Passer rating - unleashed!

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 03, 2011



By Luis DeLoureiro
ColdHardFootballFacts paragon of restraint
 
Who's the architect of the greatest single-game passing performance in modern history?
 
It's not contemporary superstars Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, who carve up defenses with all the blood-eyed lust of a Troll around a deep-fried turkey. And it's not MTV era icons like Dan Marino or Joe Montana, who revolutionized our concept of the passing game about the same time Martha Quinn & Pals at MTV changed the way we listen to (and watch) music.
 
Nope, it's a little more Old School than that.
 
The greatest single-game passing performance since the AFL-NFL merger belongs to one Francis Asbury Tarkenton. But you and we can just call him Fran.
 
Tarkenton, of course, retired just at the dawn of the Live Ball Era in 1978 as the all-time leader in everything from yards (47,003) to touchdown passes (342). He was the Dan Marino of the Dead Ball Era. We can  only  imagine  what his numbers might have looked like had he played his entire career here in the cushy soft-football days when defenders are fined for playing too aggressively.
 
So we were thrilled to see that he's responsible for the single greatest passing performance (since 1970) – that is, the single greatest performance when we remove the artificial constraints that restrict passer rating to an imaginary "perfect" cap of 158.3
 
We like passer rating, as you know, because it has a very high correlation to success. If you boast a higher passer rating than your opponent, you almost always win.
 
But passer rating has a major shortcoming, as we pointed out earlier this season. Namely, it has arbitrary boundaries for each factor included in the calculation. A player is considered to have had a perfect game if he:
  1. Completes 77.5 percent of his passes
  2. Completes 11.875 percent of his passes for touchdowns
  3. Throws zero interceptions
  4. Averages 12.5 yards per attempt
You earn no additional credit for surpassing any one of these arbitrary milestones. As we pointed out last month, these restraints can lead to some odd situations when it comes to the definition of a statistically "perfect" game.
 
So, with the assistance of our friends at playerfilter.com, we have recalculated the passer ratings for every game back to 1970 – with the aforementioned boundaries removed! That's right: we've unleashed uncapped passer rating upon the world! This effort allows the greatest passing performances in history to break free of the shackles that constrict them in an imaginary box of 158.3.
 
Hell, we hadn't been this excited this we first tried to remove Suzy Snowflake's buxom little bosom from the artificial constraints of her manmade brassiere back in 10th grade.
 
In this case, we hope to succeed.
 
Top 20 Passing Performances (since 1970), Uncapped Rating (min. 14 attempts)
 
 
Comp.
Att
Yards
YPA
TD
INT
Rating
Uncapped
Fran Tarkenton, 1970
NYG 35, Stl 17
15
18
280
15.6
5
0.0
158.3
228.9
Roethlisberger, 2007
Pit 38, Bal 7
13
16
209
13.1
5
0
158.3
228.4
Steve Grogan, 1979
NE 56, NYJ 3
13
18
315
17.5
5
0
153.9
227.8
Craig Morton, 1981
NYG 42, SD 24
17
18
308
17.1
4
0
158.3
226.2
Craig Morton, 1970
Dal 52, Oil 10
13
17
349
20.5
5
1
133.0
224.9
James Harris, 1974
Ram 37, SF 14
12
15
276
18.4
3
0
158.3
212.1
Jay Schroeder, 1990
Oak 28, Min 24
10
15
234
15.6
4
0
149.3
211.5
Tom Brady, 2007
NE 49, Mia 28
21
25
354
14.2
6
0
158.3
211.1
John Elway, 1984
Den 42, Min 21
16
19
218
11.5
5
0
158.3
207.8
Drew Brees, 2009
NO 38, NE 17
18
23
371
16.1
5
0
158.3
207.0
Bob Griese, 1971
Mia 41, NE 3
9
14
185
13.2
4
0
147.3
206.0
Dan Fouts, 1976
SD 43, CRD 24
15
18
259
14.4
4
0
158.3
205.6
Peyton Manning, 2007
Ind 44, Bal 20
13
17
249
14.6
4
0
157.5
205.3
C. Pennington, 2003
NYJ 31, Ind 38
11
14
219
15.6
3
0
158.3
204.2
Dick Shiner, 1973
Atl 62, NO 7
13
15
227
15.1
3
0
158.3
204.0
Roger Staubach, 1971
Dal 42, NYG 14
10
14
232
16.6
3
0
153.3
202.1
Peyton Manning, 2003
Ind 55, NO 21
20
25
314
12.6
6
0
158.3
201.1
Steve Young, 1994
SF 42, Atl 3
15
16
143
8.9
4
0
143.5
200.8
Lynn Dickey, 1981
GB 35, NO 7
19
21
218
10.4
5
0
149.5
200.1
Steve Grogan, 1978
NE 55, NYJ 21
15
19
281
14.8
4
0
158.3
199.7
 
***
 
To illustrate the difference between traditional and "unbounded" ratings, below is a table showing Tom Brady's rating from his "perfect" game against Detroit on Thanksgiving. It's the last "perfect" game in the NFL, using the traditional, capped method.  
 
His performance is broken down by each individual category of passer rating that goes into the formula. You'll see that his real passer rating was actually better than 158.3 – but not good enough to make the cut on our Top 20 list above.
 
Category
Value
Traditional rating
Uncapped rating
Completion%
77.8
39.6
39.8
TD%
14.8
39.6
49.4
INT%
0.0
39.6
39.6
YPA
12.6
39.6
40.1
Final
-
158.3
168.9
 
 
A few notes from the rest of the Top 20 list:
 
Tarkenton posted the most highly rated performance (228.9) on the list during a 35-17 victory over the Cardinals in 1970. He went 15 of 18 for 280 yards and five touchdowns and no interceptions.
Tarkenton spent most of his career with the Vikings. But, this game actually took place while he was with the Giants. It was the only "perfect" game of his career using the traditional method and the only five-TD pass performance of his career. The 15.6 YPA average was his second highest mark.
 
Ben Roethlisberger is No. 2 on the list, for his 228.4-rating in a 38-7 win over the Ravens in 2007. People who don't know football insist that Big Ben is not an elite quarterback because he doesn't put up big fantasy-friendly numbers.
 
The Cold, Hard Football Facts have insisted almost since he first stepped on the field that Roethlisberger is an elite quarterback because he puts up incredible efficiency numbers – the more important numbers that lead to victories. Roethlisberger's great efficiency and two Super Bowl rings tell us that we've been right all along.
 
Craig Morton, Peyton Manning and Steve Grogan each appear twice on the list. Manning – we all kind of get that. But Morton and Grogan?
 
Morton, of course, was a very, very good quarterback in his day. In fact, he led two different teams to the Super Bowl (1970 Cowboys, 1977 Broncos). But he laid an egg in both games, and that's all most people remember about him. As you see above, he was capable of some great performances.
 
The Grogan thing's a bit of a shock. He was not a very good quarterback overall, but clearly had his moments in the sun – both games at the expense of the Jets, by the way. Seems some things never change.
 
Nine of the games on the list would not have been considered "perfect" by the traditional metric. Morton posted the lowest traditional rating (133) among the top 20 unbounded ratings – it was the only game on the list in which a passer threw an interception. INTs are verboten in the traditional passer rating system.
 
Dick Shiner's parents sure had a cruel sense of humor.
 
Tom Brady's performance in a 2007 victory over Miami would qualify as the highest unbounded rating with at least 20 attempts.  Brady went 20 of 25 for 354 yards (14.2 YPA) and six touchdowns in a 49-28 win that might have represented the high-water mark of New England's failed effort to go 19-0.
 
Drew Brees's performance last year against the Patriots just cracks the Top 10. We wrote at the time that it was the game that legitimized the Saints as Super Bowl contenders, which they later fulfilled, while proving that big changes were needed to New England's defense.
 
Chad Pennington is the only player in the top 20 in a losing effort. Pennington went 11 of 14 for 219 yards and three touchdowns while his Jets lost to the Colts, 38-31. 
 
Put another way, Peyton Manning is the only quarterback to pull out a victory when the opposing passer produced a proverbial "perfect" game.

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