CHFF Super Study: Which QBs protect it best?

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Oct 28, 2011



By Scott Kacsmar
Cold, Hard Football Facts Detail Worker


Interceptions are embedded into the minds of NFL fans as the ultimate quarterback turnover. They’re the only negative play factored into the league’s passer rating formula.

“Pick 6” is a commonly used term for the ones that are returned for touchdowns, but how often do you hear “fumble-six” in a game?
 
How about fumbles, period? They’re just as much of a turnover as an interception, and in most cases with a quarterback, they usually happen at or behind the line of scrimmage. At least a good amount of interceptions occur down the field to the point where they serve as punts. A fumbling quarterback is hurting his team the same way as the quarterback that’s throwing interceptions.
 
Just like interceptions, these mistakes are not always the quarterback’s fault, though they’re the player that takes the blame statistically. Whether it’s a tipped pass or a bad exchange with the center on the snap, the quarterback takes the blame.
 
Most NFL fans are probably familiar with the fact that Eli Manning threw a league-high 25 interceptions in 2010. How many also know Eli fumbled 7 times, losing 5 of them for 30 turnovers? That’s a large number, but volume by itself is not useful. Eli also had 587 dropbacks. Brett Favre threw 19 interceptions and fumbled 7 times in his (we think) final season. The difference is Favre only had 397 dropbacks.
 
Which quarterback had a worse year with turnovers? This is why we need to convert volume stats into a rate stat.

The Formula

Calculating a quarterback’s turnover rate is simple.
 
Turnover % = Total Turnovers x 100%
                        Total Drop Backs
 
Total Turnovers = Fumbles + Interceptions
Total Drop Backs = Pass Attempts + Sacks + Rushes
 
The same idea can be applied for a Fumble %.
 
Fumble % = Total Fumbles    x 100%
                    Total Drop Backs
 
Fumbles were used instead of Fumbles Lost due to a lack of data for the latter, plus the research from Football Outsiders that says fumble recoveries are random from year-to-year. Not fumbling the ball is a skill, and that is being rewarded here. Any time you fumble the ball you’re giving the defense the opportunity for a recovery and big turnover.
 

The Data

To officially qualify for rate statistics in the NFL, a quarterback must attempt at least 1,500 passes in the regular season. 166 quarterbacks have done so, and they make up our sample size.
 
Out of the 166 quarterbacks, 35 of them have data that is incomplete in regards to the number of sacks, while two of those quarterbacks (Sammy Baugh, Sid Luckman) also have an incomplete number of fumbles.
 
Sacks are listed at nfl.com for all NFL seasons since 1963. They have the sack yardage for seasons back to 1947, but the times sacked only start in 1963. There are no sack stats (totals or yardage) for AFL seasons from 1960-66.
 
Individual fumbles are not listed on pro-football-reference.com until the 1945 season; while nfl.com doesn’t include fumbles until 1991 (fumbles lost begin with 1992).
 
Active players appear in bold, while the 35 players with incomplete data are in italics, as is the field of data that’s incomplete.
 
Only regular season data is included, and this is updated through Week 7 of the 2011 season.
 

The List

Here is the all-time list for Turnover %, which also includes the rankings for interception percentage (INT%) and fumble rate (Fum%):
 
All-Time Turnover % (Min. 1,500 Attempts)
Rk QB Passes Sacks Rushes Total DB Fum Fum% Rk INT INT% Rk TO TO%
1 Aaron Rodgers 1850 140 218 2208 28 1.27 31 35 1.89 1 63 2.85
2 Matt Ryan 1708 77 149 1934 18 0.93 7 42 2.46 10 60 3.10
3 Joe Montana 5391 313 457 6161 53 0.86 5 139 2.58 16 192 3.12
4 Neil O'Donnell 3229 259 215 3703 51 1.38 44 68 2.11 2 119 3.21
5 Peyton Manning 7210 231 346 7787 57 0.73 2 198 2.75 25 255 3.27
6 Jeff Garcia 3676 181 467 4324 59 1.36 41 83 2.26 5 142 3.28
7 Tom Brady 4947 255 346 5548 72 1.30 34 111 2.24 4 183 3.30
8 Donovan McNabb 5374 410 616 6400 95 1.48 67 117 2.18 3 212 3.31
9 Mark Brunell 4637 390 513 5540 76 1.37 43 108 2.33 6 184 3.32
10 Steve Young 4149 358 722 5229 68 1.30 35 107 2.58 17 175 3.35
11 David Garrard 2281 179 380 2840 44 1.55 75 54 2.37 8 98 3.45
12 Bernie Kosar 3365 273 180 3818 51 1.34 38 87 2.59 18 138 3.61
13 Kyle Orton 2107 131 104 2342 30 1.28 32 55 2.61 20 85 3.63
14 Rich Gannon 4206 302 521 5029 79 1.57 81 104 2.47 12 183 3.64
15 Matt Schaub 2211 121 152 2484 34 1.37 42 57 2.58 15 91 3.66
16 Drew Brees 5121 197 274 5592 66 1.18 25 140 2.73 24 206 3.68
17 Matt Cassel 1668 129 180 1977 30 1.52 71 43 2.58 14 73 3.69
18 Chad Pennington 2471 162 180 2813 41 1.46 58 64 2.59 19 105 3.73
19 Troy Aikman 4715 259 327 5301 58 1.09 15 141 2.99 34 199 3.75
20 Matt Hasselbeck 4490 317 311 5118 59 1.15 19 134 2.98 32 193 3.77
21 Philip Rivers 2673 155 185 3013 47 1.56 79 67 2.51 13 114 3.78
22 Marc Bulger 3171 254 118 3543 42 1.19 26 93 2.93 30 135 3.81
23 Charlie Batch 1510 156 169 1835 23 1.25 29 47 3.11 43 70 3.81
24 Jim McMahon 2573 226 338 3137 30 0.96 8 90 3.50 69 120 3.83
25 Brad Johnson 4326 251 276 4853 64 1.32 37 122 2.82 26 186 3.83
26 Jason Campbell 2131 147 218 2496 46 1.84 119 50 2.35 7 96 3.85
27 Joe Flacco 1627 121 144 1892 34 1.80 115 39 2.40 9 73 3.86
28 Bert Jones 2551 232 247 3030 16 0.53 1 101 3.96 95 117 3.86
29 Joey Harrington 2538 124 142 2804 25 0.89 6 85 3.35 59 110 3.92
30 Ben Roethlisberger 3034 294 280 3608 51 1.41 51 92 3.03 36 143 3.96
31 Steve McNair 4544 254 669 5467 99 1.81 118 119 2.62 21 218 3.99
32 Steve Bono 1701 76 125 1902 34 1.79 113 42 2.47 11 76 4.00
33 Ken Anderson 4475 398 397 5270 52 0.99 11 160 3.58 80 212 4.02
34 Jim Harbaugh 3918 361 561 4840 79 1.63 96 117 2.99 33 196 4.05
35 Carson Palmer 3238 160 179 3577 42 1.17 21 103 3.18 50 145 4.05
36 Dan Marino 8358 270 301 8929 110 1.23 27 252 3.02 35 362 4.05
37 Jeff George 3967 358 168 4493 70 1.56 78 113 2.85 27 183 4.07
38 Doug Flutie 2151 107 338 2596 38 1.46 62 68 3.16 49 106 4.08
39 Kordell Stewart 2358 170 601 3129 44 1.41 48 84 3.56 79 128 4.09
40 Neil Lomax 3153 362 222 3737 63 1.69 102 90 2.85 29 153 4.09
41 Trent Green 3740 259 243 4242 60 1.41 52 114 3.05 38 174 4.10
42 Tony Eason 1564 177 134 1875 26 1.39 45 51 3.26 51 77 4.11
43 Ken O'Brien 3602 353 174 4129 72 1.74 109 98 2.72 23 170 4.12
44 Elvis Grbac 2445 129 163 2737 32 1.17 20 81 3.31 55 113 4.13
45 Jeff Hostetler 2338 207 316 2861 48 1.68 101 71 3.04 37 119 4.16
46 Joe Theismann 3602 340 355 4297 42 0.98 9 138 3.83 90 180 4.19
47 Byron Leftwich 1552 89 136 1777 34 1.91 134 41 2.64 22 75 4.22
48 John Elway 7250 516 774 8540 137 1.60 89 226 3.12 44 363 4.25
49 Jeff Blake 3241 248 418 3907 68 1.74 107 99 3.05 39 167 4.27
50 Tony Romo 2287 117 142 2546 41 1.61 91 68 2.97 31 109 4.28
51 Michael Vick 2315 229 698 3242 73 2.25 155 66 2.85 28 139 4.29
52 Randall Cunningham 4289 484 775 5548 105 1.89 131 134 3.12 45 239 4.31
53 Drew Bledsoe 6717 467 385 7569 123 1.63 95 206 3.07 40 329 4.35
54 Aaron Brooks 2963 235 362 3560 64 1.80 116 92 3.10 42 156 4.38
55 Jim Everett 4923 257 257 5437 64 1.18 23 175 3.55 77 239 4.40
56 Brett Favre 10169 525 602 11296 166 1.47 65 336 3.30 53 502 4.44
57 Stan Humphries 2516 144 150 2810 41 1.46 60 84 3.34 57 125 4.45
58 Roger Staubach 2958 313 410 3681 55 1.49 68 109 3.68 83 164 4.46
59 Bubby Brister 2212 193 191 2596 38 1.46 63 78 3.53 71 116 4.47
60 Rick Mirer 2043 199 242 2484 35 1.41 50 76 3.72 87 111 4.47
61 Phil Simms 4647 477 349 5473 93 1.70 103 157 3.38 62 250 4.57
62 Fran Tarkenton 6467 483 675 7625 84 1.10 16 266 4.11 103 350 4.59
63 Erik Kramer 2299 122 153 2574 40 1.55 77 79 3.44 65 119 4.62
64 Jay Fiedler 1717 114 219 2050 29 1.41 53 66 3.84 91 95 4.63
65 Jim Kelly 4779 323 304 5406 76 1.41 47 175 3.66 82 251 4.64
66 Brian Griese 2796 193 238 3227 51 1.58 83 99 3.54 75 150 4.65
67 Jake Plummer 4350 284 428 5062 75 1.48 66 161 3.70 84 236 4.66
68 Eli Manning 3528 180 174 3882 63 1.62 94 118 3.34 58 181 4.66
69 Mark Rypien 2613 97 127 2837 45 1.59 87 88 3.37 61 133 4.69
70 Chris Miller 2892 209 178 3279 52 1.59 86 102 3.53 72 154 4.70
71 Jay Cutler 2439 159 211 2809 47 1.67 100 85 3.49 68 132 4.70
72 Bill Kenney 2430 191 123 2744 43 1.57 80 86 3.54 74 129 4.70
73 Greg Landry 2300 316 430 3046 41 1.35 40 103 4.48 115 144 4.73
74 Dave Brown 1634 181 192 2007 37 1.84 120 58 3.55 76 95 4.73
75 Alex Smith 1672 144 142 1958 38 1.94 136 55 3.29 52 93 4.75
76 Doug Williams 2507 84 220 2811 41 1.46 59 93 3.71 85 134 4.77
77 Kerry Collins 6261 337 374 6972 139 1.99 141 196 3.13 46 335 4.80
78 Wade Wilson 2428 217 239 2884 38 1.32 36 102 4.20 107 140 4.85
79 Gus Frerotte 3106 207 196 3509 65 1.85 122 106 3.41 63 171 4.87
80 Roman Gabriel 4498 348 358 5204 105 2.02 142 149 3.31 54 254 4.88
81 David Carr 2264 266 302 2832 70 2.47 159 71 3.14 47 141 4.98
82 Bobby Hebert 3121 178 195 3494 50 1.43 55 124 3.97 96 174 4.98
83 Ron Jaworski 4117 363 257 4737 72 1.52 72 164 3.98 97 236 4.98
84 Jake Delhomme 2904 166 175 3245 61 1.88 127 101 3.48 67 162 4.99
85 Steve Beuerlein 3328 332 225 3885 82 2.11 149 112 3.37 60 194 4.99
86 Warren Moon 6823 458 543 7824 161 2.06 146 233 3.41 64 394 5.04
87 Bill Nelsen 1905 146 84 2135 41 1.92 135 67 3.52 70 108 5.06
88 Vinny Testaverde 6701 417 430 7548 116 1.54 73 267 3.98 98 383 5.07
89 Bill Munson 1982 192 130 2304 37 1.61 90 80 4.04 99 117 5.08
90 Sonny Jurgensen 4262 240 181 4683 50 1.07 13 189 4.43 112 239 5.10
91 Kurt Warner 4070 260 173 4503 102 2.27 156 128 3.14 48 230 5.11
92 Chris Chandler 4005 380 371 4756 98 2.06 148 146 3.65 81 244 5.13
93 Boomer Esiason 5205 318 447 5970 123 2.06 147 184 3.54 73 307 5.14
94 Tony Banks 2356 227 246 2829 73 2.58 165 73 3.10 41 146 5.16
95 Steve Bartkowski 3456 356 178 3990 62 1.55 76 144 4.17 104 206 5.16
96 Gary Danielson 1932 183 186 2301 41 1.78 112 78 4.04 100 119 5.17
97 Daunte Culpepper 3199 298 514 4011 102 2.54 163 106 3.31 56 208 5.19
98 Tim Couch 1714 166 124 2004 37 1.85 121 67 3.91 93 104 5.19
99 Steve Deberg 5024 296 204 5524 83 1.50 70 204 4.06 101 287 5.20
100 Mike Pagel 1509 115 136 1760 29 1.65 98 63 4.17 105 92 5.23
101 Tommy Kramer 3651 249 214 4114 59 1.43 57 158 4.33 109 217 5.27
102 Jay Schroeder 2808 208 242 3258 64 1.96 138 108 3.85 92 172 5.28
103 Kyle Boller 1519 123 176 1818 42 2.31 157 54 3.55 78 96 5.28
104 Jim Zorn 3149 213 322 3684 54 1.47 64 141 4.48 114 195 5.29
105 Scott Mitchell 2346 155 172 2673 50 1.87 125 92 3.92 94 142 5.31
106 Rodney Peete 2346 244 270 2860 71 2.48 160 81 3.45 66 152 5.31
107 Billy Joe Tolliver 1707 125 99 1931 39 2.02 143 64 3.75 89 103 5.33
108 Jon Kitna 4442 323 311 5076 110 2.17 151 165 3.71 86 275 5.42
109 Brian Sipe 3439 224 223 3886 62 1.60 88 149 4.33 110 211 5.43
110 Archie Manning 3642 396 384 4422 73 1.65 99 173 4.75 120 246 5.56
111 Bart Starr 3149 235 247 3631 64 1.76 111 138 4.38 111 202 5.56
112 Bob Griese 3429 335 261 4025 52 1.29 33 172 5.02 130 224 5.57
113 Mike Tomczak 2337 114 198 2649 42 1.59 85 106 4.54 117 148 5.59
114 John Brodie 4491 142 235 4868 48 0.99 10 224 4.99 129 272 5.59
115 Joe Ferguson 4519 312 353 5184 82 1.58 84 209 4.62 118 291 5.61
116 Jim Hart 5076 282 159 5517 65 1.18 24 247 4.87 122 312 5.66
117 Dave Krieg 5311 494 417 6222 153 2.46 158 199 3.75 88 352 5.66
118 Dan Fouts 5604 319 224 6147 106 1.72 105 242 4.32 108 348 5.66
119 Trent Dilfer 3172 263 248 3683 82 2.23 153 129 4.07 102 211 5.73
120 Billy Kilmer 2984 206 362 3552 58 1.63 97 146 4.89 125 204 5.74
121 Craig Morton 3786 405 215 4406 68 1.54 74 187 4.94 128 255 5.79
122 Daryle Lamonica 2601 136 166 2903 32 1.10 17 138 5.31 135 170 5.86
123 Frank Ryan 2133 150 310 2593 42 1.62 93 111 5.20 131 153 5.90
124 Jim Plunkett 3701 380 323 4404 62 1.41 49 198 5.35 138 260 5.90
125 Mike Livingston 1751 152 156 2059 39 1.89 132 83 4.74 119 122 5.93
126 Johnny Unitas 5186 230 450 5866 95 1.62 92 253 4.88 123 348 5.93
127 Milt Plum 2419 74 217 2710 34 1.25 30 127 5.25 132 161 5.94
128 Danny White 2950 245 159 3354 68 2.03 144 132 4.47 113 200 5.96
129 Mark Malone 1648 86 159 1893 33 1.74 108 81 4.92 127 114 6.02
130 Richard Todd 2967 264 259 3490 50 1.43 56 161 5.43 141 211 6.05
131 Marc Wilson 2081 210 141 2432 46 1.89 129 102 4.90 126 148 6.09
132 Tom Flores 1715 9 82 1806 18 1.00 12 92 5.36 139 110 6.09
133 Charley Johnson 3392 242 196 3830 56 1.46 61 181 5.34 137 237 6.19
134 Vince Ferragamo 1615 94 60 1769 19 1.07 14 91 5.63 143 110 6.22
135 Len Dawson 3741 216 294 4251 84 1.98 140 183 4.89 124 267 6.28
136 Terry Bradshaw 3901 307 444 4652 84 1.81 117 210 5.38 140 294 6.32
137 Eric Hipple 1546 160 145 1851 47 2.54 162 70 4.53 116 117 6.32
138 Joe Namath 3762 150 71 3983 33 0.83 4 220 5.85 148 253 6.35
139 John Hadl 4687 198 351 5236 73 1.39 46 268 5.72 144 341 6.51
140 Dan Pastorini 3055 246 216 3517 69 1.96 137 161 5.27 133 230 6.54
141 Norm Snead 4353 270 212 4835 60 1.24 28 257 5.90 151 317 6.56
142 Jack Trudeau 1644 103 97 1844 52 2.82 166 69 4.20 106 121 6.56
143 Don Meredith 2308 218 242 2768 71 2.57 164 111 4.81 121 182 6.58
144 Mike Phipps 1799 172 254 2225 39 1.75 110 108 6.00 153 147 6.61
145 Billy Wade 2523 47 318 2888 57 1.97 139 134 5.31 136 191 6.61
146 Y.A. Tittle 3817 54 291 4162 56 1.35 39 221 5.79 147 277 6.66
147 Steve Grogan 3593 252 445 4290 81 1.89 128 208 5.79 146 289 6.74
148 Earl Morrall 2689 174 235 3098 63 2.03 145 148 5.50 142 211 6.81
149 Lynn Dickey 3125 297 140 3562 64 1.80 114 179 5.73 145 243 6.82
150 Don Majkowski 1905 180 248 2333 59 2.53 161 101 5.30 134 160 6.86
151 Ken Stabler 3793 281 118 4192 66 1.57 82 222 5.85 149 288 6.87
152 Otto Graham 1565 0 306 1871 35 1.87 126 94 6.01 154 129 6.89
153 Charlie Conerly 2833 0 270 3103 54 1.74 106 167 5.89 150 221 7.12
154 Tobin Rote 2907 0 635 3542 67 1.89 130 191 6.57 158 258 7.28
155 Norm Van Brocklin 2895 0 102 2997 45 1.50 69 178 6.15 155 223 7.44
156 Jack Kemp 3073 59 356 3488 78 2.24 154 183 5.96 152 261 7.48
157 Bobby Layne 3700 0 611 4311 80 1.86 123 243 6.57 157 323 7.49
158 Sammy Baugh 2995 0 324 3319 47 1.42 54 203 6.78 160 250 7.53
159 Sid Luckman 1744 0 204 1948 15 0.77 3 132 7.57 164 147 7.55
160 Cotton Davidson 1752 0 129 1881 35 1.86 124 108 6.16 156 143 7.60
161 Ed Brown 1987 80 265 2332 40 1.72 104 138 6.95 162 178 7.63
162 Babe Parilli 3330 32 383 3745 71 1.90 133 220 6.61 159 291 7.77
163 George Blanda 4007 17 135 4159 47 1.13 18 277 6.91 161 324 7.79
164 Frank Tripucka 1745 0 43 1788 21 1.17 22 124 7.11 163 145 8.11
165 Eddie LeBaron 1796 9 202 2007 44 2.19 152 141 7.85 165 185 9.22
166 Bob Waterfield 1617 0 75 1692 36 2.13 150 128 7.92 166 164 9.69
 

The Analysis

You can copy the data to Excel and draw your own conclusions, but we have several points of interest to go over. Truthfully, every single quarterback has their own story to dig into, but there’s only so much time and space.
 

The Difference in Era

The first thing that probably jumps out is the way active quarterbacks dominate the top of the list, taking 19 of the top 35 spots. Five more quarterbacks were active in 2007 or later.
 
When Green Bay played Atlanta on Sunday Night Football a few weeks back, how many people thought they were watching the two quarterbacks with the lowest Turnover % in NFL history? Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan start the list, and they both became starters in 2008. David Garrard (11th) was actually in the #1 spot just a few years ago, but a case of fumbilitis knocked him down.
 
If you’re playing in today’s era, you have an advantage because of the shorter, safer passing game. Bert Jones (28th) is the only quarterback in the top 30 that started his career prior to the 1978 rule changes in the passing game. More on Jones later.
 
Other than Jones, the only other quarterback in the top 45 to start his career in the 1970’s is Cold, Hard Football Facts favorite Ken Anderson (33rd).
 
Maybe it’s fitting that Roger Staubach (58th) and Fran Tarkenton (62nd) are the highest ranked quarterbacks to start their careers before 1970. Staubach barely makes the cut with a 1969 debut.
 
Kyle Boller (103rd) did himself no favors after a putrid performance against Kansas City last week. He may never start another game after that one. Only Jon Kitna (108th) ranks lower among active players. Boller was Oakland’s stopgap between Jason Campbell (26th) and Carson Palmer (35th).
 

The Style of Offense

Another critical factor in where you may end up on the list is what type of offense you mostly ran in your career. There are a lot of West Coast Offense quarterbacks at the top, while the gunslingers/vertical passers don’t fare as well, such as Dan Fouts (118th) sitting between Dave Krieg and Trent Dilfer. Also ranking lower than expected is Kurt Warner (91st), though that is more to do with his 156th ranking in fumbles.
 
Brett Favre (56th) doesn’t impress in either fumbles (65th) or interceptions (53rd).
 
Many of the quarterbacks in the top 30 were mobile, and they were sacked often. 13/30 have a career sack % of 7.0% or worse, which would rank them out of the top 100 in sack %. This might be the mathematical balance of taking sacks instead of forcing plays that become turnovers.
 

Credit to the Old Guys

Since their data is incomplete, there are 35 players on the list that would all see their numbers improve if we had sack totals for their careers. The only players that might decline would be Luckman and Baugh because of the missing fumbles.
 
How much would they improve? We can make some predictions.
 
Fran Tarkenton is the highest ranked player with incomplete data. The only missing data is his sack totals for his first two seasons (1961-62). He lost 416 and 450 yards on sacks those years. He had similar numbers the following two years, on 46 and 42 sacks.
 
Brett Favre holds the record for times sacked at 525, but it’s clear that Tarkenton (483) was likely sacked the most. By adding a modest 85 sacks to his total, his Turnover % would change from 4.59% to 4.54%, which would move him just one spot ahead to 61st, jumping over Phil Simms. Not a huge leap.
 
That’s just the case of one quarterback that has most of his sacks accounted for.
 
Y.A. Tittle (146th) only has 54 sacks, but 3,000 yards lost due to sacks. If we assume the average yardage lost on a sack was 7 yards in Tittle’s career, then his predicted sack total is 429. That changes his Turnover % from 6.66% to 6.11%, which would move him up 13 spots to 133rd.
 
The older players are still going to hang around the bottom, but you can see that complete data would make their numbers look better.
 
This also makes Ken Stabler (151st) look worse, and is a knock against his HOF case, as he would likely fall behind a few more spots to players such as Otto Graham, Tobin Rote and Charlie Conerly.
 

The Fumbles

Interceptions are passé, as most people are already familiar with those stats. Time to devote a segment to the quarterbacks that protected the ball the best when it was in their hands. There’s one franchise that stands out the most in this regard (the Colts), and what’s great about fumbles is they aren’t era dependent. You will see players from past and present all throughout the list.
 
Bert Jones is the GOAT of quarterbacks when it comes to not fumbling. He had just 16 fumbles on 3,030 drop backs, a fumble rate of only 0.53. The next great quarterback for the Colts, Peyton Manning, comes in next with a 0.73 figure. That’s on 7,787 drop backs.
 
Not fumbling is one of the most underrated aspects of Manning’s game, and Colts fans should be learning that the hard way in 2011. Starting with Week 1 against Houston, Indy’s quarterbacks have been fumbling at rates that Colts fans have not had to deal with since the days of Jack Trudeau, who ranks dead last with a 2.82 fumble rate.
 
Kerry Collins lost two fumbles in the first quarter against Houston. In 227 games, Peyton Manning had never lost two fumbles in the same game. The next week, Collins lost his third fumble against Cleveland. Manning’s career high for a season is 3 lost fumbles.
 
Enter Curtis Painter, who lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown against the Steelers. Painter’s NFL debut was in the infamous game against the Jets in 2009 when the Colts passed on the perfect season. The game-changing play that day was a Painter fumble returned for a touchdown. He has two of them in 7 games. Manning has lost a fumble for a touchdown just once his entire career (2002 vs. Tennessee).
 
Painter has fumbled two more times this season, losing both, making it a grand total of 7 fumbles with 6 lost fumbles by the Colts quarterbacks in just 7 games. They may have only thrown 3 interceptions, but the Colts lead the league in fumbles lost thanks in large part to their quarterbacks.
 
How many snaps has it taken for Peyton Manning to lose his last 6 fumbles? He has 6 lost fumbles in his last 3,691 drop backs. That’s 101 games. That’s another aspect of the game the Colts are missing out on this season.
 
Sid Luckman ranks third in fumble rate (0.77), but we don’t know exactly how many he had in his career. Even if it was just 5 more, that’d put him back above 1.00 (1.03 to be exact).
 
For Joe Namath fans, here’s a stat where Namath actually looks elite. He ranks fourth with a 0.83 fumble rate. And that number would actually be a little better if we had his total sacks. So rejoice, Namath fans. You have one number to go with the guarantee.
 

Other Data

This dataset provides us with a chance to look at some other interesting topics.

Contact Rate and Alternative Fumble Rate

 
Another way to look at fumbles would be to consider only the plays where the quarterback ran with the ball or was sacked (Contact Rate). Of course players are hit on successful pass attempts as well, meaning it wouldn’t be a true contact rate.
 
Only the 131 quarterbacks with complete sack data were used for this section. Due to the long list, we’ll only look at the top 10 and bottom 10.
 
Contact Rate, Top & Bottom 10
Rk QB Contact Rate Rk QB Contact Rate
1 Dan Marino 6.39 122 Mike Phipps 19.15
2 Peyton Manning 7.41 123 Roger Staubach 19.64
3 Mark Rypien 7.90 124 David Garrard 19.68
4 Jim Hart 7.99 125 David Carr 20.06
5 Drew Brees 8.42 126 Daunte Culpepper 20.24
6 Vince Ferragamo 8.71 127 Steve Young 20.65
7 Dan Fouts 8.83 128 Randall Cunningham 22.69
8 Steve DeBerg 9.05 129 Greg Landry 24.49
9 Eli Manning 9.12 130 Kordell Stewart 24.64
10 Jim Everett 9.45 131 Michael Vick 28.59
 
No surprises with some of the all-time pocket passers being in the lowest Contact Rate group, while some of the all-time scramblers have the highest Contact Rate. Mike Phipps and Greg Landry are a bit surprising.
 
Using only the plays with contact, a new Fumble % can be calculated. After all, every quarterback fumble is statistically a sack or run by the quarterback.
 
Adjusted Fumble %, Top & Bottom 10
Rk QB Adj. Fumble% Rk QB Adj. Fumble%
1 Bert Jones 3.34 122 Billy Joe Tolliver 17.41
2 Jim McMahon 5.32 123 Eli Manning 17.80
3 Greg Landry 5.50 124 Bill Nelsen 17.83
4 Kordell Stewart 5.71 125 Jake Delhomme 17.89
5 Joe Theismann 6.04 126 Dan Marino 19.26
6 Steve Young 6.30 127 Dan Fouts 19.52
7 Ken Anderson 6.54 128 Kerry Collins 19.55
8 Joe Montana 6.88 129 Mark Rypien 20.09
9 Charlie Batch 7.08 130 Kurt Warner 23.56
10 Roger Staubach 7.61 131 Jack Trudeau 26.00
 
It’s official. No one protected the ball better than Bert Jones. He was sacked a lot (8.3%) in his career, and he was a good scrambler prior to injuries, yet he just didn’t fumble the football. He also didn’t have the Tuck rule, which creeps up every once in a while to make it okay for a quarterback to fumble as long as he does it a certain way, nor did he have the benefit of instant replay to overturn any calls. Though that one may work both ways as plays that were whistled dead due to down by contact may have actually been fumbles.
 
Last word about fumbles: ran a correlation test between career sack % and career fumble % for the 131 quarterbacks with the data, and the correlation was 0.20, which isn’t very strong. Just because a quarterback is sacked often, it doesn’t mean he’s going to develop a case of fumbilitis.
 

The Other Guys

What about quarterbacks that are either too young or in most cases not good enough to have reached 1,500 career attempts? It’s likely we’d find much worse turnover numbers for these players, which would explain why they didn’t play more.
 
We selected just a few interesting names of such players, mostly ones that are either active or some famous busts. And yes, because it’s impossible to avoid, we step back into the Tebow Zone.
 
Other QBs - Turnover %
QB Passes Sacks Rushes Total DB Fum Fum% INT INT% TO TO%
Tim Tebow 119 12 59 190 2 1.05 3 2.52 5 2.63
Sam Bradford 786 55 36 877 14 1.60 17 2.16 31 3.53
Billy Volek 561 49 52 662 11 1.66 15 2.67 26 3.93
Matthew Stafford 742 42 30 814 9 1.11 25 3.37 34 4.18
Josh Freeman 1034 57 126 1217 20 1.64 34 3.29 54 4.44
Ryan Fitzpatrick 1377 98 165 1640 27 1.65 48 3.49 75 4.57
Steve Walsh 1317 40 80 1437 21 1.46 50 3.80 71 4.94
Mark Sanchez 1102 69 79 1250 25 2.00 39 3.54 64 5.12
Derek Anderson 1436 72 76 1584 27 1.70 55 3.83 82 5.18
Vince Young 1191 75 265 1531 38 2.48 43 3.61 81 5.29
Rex Grossman 1269 76 71 1416 26 1.84 49 3.86 75 5.30
Kevin Kolb 525 38 49 612 15 2.45 21 4.00 36 5.88
JaMarcus Russell 680 70 40 790 25 3.16 23 3.38 48 6.08
Sage Rosenfels 562 19 48 629 11 1.75 29 5.16 40 6.36
Heath Shuler 593 46 67 706 13 1.84 33 5.56 46 6.52
Ryan Leaf 655 65 59 779 24 3.08 36 5.50 60 7.70
 
Not that we needed more proof that JaMarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf were the biggest busts of the modern era, but they boast a fumble % of over 3.0, and Leaf’s 7.70 Turnover % is extremely bad.
 

Ways to Improve the Data

Getting complete sack data for the old-era players would be a start, but it doesn’t seem like the NFL is in any hurry to accept the research on sacks done by someone like John Turney.
 
Kneel downs and spikes are clock plays, which are never actual efforts of gaining yardage. It would be nice to eliminate them completely, but that would take a mighty effort. Currently they improve the quarterback’s turnover numbers, especially for the players that win a lot of games.
 
A play that does not get credited as a turnover but is one of the biggest in the game is the safety. You give two points to the opponent, the ball, and they often get decent field position afterwards from it. But since they’re technically not a fumble or interception, they don’t go down as a turnover, even though that’s exactly what it is.
 
Aaron Rodgers actually has had 4 safeties already in his career, which would bring his TO% up to 3.03% if they were counted. He was sacked three times in the end zone and called for intentional grounding on another. He had two safeties in one quarter against the Vikings on 11/9/2008. The Packers lost 28-27. 
 
Bernie Kosar (12th) also had a game with two safeties, and his were in the fourth quarter, which actually were the winning points for the Saints in a 1987 game. They don’t happen often, but when they do, they usually have a big impact.
 
Another play that even has “turnover” in the name is a failed fourth down conversion (turnover on downs). It would be nice to have this data available on quarterbacks for fourth down plays they weren’t successful on. It’s a failure to maintain possession that directly results in the other team getting the ball back. That’s a turnover.
 
Some crazy troll on the Cold, Hard Football Facts message board would even tell you punts and missed field goals are turnovers, but we don't need to go that far.
 

How Important Is It?

Of course not turning the ball over is important. But admittedly, there are some shady results when you look at this list, even between players of the same era.
 
While it’s always nice to see a list with Montana, Manning, Brady and Young in the top 10, there’s also Neil O’Donnell, Matt Ryan, David Garrard and Kyle Orton within striking distance of them. Ben Roethlisberger follows Joey Harrington, while Dan Marino is dangerously close to Kordell Stewart.
 
While you can preach not turning the ball over, the fact is turnovers are going to happen, and happen for various reasons. Situation dictates a lot of them. Pressure does as well. Even being an accurate quarterback and putting the ball in play can cause you to throw more interceptions than the guy that throws his incompletions at the bugs on the ground because he’s so damn inaccurate. Players don’t catch with their ankles, Donovan.
 
Neil O’Donnell ranks so high thanks to being 2nd all time in lowest interception percentage (2.11%). The irony is he’s best remembered for throwing two of the worst interceptions in history in Super Bowl XXX.
 
Isn’t that the point? Some of the best quarterbacks in history have led the league in interceptions before. There’s not a lot of correlation from season to season when it comes to turnovers. What it really comes down to is you want the quarterback that’s going to avoid the critical turnovers, whether it’s the one in the red zone, the one that sets the opponent up in your red zone, the one that’s easily returned for a touchdown, the one in overtime, or the one on your last-ditch effort. If they come in bunches, you’re probably going to lose that game that day.
 
But every once in a while, you can take a chance and risk a turnover or two. Why not? Playing turtle ball hasn’t won a lot of championships, and points still ultimately win games. Turnovers are just a means of getting to a win, and how your offense and defenses handles them will determine how easy that path is.

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