The Mad Bombers: QBs who can 'carry a team'

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Aug 11, 2009



By Mark Wald
Frustrated Rams fan and future CHFF ombudsdouche
 
Last season Cold, Hard Football Facts pointed out Brett Favre's poor record in games in which he threw more than 40 passes, comparing him to Tom Brady. 
 
Favre was called out for not rising to the occasion when asked to "carry a team" or "carry the load".
 
As much as I hate to say it, as one of CHFF's most consistent critics, it turns out there was quite a bit of truth to the Cold, Hard Football Facts comparison: Tom Brady is among the very best in history at "carrying a team" to victory. Brett Favre is not.
 
But Brady is no Mad Bomber. A recent study that I conducted revealed that Daryle Lamonica, the legendary long-ball-tossing demolition expert of the great Raiders teams of the 1960s, certainly deserved his nickname: no quarterback in history was more successful when called upon to outgun the opposition.
 
The results of the study are fairly fascinating to football aficionados: Lamonica, Brady and CHFF icon Bart Starr rank 1-2-3, respectively, when it came time to "carry their teams" to victory. They're among a very, very short list of just 10 quarterbacks in history who boast winning records when asked to "carry a team."
 
But first, a little background.
 
What it means to "carry a team"
"Carrying a team" is not easy. People familiar with football statistics know that the more often a quarterback passes, the less likely he is to win. Check any box score: the QB who throws the most passes typically loses the game. 
 
No doubt, this has a lot to do with the situations that makes it necessary to throw all those passes: most of the time, the quarterback throwing a lot of passes was behind at some point, or engaged in a major shoot-out. Teams with a comfortable lead simply do not throw a lot of passes.
 
That's why it's impressive when quarterbacks manage to win games when they throw a lot of passes. But I wanted to know more: Relatively speaking, how poor is Favre's record in games where he had to "carry a team"? How good is Brady's? What's average? What's great?
 
To find some answers, my study analyzed all games played from 1960-2008. Due to the evolution of the NFL passing game that has led to the modern "Live Ball Era" (1978-present), I defined games in which a quarterback was asked to "carry a team" as follows:
  • 1960-1977 – 30 or more passes
  • 1978-2008 – 40 or more passes
One could argue the threshold prior to 1978 should be a number other than 30. Let the statisticians debate it. In this analysis, know that if Roger Staubach, for example, threw 30 passes in a 1976 game and 30 passes in a 1979 game, the first game would be captured and the second game would not. If Staubach threw 40 passes in a game in 1976 or in 1979, it was captured. If a quarterback played before and after 1960, only the games since 1960 were included.
 
The wins and losses say it all
The difficulty in "carrying a team" is evident by the very poor record of quarterbacks forced to pass the ball often.
 
From 1960-2008 there were 3,877 games in which a quarterback was asked to "carry the team." Their record in these games is abysmal:
 
Wins
Losses
Ties
Pct.
1,148
2,645
84
.307
 
That's tough: quarterbacks asked to "carry their teams" combined to win just 3 of every 10 games. Clearly, passing the ball a lot is not a good situation in which to find ones self. Most quarterbacks fail to deliver.
 
Quarterbacks who can "carry a team"
To put the difficulty of "carrying a team" into additional perspective, consider that only 10 out of 116 quarterbacks in history asked to "carry a team" (min. 10 game situations) managed to win more games than they lost.
 
In fact, some of the greatest quarterbacks in history, including the likes of Joe Montana and Dan Marino, failed to win as many games as they lost when asked to "carry a team." But these two legends of the 1980s do make the list of best quarterbacks ever when called upon to "carry a team."
 
Top 20 QBs When Asked to Carry a Team
(min. 10 games; includes postseason)
 
Quarterback
W
L
T
Pct.
1
Daryle Lamonica
25
10
2
.703
2
Tom Brady
17
8
0
.680
3
Bart Starr
7
4
1
.625
4
Bill Nelsen
7
4
1
.625
5
Billy Wade
11
7
2
.600
6
Johnny Unitas
37
27
3
.575
7
Y.A. Tittle
9
7
0
.563
8
Steve Young
11
9
0
.550
9
Donovan McNabb
17
14
1
.547
10
Danny White
7
6
0
.538
11
George Blanda
28
28
0
.500
12
Jack Kemp
23
24
1
.490
13
Rich Gannon
12
13
0
.480
14
Dan Marino
32
35
0
.478
15
Ken Stabler
13
15
0
.464
16
Al Dorow
6
7
0
.462
17
Erik Kramer
5
6
0
.455
18
Fran Tarkenton
34
41
1
.454
19
Joe Montana
14
17
0
.452
20
Bert Jones
8
10
0
.444
 
Apparently, it's so tough to win in this situation that ending up victorious in 40 percent of your games is impressive.  It's awe-inspiring that Lamonica and Brady managed to win around 70 percent of the time when called upon to carry their load.
 
Their achievement is even more impressive when you consider that the career winning percentage of Starr, Wade, Unitas and Blanda when they had to carry a team could be overstated here since their games prior to 1960 are not included. For example, Bart Starr's regular season record prior to 1960 is 7-16.  His career record when he had to carry a team is probably below .500.
 
Some contemporary comparisons
Besides Brady, only one other contemporary quarterback makes the cut on the Top 20. In fact, Philly's Donovan McNabb is on the very short list of just 10 quarterbacks in history who wins more often than not when called upon to carry his team (17-14-1).
 
Interestingly, the most famous battle between Brady and McNabb – their meeting in Super Bowl XXXIX – provided a nice case study in the difficulty of "carrying a team." Brady attempted 33 passes that day. McNabb was forced to try to "carry his team" with 51 attempts. Brady's team won.
 
The Cold, Hard Football Facts, meanwhile, recently published their list of the top eight quarterbacks in the game today. The list was typical of the trite, slanted comparisons produced by CHFF. So it seemed like an interesting exercise to see how the eight quarterbacks on that list stacked up when it came time to "carry a team."
 
Interestingly, with the notable exception of McNabb, the winning percentage of quarterbacks who can "carry a team" mirrors the order in CHFF's list fairly closely. (Records include postseason):
  • Brady – 17-8 (.680)
  • McNabb – 17-14-1 (.547)
  • Roethlisberger – 4-5 (.444)
  • Warner – 15-24 (.385)
  • P. Manning – 18-31 (.367)
  • Rivers – 2-5 (.286)
  • Brees – 10-28 (.263)
  • Pennington – 2-6 (.250)
Brady also has the best record in the postseason (4-1), the only player on this list who wins more often than he loses in the playoffs when asked to "carry a team."
 
Brett Favre, for his part (whose performances when asked to "carry a team" inspired this piece), is 27-49 (.355) in these types of games. So that's actually above the historic average of .300.
 
Quarterbacks who can't carry a team
Naturally, some quarterbacks just can't get it done. Here is the bottom 20. My study is sure to crush CHFF's Chief Troll, the biggest Doug Flutie apologist in the nation.
 
Worst 20 QBs When Asked to Carry a Team
(min. 10 games; includes postseason)
Quarterback
W
L
T
Pct.
Bobby Hebert
0
11
0
.000
Joey Harrington
1
20
0
.048
Chris Miller
1
14
0
.067
Jim Harbaugh
1
14
0
.067
Jim Everett
2
26
0
.071
Doug Flutie
1
9
0
.100
Archie Manning
3
23
0
.115
Jon Kitna
4
30
0
.118
Daunte Culpepper
2
15
0
.118
Jim Zorn
3
21
0
.125
Steve Grogan
2
14
0
.125
Norm Snead
6
37
3
.140
Ron Jaworski
3
18
0
.143
Steve DeBerg
4
23
1
.148
Mark Rypien
2
11
0
.154
Scott Mitchell
3
16
0
.158
Neil Lomax
3
14
1
.176
Gus Frerotte
3
14
0
.176
Neil O'Donnell
3
14
0
.176
Steve Spurrier
2
9
1
.182
 
The Old-Schol Gunslingers
Were Old-School Quarterbacks Better? 
 
Consider the the top 20 list above: It's full of NFL legends, while few contemporary quarterbacks make the cut.
 
The bottom 20 list (outside of Archie Manning, Norm Snead, Ron Jaworski, and Steve Spurrier) is populated with quarterbacks of recent history. 
 
Today's modern-style passing game has led to production and efficiency not seen since ... well, ever. But is the actual quarterbacking—the leadership—better? Judging by the criteria of being able to "carry a team," the results say no.
 
Perhaps the modern era of scripted game plans and play calls coming in from the sideline and not from the huddles has produced a generation of field generals who simply can't "carry a team" on their back. That's my theory.

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