Proof it's easier than ever to pass the ball

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Mar 03, 2008



The cushy lives led by modern quarterbacks has been a popular topic among the Cold, Hard Football Facts crew and among you, our pigskin-enlightened trolls.
 
Basically, it's never been easier to pass the football than it is today. And this ease with which quarterbacks can pass the ball today is one major reason why our definitive list of the 10 greatest quarterbacks of all time that we published in January stands in sharp contrast to the ignorant, bile-filled lists of best quarterbacks compiled by most outlets.
 
We looked at the context of each NFL era when compiling our list. To put it most simply, it was far more difficult to pass the ball in the 1950s (when league-wide passer ratings hovered around the high 50s and low 60s), than it is today (when league-wide passer ratings hover just above 80).
 
Others simply look at big modern numbers and conclude that modern players such as, for example, Dan Marino or John Elway, were better quarterbacks than Stone Age passers Sammy Baugh or Otto Graham. "Well, Sammy Baugh never passed for 4,000 yards, how good could he be?" seems to be the standard argument of those who fail to understand context.
 
Such filthy ignorance makes us want to scrub humanity with a pumice stone of pigskin, in the hopes of removing the gridiron grime. 
 
For proof that it's never been easier to pass the ball, simply look at this list below of the Top 20 all-time passer rating leaders, as of the end of the 2007 season. A number of items immediately jump out.
  1. All 20 quarterbacks played their entire careers in the Live Ball Era (1978-present).
  2. 14 of the 20 quarterbacks were still active as of 2007.
  3. 7 of the 20 quarterbacks began their careers here in the 21st century.
Now, does it seem reasonable to you that more than two thirds of the best passers in history were active last year alone, or that more than one third of the best passers in history (7 of 20) have suddenly joined the league since the 2000 season? Of course not.
 
This cluster represents a statistical anomaly. And one of the irrefutable wisdoms of the Cold, Hard Football Facts is that anytime you see a statistical anomaly, whether a group cluster or an individual or team record that stands above all others, you will in almost every instance find an extenuating circumstance to explain this anomaly.
 
And in this instance the extenuating circumstance to explain the anomaly is that rule changes have consistently made it easier for quarterbacks to pass the ball. The proof, if you needed it, is here in this list.
 
TOP 20 PASSER RATING LEADERS (as of end of 2007)
 
Player
Years
Rating
1
Steve Young
1985-99
96.8
2
Peyton Manning
1998-present
94.7
3
Kurt Warner
1998-2007
93.2
4
Tom Brady
2000-07
92.9
5
Ben Roethlisberger
2004-07
92.5
6
Joe Montana
1979-94
92.3
7
Carson Palmer
2004-07
90.1
8
Daunte Culpepper
1999-2007
89.9
9
Chad Pennington
2000-07
88.9
10
Marc Bulger
2002-07
88.1
11
Drew Brees
2001-07
87.9
12
Jeff Garcia
1999-2007
87.2
13
Trent Green
1997-2007
86.9
14
Philip Rivers
2004-07
86.6
*
Otto Graham
     1946-55
    86.6
15
Dan Marino
1983-99
86.4
16
Matt Hasselbeck
1999-2007
86.2
17
Donovan McNabb
1999-2007
85.8
18
Brett Favre
1991-2007
85.7
19
Jake Delhomme
1999-2007
85.2
20
Rich Gannon
1987-2004
84.7

* The great Otto Graham is listed with an 86.6 career passer rating by some sources. However, this 86.6 figure represents his entire career, including his four years with the AAFC (1946-49). However, official NFL records are funny about this. They don't include AAFC numbers in most instances, but seem to do so for Graham. We're not opposed to Graham getting his due. In fact, our definitive list named him the fourth-best quarterback in history. However, his numbers were not nearly as impressive in the NFL (1950-55) as they were in the second-tier AAFC. For example, his AAFC passer rating was 99.1. His NFL passer rating was 78.2. Now that you're armed with this information, we leave it to you to decide how he should be treated by history.


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