Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Whither the Quarterback

Allow myself to introduce… myself. (and let that be a lesson to ANYONE who uses “myself” erroneously. When in doubt, use a different pronoun). I am known around these parts as “the big cuter”. I go by a nick-name in the real world, so, given the tendency towards pseudonyms in this blog I’ll comfortably hide behind that moniker. As an aside, Ashleigh has done a good job of discussing her thoughts on pen names, and if I’m ever called on again for a guest post I’ll happily share mine. Until that time, myself’s (wink, wink) name will be “the big cuter”.

A little bit about me, at least as is relevant to this post: I’m an avid, nay, rabid football fan. I care way too much about the success of my beloved San Francisco 49ers. I jokingly, but with far too much seriousness, state that half of my t-shirts are 9ers (the other half are Georgetown). I’ve created detailed booklets** explaining the basics and not-so-basics of football to initiate the uninitiated into the game. I’m currently retired on a 3 year winning streak in Madden football. When I hear Cris Collinsworth say, “the quarterback recognized that the Sam linebacker was going to blitz up the A-gap, shifted his protection and audibled to a hot route from his X receiver to exploit the gap in the defense’s zone”, I not only know what he’s saying, but normally can see it happen as the play develops. No, I’ve never played football on any level beyond flag (thanks mom), but I’m about as big of an expert as most people reading this blog are likely to know/meet/read.

With my bona fides hopefully established I would like to move to the topic of this post: how do we evaluate quarterbacks – subtitled, why Peyton Manning is far superior to Brett Favre.
There are many different means of measuring a quarterback statistically and even more aesthetically. You can look at touchdowns, yards, completion percentage, yards per attempt, quarterback rating (which maxes out at 158.3, for reasons no one has ever determined), to the really esoteric like DVOA and DYAR, which even I don’t really understand, but I know that higher numbers are better! Some would say that we should look primarily to statistics because it’s the easiest way to compare players against other players, whereas other possible measures are more indicative of the entire team’s ability. That said, linemen still have to block, receivers still have to catch, and the defense needs to get the offense the ball for a QB to put up these stats, so sometimes stats don’t tell the whole truth.
Another way is to look at win-loss record, both regular season, post-season and Superbowls. Many would argue that this is the only stat that matters, because you play to win the game. That said, Trent Dilfer has been the starting QB of a Superbowl winning team, so obviously just wins can be a bit misleading. That said, if you look at all time winningest QBs, the list is pretty impressive. That said, this list rewards durability as much as skill. I honestly think that winning percentage is a bit better of a marker, but aside from Jim McMahon, the list is still pretty good. On the other hand, our sweat-banded hero of the previous sentence shows that being on a good team for a few years can similarly skew the win-loss comparison.
Finally, you can compare the aesthetics of the player. Not this, or this, but rather how they look while they play the game. Do they play with grace, beauty and a mastery of the game that showcases their mastery of the game. If the language of that sentence didn’t suggest it, this is my personal favorite test. Fundamentally, we watch the game for entertainment, and I’d much rather watch someone excel than watch someone barely scrape by and win. Fortunately, my personal aesthetic rankings generally line up pretty closely with both the statistical and win-loss leaders.
In the interest of someone actually reading this whole post I’ll try to wrap it up sooner rather than later and move directly to a comparison between Manning and Favre. Specifically, why Manning is so much better of a QB than Favre. If you look at the numbers they’re both in the top 5 in virtually every category. Many people like to compare the two. Despite the closeness of their statistical histories, I respectfully contend that it really isn’t close. Primarily, my criticism comes down to the aesthetic.
If you’ve watched football in the past 20 years you’ve probably heard about “Favre’s love of the game”, and “the joy he plays with”, and “how he’s just like a kid out there.” While I wipe the vomit out of my mouth, I will state that yes, he seems to be having fun. However, he’s compared to “a kid out there” because so much of what he does is improvisational. He throws off his back foot into triple coverage. He shovel passes, he gets away with it because like Nuke Laloosh, “when [he was] a baby the gods reached down and turned [his] right arm into a thunderbolt.” While he doesn’t quite have a five cent head to go along with his million dollar arm, you don’t often get the sense that he’s succeeding because of his head.
On the other side of things is Peyton Manning. Similarly to Favre, announcers will gush about Peyton’s “preparation”, “understanding”, and ability to be a “coach-on-the-field.” His arm might not be quite as strong as Favre’s, although it’s been known to be referred to as “laser-rocket” in this fan video. What separates Manning from Favre in my eyes is the fact that he ALWAYS (absent a few playoff games against the mid 2000 NE Patriots, about which I’m still bitter) seems to know what’s going on. He can recognize exactly what the defense is doing, adjust the offense to compensate and put the ball exactly where it needs to be. As much as he out plays his opponents physically, to a similar extent, if not greater, he out thinks and out prepares his opponents. He’s the kind of guy who Collinsworth would say that quote from the start of the post.

**Due to certain posting limitations, one cannot attach a powerpoint presentation to one's blog. If you would like to view the "booklet" that the Big Cuter has put together (and trust me- it's worth a gander) please leave a comment below and we can arrange a way to email it over. -- Victoria/ Little Cuter

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