The Myth of Manning and the 3-4

Mattie C writes:

So we are talking sports in the bar of course, and someone is talking about Peyton’s so called failures against the 3-4. I was wondering if you have the link to your article dispelling that myth? I am looking on your site but failing miserably.

Though I’ve alluded to the myth of Peyton Manning verses the 3-4 many times, I realized last night that I’ve never done a definitive post about the topic. Part of the reason is because there’s so little meat on the bones of this story, that I never bothered to fully debunk it. That’s bad form on my part, because I realize that now that Houston has switched to a 3-4, we’ll probably hear this myth often in the coming weeks.

It’s difficult to research a topic like this, because defenses change regularly.  For the purposes of this study, I’m going to go back to 2005, and look at Manning’s performances against the Steelers, Patriots, Chargers, Jets and Ravens. Those are the five most prominent 3-4 defenses, and ones for which we have multiple games to study. Again, this won’t be comprehensive, but the data should be conclusive enough to shatter the 3-4 myth for good. Bear in mind that these five teams have also been among the best defenses in football over that span.

Because it’s hard to find records of who played what style of defense in the past, I’m only going back to 2005. I can’t prove that Peyton never struggled against the 3-4, but I can prove he hasn’t had any problem with it for quite awhile now.

First, let’s set Manning’s baseline including the playoffs:

Comp Att Yards % YPA TD Int Rating Record
Manning 2005-2010 2500 3765 28603 66.4 7.6 198 89 96.7 81-26

 Now, let’s go through game by game and see how Manning has fared.

The Patriots:

Comp Att Yards % YPA TD Int Rating Record 95+ 75-
NE 2005-2010 178 272 2198 65.4 8.1 17 9 97.3 5-2 4 0

Manning has clearly been better against the Pats than on average. He has 4 games with a passer rating better than 95, and none under 75.

The Steelers

Comp Att Yards % YPA TD Int Rating Record 95+ 75-
Pitt 2005-2010 58 103 775 56.3 7.5 6 1 95.7 2-1 2 0

Again, no real problems against the Steelers, though it’s only been three games.

The Ravens

Comp Att Yards % YPA TD Int Rating Record 95+ 75-
Bal 2005-2010 120 186 1489 64.5 8.0 12 5 99.5 6-0 3 1

Yup, he owns the Ravens too.

The Jets (2009-2010)

The Jets switched to a 3-4 with the arrival of Rex Ryan

Comp Att Yards % YPA TD Int Rating Record 95+ 75-
NYJ 2005-2010 58 86 794 67.4 9.2 4 0 112.3 1-1* 3 0

*Manning played in the Paintergate game and his numbers were included, but I’m not giving him a loss for that.

The Chargers

Comp Att Yards % YPA TD Int Rating Record 95+ 75-
SD 2005-2010 181 283 1916 64.0 6.8 11 15 74.4 1-5 1 3

Manning has had two awful games against the Chargers (2007 and 2010). He also posted a passer rating over 90 three times in the six games against them.


Comp Att Yards % YPA TD Int Rating Record 95+ 75-
 2005-2010 595 930 7232 64.0 7.8 50 30 92.3 15-9 13 4

Manning has dominated the Steelers, Jets, Patriots and Ravens defenses since 2005. He struggled against San Diego, but has managed three solid games against them in six tries as well. His overall numbers are a little down against the 3-4, but that’s largely thanks to a 6 pick game against the Chargers in 2007.

His numbers against those teams are amazing considering the relative strength of the defenses in those years. The following chart shows where those defenses ranked by DVOA in the years Manning played them.

2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Pitt 3 1
NE 27 7 12 21 16 18
Bal 6 1 5 2 4
NYJ 1 5
SD 16 6 20

Of the 26 total games he played against these teams, 10 of them were against a top 5 defense in DVOA.

16 of those games were against a team ranked 7th or higher in DVOA.


At least as far back as 2005, there’s zero evidence of Peyton Manning struggling against the 3-4 scheme.  He’s played exceptionally well against four of the five primary 3-4 defenses in the AFC, and even against San Diego, he had 3 games with a passer rating over 90 in 6 tries.

It’s theoretically possible that Manning struggled against the 3-4 at one time, but it’s certainly not be true for the past six seasons at least.