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11 Jan 2011

Quick Reads: Wild Card Weekend

by Bill Barnwell

This weekend, Aaron Rodgers and LaDainian Tomlinson finally got the wins they needed to prove once and for all that they have the mettle and intestinal fortitude needed to play in the NFL playoffs, playing key roles in wins that pushed their respective teams towards the Super Bowl.

What a heap of garbage.

For each player, this weekend represented an outcome where their performance was met with competence by their teammates and the breaks of a particularly important game for the first time. Although Rodgers and Tomlinson took different paths to get tagged with the "unclutch" labels stuck on them, neither deserve the adjective -- and neither proved that it was unfair on Sunday.

Let's start with Tomlinson, who has the simpler case of the two. The iconic image of Tomlinson in the playoffs is that shot of him with his helmet on and head down on the bench from a few years ago, unable to play with one of the several injuries that afflicted him throughout his tenure with the Chargers. Maybe he was unable to play in the playoffs because the Chargers gave him an average of 341.7 carries through his first six seasons in San Diego; not a single back in the league got that many carries this year. Before those injuries, though, Tomlinson did have a great playoff game. In 2006, Tomlinson ran for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 23 attempts against the Patriots, throwing in a 58-yard catch for good measure. His touchdown put the Chargers up 21-13 in the fourth quarter, only for Marlon McCree to fumble away a potentially game-ending interception and create an opportunity for the Patriots to win. Had the Jets' one-minute drill come up short on Saturday thanks to a Mark Sanchez interception or a botched kick from Nick Folk, would Tomlinson's 82-yard, two-touchdown performance have been any less impressive? The better game from Tomlinson was in 2006, but he had a better team performance around him in 2010.

And Rodgers may even have a worse rap. He's taken heat for being unclutch (along with Mike McCarthy) because of his 2-12 record in games decided by the arbitrary cutoff of four points or less. It's arbitrarily chosen because Rodgers is 6-3 in games decided by five-to-seven points, but that doesn't fit the criteria chosen to tell the story. Last year, Rodgers's offense produced 45 points -- 24 more than they did on Sunday -- but lost when the defense allowed 45 through the end of regulation. Rodgers admittedly overthrew an open Greg Jennings downfield at the beginning of overtime, but the sack and fumble that ended the game came on a play where Rodgers was hit squarely, obviously, and illegally on the helmet.

Is Rodgers really to blame for that loss? What about the 16-13 defeat to the Redskins where Mason Crosby hit the goalpost at the end of regulation? The 20-17 loss to the Falcons that saw Rodgers convert a critical fourth down for a touchdown before the defense allowed Matt Ryan to drive the length of the field for a field goal? Or the 2008 three-point loss to the Bears that saw a tie-breaking 38-yard Crosby kick blocked with 18 seconds left and the Bears score on the opening possession of overtime? If David Akers had been a better field goal kicker on Sunday, would Rodgers have contributed less to his team's performance?

The truth is that some folks attach concepts of "unclutch" or "choker" to talented players who deserve more nuanced analysis. For Rodgers and Tomlinson, the bar will continue to rise. Their regular season performances weren't "clutch" enough until they produced in a playoff game that their team also won. If the Packers and Jets lose in Round 2, the games from this weekend won't matter. Take a look at Peyton Manning, who was characterized as a choker until he won a Super Bowl. That calmed the waters for a year or two, but the chatter was back last year. Consider his AFC Championship Game, when Manning played the top-ranked Jets pass defense. Had Manning lost and played poorly, it would have been perceived as a sign that he couldn't come through in a big game against a devastating defense. Instead, Manning had one of the greatest games of his life against the Jets, but because he then had a mediocre game against the Saints in the Super Bowl, that game against the Jets was no longer relevant.

Celebrate Rodgers and Tomlinson for being great players. They both are. But they didn't become any greater by virtue of winning this weekend.

Quarterbacks
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
1.
Joe Flacco BAL
25/34
265
2
0
139
149
-10
After a Ravens drive ended with a Flacco sack at midfield in the second quarter, the offense suddenly clicked. Although Flacco had been able to piece together third down conversions by isolating Todd Heap against the smaller Brandon Carr and the inexperienced Eric Berry and finding Ray Rice against blitzes, he hadn't been consistently making plays on first and second down. From the beginning of the next drive and on, Flacco went 14-of-16 for 130 yards with nine first downs, two touchdowns, and just two sacks. Over the whole day, he faced third down 14 times and produced seven first downs and a touchdown. His numbers are depressed some by the absence of activity in the fourth quarter (Flacco threw just three times) and his fumble at the goal line in the first quarter.
2.
Peyton Manning IND
18/26
225
1
0
124
124
0
Manning was pretty great in the fourth quarter, going 6-of-10 for 74 yards with five first downs against one of the league's better defenses. That includes four straight completions on the final drive. Although we don't have charting data in yet for the game, it certainly seems like the Jets blitzed Manning far less frequently than Rex Ryan had as the defensive playcaller in previous games. Considering that his blitz rate had been going up with each successive game (without success), that's an interesting tidbit. Will Ryan drastically change the Jets' scheme for the Patriots game?
3.
Drew Brees NO
40/58
404
2
0
114
122
-8
Although Brees went 60 dropbacks with just one sack and no interceptions, his numbers are naturally depressed because he was playing a really bad pass defense. He finished with 187 YAR, well above Flacco (139 YAR) and any other quarterback this weekend. On the other hand, he finished with a 18.7% DVOA, and that was ahead of only Mark Sanchez and Matt Cassel. Brees attempted just two passes 20 or more yards downfield all game, completing one to Devery Henderson just before halftime. (He was 3-for-7 on passes between 15 and 20 yards downfield.)
4.
Michael Vick PHI
20/36
293
1
1
112
111
1
Since we already discussed the final pass ad nauseum in Audibles, I won't get into that here. What's really interesting to me is that Vick accrued just 1 DYAR here on eight carries. Considering he snuck in a touchdown on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter, how does he end up with just 1 DYAR? In addition to the touchdown, he had three other carries for first downs: An 11-yard scramble on first down, a 14-yard scramble on third-and-10, and a run for three yards on third-and-2. All valuable. On the flip side, Vick was stuffed twice inside the Packers' three-yard line, including once on third-and-goal. He was also stuffed on a third-and-1 carry, and had a two-yard scramble on first-and-10 in the third quarter. Because we've got eyes and DVOA doesn't, we know about the actual shape of his runs, how they can involve incredible manipulations of hapless linemen and linebackers, how he looks like someone sent from another planet strictly to ruin the lives of Giants fans. Maybe a slightly lesser quarterback would have produced -25 DYAR with the same holes and opportunities.
5.
Aaron Rodgers GB
18/27
180
3
0
99
119
-19
Rodgers has -19 DYAR because of his fumble on first down in the second quarter; he offset it some by scrambling for a first down two plays later. At one point, he completed nine consecutive passes, with each of the completions going for fewer than ten yards. His two sacks were also huge: One was a fumble that turned the ball over to the Eagles at the start of the third quarter, and the other was on Rodgers's final dropback of the game, forcing the Packers to punt to the Eagles with 2:16 left. He converted six of his ten third downs.
6.
Matt Hasselbeck SEA
22/35
272
4
1
96
96
0
Hasselbeck hit his fair share of highs and lows. He had three passes for between 38 and 45 yards, including throws to noted deep threats Cameron Morrah and Brandon Stokley. (I've successfully blocked Stokley beating Jason Sehorn in Super Bowl XXXV out of my mind.) At one point in the first half, he had eight consecutive dropbacks resulting in either a completion or a defensive pass interference penalty, and then followed that with a 11-of-13 stretch that accrued 154 yards and two touchdowns. On the other hand, that run was followed by seven consecutive incompletions, giving the Saints a way back into the game.
7.
Mark Sanchez NYJ
18/31
189
0
1
4
1
3
Sanchez was erratic for most of the game, but he was great over the final third of the game. Taking over with about 20 minutes left, Sanchez went 8-of-10 for 85 yards with six first downs. One of the incompletions was the bomb to an open Braylon Edwards that Sanchez missed; considering how effective he'd been before the throw (completing six of his seven previous throws), it seems reasonable to give Sanchez the opportunity to try and end the game with a touchdown pass. On first down, Sanchez was just 2-of-7 for 22 yards with a sack.
8.
Matt Cassel KC
10/18
70
0
3
-128
-128
0
The system is understanding enough to chalk up Cassel's third interception to a Hail Mary, but wow -- a third of Cassel's dropbacks resulted in either an interception, a sack, or an intentional grounding penalty. He threw for two first downs all day, and he didn't have a single successful play after 11:23 of the third quarter. Before Week 17, Cassel had thrown five interceptions in 417 attempts for an interception rate of 1.2 percent. He threw five interceptions in his final 51 attempts.


Five most valuable running backs
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
1.
James Starks GB
123
0
9
0
34
32
2
All year, the rumors coming out of Green Bay have pointed to Starks as the team's most devastating running back. He was the guy who could revitalize a dormant rushing attack if he would only practice hard enough to make it onto the active roster. Guess he practiced hard this week. Mike McCarthy unleashed him and Starks rewarded him with a 27-yard run to start off his day. Starks looked like a sound runner with a very low pad level, but there are some things to suggest that his day might be a little overcelebrated. He had carries of 12, 19, and 27 yards. That's good. He added a fourth first down with a six-yard carry, but those were his only rushing first downs of the day. His other 19 carries produced just five successful rushes. Chris Johnson is the master of this skillset, but it only works when his big runs are 27, 41, and 83, not the relatively low numbers Starks produced. Be excited, Packers fans, but don't expect a revolution.
2.
LaDainian Tomlinson NYJ
82
2
17
0
33
37
-4
Many people suspected that the Chiefs were going to unleash Jamaal Charles as their primary back in the playoffs after keeping him rested all year, which they did until Charles fumbled. Perhaps the increase in carries for Shonn Greene at the end of the season was an attempt to keep Tomlinson fresh for the playoffs? If so, it worked. Tomlinson started with his biggest run of the day, a 23-yarder, and finished with a 50 percent Success Rate on the ground. He converted both of his runs on third down, with the second one a one-yard plunge for a touchdown. He picked up another first down in the fourth quarter on a crucial third-and-7 as a receiver. It wasn't as good as his performance in that Patriots game, but it was certainly a valuable component of victory.
3.
Jamaal Charles KC
83
1
15
0
24
19
6
The Chiefs had five plays that went for ten yards or more; Charles was responsible for three of them as a runner and one as a receiver. His last carry of the game was his stuff on fourth-and-1 at the Ravens' 33-yard line with 9:45 left in the third quarter, at which point it was still a three-point game. The Chiefs got it back after a field goal, but Cassel took an intentional grounding penalty on first down, Dexter McCluster fumbled the ball away on third down, and then after another field goal, Cassel threw a pick on first down. Even down 16 points, though, Charles was probably Kansas City's best threat of catching up quick.
4.
Marshawn Lynch SEA
131
1
0
0
23
28
-5
Lynch has taken some shots in this space during the season for a lack of production. They were deserved; he's been wildly inconsistent. On Saturday, though, Lynch had decent numbers -- 16 carries for 57 yards -- before busting off a glorious run that any running back in the history of the game would be proud to call their career highlight. Although he doesn't get any extra credit in DYAR for the broken tackles that made up his run, DYAR recognizes how valuable it was that Lynch finished with a touchdown as opposed to coming up a few yards short. Let's say that the momentum of Lynch's devastating stiff arm forces him to fall down and the Seahawks end up kicking a field goal instead of scoring a touchdown. The Saints' ensuing drive ends up being to tie the game with a touchdown, not try and chip away at a 10-point lead. Lynch's final few yards didn't just ensure his place in the all-time NFL highlight reel; it put the game out of reach for his team. That's production.
5.
Ray Rice BAL
57
0
42
1
21
-12
33
The same Chiefs run defense that ranked last in DVOA during the second half of the season shut down Rice. 11 of his 17 carries were unsuccessful, including his lone third-down attempt of the day. He had just one first down on those carries. He was much better, though, as a receiver: His first three targets were successful, including a first down on third-and-11. He added a receiving touchdown to give the Ravens a lead they wouldn't reliniquish.


Least valuable running back
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
1.
LeSean McCoy PHI
46
0
37
0
-8
3
-11
McCoy's been one of the league's most pleasant surprises this year, and with the Packers committed to stopping Michael Vick and preventing the deep ball, there should have been a place for him to contribute. Instead, he spent most of his day chipping and blocking, and he was unable to break a big play; his longest carry of the day was for nine yards, and his 12 rushes produced just one first down. He had two first downs on receptions of 11 and 16 yards as a receiver, but he also fumbled on his first target of the day.


Five most valuable wide receivers and tight ends
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
1.
Pierre Garcon IND
5
7
112
22.4
1
52
Few players in the league look as bad in producing good numbers as Garcon does; watch the tape and he'll drive you crazy, but his numbers sure end up looking impressive. His 57-yard touchdown catch came on a deep post courtesy of Brodney Pool, who decided to go for an interception and came up comically short. Like an outfielder diving for a ball and having it bounce five feet in front of him short. He had two other first downs, both of which came in the fourth quarter, and added two other catches for a total of 20 yards. Nobody had a dominant week, so Garcon's big play wins him receiver of the week by default.
2.
Brandon Stokley SEA
4
4
73
18.2
1
47
Stokley joined the Seahawks almost as an afterthought at the end of September and immediately had a 62-yard game. As receivers got healthy, his role diminished, but he was great on Saturday. His five targets produced four catches and a defensive pass interference penalty; only one of those targets did not result in a first down or a touchdown.
3.
Anquan Boldin BAL
5
7
64
12.8
1
38
Those five catches produced four first downs and a touchdown, including 27 YAC on his opening catch of the day. On a somewhat-unrelated note, I ran a study this offseason that ended up not making the book on players who caught passes on third down within two yards of the sticks and managed to make it over for a first down. Boldin led the league. The idea was to try and find those players who made third downs out of situations where others would've been stopped short of the sticks, but it requires us to also integrate broken tackle data, and there's not enough of a sample yet. Anyway, this year, he had three such plays. Aaron Hernandez led the league with six, and Danny Amendola had five.
4.
Jason Avant PHI
7
9
93
13.3
1
34
Remember -- Avant had a couple of disappointing drops on back-to-back plays in the third quarter. Those were his only two incompletions of the game, which is pretty impressive considering how good the Packers' pass defense is. His touchdown came on a really pretty route, too. Are there any other teams in the league that have their third wide receiver (Avant) and third cornerback (Joselio Hanson) signed to long-term contracts as veterans?
5.
Mike Williams SEA
5
8
68
13.6
1
25
Williams's touchdown pass came on a third-and-2 from the Saints' 38-yard line. I wonder if it's a little more valuable than the same play from the 32-yard line because having the ball on fourth-and-2 from the 38-yard line is really a no man's land of situations. None of the options there are particularly appealing. That was Williams's lone conversion on three third-down passes; his two other first downs came on second-down throws.


Least valuable wide receiver or tight end
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
1.
Dexter McCluster KC
4
4
17
4.2
0
-28
McCluster's season held such promise after that punt return for a touchdown against the Chargers. He only averaged nine yards per punt return after that, contributed 280 yards from scrimmage, and fumbled three times on 78 touches before adding his fourth on Sunday. Besides the fumble, he had a six-yard catch on second-and-9 (his only successful target of the day), a four-yarder on third-and-8, and a screen that lost a yard on second-and-10.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 11 Jan 2011

76 comments, Last at 14 Jan 2011, 2:55pm by evenchunkiermonkey

Comments

1
by ChaosOnion :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 1:52pm

Three out of the top four QBs in DYAR are now out of the playoffs. Hmm.

6
by displaced_saints_fan :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 2:37pm

It's reasonable to observe the limitation of single-player DYAR as a predictor of team results, but surely you're not suggesting that the Colts could have won if only Manning had had a worse game?

8
by JW (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 2:39pm

Wow, after reading the intro you still post a comment like this? #fail

17
by boiga (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 3:51pm

As are 5 of the top 5 defenses in weighted DVOA, but that's a team stat and thus irrelevant to actual game performance.

23
by paddypat (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 4:41pm

This comment totally confuses me. The top 5 defenses in weighted DVOA are all still alive in the playoffs. They are PIT, GB, BAL, CHI, NYJ. In fact, this year is shaping up as a good year for the "defense wins championships" argument, with 6 of the top 10 defenses included in the final 8. That's impressive. In 3 of the matchups last weekend, the better defense won.

28
by boiga (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 5:16pm

I misspoke. I was attempting to make the same argument that you elaborated. This is a defense dominated playoffs, with 6 of the 8 remaining teams having better defensive rankings than on offense. The Pats are the only offensive juggernaut left.

20
by MJK :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 4:04pm

Nothing to see here. No grand trend.

First of all, sample size. 4 trials does not imply that good QB play --> playoff losses.

Second of all, context. Of the three that are out of the playoffs, two of them were facing very good defenses, and the third lost a shootout after he put up a ton of points.

66
by the silent speaker (not verified) :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 2:52pm

Without taking anything away from your "sample size" and "context" points, I think the OP's implication was not "good QB play --> loss" but more of "high DYAR -/-> good QB play"?

22
by Stats are for losers (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 4:32pm

Good thing that nobody makes judgements based on the "QB Wins" stat.

24
by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 4:56pm

I don't know how judgmental "Hmm" is.

76
by evenchunkiermonkey (not verified) :: Fri, 01/14/2011 - 2:55pm

Depends on the number of m's involved...

38
by Tyler Buchanan (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 6:33pm

DYAR is a rate stat, Aaron Rodgers for example would have produced a higher DYAR if he had been passing more in the fourth quarter trying to come back instead of the Packers switching to a plan that tries to kill the clock. Maybe not the best strategy to win the game, but you can only judge a quarterback based on what he's asked to do.

44
by dbostedo :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 7:52pm

I think you meant that DYAR is NOT a rate stat.

2
by Neil (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 1:52pm

No Todd Heap? Just from watching the game it seemed like he was the Ravens' only consistent receiving option

11
by mrh :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 2:47pm

I agree. 10 catches on 13 attempts plus one illegal contact penalty, 8 first downs plus the penalty 1st down. Unsuccessful catches of 3 yards on 2nd and 9 and 6 yards on 3rd and 6. Incompletions on 1st-and-10, 3rd-and-1 (goal), and 3rd-and-2. Do those wipe out 8 first downs?

29
by dmb :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 5:16pm

10/13 is a good but not amazing catch % for a TE; remember, their catch rates tend to be higher than those of WRs. KC's defense is also pretty mediocre against TEs -- 11.2%, 20th in the league -- so opponent adjustments are also probably working against him a little bit. That said, nine first downs is awfully productive...

36
by mrh :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 6:05pm

10/13=76.9% catch rate. Only 2 TEs this year matched/exceeded that catch rate for the year, according to FO's numbers: Gates (77%) and Finley (81%). Last year it was 2 also: Heath and Zach (JAC) Miller (both at 78%). I don't have per game numbers, I'm sure you're right that 76.9% on 13 targets is not amazing for one game.

However, I wonder about a first down rate of 61.5% (8 1st downs/13 targets), since success rate is so important in DYAR. Gates led all TEs last year with a 54% 1st down rate. In a week in which no one WR was "dominant" per the Garcon comment, I just wonder where Heap ranked. He certainly killed KC in the 1st half when the rest of the Raven offense wasn't that effective.

53
by dmb :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 11:45pm

Yeah, I was talking about one game, not one season. And I wasn't saying it wasn't good, just that the baseline for TEs is likely higher -- an easily forgotten point that could help explain why Heap came out lower than most expected.

12
by big_jgke :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 3:08pm

That jumped out at me too. Was there some kind of stat adjustment that made his day less noteworthy?

33
by Stats are for losers (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 5:34pm

KC is 20th against TE in DVOA, at +11.2%, for whatever that's worth

21
by psuasskicker :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 4:09pm

I agree with this, I'm very surprised Heap doesn't make the list given what I thought were a good number of first down catches.

3
by Randy M (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 1:58pm

Where does the Cassel game rank amongst the worst QB playoff performances of the last decade?

4
by MCS :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 2:25pm

I just love how you mention Starks' pad level. Packer fans know, McCarthy loves to talk pad level.

5
by Flounder :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 2:30pm

"The 20-17 loss to the Falcons that saw Rodgers convert a critical fourth down for a touchdown before the defense allowed Matt Ryan to drive the length of the field for a field goal?"

In fairness to the Packer defense, they did not allow Matt Ryan to "drive the length of the field." The defense allowed Matt Ryan to drive about 20 yards because of the atrocious kick coverage + facemask penalty that gave Atlanta the ball at midfield.

Also, it was the better play for Rodgers to take a sack rather than throw an incompletion on their last offensive play (obviously a completion for a first down would have been ideal). It allowed the final 15 seconds to the 2 minute warning to tick away.

9
by JW (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 2:41pm

He also fumbled at the 1 yard line on a QB sneak. Still labeling him "unclutch" is foolish.

19
by MJK :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 4:02pm

It's a well known flaw in DVOA and DYAR that they sometimes get's end-of-game plays wrong because they don't take clock management into account in the success point formula. We all know that a team nursing a lead with little time left is better taking a sack rather than an incompletion on 3rd down (as long as the sack doesn't take you out of FG range or result in a safety), but DVOA and DYAR don't. Similarly, in some scenarios, a 1 yard run up the middle is more valuable than a 4 yard gain that goes out of bounds.

31
by Arkaein :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 5:28pm

All true, but regarding the effect of certain plays on DYAR it was the James Jones drop of a long pass and likely TD that really hurt Rodgers' numbers. That play alone was probably the difference between 1st and 5th place in Quick Reads.

7
by Dr. Mooch :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 2:37pm

Please, we must know, what's Reggie Wayne's DYAR for the week?

14
by are-tee :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 3:25pm

Well, I know his catch rate was 100%.

10
by Dennis Doubleday (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 2:46pm

Admittedly Rodgers is good, but your argument about record in close games isn't very supportive of your point. Add in the 6-3 and he's still 8-15 in games of 7 points or less.

15
by thewedge :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 3:26pm

except it's not his record, it's the Packers record.

50
by gratif1 (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 10:31pm

What a cherry picked stat. It discounts all the times the Packers stomp.

Green Bay hasn't even TRAILED by more than 7 in over a year.

59
by Podge (not verified) :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 9:05am

Really? That's an excellent stat. Well, if you phrase it in number of games, because the Panthers are about to ride a streak of around (at least) 9 months without conceding a single point.

But still, I find that pretty interesting. Seems to imply that the Packers are a team that don't really get down when they concede, and don't allow the opponent long runs of points.

13
by Jimbo Jones (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 3:09pm

I echo the Heap question? The Lynch write up lauds him for getting across the goal line; maybe Heap's numbers are down since he came up just short of the touchdown on at least one reception -- and sure enough, the Ravens couldn't get across the goal line from 1st and goal at the 1.

18
by P (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 3:54pm

I'll jump on this bandwagon. He was killing the Chiefs over the middle.

16
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 3:50pm

Count me among the "Where is Heap" crowd. He was the most impressive offensive player I watched all weekend.

25
by JonFrum :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 5:07pm

Putting aside 'clutch' - whatever that is... Manning was criticized until he finally won a Super Bowl because... he deserved to be criticized. As great as his production had been, he won more games in October than December, and his post-season record was much, much worse than his regular season record.

I rank Manning near the top all time, but one win after a series of failures doesn't negate all previous evidence.

26
by tuluse :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 5:11pm

Yeah, if only he had made Edge strong enough to get across the goal line, he would be a much better quarterback.

51
by otros :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 10:35pm

Well, he calls the plays, right?

27
by tgt2 (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 5:11pm

So, how Manning played in all those games does not matter. Nor does it matter how the rest of his team played. That's idiotic.

32
by Stats are for losers (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 5:32pm

Manning really blew his assignment on that 18-yard completion to Braylon Edwards. I hate when QBs allow the other team to drive for a field goal in under a minute.

Let's not forget how he choked on that overtime coin toss against the Chargers in '08.

37
by Newjamarcus (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 6:21pm

Also, what was he thinking drafting Jerry Hughes, Tony Ugoh, Donald Brown, et al? Loser.

39
by BSR :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 6:40pm

Instead, let just measure passing stats because we all know that he throws, catches and blocks for himself on every play. Lets just be totally ridiculous.

41
by DAS (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 7:28pm

You're missing the point with those stats--we also have to include "kicking", because let's face it, before 2006, Manning did a horrible job on game-deciding kicks in the playoffs. I'm a huge Manning fan, but it wasn't till late in his career that he finally started converting the clutch field goals that made him a great QB. That's something Brady has been great at from the start (though, interestingly, he's been a little worse since 2006).

46
by Jim Glass (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 8:15pm

his post-season record was much, much worse than his regular season record.

Imagine ... playing against teams of average 11-5 strength your W-L record falls to worse than when playing against teams of an average 8-8 strength. You choking loser failure!

BTW, also, it is not "his" record in the post-season, it's his team's record.

Manning's personal playoff record has been significantly better than his team's.

Ironically, he "was criticized until he finally won a Super Bowl" after compiling the worst post-season numbers of his career. For once in his life, that year his team carried him. And that's when he suddenly became a winner! Go figure.

49
by MJK :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 10:19pm

Just did some researching on Pro Football Reference. Can't find player DVOA for playoffs versus regular season, so here's some of Manning's regular season and playoff conventional stats:

Reg Season : 64.9%, 7.6 ypa, 2.10 TD/INT, 94.9 rating
Post Season: 63.1%, 7.5 ypa, 1.68 TD/INT, 88.4 rating

So Manning DOES play worse in the postseason than in the regular season, but, as Jim Glass pointed out, this could be due to facing better teams on average. So lets look at some other QB's--the only two I can think of that are in Manning's league are Brady and Brees, but let's throw Favre in just for fun, too.

Brady:
Reg Season : 63.6%, 7.4 ypa, 2.60 TD/INT, 95.2 rating
Post Season: 62.0%, 6.5 ypa, 2.00 TD/INT, 85.5 rating

Brees:
Reg Season : 65.2%, 7.3 ypa, 1.83 TD/INT, 91.7 rating
Post Season: 66.3%, 7.2 ypa, 7.50 TD/INT, 102.0 rating

Favre:
Reg Season : 62.0%, 7.4 ypa, 1.55 TD/INT, 86.0 rating
Post Season: 60.8%, 7.1 ypa, 1.50 TD/INT, 86.3 rating

A couple of things...Favre and Brees both have played BETTER in the post-season than in the regular season, implying that it is possible for an elite QB to overcome the harder slate of opponents and play better in the postseason. In Brees' case, it may be small sample size--he's only ever thrown 2 INT's in the postseason, but he has far fewer postseason games than the other three.

Brady, like Manning, has played worse in the postseason, and by about the same amount. So I guess I would conclude that while you can argue that Manning plays worse in the post season than in the regular season, and not all elite QB's do, Brady plays equally worse, so it is silly to say one is more or less "clutch" than the other. If anything, Brady and Manning are both "chokers" while Brees and Favre are "clutch"...but I think that is a silly statement to make.

I do wonder why Favre shows no significant postseason decline. Perhaps he historically played in tough divisions, and so did better in the postseason than the regular season, whereas Brady and Manning have both ridden their share of easier schedules to the postseason? I detest Favre, so I hate to say anything nice about him, but it is interesting.

Disclaimer: I am a Patriots fan...

52
by P (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 10:54pm

Favre's postseason stats are probably about equal to his regular seasons stats because he didn't make the playoffs in 6 of his 7 worst years (made the playoffs in 1993, didn't in 1999, 2000, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010). So, that's a lot of potentially bad playoff performances that never came to be.

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by Noah of Arkadia :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 1:23pm

Clutch/choking are admittedly much abused concepts that have become cliché, so let's define them as "varying levels of performance depending on the segment of the game" instead of "the godlike ability of some players to win under any circumstances" or "the hilarious incapability of others to do so" -which, by the way, is like defining something in the worst possible way in order to have a field day disproving it (a typical attitude among scientists when a given claim contradicts their personal "common sense").

When talking about clutch/choking under this definition, my main example is, and always will be, Jay Fiedler. The guy was awful in first halves and very good in 2nd halves (usually coming from behind). I dare Bill or anyone else to explain him away without admitting a different level of performance in different game segments.

Once that is admitted we'll take it from there, explore and see what we can come up with.

65
by Bill Barnwell :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 2:40pm

I'm not going to go through and do an exhaustive study, but Jay Fielder's DVOA by quarter in 2001 (his season with the most attempts):

- 1st quarter: -6.6%
- 2nd quarter: 9.9%
- 3rd quarter: -8.2%
- 4th quarter: 22.8%

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by Noah of Arkadia :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 4:46pm

Thanks! I actually never saw the DVOA splits before.

67
by paddypat (not verified) :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 4:16pm

I checked these numbers out a while ago and likewise found that Favre's numbers were oddball relative to what I would have expected. The honest truth is that he had some very good postseason games. On a more biased level, I think that his numbers may have been a little padded in more recent seasons by the ineptitude of some of the NFC competition. As far as Brady and Manning, I think Manning's numbers would be a lot worse if you took out his games against Denver. He had a number of otherworldly postseason games that really helped to offset his 1999-2002 playoff experience. And Brady has never really had a signature postseason. He played well in 2004, but his production wasn't off the charts, and he's had some notable crappy games, such as against SD in 2007 and BAL in 2009. This is probably just a sample-size problem, given that he has put up great numbers against teams with equally strong DVOA in the regular season, but it's still food for thought. Figure that if he puts up huge numbers this postseason, it'll do a lot to sway the numbers.

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by Jim Glass (not verified) :: Thu, 01/13/2011 - 3:23pm

I didn't say the level of a QB's play would be expected to drop when moving from playing 8-8 average opposition to 11-5 average opposition -- I said his W-L would be expected drop.

"Imagine ... playing against teams of average 11-5 strength your W-L record falls to worse than when playing against teams of an average 8-8 strength. You choking loser failure!"

Definitionally, playoff teams as a group during the regular season have a strong winning record and during the playoffs have a .500 record.

Morever, argumuing that Manning is a failure because he's won at a lower rate in the postseason is also bogus because football is a team game -- it's the team's record, not the QB's. Again, Manning's personal record during the postseason has been significantly better than his team's, overall.

Except, quite ironically, during the one post-season in which Manning, er, the Colts won the Super Bowl, the team carrying him all the way -- after which all the pundits nonetheless declaring that "Peyton has finally shown that in the clutch he can win the big game like a champion."

As PFR.com said about this phenomenon:

"Manning's 2006 playoffs cemented his status as one of the greatest QBs of all time because he finally got his ring -- but it certainly wasn't because of his awe inspiring stats. Manning had the *least* impressive post-season stat line of *any* Super Bowl winning QB, *ever*."

Yet that was the performance that finally made him a champion winner in the pundit/public's eye. His worst, his *one* really bad one. Go figure. :-)

QBs do not win championships, teams win championships.

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by Podge (not verified) :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 9:12am

That's fair enough though. Until you've beaten Rex Grossman mano a mano in a Superbowl you're obviously no good in the postseason.

I suspect part of the reason he won more games in October than December is because he habitually won so many games in October that he could just stay in bed for the latter half of December and let Jim Sorgi feel worthwhile.

30
by buzz :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 5:18pm

I would love a playoff DYAR page similar to the regular season pages for each position and/or career totals by player. With all the focus everyone gives to playoff stats I am surprised this hasn't ever been released.

34
by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 5:50pm

The bulk of the criticism relating to the Packers record in close games is directed at McCarthy. Rodgers takes some shots simply because he's the qb and the most high profile player.

But if you asked most Packer fans as to why GB seems to struggle in close games the answer in about 3 nanoseconds would be "McCarthy".

It's not exhibit A but the game against the Eagles showed some of the issues.

42
by DAS (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 7:30pm

That criticism reeks just as much as the "Rodgers isn't clutch" argument. Face it--there's 32 teams out there, and of those, at least one of them is going to have a shit record in close games. That's just the shape of the normal curve. We can look back at results and tag whatever ex post explanations satisfy us the most, but that's rarely anything more than an exercise in mental masturbation.

48
by Arkaein :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 10:16pm

Yeah, I've never bought into the whole losses in close games is a measure of quality or coaching ability argument.

There are basically three ways a team could improve its record in close games. However, only one of these is actually good:

Take any big win and score less, converting it into a close win.

Take any close loss and score less, converting it into a big loss.

Take any close loss and score more (but not too much!), converting it into a close win.

I don't really think that GB scoring less against Buffalo, in Minnesota, or against the 49ers or Giants would make them a better team, though it could have improved the team's record in recent close games. Likewise for getting blown out in any of the six 3-4 point losses this season.

I figure record in close games is largely a matter of luck, and things like net points and DVOA are a much truer measure of team quality, which coaching cannot easily be separated from. Just looking at GB's 6-10 2008 campaign, I felt they were due for a turnaround due to the number of close losses, and they went 11-5 in 2009. This year the team is actually better, so that even poor outcomes in close games only reduced their record to 10-6 (or an identical 11-6 after the first post-season game).

55
by Jim Glass (not verified) :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 3:04am

Yeah, I've never bought into the whole losses in close games is a measure of quality or coaching ability argument.

Vince Lombardi's Packers in one-score games: 50%

Bill Walsh's 49ers in one-score games: 43%.

In the last 15 years of playoffs, the nine teams that did best in close games during the regular season, winning 9 or more, in the playoffs went ... 8-9.

But seven teams that did worst in close games during the regular season, -- going 18-30, 38% -- were powerhouses in the playoffs going 14-4, 78%, and winning three Super Bowls! (And more data).

Yes, lose close games during the regular season, win big in the playoffs! There's a logical reason driving this that is fun to take two minutes to figure out.

BTW, according to PFR.com, the NFL coach with the all-time best record in winning close games (64 or more total games) is ... Vince Tobin, 15-5 (75%) in one-score games, 13-38 (25%) in the rest. But I'm still not sure I'd take him over Walsh or Lombardi.

'Nuff said about what record in close games shows?

58
by Packer Pete (not verified) :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 8:48am

As the Packers haven't trailed by more than 7 points in any game this year, they obviously can only lose a close game when they do lose. When they win, they have one of the two top margins of victory rates in the league. So it's a team that wins big and stays competitive when losing, even when playing poorly. So, we should condemn Rodgers for keeping the Packers competitive in losing efforts? Had the Packers been beaten by 10 in every loss, would Rodgers be an elite QB because a loss by that margin would obviously be his teammates' fault?

The notions that QBs winning rates are tracked to the exclusion of all other players and this nonsense about 4th quarter game winning drives (not an official NFL stat, kept by some teams, not kept by others, with undefined parameters) are a load of crap. Will Charles Woodson finally become an "elite" defensive back if the Packers win the Super Bowl this year and Woodson gets his first ring?

69
by CWP (not verified) :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 10:42pm

I don't think the criticism of close games is as bad as your argument suggests. The whole point of FO is to look at skills and strategies and determine how they might impact the game.

The Packers this year were ahead or tied at the end of the 3rd quarter in all but 1 game. In the games that they were ahead (13 of the games), McCarthy typically tried to run out the clock with the running game (his strategy even with a rather weak running offense). This resulted in a record of 6-1 when ahead by more than 1 score and a record of 3-3 when up by 8 or less.

In the first 4 weeks of this year teams up by 1 score were a combined 21-11 and teams up by at least 2 scores were a combined 28-1 over that time period. Although there aren't enough games this year to draw any definitive conclusions--it's at least suggestive that a conservative game plan with a slim lead might not be the best strategy given the team makeup (they were after all beating 13 teams through three quarters).

72
by Arkaein :: Thu, 01/13/2011 - 4:46pm

That's very interesting. However even if the Packers won at the standard rate for entering the 4th with a single score lead, they would have only gone 4-2 in those games instead of 3-3. I supposed you could argue they also underperformed with two score leads, since 6-1 is worse than 28-1 (and the Packers must account for that loss?).

Still, that's a fairly small sample size to judge a coach on. Especially considering that each loss has some extenuating circumstances. Losing to the Bears happened on a fumbled pass (while tied, so not running out the clock). Losing to the Pats and Lions happened with a backup QB. Losing to the Redskins happened with an offense decimated by injuries that was having trouble getting anything going (and if anything they should have run more, BJack averaged over 10 YPC but only got 10 or 11 carries in the game). The Miami loss also featured a late TD by GB to force OT. Not sure off hand which of these games fall into what categories entering the fourth quarter.

So definitely an interesting stat, but one that needs a lot of analysis of specific context before I'd read too much into it.

73
by CWP (not verified) :: Thu, 01/13/2011 - 11:07pm

I agree that the sample size is too small to say anything difinitive about McCarthy's play calling skill. I do however, think that it is possible to pull some distinctions from the data in close games contrary to your statement indicating that you didn't think that there wasn't much there reflecting on coaching ability. Admitedly, you were mainly referring to the final score which as you suggested doesn't tell you a whole lot.

But I do think that coaches differ in play calling at the end of the game and it might be possible to tease some of the tendencies out from the data. As I indicated in the prior post, I believe that McCarthy's tendency is to run more even with a slim lead. This is probably a good strategy with a great defense and a good running game. This year he only had 1/2 of that but it was my impression (only that--though it could certainly be checked) that he ran more and put the team in longer 3rd down situations. Given that his offense was equal or better (in terms of score) in 15/16 games through the 3rd period he might have considered continuing his game plan a little longer (more pass happy?, again it could be checked). I don't think Belichick plays that way though certainly other coaches have rode it to success (e.g. Lovie Smith).

74
by Arkaein :: Fri, 01/14/2011 - 10:02am

I think you've got his tendencies right, I'm just not sure how many losses can really be attributed to them.

Like I said, most of the losses this season I can recall specific factors that seemed more important than being overly conservative, though it may be I'm forgetting conservative drives early in the 4th quarters that allowed the other team to take the lead, requiring a comeback by the offense late.

I do know that the two most prominent examples of running out the clock late in close games ended up being wins: both games in Philly. GB may have also played conservative offense late against the Jets and in the first Minnesota game (also both fairly close wins), though I can't remember as many specifics there.

In any case, I would agree that McCarthy needs to throw a bit more on early downs when protecting late, close leads. I'd just like to see more thorough analysis before pinning losses on the conservative tactics.

75
by tuluse :: Fri, 01/14/2011 - 11:42am

Or he just needs an NFL quality running back, hey there James Starks.

35
by Jason Lisk (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 5:52pm

Excellent article, and this weekend really brought out the crazy on Peyton Manning on Twitter.

40
by Anonymously Social (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 7:16pm

The first sentence of your Starks writeup makes it sound like his practice habits were all that kept him out of the lineup this year. He was actually on PUP for the first 6 weeks and then spent 2 or 3 weeks getting up to speed in the offense (he had missed some of the spring camps and all of training camp with a hamstring injury) before being activated.

He did take time before he finally made the game day roster versus the 49ers in Week 13. And then, according to McCarthy, he demonstrated a need to take practice more seriously.

43
by BJR :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 7:46pm

I suspect the intro to this article is attemtping to create a narrative that does not really exist. Or at least greatly exaggerating whatever narrative does exist. This was only Rodgers' second ever playoff start, and he played great in his first, only not quite as good as the other QB who was utterly lights out. Perhaps some talking heads have said they might reserve judgment on Rodgers until he wins in the playoffs, or some garbage like that, but I don't think I've heard it said that he isn't 'clutch' - whatever that might mean. Maybe I've missed something, but, seriously, who has been on his back? The dude just looks great almost every time I watch him.

47
by jfsh :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 9:18pm

Don't forget that this is originally written for ESPN.com, where the readers tend to be... dumber.

56
by Tom W (not verified) :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 5:10am

Well, some intrepid reporter asked Mike McCarthy after the game, if this was a "milestone win" for Rogers, so the perception has been out there.

45
by Jim Glass (not verified) :: Tue, 01/11/2011 - 8:00pm

Take a look at Peyton Manning, who was characterized as a choker until he won a Super Bowl. That calmed the waters for a year or two,

"Peyton has finally matured into a champion capable of winning the Big Game", the pundits agreed -- after he compiled his *worst* post-season numbers by far in his march to collect his ring. He played two games in which his numbers were worse than those of the average losing playoff game QB of the last 15 years, and another in which they were below average.

In contrast, over the last 15 years no QB has had the misfortune to lose more than one game while putting up numbers better than the average winning QB playoff performance -- exept Peyton, who just lost his fourth. "Little help, guys?"

If somebody has been choking in Indy, it hasn't been Peyton. And pundits who talk about "choking" and "clutch play" like this are morons too dim to know when they should be embarrassed.

(I can't resist: fuel for the Manning-Brady fire -- for Pats' QBs, including Bledsoe(!), and predating Belichick, it's been just the reverse.)

57
by Mr Shush :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 5:30am

"If somebody has been choking in Indy, it hasn't been Peyton."

Indeed. It was Marvin Harrison.

54
by tinfw17 :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 2:22am

Someone should forward this writeup about Rodgers to that tool Colin Cowherd at ESPN.

64
by BigCheese :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 1:23pm

The only thing that should be shipped to Cowherd is a muzzle.

- Alvaro

61
by pm18 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 12:39pm

You are so wrong on Tomlinson. He was a choker in the playoffs. 3.4 YPC for a guy of his caliber is embarrassing. There is no way around it. Footballoutsiders should actually do the job the site was intended to do and actually look at the stats next time. You know the stats that tell us that Tomlinson sucked in the playoffs.

63
by Dean :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 1:23pm

You forgot to follow the template.

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by Athelas :: Wed, 01/12/2011 - 11:12pm

The template is not on this page!
Here, I'll help:

Ladanian Tomlinson is clearly ranked too high because he is a choker. My eyes is way better than this. Peyton roolz!!!!!!