 78.9 71.9
Division W @ BAL 15-6 15 30 170 0 2 50.0 39.6
AFC Champ W NE 38-34 27 47 349 1 1 57.4 79.1
Super Bowl W CHI 29-17 25 38 247 1 1 65.8 81.8
Division L PIT 18-21 22 38 290 1 0 57.9 90.9
Wild Card W DEN 49-24 27 33 457 4 1 81.8 145.7
Division L @ NE 3-20 27 42 238 0 1 64.3 69.3
Wild Card W DEN 41-10 22 26 377 5 0 84.6 158.3
Division W @ KC 38-31 22 30 304 3 0 73.3 138.7
AFC Champ L @ NE 14-24 23 47 237 1 4 48.9 35.5
Wild Card L @ NYJ 0-41 14 31 137 0 2 45.2 31.2
Wild Card L @ MIA 17-23 17 32 194 1 0 53.1 82.0
Division L TEN 16-19 19 43 227 0 0 44.2 60.9

The good, bad, and the ugly come together to paint a rather pretty final picture for the 15 game stretch—4207 yards on 348 completions in 565 attempts for a 61.6 completion percentage, 22 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, a 7.4 yards per attempt average, and a final QB rating of 84.9.

Like I said, that's a pretty picture except for the record (7-8).

But it's misleading upon closer inspection (this is where John must take some credit as it's something I ignored the first time around). Check out what happens to Peyton's totals if you remove just the two games against the Denver Broncos: 299 for 506, 3373 yards, 59.1 completion percentage, 13 TDs, 16 INTs, 6.7 yards per attempt, and the QB rating drops to 74.5.

That sounds suspiciously mediocre in 13 games against anyone but Denver. And the record drops to 5-8.

Let's look at it from a different angle. Check out what happens if you look just at Manning's road playoff contests: 143 for 254, 1590 yards, 56.3 completion percentage, six TDs, nine INTs, 6.3 yards per attempt, and a QB rating of 68.2 in seven games.

Again, suspiciously mediocre if not downright bad. And the record is horrible at 2-5.

What does it all mean? Conclusively? Nothing.

But it's heavy circumstantial evidence that Peyton Manning in the most important games isn't even as good as his line would indicate. Take away a single opponent that seems to match-up very poorly with the Indianapolis Colts' offense and his stat line suffers significantly.

If you take away the security of homefield advantage and a compliant crowd, the numbers get even worse.

Now I'm no stat guy, but Peyton's posse hangs its hat on the numbers because Manning's win-loss record in the postseason is already vulnerable. In other words, I'm speaking to his supporters in their own language.

And I'm speaking clearly.

Those special quarterbacks, who belong in the discussion of best ever, were special because their performance was not dependent on opponent or surroundings. With everything on the line, they rose to the occasion and found a deeper resolve when facing long odds. Sure, they had a bad game here or there, but it was without rhyme or reason—just an inexplicable off day.

That doesn't seem to be the case with Manning.

Put him in the playoffs against a team missing 'Denver Broncos' from the jersey or in a hostile environment. The result is a mediocre quarterback. That means there's a book on beating him, a blueprint.

Anyone know how to make Joe Montana mediocre with the season on the line? How about Tom Brady? What about Steve Young (OK, anyone outside Dallas)?

Peyton Manning is most certainly a great QB and an automatic Hall-of-Famer. He is almost without doubt the greatest regular season quarterback of all-time. But he is no better than average in the playoffs.

By numbers or by record.

Until either changes, you simply can't make the argument.

Until the latter changes, you won't convince me.

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