Jason Whitlock, King of the Untestable Statement

I was going to leave Jason Whitlock’s latest missive alone.  Now isn’t a prime time to delve into Brady Manning, anyway.  It’s obvious that the media just looks at whichever has the best team at any given moment and declares that guy the winner for all time, or until next week.  I’ve been saying for years that there’s no way to gauge this debate until their careers are done.  Brady’s in the middle of his finest season, one far more impressive to me than his Randy Moss aided 2007.  There’s no way to know what will become of it yet, however.  Let’s just wait until it all settles out.

Still a reader asked me to take Whitlock down, and since his column was particularly devoid not only of facts but of sentences that can even be scrutinized in any rational way, I’ve decided to give it a go.

For those of us who have long been skeptical of the national media’s premature and unjustified anointment of Peyton Manning as the greatest quarterback of all time, our day is here.

Great, so Whitlock admits off the bat, that he’s been waiting for Manning to have a bad stretch.  It’s been an 8 year wait, but he’s prepped and loaded for bear.

If the media didn’t overhype Manning, he might be one of my all-time favorite players. He’s a stand-up guy and a marvelous player. He’s just not the best QB of all time. He’s not the best QB of this era.

Tom Brady is.

Monday night, when the Jets and Patriots square off in a blockbuster matchup, Brady has a chance to take control of the MVP race and demonstrate the intangible that makes him a better quarterback than Manning.

Whitlock makes it clear that it’s the media that has created Manning.  OF course that is patently absurd.  The media didn’t throw 49 touchdowns.  The media didn’t lead 34 fourth quarter comebacks.  The media didn’t put him on pace to shatter every passing record in the books.  What’s hilarious is that Whitlock comes right out and shows his hand:  there is an intangible that makes Brady better than Manning.

Ah, intangible.  It can’t be touched, measured, or evaluated.  It’s just a thing.  There’s no way to prove or disprove it.  It requires no research to say it exists.  Let’s see what Whitlock’s intangible quality of Tom Brady is.

Brady is fearless. Two years after the knee injury I thought would undermine his pocket toughness, Brady is back to being Brady, a courageous, unflappable pocket passer.

He’s thrown 23 touchdown passes and just four interceptions. He’s leading the league in passer rating. A victory Monday night, and the Patriots will tie the Falcons for the league’s best record (10-2).

When it comes to evaluating Brady, it’s always about more than statistics. There are no stats for courage and leadership. They’re like obscenity. You know them when you see them. Look at the smooth way Brady and Bill Belichick ushered locker-room cancer Randy Moss out of New England. That’s leadership.

I see a few in there.  The chief one seems to be ‘pocket toughness’.  He’s ‘couragous’ and ‘a leader’.  I honestly have no idea how to judge such claims.  Whitlock might as well have said, “His lifeforce emanates winning protons.” or “His Chi is bathed in the eternal essence of bravery”.  Surely he has more than this, right?

Standing in the pocket and taking a hit rather than nervously throwing into coverage is leadership, too. Manning has always thrown more interceptions (and a higher percentage of INTs) than Brady because Manning has always gone to greater lengths to avoid contact.

Playoff teams are adept at hitting the opposing quarterback. That explains the dramatic difference between Brady’s and Manning’s playoff records and performances (Brady three Super Bowls and Manning one). Three-four, exotic zone-blitz defenses get inside Manning’s head. They make him think and panic.

Hurray!  Something we can test.  Brady’s incalculable ‘pocket presence’ means that he throws fewer picks than Manning.  He claims that Manning has always thrown more and a higher percentage of picks than Brady. 

Since 2001, Brady has had a better interception percentage than Manning five times.  Four times Manning has had a better interception percentage than Brady.  Compare that with other stats.  Manning has a better completion percentage in 6 of 9 seasons.  He has a better yards per attempt in seven of nine seasons (Brady beat him in 2007 and this year).  So pocket courage doesn’t help Manning complete a better percentage of passes for more yards per attempt, but it does help Brady throw fewer interceptions.  Interesting.  It’s especially interesting since apparently Brady’s pocket courage only showed up in five of the last nine seasons.

I would mention that Manning has a better sack rate in 8 of 9 seasons, but I’m sure that Whitlock would say that’s because he’s afraid of contact and wants to give up and not take a sack.  In Whitlock’s world, taking sacks is a sign of bravery.

None of these numbers would impress Big Sexy of course. It’s in the playoffs where you really see the difference, according to him.

In the playoffs, Manning has a higher rating, a higher completion percentage, and a dramatically higher yards per attempt.  But Brady has 15 interceptions in 632 attempts (2.4%).  Manning has 19 picks in 692 attempts (2.7%).

So that proves it.  Tom Brady has so much more pocket courage in the playoffs that Peyton Manning will throw an extra interception every fourth or fifth playoff game.  Of course, that could have something to do with the fact that he throws for a full yard per attempt MORE than Brady in the playoffs.  But no, Whitlock doesn’t want stats…

In five years, Big Ben Roethlisberger might move ahead of Manning on my list. Regardless of what Roger Goodell does to NFL rules, football is always going to be a game defined by toughness. Did you watch Big Ben Sunday night?

The Ravens broke his nose in the first quarter and Big Ben never blinked. He never thought about coming out of the game. And down the stretch, against the meanest defense in football, Big Ben fought off Terrell Suggs and avoided a sack on one play and threw the game-winning TD pass two plays later.

There is no stat for playing with a broken nose. There is no stat for fighting off Suggs and throwing the ball away. If the league kept those stats, we know Roethlisberger and Brady would rank higher on the chart than Manning.

Ah.  We know that Brady and Roethlisberger would rank higher in broken noses.  Manning once had his jaw broke and missed one play.  But that’s the jaw category, not the nose category.  Break Manning’s nose, and he’d crumple like a school girl.

Come to think of it, Whitlock’s right.  I’ve never seen Manning play a season on one leg, or come off the field with a giant bruise on his equally giant forehead.  I’ve never seen him get blitzed relentlessly and try to bring his team back in the playoffs. 

This is the problem with columns like this:  there’s nothing you can say to them.

Sure the stats say that he’s completely wrong.  Sure there’s no evidence for any of the claims he’s making.  Obviously when you call a guy who has played in every game of his career and missed one play due to injury in 12 years soft, you are simply not doing your job. It’s fine to pick Brady over Manning.  I wouldn’t, but the argument can be made, I suppose.  In making it, you should have more for your gun than a bandolier of nonsense about broken noses and bravery. 

The reason I almost left this alone was the final line of the column:

In terms of best QB of this era, it’s Brady, followed by Manning and Roethlisberger. I’m not open to changing my mind about that.

So why try?

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