The Clutch Enigma: Peyton Manning, Part II

Manning dissects a dominant Jets defense during the 2009 AFC Championship game.

Two weeks ago, I began the fifth and final part to the Clutch Enigma study, a look at Peyton Manning’s playoff statistics. 

As many Colts’ fans have been screaming for years, Manning has been one of the best overall playoff quarterbacks in the league over the past few years, with the 2009 run being especially impressive. Only Drew Brees has had better overall playoff statistical performances, and only Brees and Little Brother have better margins between their playoff performances and their regular season statistics. 

Of course, we also explored some reasons why Manning’s excellent playoff statistics haven’t led to more wins (Manning has the worst playoff win percentage of the five QBs). First, Manning has by far faced the better pass defenses in the playoffs, both in scoring defenses and passer rating. Second, Manning has, in general, played in much worse contexts than the other five quarterbacks, such as having the worst average starting field position of any quarterback in the playoffs in the last thirty years. Both of these numbers have led to Manning’s touchdown percentages being much worse in the playoffs than in the regular season, while his other statistics stay relatively the same. 

But one of the most important trends we took out of Manning’s playoff data was his relative transformation after the 2002 season. From 1998 to 2002, Manning was pretty bad in the playoffs, and as we’ll see, pretty bad in clutch situations in general. But from 2003 on, Manning has been a very good playoff (and clutch) quarterback, but his stigma originating from his first five years in the league has been tough to shake. As we’ll see, Manning went through a similar change in clutch situations overall. 

Here are Manning’s situational passer ratings (click for larger image):


As we’ve discussed before, the most important number to look at here is Manning’s numbers in the 4th Quarter w/in 7 (4QW7) category. Manning struggled early in his career, but since 2002, his lowest number has been 84.4, which took place in 2010. In fact, Manning has only had two years where he’s been under 90 in this category, and only three years where he’s been under 95. Overall, he’s been fantastic, only Brees has a better rating than Manning’s 88.7 for his career (89.3). 

But what we are looking for here is the trend. When did Manning become a clutch quarterback? Playoff statistics would tell us 2002, but the data here points to 2001. (Click for larger image)


Obviously, Manning has become a better quarterback in just about every area since 2001, but the biggest statistical jump is his 4QW7 difference, where he averaged nearly 30 points higher from 2002-2010 than he did during the first four years of his career. During those first four years, Manning’s average quarterback rating went down over 17 points during clutch situations, but since 2002, it’s barely dropped at all. In fact, his -1.84 would be second only to Eli Manning’s +1.7. Peyton’s 4QW7 rating of 98.02 would easily be the best of the five, with everybody else being under 80. 

“Wait a minute!” you say. “You can’t just pick and choose where you take Manning’s stats from. If you do something like that for all the quarterbacks, they’re stats will look a lot better too. Everybody improves with experience.”


Even when you do something like that for the other quarterbacks, only Brees comes close to Manning’s 4QW7 rating of 98.

Tom Brady has no obvious break where we can make a comparison, but one place that would make sense would be from 2007-2011, easily his best years as a pro. In the six seasons before 2007, Brady never had a season rating above 95, and only had two above 90. Since 2007, Brady has only had a season rating under 105 once: a 96.2 in 2009 (remember, 2008 is omitted for our purposes). But, in that time frame, Brady’s clutch performances haven’t really improved all that much. His overall QB rating averaged at about 88.5, while his total QB rating since 2007 has averaged at 107.5, easily his peak years. But his 4QW7 ratings only improve slightly, as he averaged 81.08 before 2007, and 85.4 since then. 

Eli Manning also has no discernible trends, but he has been known as “clutch” since 2007, where he led the underdog Giants to an unlikely Super Bowl Victory. However, his numbers since 2007 aren’t all that impressive either (89.5 4QW7 rating). He has certainly improved tremendously since 2007 though: from 2004-2006, Eli’s total QB rating averaged 69.4, as opposed to an 86.3 since 2007. His 4QW7 numbers have improved dramatically as well, going from 74.4 to 89.5. Still, an 89.5 doesn’t beat Big Brother. 

Ben Roethlisberger has no trends whatsoever, with his 4QW7 ratings being not so great. He had two seasons over 100: 2004 and 2007. Between those years he had an 83.3 and 55.5, and since 2007 heas had three years hovering around 80, and one good year in 2009 (98.2). It’s all over the place for Roethlisberger, and for now, his  87.7 4QW7 rating for his career is pretty accurate. 

Drew Brees is the only other quarterback in which a clear, impressive trend emerges, and it’s linked with his move from San Diego to New Orleans, where Sean Payton’s system has allowed Brees to rack up incredible statistics. While in San Diego, Brees’ average season was a 83.8 QB rating, as compared to an average of 98.8 in New Orleans. His 4QW7 ratings have improved as well, from 78.6 to 96.4. While the dropoff from total to 4QW7 hasn’t improved nearly as dramatically as Peyton’s did (from -5.15 to -2.4), it still has improved to an astounding number. Nevertheless, Manning still edges out Brees in both total 4QW7 ratings (Manning: 98.02 vs. Brees: 96.4) and in drop off (Manning: -1.8 vs. Brees: -2.4). 

In short, Manning’s clutch performances since 2001 have simply been statistically unmatched. While Eli has been the only quarterback to actually raise his performances during clutch situations, Peyton’s overall play has been far superior. Of course, as years go on, these lists could change, as Peyton, Brees, and Brady get older and Eli and Roethlisberger come into their prime. 

While this type of data and study isn’t the end all be all by any means (I’ll be conducting some other research throughout the summer on the topic), it still is fascinating how well Peyton Manning stands up to his contempararies, especially ones who are known for their “clutchness.”

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.