Tom Brady and Other Quarterbacks on Pace to Break Obscure NFL Records
By Scott Kacsmar
Cold Hard Football Facts’ Comeback King (@CaptainComeback)
While passing records seem to fall at will these days in the NFL, there are some surprising benchmarks of strong quarterback play that have yet to be reached in the record books for a full season.
For example, New England’s Tom Brady has completed at least 60.0 percent of his passes in all 11 games this season. No quarterback in NFL history has been able to do that in all 16 games of a season. Matt Ryan is also 10/10 so far.
Of course, these are records that do not appear in any book or published league source due to their obscurity. They may not be of much interest to the casual football fan, but to the hardcore data-miner, these are the kind of numbers we need to know to sort out these ridiculous passing numbers from today’s quarterbacks.
Consistency is the hallmark trait of a great quarterback.
You probably know how many consecutive games Drew Brees has thrown a touchdown pass (59 including playoffs), or may have noticed the graphic on Thanksgiving that Matthew Stafford has 20 consecutive regular season games with at least 200 yards passing.
When it comes to the big-number passing stats, the counting stats like yards and touchdowns, those streaks (300 yards, three touchdown passes) are covered fairly well.
But what about the passing efficiency stats as they relate to streaks?
These can get tricky to nail down because of minimum attempt requirements and missed games, but they are just as interesting and if not more important than counting how often a guy throws one touchdown, which is a below-average number in terms of one game.
Completion percentage, yards per attempt (YPA) and passer rating are three of the core passing efficiency stats in the NFL, and you will be surprised to learn just how hard it is to sustain league-average performance weekly for an entire season in these categories.
Anyone can throw for a lot of yards and touchdowns each week given enough attempts, but it once again just goes to show how much harder it is to stay efficient in the process.
We have found the top streaks in NFL history when it comes to passing efficiency, and of course have provided the context behind why some players slipped up, and if anyone this year can finish the job.
For the game stats, we used the excellent Player Game Finder at Pro-Football-Reference. It only goes back to 1960 however.
We only used regular season games unless noted, and used a minimum requirement of 15 attempts in a game.
While looking for all-time streaks, the main focus was on 16-game seasons, which only started in 1978. The 2012 season is the 33rd season with 16 regular season games.
But if any passing stat record, especially for efficiency, is going to be set, it likely has occurred in the pass-heavy, post-1978 era of the NFL anyway.
Though if anyone has game-by-game stats for a season like Sammy Baugh in 1945 or Otto Graham’s time in Cleveland, please feel free to contact us and share.
In today’s game, if you are not completing 60.0 percent of your passes, then you are below average.
That has been the case since 2007. Anywhere in the mid-50s was the norm going back to the late 1970s, but thanks to all the short passes we see now, you better be over 60 percent.
But on any given week, you never know when you will fall into a funk you cannot climb out of statistically, or when your receivers drop seven passes to kill your percentage. That all has made it very hard for players to weekly hit the 60.0 percent mark.
The “Off Game” is the one time the quarterback failed to complete 60.0 percent, and you can see the opponent it came against, followed by which number game in the season that was, and finally his completion percentage in that game.
Most Games Completing 60.0 Percent of Passes, Season
Tampa Bay (10), 19/39 (48.7%)
Denver (15), 12/23 (52.2%)
NY Giants (7), 24/41 (58.5%)
Denver (13), 20/42 (47.6%)
Atlanta (15), 23/39 (59.0%)
Six times a quarterback has had 14 games, while 13 times a quarterback did it in 13 games. From 1960 to 1977, Fran Tarkenton (10 in 1975) had the top season.
Drew Brees literally came one pass away from doing it in all 16 games last season, but just missed in Week 16 against the Falcons on the night he broke the single-season passing yardage record.
Brees therefore sets the benchmark for a season, by being the only player to complete at least 59.0 percent – technically, 58.974 percent – of his passes in all 16 games.
While Brees’ lowest game was 58.974, the benchmark’s low was 58.54 percent, as Daunte Culpepper in 2004 would be next in line behind Brees.
Peyton Manning was stopped twice in Indianapolis late in the season by his new team, the Broncos, including two very bizarre games.
In 2003, the Colts had just 15:02 in time of possession against a defense Manning would shred in the postseason a few weeks later; completing 22 of 26 passes (84.6 percent). In 2009, Manning threw three early touchdowns followed by a major cold streak with three interceptions before finding his fourth touchdown pass to put the game away.
Manning (2003) and Brees (2011) have the longest single-season streaks at 14 consecutive games completing at least 60.0 percent of their passes.
As we mentioned in the beginning, Tom Brady (11) and Matt Ryan (10) are the only two quarterbacks in 2012 still perfect at hitting 60.0 percent every week.
Ryan just had his lowest game of the season, barely completing 60.9 percent (28 of 46) in that strange comeback over Arizona. Oddly enough, Brady also completed the exact same 60.9 percent of his passes (28 of 46) against Arizona in a Week 2 loss.
If we were to go down to 55.0 percent, then Brees makes it three times (2007, 2010, and 2011) for all 16 games. He sat out the final game in 2009, so he was only 15/15 that year.
Only Culpepper (2004) and Rich Gannon (2002) have also completed at least 55.0 percent in all 16 games.
Even that number feels surprisingly low.
One more completion percentage fact: from 12/7/2008 to 1/1/2012, Drew Brees completed at least 55.0 percent of his passes in 51 consecutive regular season games.
It ended in Week 1 this season when Brees completed only 46.2 percent of his passes against Washington.
Based on history, that streak may be more impressive than his touchdown streak, which is one scoring play. This is a full-game statistic.
Yards per Attempt (YPA)
One of the simplest stats in football is also one of the most important. Passing yards per attempt (YPA) always correlates well with winning, and does a decent job at picking out elite quarterbacks.
But this is also a number that used to be much higher in the 1950s and 1960s when deep balls were more of the norm, and passing volume was lower. In 1962, the league-average YPA was 7.85, which is an absurd number.
In recent years the YPA has usually been just under 7.0, but it did jump to 7.20 in 2011. If you want to have a good season, you better be above 7.0.
When it comes to having 7.00 YPA every week, we again have a very short list with some familiar faces, and everyone having just that one off game.
Most Games with 7.00 YPA, Season
NY Jets (13), 192 yards on 31 att. (6.19 YPA)
NY Giants (5), 316 yards on 46 att. (6.87 YPA)
Denver (16), 6 yards on 2 att. (3.00 YPA)
St. Louis (8), 269 yards on 44 att. (6.11 YPA)
A few surprising names managed 14 games (four): Boomer Esiason (1988), Matt Schaub (2009), Eli Manning (2011), and Aaron Rodgers (2011). From 1960 to 1977, six different quarterbacks had 11 games with at least 7.00 YPA.
As for our record holders, Brees had that god-awful game in St. Louis last season, while Dan Marino threw four touchdowns against the 1984 Jets, but was just 19 of 31 for 192 yards that day. Kurt Warner was held without a touchdown pass against the Giants, and came in just under 7.00 YPA.
Warner (2001) actually sets our benchmark, in that he is the only player to have at least 6.87 YPA in all 16 games in a season.
He actually sets a high benchmark there, as you have to go down to 6.41 YPA to find the next player to have 16 games, which would be Eli Manning in 2011.
But YPA is one of the “records” Peyton Manning essentially lost the opportunity to break with the Colts’ late-season method of resting starters. After playing one series in Week 17 in 2004, he finished the game just 1-of-2 for 6 yards against a Denver defense he would torch for 458 yards on 33 attempts (13.88 YPA) in the playoffs the following week.
Manning’s real low in a 2004 game with 15+ attempts was 7.54 against Chicago. What does this mean?
It gives Manning the best single-season total (15) and streak (15) ever of games with at least 7.50 YPA.
Only Marino in 1984 (14 total, 10 consecutive) and Aaron Rodgers’ 2011 season (14 total, 13 consecutive) had 14 total games with at least 7.50 YPA. Rodgers sat out Week 17 for Matt Flynn of course.
Marino (14) and Rodgers (13) do beat out Manning (10) and the field for most games over 8.00 YPA in a season.
In 2012, no one is really doing a great job with YPA every week. Josh Freeman, Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub and Tom Brady lead the league with seven games of at least 7.00 YPA. The last three already played their 11th game on Thanksgiving.
It’s everyone’s favorite formula…or not.
While not a strong indicator for a single game because of how one play can really distort the number, passer rating usually does a pretty good job of ranking a quarterbacks’ passing performance over the course of a season.
You just have to pay more attention to the range than the actual number. Someone with a 92 is probably not playing any worse than someone at 94, but both players are likely doing way better than a quarterback at 75.
Combining our two previous stats with touchdown percentage and interception percentage to get the passer rating, today’s quarterback is expected to be at least in the low-to-mid 80s to be considered average.
In the early 1980s, a 75.0 would have passed for average, so it has gone up almost 10 points in the last 30-plus years.
We are actually not going to go much higher for our benchmarks, because the results somewhat surprisingly dictate it that way. We start with a 90.0 rating.
Most Games with Passer Rating of 90.0+
Denver (16), 1/2 for 6 yards, 56.2 PR
NY Giants (7), 62.1 PR. Chicago (12), 77.7 PR
Kansas City (14), 17/35 for 235 yards, TD, 80.1 PR
NE (81.4 PR), NYJ (85.6 PR), PHI (78.8 PR)
BAL (76.3 PR), NYJ (51.5 PR), MIA (79.7 PR)
NYJ (72.5 PR), BAL (69.5 PR), SD (82.7 PR)
JAX (82.7 PR), TB (70.9 PR), RAM (73.0 PR)
Peyton Manning was a perfect 15/15 in 2004 with the 90.0 passer rating, never dipping lower than the 93.5 on opening night in New England. But again, Tony Dungy took him out after a series in Denver in Week 17, and that was the end of that streak.
Aaron Rodgers has the most games with a 100.0 passer rating, doing it 13 times in 2011. It is worth repeating he sat out the Detroit game in Week 17, or else he could have tied Manning for 15 games of 90+ (but not 15 consecutive).
Working our way backwards to find a benchmark is surprisingly hard. Manning drops out from 2004 because of that rest game, and Rodgers only played 15 games so he could not be it.
Going down to 85.0, you still only have Manning (2004) and Philip Rivers (2009) at 15 games. A closer look at Rivers, and lo and behold we have the benchmark at 84.5, which was Rivers’ first and lowest game of the season in 2009 (against Oakland). Hard to believe that would be the season to get 16/16, but it is.
Even harder to believe, you have to drop down to 78.8 to find the next season, which is Marino in 1984.
When you use a minimum of 75.0 for passer rating, only three seasons successfully went 16/16: Philip Rivers (2009), Dan Marino (1984) and Tom Brady (2011).
A further drop down to a poor 65.0 only reveals 12 seasons.
From 1960 to 1977, the best anyone did was nine games over 90.0, and that was six different quarterbacks: Ken Anderson (1975), John Brodie (1970), Frank Ryan (1966), Bart Starr (1964), Fran Tarkenton (1975), and Y.A. Tittle (1963).
In 2012, Tom Brady is 9/11 at going over 90.0 in passer rating. His lowest games are 79.3 and 79.6, so he could end up moving past Marino to get behind Rivers in terms of setting the benchmark.
Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers are 8/10 and will play on Sunday to keep pace with Brady. But Manning had a 58.5 in Atlanta thanks to three picks in the first quarter. Rodgers’ low game is 81.5 in Seattle.
Rodgers actively has 27 consecutive regular season games with a passer rating of at least 80.0.
A bit hollow since it excludes two playoff games where he was under 80.0? Sure.
NFL record? Indeed.
Putting our stats together, which seasons were the best at producing “quality starts” with at least 60.0 percent completions, 7.00 YPA and a 90.0 passer rating?
Most "Quality Starts" (60%, 7.00 YPA, 90+ PR)
Who is the 2012 leader in quality starts? That would be Peyton Manning with seven in 10 games.
Though when you see Philip Rivers having six to his name this season, then you start rethinking the worth of a “quality start.” Rivers circa 2010-12 is still a great example of how it is hard to be a consistent, efficient quarterback.
The top quarterbacks are usually on point most of the season, but a couple of times every year things are not going to go according to plan.
How one handles the statistical off days can speak volumes about that quarterback as well.
Scott Kacsmar is a football writer/researcher 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. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive. Please send any questions or comments to Scott at email@example.com, or you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.
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