Somewhere along the way, the pigskin “punditry” has forgotten that the best quarterback in football plays in New England.
Drew Brees has put up prolific numbers. Philip Rivers has led his team to a nine-game win streak. Brett Favre is the ageless wonder. Ben Roethlisberger is the defending Super Bowl champ. And Peyton Manning has led his team to a 14-0 record and one gutty victory after another.
But Tom Brady is, by any measure, the most accomplished quarterback in pro football. And no quarterback week in and week out this season — in fact, no quarterback in years — has tip-toed through a minefield of opposition quite like that which Brady and the Patriots have negotiated in 2009.
True, the New England offense has given the appearance of one that has yet to quite find its proverbial rhythm, especially compared to the once-in-a-generation performance of 2007
So, fans and reporters want answers. And in some cases they want blood, if the local media’s shameful attacks on Randy Moss after the Miami game are any indication. (Remember, the Boston media once tried to run Ted Williams out of town, too. So, there ya go.)
In the search for said answers, the pigskin “pundits” have gone for cheap speculation, as they so often do. Brady hasn’t looked like himself. He’s hurt more than we know. He’s more interested in his wife and son than football. His No. 1 batterymate quit on his team.
Any of those could be true. They might be true.
But there’s only one answer we know is true. There’s only one answer you can take to the bank. There’s only one answer that’s a Cold, Hard Football Fact.
Here it is: The Patriots have faced an unbelievably tough and statistically improbable collection of defenses this year. And given this slate, Brady has outperformed every quarterback in football in 2009.
As you know by now, the Cold, Hard Football Facts measure pass defenses by Defensive Passer Rating — we apply the formula used to rate quarterbacks to team defenses.
So, looking at this list of pass defenses, and looking at New England’s schedule, it quickly became apparent that there was something unusual percolating.
We compiled a list of the top 12 quarterbacks in football this year based upon their passer rating. The list coincides pretty nicely with the list of players who would make most any list of the top 12 quarterbacks in the NFL this year. Then we calculated the cumulative Defensive Passer Rating of their opponents. Then we looked at the difference.
The list appears here, and it’s truly enlightening:
Quarterback Passer Rating Opp. Rating Difference
Drew Brees 109.4 83.8 +25.6
Philip Rivers 102.8 83.4 +19.4
Tom Brady 93.7 74.6 +19.1
Brett Favre 104.1 85.6 +18.5
Matt Schaub 98.9 82.8 +16.1
Peyton Manning 101.2 85.4 +15.8
Tony Romo 97.8 83.3 +14.5
Ben Roethlisberger 100.6 86.2 +14.4
Eli Manning 96.0 82.6 +13.4
Aaron Rodgers 102.4 89.6 +12.8
Donovan McNabb 93.6 85.1 +8.5
Kurt Warner 93.0 89.0 +4.0
A few Cold, Hard Football Facts stand out pretty clearly.
New England’s brutal schedule: The performance of New England’s opponents, its 74.6 Defensive Passer Rating, leaps screaming off the list. It’s a gauntlet far tougher than that which any other team in football has faced this year. In fact, it’s not even close.
The league-wide Defensive Passer Rating in the NFL this year is 83.7 — which means the average defense surrenders (and the average quarterback produces) an 83.7 passer rating.
Most of the game’s elite quarterbacks have faced defenses in that range. In fact, as you might expect from teams that face the game’s best quarterbacks, their opponents trend slightly below average, from the 82.6 that Eli Manning and the Giants have faced, to the cushy 89.6 defensive passer rating of Green Bay’s opponents.
Bottom line: given the cushy schedule faced by the likes of Peyton Manning or Kurt Warner, Brady’s numbers would be much, much better than they are already.
The weather issue: Brady is the top-rated cold-weather quarterback in the history of football (93.0 career passer rating).
In fact, he boasts the sixth-best passer rating any quarterback has produced, just 3.8 points behind record holder Steve Young (96.8), who rarely played in the cold and never played in the snow. Brady’s mark is no small feat in a league where domes add an average of about five points to a player’s passer rating.
Given that history, it’s no surprise that Brady is easily the top cold-weather quarterback on this year’s list of top performers, too.
Brees is No. 1 on the list. He’s had an amazing season. He’s still my pick as of today to win the Super Bowl. He should be league MVP. But he’s played nine games this year in stat-inflating domes. Rivers is the most underrated quarterback in football and has never lost a game in December (17-0). But he plays in the best-weather city in the nation. Matt Schaub, Peyton Manning and Tony Romo? All warm-weather and/or dome QBs.
If these QBs were forced to play outdoors week after week, forced to play tougher competition, their numbers would look much worse than they do today.
The week-to-week grind: We talked about this a bit last week, but not shown on the list is New England’s truly brutal week-to-week schedule. It’s actually improbable based on the law of averages.
Brady has played half his schedule (seven games) against the five toughest pass defenses in football: No. 1 Buffalo (59.7 Defensive Passer Rating) twice; No. 2 N.Y. Jets (60.6) twice; No. 3 New Orleans (67.4); No. 4 Baltimore (70.3); and No. 5 Carolina (73.1).
The rest of the league’s elites have had it easy.
Brees has played just three games against a top-five pass defense (Bills, Jets, Panthers).
Favre? Two games (Ravens, Panthers). Romo? Two games (Saints, Panthers). McNabb? Two games (Saints, Panthers). Schaub? Two games (Bills, Jets).
Peyton Manning? One game (Baltimore). Eli Manning? One game (Saints). Rivers? One game (Ravens). Roethlisberger? One game (Ravens). Warner? One game (Panthers). Rodgers? One game (Ravens).
Bottom line for the Patriots: any offense would look inconsistent when it faces the league’s very best pass defenses one week after another. It’s remarkable the Brady and the Patriots are still among the league leaders in most offensive categories given the quality of their opponents.
The Schedule Ahead
Given all these numbers, look for Brady, Moss, Wes Welker & Co. to have a big day Sunday against the Jaguars.
Jacksonville fields one of the worst pass defenses in football, with a 93.0 Defensive Passer Rating (27th).
It’s one of the worst pass defenses in football and one of the worst the Patriots have faced all year. In fact, the Jags in recent years are also responsible for two of the worst pass-defense efforts in the history of football.
In the 2007 playoffs, Brady went 26-for-28 against Jacksonville. He set an all-time NFL record with a 92.9 percent rate of completions in the process.
Then in Week 2 of this season, just 18 games after the Jaguars were torched by the Patriots, Arizona's Kurt Warner completed 24-of-26 passes vs. Jacksonville, setting the NFL record for a regular-season game with a 92.3 percent rate of completions.
Being victimized by the two most accurate passing days in the history of football in the space of 19 games is not a good trend.
The playoffs might hold out promise for the Patriots, too. Most of the league’s top pass defenses (Jets, Bills, Panthers) are employed by teams that won’t be in the playoffs because they don’t have good quarterbacks.
That leaves some very beatable pass defenses to challenge Brady & Co. in the postseason. The Patriots enjoyed three quarters of success and put up 34 points against the Colts earlier this year. San Diego is rolling, but its pass defense is tantalizingly bad — just 20th in Defensive Passer Rating. And the Chargers have yet to face a passing attack as good as the one the Patriots possess.
New England is far from a Super Bowl favorite right now. The all-important passing attack looks like it’s had issues. But don’t be surprised if the Patriots suddenly prosper against second-rate pass defenses fielded by the likes of Jacksonville this week and San Diego in January.