QBs: Career Playoff Drive Stats (2012 edition)

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Feb 02, 2012



By Scott Kacsmar
Cold, Hard Football Facts Comeback King


To celebrate Groundhog Day and another classic quarterback duel in Super Bowl XLVI, the Captain is back again with this year’s update to the Career Playoff Drive Stats he compiled almost a year to the day on Pro-Football-Reference.com.
 
We implore you to visit that link if you never have before, as much of the players’ data remains unchanged, and rather than repeat the same things from last year, you can read the various observations there, and see the expanded tables that are compressed here (to fit the screen). You can also compare how a couple of games from this year can really change the stats from one year ago; especially for a player with few games played like Aaron Rodgers.
 
Last year we looked at 24 different quarterbacks from 1980-present, and this time we have added Joe Flacco to the mix, making a list with 13 active players and a dozen retired. Six of our active quarterbacks made the playoffs this season, thus changes to their statistics. The total number of drives analyzed is 3,679.
 
Observations this year will be based on the active players, and particularly the ones that played in this year’s playoffs. Again, please visit last year’s edition for more analysis.
 
Disclaimer: The stats presented here are in the quarterback's name, but even more than usual this is really about the team's offensive performance as a whole rather than the individual quarterback. There are certain parts, like the stats on turnovers, that are mostly all about the quarterback, but overall drive stats are very much a team stat. There are of course drives where a quarterback does nothing but hand the ball off every play. The entry "Joe Montana" is another way of saying "1981-90 49ers, 1993-94 Chiefs.”
 
Also of note is the attempt to include every drive a QB played in during the playoffs; whether or not they started the game did not matter. Steve Young only has his 14 starts and game against the 1987 Vikings when he replaced Montana in the third quarter included. Troy Aikman, John Elway, Mark Brunell, Dave Krieg, and Randall Cunningham also participated in at least one game they did not start.  Kneel down drives at the end of either half are excluded.
 

The Data

Our first table is the general (but very important) group of drive stats. Active players are in bold. Yds/Dr represents the net yards per drive. Gross yards, such as the ones in the analysis of New England’s Super Bowl defenses this week, were not kept. QB TOs are all the interceptions and lost fumbles by the quarterback, and that total is divided by the number of drives to get TOs/Dr. The LOS/Dr is the average starting field position. Table is sorted by descending Pts/Dr.    
 
Quarterbacks - Playoff Drive Stats
QB Games Drives Yds/Dr Pts Pts/Dr TD TD/Dr Punts/Dr QB TOs TOs/Dr LOS/Dr
Aaron Rodgers 6 64 37.02 165 2.58 21 0.328 0.328 7 0.109 28.06
Drew Brees 9 106 36.10 264 2.49 32 0.302 0.321 7 0.066 27.39
Steve Young 15 141 34.63 347 2.46 44 0.312 0.333 18 0.128 31.44
Troy Aikman 16 164 32.81 400 2.44 48 0.293 0.329 19 0.116 33.12
Kurt Warner 13 144 33.65 338 2.35 42 0.292 0.354 17 0.118 32.69
Ben Roethlisberger 14 154 30.82 343 2.23 41 0.266 0.364 19 0.123 31.82
Joe Montana 23 248 32.41 534 2.15 66 0.266 0.395 22 0.089 31.62
John Elway 22 239 32.03 509 2.13 61 0.255 0.385 26 0.109 31.79
Peyton Manning 19 200 35.13 418 2.09 44 0.220 0.340 20 0.100 27.62
Jim Kelly 17 195 30.89 405 2.08 46 0.236 0.328 31 0.159 33.18
Tom Brady 21 228 31.02 469 2.06 52 0.228 0.408 22 0.096 31.48
Brett Favre 24 274 29.97 555 2.03 65 0.237 0.358 35 0.128 33.22
Matt Hasselbeck 11 133 28.22 260 1.95 29 0.218 0.451 9 0.068 32.08
Warren Moon 10 107 32.37 200 1.87 22 0.206 0.308 18 0.168 28.01
Dan Marino 18 205 28.64 366 1.79 44 0.215 0.380 29 0.141 30.56
Jake Delhomme 8 93 29.61 166 1.78 19 0.204 0.452 12 0.129 30.35
Eli Manning 10 111 28.53 195 1.76 21 0.189 0.441 9 0.081 30.53
Philip Rivers 7 77 29.69 132 1.71 16 0.208 0.455 10 0.130 31.19
Donovan McNabb 16 187 27.48 314 1.68 34 0.182 0.401 25 0.134 31.99
Joe Flacco 9 104 23.20 170 1.63 18 0.173 0.462 10 0.096 34.47
Mark Brunell 11 113 26.42 176 1.56 19 0.168 0.398 14 0.124 31.16
Steve McNair 10 117 26.97 180 1.54 19 0.162 0.410 13 0.111 32.34
Tony Romo 4 45 28.09 67 1.49 7 0.156 0.400 4 0.089 28.64
Randall Cunningham 10 125 25.64 183 1.46 19 0.152 0.432 14 0.112 32.09
Dave Krieg 11 105 23.36 138 1.31 16 0.152 0.543 10 0.095 31.57
 
Two games later, and Aaron Rodgers has fallen from scintillating numbers of 39.43 Yds/Dr and 2.88 Pts/Dr, to a more believable, but still excellent 37.02 Yds/Dr and 2.58 Pts/Dr. Both numbers are the highest.
 
Drew Brees ranks second in each after two huge games this postseason. Brees maintains his top ranking in fewest TOs/Dr, and now has sunk below Peyton Manning for the worst average starting field position (27.39). In general, starting field position got worse in 2011 because of the new kickoff rule, and in two playoff games against Detroit and San Francisco, the Saints’ LOS/Dr was just the 24.32.
 
Ben Roethlisberger continued his streak of the Steelers scoring 20+ points in all 14 of his playoff starts, and he ranks between Kurt Warner and Joe Montana in Pts/Dr.
 
Tom Brady jumped from 1.94 Pts/Dr to 2.06, starting with a 45-point outburst against the Broncos. While the general story is the AFC Championship against Baltimore was an off-game by Brady, there was a four-drive stretch where the Patriots scored 20 points, and finished the game with 23 points on 9 drives (2.56 Pts/Dr against an elite Baltimore defense).
 
Eli Manning, great playoff run included, still finds himself in the bottom half of the list when it comes to both yardage and points. He does rank third in TOs/Dr.
 
Then there’s the new entry, Joe Flacco. If anyone was looking for the ammo to hammer his “winner” reputation in the postseason (5-4 record), here it is. Despite having the best field position (34.47), Flacco is 20th in Pts/Dr, last in Yds/Dr, and only Dave Krieg led his offense to a higher rate of punts.
 
Flacco and the Ravens also most frequently go three and out on offense in the playoffs:
 
Offense - 3 And Out %
QB Games Drives 3OUT%
Joe Flacco 9 104 31.7
Dave Krieg 11 105 30.5
Matt Hasselbeck 11 133 27.1
Mark Brunell 11 113 25.7
Eli Manning 10 111 24.3
Jake Delhomme 8 93 23.7
Tom Brady 21 228 23.7
Peyton Manning 19 200 22.5
Dan Marino 18 205 22.4
Steve McNair 10 117 22.2
Donovan McNabb 16 187 21.9
Joe Montana 23 248 21.4
Philip Rivers 7 77 20.8
Randall Cunningham 10 125 20.8
Jim Kelly 17 195 20.0
Steve Young 15 141 19.9
Brett Favre 24 274 19.0
Drew Brees 9 106 18.9
Warren Moon 10 107 18.7
Kurt Warner 13 144 18.1
John Elway 22 239 17.6
Ben Roethlisberger 14 154 17.5
Tony Romo 4 45 15.6
Troy Aikman 16 164 15.2
Aaron Rodgers 6 64 12.5
 

Average Starting Field Position

Here is a breakdown of the average starting field position (LOS/Dr). You can see the number of drives where the offense started at exactly the 20, followed by the percentage of drives that started at the 20 or worse (<20%). Then it’s starting at your own 21-35 and 36-49, finally followed by drives started in opponent territory (Opp. 50+). The Worst GP is the worst average starting field position the quarterback had in any one game. 
 
Average Starting Field Position Breakdown
QB Drives LOS/Dr 20 (exact) % <20% 21-35 % 36-49 % Opp. 50+ % Worst GP
Drew Brees 106 27.39 12 11.32 41.51 39 36.79 14 13.21 9 8.49 21.64
Peyton Manning 200 27.62 33 16.50 38.50 79 39.50 29 14.50 15 7.50 15.67
Warren Moon 107 28.01 23 21.50 46.73 35 32.71 6 5.61 16 14.95 20.67
Aaron Rodgers 64 28.06 14 21.88 39.06 23 35.94 10 15.63 6 9.38 23.56
Tony Romo 45 28.64 4 8.89 40.00 12 26.67 10 22.22 5 11.11 23.50
Jake Delhomme 93 30.35 9 9.68 31.18 35 37.63 20 21.51 9 9.68 21.54
Eli Manning 111 30.53 15 13.51 34.23 40 36.04 17 15.32 16 14.41 24.09
Dan Marino 205 30.56 24 11.71 29.76 86 41.95 32 15.61 26 12.68 19.00
Mark Brunell 113 31.16 8 7.08 30.97 45 39.82 19 16.81 14 12.39 18.00
Philip Rivers 77 31.19 6 7.79 24.68 33 42.86 12 15.58 13 16.88 19.00
Steve Young 141 31.44 19 13.48 36.17 43 30.50 18 12.77 29 20.57 16.70
Dave Krieg 105 31.57 10 9.52 31.43 37 35.24 19 18.10 16 15.24 22.40
Joe Montana 248 31.62 36 14.52 34.27 89 35.89 36 14.52 38 15.32 20.20
Tom Brady 228 31.70 20 8.77 28.95 84 36.84 46 20.18 32 14.04 18.00
John Elway 239 31.79 35 14.64 34.31 82 34.31 36 15.06 39 16.32 19.25
Ben Roethlisberger 154 31.82 23 14.94 30.52 56 36.36 30 19.48 21 13.64 22.78
Donovan McNabb 187 31.99 14 7.49 27.27 68 36.36 40 21.39 28 14.97 20.00
Matt Hasselbeck 133 32.08 9 6.77 21.05 65 48.87 25 18.80 15 11.28 22.10
Randall Cunningham 125 32.09 24 19.20 32.80 44 35.20 25 20.00 15 12.00 22.38
Steve McNair 117 32.34 8 6.84 23.93 49 41.88 25 21.37 15 12.82 26.33
Kurt Warner 144 32.69 19 13.19 30.56 49 34.03 29 20.14 22 15.28 22.89
Troy Aikman 164 33.12 25 15.24 31.10 57 34.76 30 18.29 26 15.85 23.10
Jim Kelly 195 33.18 26 13.33 28.21 70 35.90 37 18.97 33 16.92 21.50
Brett Favre 274 33.22 23 8.39 28.83 102 37.23 46 16.79 47 17.15 24.11
Joe Flacco 104 34.47 19 18.27 33.65 32 30.77 15 14.42 22 21.15 23.90
 
Flacco has the best field position because he’s started 21.2% of his drives in opponent territory, which is the highest percentage of all 25 quarterbacks. He’s had 22 such drives in 9 playoff games. Compare that to someone like Peyton Manning, who has just 15 drives in opponent territory in 19 games (7.5% is lowest rate).
 
On average, 13.8% of drives are started at your own 10-19. Drew Brees starts 23.6% of his drives in that range; the highest of anyone. Philip Rivers is the lowest at 7.79%.
 

Touchdown Drives

The next table looks at the touchdown drives the quarterbacks led. It is sorted by the Avg. Yds, or average length of the drive. ScoMg is the average scoring margin when the touchdown drive started. Then the distances are broken down by 70+, 80+ and 90+ for long drives, then <50 and <20 are in the opponent’s territory and red zone.
 
Average Touchdown Drive Breakdown
QB TD Avg. Yds ScoMg 70+ % 80+ % 90+ % <50 % <20 %
Tony Romo 7 72.7 2.86 5 71.4 4 57.1 2 28.6 1 14.3 1 14.3
Peyton Manning 44 70.6 1.73 29 65.9 16 36.4 2 4.5 3 6.8 1 2.3
Philip Rivers 16 69.8 -4.13 11 68.8 2 12.5 0 0.0 3 18.8 0 0.0
Aaron Rodgers 21 68.9 -2.38 11 52.4 9 42.9 1 4.8 1 4.8 0 0.0
Warren Moon 22 68.5 -1.55 14 63.6 10 45.5 1 4.5 5 22.7 1 4.5
Drew Brees 32 68.4 -2.56 20 62.5 12 37.5 2 6.3 6 18.8 1 3.1
Jake Delhomme 19 66.2 -2.37 9 47.4 5 26.3 2 10.5 2 10.5 1 5.3
Eli Manning 21 65.8 0.14 10 47.6 7 33.3 1 4.8 3 14.3 1 4.8
Steve McNair 19 64.8 -3.26 7 36.8 1 5.3 0 0.0 1 5.3 0 0.0
Brett Favre 65 64.6 -1.22 36 55.4 16 24.6 3 4.6 12 18.5 4 6.2
John Elway 61 63.7 0.08 28 45.9 21 34.4 4 6.6 14 23.0 3 4.9
Dan Marino 44 63.0 -4.41 20 45.5 9 20.5 1 2.3 10 22.7 2 4.5
Tom Brady 52 62.0 0.64 21 40.4 8 15.4 1 1.9 10 19.2 1 1.9
Mark Brunell 19 61.7 -1.53 9 47.4 3 15.8 1 5.3 3 15.8 2 10.5
Kurt Warner 42 61.7 0.95 19 45.2 8 19.0 0 0.0 9 21.4 2 4.8
Dave Krieg 16 61.2 -4.31 5 31.3 3 18.8 2 12.5 3 18.8 1 6.3
Joe Montana 66 60.8 4.15 34 51.5 16 24.2 2 3.0 18 27.3 6 9.1
Donovan McNabb 34 60.2 -2.29 15 44.1 7 20.6 2 5.9 9 26.5 3 8.8
Randall Cunningham 19 60.1 -6.47 10 52.6 5 26.3 0 0.0 5 26.3 2 10.5
Ben Roethlisberger 41 59.6 -2.59 12 29.3 5 12.2 0 0.0 9 22.0 2 4.9
Steve Young 44 58.8 3.84 17 38.6 9 20.5 3 6.8 17 38.6 1 2.3
Jim Kelly 46 58.4 1.48 13 28.3 5 10.9 0 0.0 12 26.1 2 4.3
Troy Aikman 48 58.3 3.10 22 45.8 10 20.8 3 6.3 16 33.3 6 12.5
Matt Hasselbeck 29 57.0 -3.34 11 37.9 2 6.9 0 0.0 8 27.6 2 6.9
Joe Flacco 18 49.5 2.11 7 38.9 5 27.8 0 0.0 8 44.4 5 27.8
 
Not to make this “Pile on Flacco day”, but he has a lot of glaring numbers in the playoffs. His average touchdown drive starts in opponent territory, including 5 touchdown drives that started in the red zone. Only Aikman and Montana had more with 6, but they started many more games. 27.8% of Flacco’s touchdown drives started in the red zone.
 

Average Scoring Margin

This table looks at the drives related to the scoreboard when they started. The ScoMg is again the average score margin at the start of the drive. Then it’s broken down by the number of drives when the team was behind, tied or ahead. 3SD- is the number of drives that started with the team trailing by at least three scores (17+ points since 1994 or 15+ prior). The 3SL+ is the number of drives that started with the team holding at least a three score lead. The table is sorted by descending score margin.
 
Average Scoring Margin Breakdown
QB Drives ScoMg Behind % Tied % Ahead % 3SD- % 3SL+ %
Joe Montana 248 2.64 93 37.50 38 15.32 117 47.18 7 2.82 29 11.69
Kurt Warner 144 2.50 47 32.64 24 16.67 73 50.69 7 4.86 16 11.11
Jim Kelly 195 1.73 63 32.31 48 24.62 84 43.08 16 8.21 25 12.82
Aaron Rodgers 64 1.61 21 32.81 11 17.19 32 50.00 6 9.38 4 6.25
Troy Aikman 164 1.59 59 35.98 30 18.29 75 45.73 19 11.59 22 13.41
Tom Brady 228 1.59 61 26.75 68 29.82 99 43.42 11 4.82 13 5.70
Joe Flacco 104 1.37 41 39.42 20 19.23 43 41.35 4 3.85 10 9.62
Steve Young 141 0.66 61 43.26 23 16.31 57 40.43 16 11.35 19 13.48
Brett Favre 274 0.18 102 37.23 60 21.90 112 40.88 23 8.39 15 5.47
Ben Roethlisberger 154 0.14 56 36.36 31 20.13 67 43.51 6 3.90 2 1.30
Peyton Manning 200 -0.06 78 39.00 41 20.50 81 40.50 12 6.00 13 6.50
John Elway 239 -0.11 77 32.22 67 28.03 95 39.75 22 9.21 16 6.69
Eli Manning 111 -0.59 47 42.34 34 30.63 30 27.03 3 2.70 2 1.80
Steve McNair 117 -0.88 52 44.44 32 27.35 33 28.21 1 0.85 1 0.85
Jake Delhomme 93 -0.96 32 34.41 22 23.66 39 41.94 14 15.05 4 4.30
Warren Moon 107 -1.13 42 39.25 22 20.56 43 40.19 7 6.54 3 2.80
Tony Romo 45 -1.36 22 48.89 10 22.22 13 28.89 4 8.89 6 13.33
Donovan McNabb 187 -1.56 89 47.59 32 17.11 66 35.29 15 8.02 4 2.14
Drew Brees 106 -1.59 54 50.94 28 26.42 24 22.64 4 3.77 5 4.72
Matt Hasselbeck 133 -1.77 61 45.86 30 22.56 42 31.58 14 10.53 6 4.51
Philip Rivers 77 -1.77 39 50.65 20 25.97 18 23.38 3 3.90 0 0.00
Mark Brunell 113 -3.29 62 54.87 21 18.58 30 26.55 11 9.73 2 1.77
Dan Marino 205 -5.62 128 62.44 32 15.61 45 21.95 48 23.41 12 5.85
Dave Krieg 105 -5.62 68 64.76 18 17.14 19 18.10 17 16.19 1 0.95
Randall Cunningham 125 -6.58 88 70.40 14 11.20 23 18.40 14 11.20 2 1.60
 
Talked about it last year, but it’s still an incredible number to see: 23.4% of Dan Marino’s playoff drives started with him trailing by at least three scores.
 
Despite a 10-4 record and three Super Bowl starts, the Steelers don’t run away from teams in the playoffs under Ben Roethlisberger. He’s had a 17+ point lead on just 2 of 154 drives. Philip Rivers is 0/77.
 
No one’s taken the field in the playoffs with a lead more often than Kurt Warner (50.69%) and Aaron Rodgers 50.0%). That falls right in line with the front-running nature of their teams.
 
Consider this for Super Bowl XLVI: Eli Manning (30.63%) and Tom Brady (29.82%) have started the highest percentage of playoff drives when the game was tied. They played each other to a 0-0 tie in the first half this season. Brady (26.75%) has started the lowest percentage of drives having to play with a deficit.
 
We’ll be back next year, restocked with even more data, including the combination of drive stats and traditional stats.
 
Scott Kacsmar is a football researcher/writer who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. He longs for Roger Staubach & Terry Bradshaw drive data. You can send any questions or comments to Scott at smk_42@yahoo.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.

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