Quarterback Playoff Drive Stats (The Coolest Article Ever)

Remember a few weeks ago when I talked about field position and playoff offense? Or when I mocked Bob Kravitz for saying Peyton was a bad playoff quarterback?

We’ll there’s more ammo in my cannon than ever.

Pro Football Reference (aka Nate’s other home because he spends so much time there) just posted a major sledge hammer to the head of anyone who still believes that Brady or Roethlisberger or anyone was a better playoff QB than Manning based on wins and losses.  A million hearty thanks to Scott Kascmar for doing the brilliant work.  May blue angels sing your praises from now until the end of football, amen.

It’s a whole beautiful post loaded with drive stats.  It’s real, and it’s spectacular.

There are many great highlights, but let me center in on a few:

  • Manning is second (to Rodgers in a MUCH smaller sample size) in yards per drive in the playoffs
  • Manning has averaged more points per drive than Brady in the playoffs
  • Manning has averaged fewer 3 and outs than Brady in the playoffs
  • Manning is 6th best in fewest punts per drive in the playoffs
  • He is 7th best in fewest turnovers per drive (just a fraction behind Brady in 5th)
  • He has the 7th fewest drives per game
  • He also has the WORST STARTING FIELD POSITION OF ANY QB IN THE PLAYOFFS SINCE 1980.  Just under 40% of Manning playoff drives started inside the 20 yardline.

On this point PFR says:  

There are several players that stand out, but the cases of Peyton Manning and Warren Moon are especially interesting. The Houston Oilers, unable to get past the Divisional round, were known as a team with a great regular season offense that continued to lose playoff games they should have won, while the Colts are viewed as a similar team despite winning a Super Bowl and getting to another. Both quarterbacks have very solid individual passing stats and team drive stats, but both have a losing record (Moon is 3-7 while Manning is 9-10). How can that be?

With respect to their defensive issues, field position and a lack of opportunities are two great answers for that. When you so often have games where the offense touches the ball 8-9 times, and has to go 75, 80, 85 or even 90+ yards to score touchdowns, you have to play at a very high level offensively to score a lot of points, and even the best offenses can struggle to do that in the postseason against the best competition. It has become common to see a scene like this in a Colts game as opponents try to play keep away to minimize Manning’s opportunities.

Manning and Moon had the worst starting field position of these 24 quarterbacks. Aikman and Roethlisberger? Some of the best starting field position. Would the Colts and Oilers have won more games if they could get more stops on defense to get the ball back to their offense and in better field position? It would seem so, but in the cases of Steve McNair and Randall Cunningham, that would appear to be no guarantee.

I didn’t write that, people.

There’s also this nugget of gold:

I have seen people say the Colts only scored 17 points in their playoff losses in 2008 and 2009. Looking at this clears that up. The worst field position in any of the 314 games I looked at belongs to Peyton Manning’s Colts in the 2008 Wild Card game at San Diego, where they had to start at the 15.67 on average. The Colts did manage to score 17 points that day. The second worst game also belongs to the Colts, and it is the big one: Super Bowl 44 last year (16.63 was their average start). They scored 17 points in that one as well. Steve Young’s 16.70 game against the Packers in the 1997 NFC Championship is the third worst game, and the 49ers scored 3 points on offense that day. Touchdowns are harder to come by when the field ahead of you is so long. In the games I looked at there were 1080 drives started at least 80 yards away from the end zone, and only 182 (16.9%) ended in a touchdown.

Consider that later in the piece, we find out that Manning has the second longest average TD drive in the playoffs (more than 70 yards).  Roethlisberger?  4th shortest (less than 60 yards).  Brady?  just over 60 yards.  Manning has only had one touchdown drive under 40 yards in his playoff career.  Roethlisberger and Brady have had 8 each.

The post has a little bit of everything.  Mostly, it has facts about what has really happened in the playoffs. 

Quarterbacks do not win games. 

Teams win games.

The Colts have a serious problem on defense and special teams.  The last time they fielded a real top flight defense was early 2007.  The defense in 2009 was probably good enough to win the Super Bowl, but not without Powers and a healthy Freeney. 

We can whine about the offensive line or the running game from now until training camp, but if the Colts don’t start getting the other team off the field faster and further away from the goal line, they won’t win another Super Bowl.

Defense is the problem with this team.  Blame the offense if you want, but you can’t make bricks without straw.  Give the offense 7-9 drives a game and start them all inside the 30 yard line, and the best they can hope for is a middling point total.

Now, Kravitz, Whitlock, Simmons, Byrne and everyone else out there: stop blaming Manning and start doing some real analysis. 

The Colts have problems. They’ve had them for some time.  The quarterback isn’t one of them.

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