Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers reminisced during the most recent “Manningcast” about a wild game their teams played in 2007.
Manning’s Indianapolis Colts nearly beat Rivers’ San Diego Chargers even though Manning tossed a career-high six interceptions. Rivers’ Chargers prevailed 23-21 after Indy kicker Adam Vinatieri missed from 29 yards with 1:34 remaining, another anomaly in a game defined by them. The Chargers’ Darren Sproles scored touchdowns on punt and kickoff returns. The Colts picked off Rivers twice and returned his fumble for a touchdown.
In the end, defense and special teams decided a game headlined by top quarterbacks.
That game was especially unusual because, for much of their careers, Manning and Rivers played for teams that were not especially strong on defense and/or special teams. The pressure was frequently on them to make up the difference.
Such things ideally would even out over time, but that is not always the case. Some quarterbacks have much higher bars to clear than others in order to win. The mission here is to show just how much higher those bars to winning have been in certain cases.
Quantifying these disparities enables cleaner evaluations. How much better have Tom Brady and Russell Wilson had it compared to Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Rivers, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Derek Carr? We’ll answer that question and more.
Forty-one quarterbacks have started at least three seasons over the past decade (2012-21). The table below orders these 41 quarterbacks by something critical to winning, but outside their direct control: how their own teams ranked, on average, in combined expected points added (EPA) on defense and special teams, according to TruMedia.
The Baltimore Ravens were almost always strong in combined defense/special teams when Joe Flacco was their starter, for example. They won disproportionately because of those components. The reverse has been true for the Las Vegas Raiders during Carr’s career. They’ve been especially bad in those areas, putting their quarterback at a big disadvantage. Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Brees and Patrick Mahomes can relate to Carr in that regard.
Flacco’s teams ranked about fifth on average in the 32-team league for combined defensive and special teams EPA. None of the 40 other quarterbacks played for teams that ranked so high on average. Carr’s Raiders reside at the other end with an average defensive/special teams ranking so low during his tenure, the team has had almost no shot at winning consistently.