Manning and Roethlisberger: The Hidden Factor

Yesterday, Cold Hard Football Facts tried to make a comparison between Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.

I believe Ben Roethlisberger to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and I’m all for comparing him to Peyton Manning. CHFF had one massive omission in the analysis, however. In focusing way too heavily on rate stats, it ignores the single biggest factor that has held Roethlisberger back his entire career: he takes too many sacks.

Rate stats are important, but they can be flawed. First, small differences in rate stats are not enough to overcome massive differences in volume stats. The bigger the gap in volume stats, the bigger the rate stat gap has to be to offset it. In this case, they show that Roethilsberger and Manning have similar rate stats, but that Manning has huge advantages in the volume stats. Also, rate stats have an inherent blind spot: sacks.

The casual fan blames the offensive line for sacks, and while on any individual sack that may be true, sack rate is a quarterback dependent stat. In fact, the one stat the quarterback most controls is his sack rate. When sacks are factored in, it becomes clear why Roethlisberger lags well behind Peyton Manning.

Raw Sacks:

How large is the ‘sack gap’ between Manning and Roethlisberger?


Drop Backs Sacks Drop Backs/Sack
Manning Career 7441 231 32.2
Roethlisberger Career 3074 274 11.2
Manning 2004-2010 3932 105 37.4

Roethlisberger has taken more sacks in his career than Manning has in his, despite the fact that Manning has thrown TWICE as many passes.

CHFF makes the case that Roethlisberger’s yards per attempt (the single most important passing stat, without question), is his most impressive accomplishment statistically. This is unquestionably true. However, when sack yardage is figured in, his advantage over Manning disappears.

YPA Sack Yardage Total Dropbacks YPDP
Manning Career 7.6 1483 7441 7.2
Manning 2004-2010 7.8 643 3932 7.5
Roethlisberger Career 8.0 1821 3074 6.7

Suddenly, Roehtlisberger’s mythical yards per attempt advantage goes away. CHFF argues that in 2009, Roethlisberger outpaced Manning in passer rating, YPA, and interception percentage, yet Manning won the MVP. Not only is it not an outrage, it makes perfect sense when you realize that Roethlisberger took a league high FIFTY sacks compared to Manning’s 10.  Sacks kill.

CHFF mentioned Roethlisberger’s ‘advantage’ of Manning in the run game. While it’s true that the Steelers call a few draws for Roethlisberger, most of those runs are scrambles. Roethlisberger may be a load, but he’s no Mike Vick. His career yards per rush is only 3.3. Arguing that Roethlisberger deserves any extra credit for turning pass attempts into 3 yard gains is dubious at best.


Finally, to top it all off CHFF makes this claim:

Most importantly, Roethlisberger outperforms Manning in the most crucial statistic of all: Super Bowl wins. By that measure, there is no question that Roethlisberger is worth every penny, even if his on-field performance resembles a fuel efficient Honda Accord more than Peyton Manning’s high performance Ford Mustang.

Should we post their Super Bowl numbers?

Comp Att Yards TD INT Rating
Roethlisberger 55 91 642 3 5 69.9
Manning 56 83 580 2 2 85.4

What about their playoff numbers?

Comp Att Yards TD Int Rating
Manning 473 718 5389 29 19 88.4
Roethilsberger 226 369 2861 19 16 84.1

So really? Are we really going to count rings and pretend that’s a miracle trump card?

In summary, Roethisberger/Manning is a fascinating comparison. I think Roethlisberger is an elite quarterback and a likely Hall of Fame quarterback. Using YPA to argue for some kind of superiority of Manning, however, is a mistake. If Roethlisberger would work on his craft and learn to throw the ball away instead of taking unnecessary sacks, he might reach new levels of efficiency.

His yards per attempt might drop, but his effectiveness would go up.