Best Against the Best

Last week, I linked up an article about Tom Brady and stat paddingTim Graham of the ESPN AFC East blog linked the article up on his site.  Whenever I write anything about the Pats, or in this case just mention something someone else writes, I get the crazies coming out of the woodwork.

One Pats fan, calling himself The Voice of Reason, commented:

Does anyone have Manning’s numbers against the best defenses of the last decade? You know, NE, Pitt, Bal etc? That’s a big difference. Manning does not seem to play nearly as well as Brady against top defenses.

This was a new one on me.  I’ve found that in the irrational Brady/Manning debate fans typically have giant blind-spots toward the other player.  Pats fans honestly believe Peyton Manning has horrible playoff numbers. They don’t realize that Manning’s are actually better than Brady’s.  Colts fans don’t realize that while the Pats won Super Bowls with amazing defenses, one of the three came with virtually no run game at all.  This particular meme was new to me, however.

I figured that since Manning’s evisceration of the #1 defense of the Jets in the AFC Championship game was still fresh on everyone’s mind, that there couldn’t be any question about it.  I was wrong.  I was also annoyed, because I hate having to do research to disprove crackpot theories.  However, because I have a personality defect and can’t let idiots be idiots, I took the time to run the numbers.

First, I decided to use the top five teams in DVOA each season as the standard.  Honestly, I picked DVOA over yards and points for two reasons: 1. it’s comprehensive and 2. it was easy to generate the list.  The problem with using scoring D is that you have to control for returns for scores and using yards is just flat dumb.  After picking out the top five defensive teams by DVOA in each season, I ran Manning’s and Brady’s numbers against the best defenses in the league.  I included playoff games.

The results should surprise no one.

For his career, Peyton Manning has posted a rating of 85.5 against top five defenses.  The Colts have gone 29-15 in those games.  However, since 2002 when Tony Dungy took over the Colts, Manning’s rating jumps to 89.8 and the Colts have gone an insane 22-5 against top five DVOA defenses. Manning has 50 TDs and 29 picks in those games.

Twenty-two and five.  That can hardly be defined as “struggling”.  In fact, like most of Manning’s rate stats, if you take out his rookie year, his numbers skyrocket.  In 1998, Indy went 2-4 against top five defenses and Manning posted a passer rating of 60.6.  Then in 1999-2000 Indy went 5-3 while Manning threw 14 TDs to just 6 picks. In 2001, Indy went 0-3.  Since then, the Colts have rarely lost to a top defense, and Manning has played only shade below his career average against the best defenses in the league.

Tom Brady’s career tells a similar story.  A freakishly similar story.

For his career, Brady’s Patriots have gone 20-9 against top defenses, and Brady has a passer rating 85.7Obviously, that’s remarkably similar to Manning’s 85.5. Since 2002, the Pats are 19-7 against elite defenses.  Brady posted a rating of 86.8 in that span with 41 touchdowns to 21 picks.  

The lesson here is that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are insanely good against top defenses, and this particular meme couldn’t be more insane or more false.  If anything, Manning has been a little bit better than Brady since 2002.

Voice of Reason had another point he wished to make.

In objecting to the numbers that say Brady throws a lot of garbage time touchdowns, he made this point:

Don’t most rational people consider garbage time to also include when a team is way behind and the other team is playing prevent? These big numbers posted in losses are worthless and Manning has undoubtedly had many more opportunities in these types of situations.

This struck me as an interesting study, so I quickly ran down boxscores of all Colts and Pats losses by 10 points or more in the careers of Brady and Manning to see which one threw more ‘losing garbage time touchdowns’. 

It didn’t take long.

You see, the Pats and Colts almost never lose by 10 points or more. 

I controlled for touchdowns that cut a lead to one score, only to have the other team score again.  For example, if the Pats were down 13 and Brady threw a touchdown with five minutes left, only to have the Jets score again, the final margin of victory would be 13 points, but obviously no one would call Brady’s pass ‘garbage’.  However, if the Colts were losing by 20 and Manning threw a touchdown in the fourth quarter, and the score wound up at 13 points, that would count.

For his career, Manning had 9 ‘garbage’ touchdowns in 7 games.  He has 7139 career attempts and 394 total touchdowns.  9 of those are ‘garbage scores’.  In 2002, he threw 3 garbage scores against the Giants in a 44-27 loss.

For his career, Brady had 7 ‘garbage’ touchdowns in 7 games.  He has 4667 attempts and 256 total touchdowns.

In other words, neither guy is padding his stats in losses.

The Brady/Manning debate won’t be settled any time soon.  Fans should try to shed their misconceptions of both players.  More importantly, the next time someone gets it in their head to say crazy things about Peyton Manning, I wish they’d do me the favor of doing their own research first.

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