Statistical secrets of NFL's great winners: Starr, Graham, Brady

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Oct 04, 2010



By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts keg-stand champion
 
The Patriots slaughtered the Dolphins so many different ways Monday night that Greenpeace activists tried to board New England's team plane in protest after the game.
 
New England's 41-14 win was paced by explosive big plays in the second half, as the Patriots scored via kick return, blocked field goal and pick-six, along with a pair of scores from the offense (one on the ground, one through the air).
 
New England quarterback Tom Brady did little but – ho-hum – win yet another game, the 100th victory of his career. He produced the humble but coldly efficient effort typical of his early years in the NFL:
  • 19 of 24, 79.2%, 153 yards, 6.4 YPA, 1 TD, 0 INT, 107.1 rating.
As ESPN noted numerous times during its broadcast, Brady won 100 games faster than any quarterback in history. Here are the five fastest QBs to the century milestone:
  • Tom Brady – 131 games
  • Joe Montana – 139 games
  • Terry Bradshaw – 147 games
  • BrettFavre – 153 games
  • Peyton Manning – 154 games
In light of this accomplishment, the obvious question to ask is this: what does Brady do that no other quarterback has done that allowed him to win so many games so quickly?
 
After all, it's a basic tenet of the Cold, Hard Football Facts that where you find a statistical anomaly – a record, in other words – you'll find a statistical reason behind it.
 
We've come to discover over the years that records rarely exist in vacuums. There's almost always a way to explain why a certain record was accomplished by this player or that team at this point in time. And this fact is especially true as it relates to team success and quarterbacks.
 
If you find rare team success, if you find record victories, you'll find rare statistical success at quarterback.
 
Green Bay Hall of Famer Bart Starr, the best quarterback in history, is a favorite example: he's the only quarterback to win five NFL championships and his 9-1 (.900) postseason record is the best ever. These facts are no coincidence; Starr wasn't just some lucky hand-off machine in Vince Lombardi's great Packers system of the 1960s.
 
No, Starr played a very active role in achieving these records: More than 40 years after his consecutive Super Bowl MVP performances, Starr is still the highest-rated passer (104.8) in postseason history. (He was also the least-intercepted passer in postseason history until Drew Brees surpassed him during his championship run with the Saints last season.)
 
Voila! Most efficient postseason passer in history = the only quarterback to win five rings.
 
Otto Graham is another favorite example. He won more consistently than any quarterback in history: he led his Browns to a record six straight NFL championship games (after winning four straight titles in the AAFC), and posted an unmatched .810 winning percentage (57-13-1) as an NFL starter.
 
Graham wasn't a mere bystander as Marion Motley and company ran wild over the opposition and Paul Brown, the greatest coach in history, out-innovated the rest of the NFL.
 
No, Graham also played a very active role in achieving his record: 55 years after he last took a snap, Graham still boasts the highest average in history at 8.62 yards per pass attempt (NFL years only). And as you know, passing YPA may be the single most important stat in North American team sports.
 
Voila! Most effective passer in history = the only quarterback to play for six straight championships.
 
(By the way, Graham also ran for 44 TDs, the record by a quarterback).
 
All of which brings us to Brady and the statistical reasons behind his success. Eleven QBs have won 100-plus games in the NFL. But Brady, as we now all know, won those 100 games faster than any quarterback in history. In fact, the only player who is particularly close to him, Joe Montana (100 wins in 139 games) is widely considered by modern analysts the best quarterback in history.
 
Here's how the list of fastest-to-100-wins looks if we measure the players by career winning percentage:
  • Brady – 100-31 (.763)
  • Montana – 117-47 (.713)
  • Manning – 131-61 (.682)
  • Bradshaw – 107-51 (.677)   
  • BrettFavre – 181-104 (.635)
Once again, it's a pretty wide distance between Brady and No. 2 in this team indicator. And it's some incredible company. All five QBs won championships. Two are already in the Hall of Fame. Three are still active and are bona-fide first-ballot Hall of Famers. These five all-time greats won 13 Super Bowls between them.
 
We know that they're all great: Montana is largely responsible for the high-efficiency, low-risk passing game that we know today and he retired the highest-rated passer in NFL history (92.3). Bradshaw was the ultimate big-game gunslinger, with an incredible record 11.1 YPA in four Super Bowls. BrettFavre holds every volume passing record in NFL history. And Manning is on pace to break all of BrettFavre's records.
 
Yet Brady was more likely to win than any of these record-setting Hall of Fame champions.
 
So the obvious question is this: Why? What does Brady do better than any quarterback that has allowed him to win more quickly and more consistently than any of the all-time greats?
 
The answer is this: Brady produces points while limiting mistakes better than any quarterback in history.
 
Simply look at Brady's touchdown-to-interception ratio. It's largely an overlooked stat – you NEVER see pigskin "pundits" talk about TD-INT ratio – but the Cold, Hard Football Facts have shown over the years that it's an incredible indicator of success. The pigskin "pundits" should spend more time studying it and talking about it.
 
Brady has thrown 234 TD passes in his career, putting him at No. 20 spot on the all-time list. Brady is now one spot behind "the original gunslinger" George Blanda (236 TDs), the great showman who we eulogized last week.
 
Brady has produced those 234 TDs against a meager 101 interceptions. That's an incredible TD-INT ratio of 2.32 to 1. In a sport in which touchdowns are the goal, and in which each INT decreases your chances of winning by an incredible 20 percentage points, TD-INT ratio is a largely overlooked key to success.
 
Only one quarterback among the Hall of Famers or among the all-time TD leaders is even remotely close to Brady's TD-INT ratio: Steve Young. He threw 2.17 TDs for every pick (232-107). And he's the highest-rated passer in history (96.8 career rating).
 
If you're wondering why Young won a single championship despite record regular-season numbers and consistently  great teams, look at his postseason numbers: an 85.8 passer rating, 11 points below his regular-season record, and just 20 TDs against 13 INTs. That's a ratio of 1.54 TDs for every pick in the playoffs and, again, well below his regular-season standard.
 
The current standard for TD-INT ratio is actually held by San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers at 2.34 to 1 (115-49), a micro-shade ahead of Brady right now. (The could flip back and forth week to week.) Rivers has also won consistently (46-18; .719). But the jury is still a long way from delivering a verdict on Rivers' career. The postseason numbers are big reasons why: 8 TDs, 9 INTs, 79.2 postseason passer rating, and 3-4 record.
 
Like we said, team success can always be measured by a quarterback's numbers.
 
The best way to size up Brady right now is to compare his TD-INT ratio to those of the other all-time great winners of modern times, those five Hall of Fame members on the fastest-to-100 list.
  • Brady: 2.32 to 1 (234 TD, 101 INT)
  • Manning: 2.07 to 1 (377 TD, 182 INT)
  • Montana: 1.96 to 1 (273 TD, 139 INT)
  • BrettFavre: 1.54 to 1 (499 TD, 323 INT)
  • Bradshaw: 1.01 to 1 (212 TD, 210 INT)
As we said, it's incredible company. And it's an incredible stat, too. Brady produces points while limiting deadly mistakes better than any quarterback in history. But TD-INT ratio is not just a killer stat. It's the secret to Brady's unprecedented success.

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