Can Peyton top Joe Cool's greatest accomplishment?

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Sep 30, 2009



Don't look now, folks, but Peyton Manning might be piecing together the best season yet in a career that already glitters with more highlights than Kim Kardashian's latest hair-do.
 
The most shocking number here in the early days of 2009 is the one we published earlier this week in our look at Passer Yards Per Attempt – it's a way of measuring the effectiveness of each team's passing attack.
 
The Colts right now average a stunning 9.88 yards every time they drop back to pass. Not every time they pass ... every time they drop back to pass. There is a difference. The former measures individuals. The latter measures teams.
 
There's plenty of football to be played, and that number will change. But right now, it's one of the more amazing numbers we've seen in years, and perhaps the most amazing indicator in Manning's big-stat-filled career.
 
To comprehend the majesty of those 9.88 yards per attempt, you have to know that our Passing Yards Per Attempt Quality Stat is a team measure, because we include the impact of sacks. If a team drop backs to pass and suffers a sack, it's counted as an attempt. The yards lost on that sack are subtracted from the total passing yards.  
 
Now, don't get us wrong: it's all well and good just to look at traditional passing yards per attempt – measuring only the effectiveness of each quarterback when he actually gets off a pass. In fact, we use that indicator all the time ourselves. One reason we use it is because sacks weren't an official NFL stat until 1982. So we can't look at teams before that year using our Quality Stat model for passing yards per attempt.
 
But we can tell you this: nobody in history has come close to averaging 9.88 Passing Yards Per Attempt the way we look at it.
 
In fact, the best passing team of the Super Bowl Era in terms of traditional passing yards per attempt is the 1989 49ers. Joe Montana, Steve Young and Steve Bono (each of who took snaps for the 49ers in 1989) averaged 9.49 yards per pass attempt (483 attempts, 4,584 yards).
 
Not surprisingly, the most effective passing team of the Super Bowl Era went 14-2 and won the Super Bowl – in fact, they ended the year with a 55-10 blowout win over the Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV.
 
See the correlation here? Best passing team in history. Biggest blowout in Super Bowl history.
 
But as good as those 49ers were, the 2009 Colts could possibly blow those 1989 49ers out of the water when it comes to passing effectiveness.
 
Here's how the two teams stack up in the two different measures of passing yards per attempt – the first looks just at pass attempts. The second utilizes our Quality Stats measure, which calculates sacks.
 
Just for comparison's sake, we included Tom Brady's 2007 Patriots – the highest-scoring offense in NFL history and a team that many consider one of the best, if not the best, passing team of all time.
 
Traditional Passing Yards Per Attempt (per actual pass release):
  • 1989 49ers – 9.49 PYPA (483 attempts, 4,584 yards)
  • 2007 Patriots – 8.29 PYPA (586 attempts, 4,859 yards)
  • 2009 Colts – 10.24 PYPA (96 attempts, 983 yards)
Quality Stat Passing Yards Per Attempt: (per dropback):
  • 1989 49ers – 8.15 PYPA (528 dropbacks, 4,302 yards)
  • 2007 Patriots – 7.79 PYPA (607 dropbacks, 4,731 yards)
  • 2009 Colts – 9.88 PYPA (98 dropbacks, 968 yards)
Again, folks, it's only three games for the Colts. It's not fair to compare the full season of numbers of the 1989 49ers to the three games worth of numbers put up by the Colts so far. Plus, Indy has faced Jacksonville, Miami and Arizona. Not exactly a murderer's row of pass defenses. The Jaguars, for example, have been victimized by the two most accurate passing days in history in their last 20 games alone. The Cardinals stumbled and bumbled their way into the Super Bowl last year, despite the fact that they went just 9-7 and surrendered a league-high 36 TD passes. They're probably not a whole better this year.
 
The victory over the Dolphins, however, as we noted at the time, was a performance for the ages by Manning.
 
It's also not fair to compare the types of pass rushes the 49ers faced 20 years ago. Teams got after the quarterback much more successfully back than they do today. But that's a story for another day.
 
And, finally, it's doubtful that Manning and the gang can keep up this record-setting pace over 13 more games.
 
But they're already so far ahead of the historic 49ers, they don't need to keep up the pace. They just need to be somewhere close.
 
If they manage that pace, we might end up calling these 2009 Colts the most effective passing team in the history of the NFL ... in a year in which Manning is playing without Marvin Harrison for the first time in his career while trying to break in a rookie head coach.
 
And that, our friends, is why 2009 could go down as Peyton Manning's greatest season.

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