Friend of the program Bryan Frye is back for another guest post. As regular readers know, Bryan operates his own fantastic site, http://www.thegridfe.com. You can view all of Bryan’s guest posts here, and follow him on twitter @LaverneusDingle.
Despite a fourth trip to the Super Bowl, 2015 has been the worst year of Peyton Manning’s storied career. Statistically speaking, he has never been worse, even as a 22 year old rookie starting all sixteen games for a 3-13 team.1 Relative to league average, Manning produced the worst completion rate, yards per attempt, touchdown rate, interception rate, passer rating, and adjusted net yards per attempt of his career.2 Manning ranked last among the 36 qualifying passers in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. And his normally stellar sack rate also took a hit, with the second worst output of his career (behind only 2001).3
If we look to advanced metrics to try to uncover some hidden gem about his performance that may be overlooked by standard box score stats, we don’t have much luck. ESPN’s QBR (which only goes back to 2006, mind you) takes into account far more than any other popular metric, and it normally adores Manning. From 2006-2014 (excluding 2011, obviously), Manning ranked 1st, 3rd, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in Total QBR.4 This year, he ranked 30th with a subpar 45.0 rating.
Football Outsiders’ DVOA and DYAR don’t do Manning any favors either. Not only was 2015 by far the worst season of his career by both metrics, it was also the only below average season of his career. From 1998-2014, his average season was 32.47% better than average by passing DVOA. His worst season by the metric was a 7.70% effort as a doe-eyed rookie. Over that same period, he averaged 1,664 passing DYAR per season, and his average season was worth 2.89 DYAR per pass.5 This year, Manning was 26.00% below average, as measured by DVOA, and he lost 328 DYAR from his career total. His -0.95 DYAR per play was easily worse than his previous low of 1.18 in his inaugural season.
If the stats aren’t enough, the infamous “eye test” also backs up the belief that this was Manning’s worst-ever season. He struggled to jive with Gary Kubiak’s offense, especially when asked to run bootlegs and throw on the run. His limited power to make pre-snap adjustments, in concert with his decreased mobility, resulted in him taking more abuse in the pocket than he ever had before.6 He threw errant passes and made uncharacteristically poor decisions, causing him to lead the league in interceptions until week 17, despite missing six games. He struggled with nagging injuries, had the worst game of his entire career, and was benched for an inexperienced and marginally talented fourth-year backup.
All that said, let’s not start dancing on the bones of a toppled god just yet. Sure, Manning’s performance this season was objectively terrible, especially by his lofty standards. However, when we look at his performances outside of his week 10 meltdown, we see an up and down season that resembled that of your standard over-the-hill gunslinger.7
The table below displays Manning’s weekly output in the twelve games he played this season. Read it thus: in week 1, Manning faced the Baltimore Ravens. In 44 plays, he averaged 4.64 Total Adjusted Yards per Play. In 2015, the league-average TAY/P was 8.53, so this means he was 3.9 TAY/P below league average. Even worse, he was 4.87 TAY/P below the average of other quarterbacks facing the Ravens in 2015 (labeled in the table below as TAY/P OE, over TAY/P Over Expectation). To provide a second opinion, I also threw in a column for DYAR per play. Against Baltimore, he was 2.36 DYAR/P worse than replacement.8
|Wk||Human||Opp||Ply||TAY/P||Marginal TAY/P||TAY/P OE||DYAR/P|
In week one, Manning faced a Ravens defense that didn’t have the year fans are accustomed to seeing in the Charm City. It was the first of four games this season in which he threw zero touchdowns and at least one interception. His stats were below league average, and significantly lower than the typical performance allowed by the Baltimore defense.
In week two, the Sheriff threw three touchdowns but countered that with an interception and low completion rate and yards per attempt. He led five inept drives before Kubiak seemingly relented and let him run a more familiar offense. He finished the game with a below average TAY/P. However, given the strength of the Chiefs’ defense against opposing quarterbacks, Manning fared slightly above expectation.
Week three saw Manning’s highest passer rating of the season (101.7). It was the only game this season his passer rating exceeded 100, which is certainly strange to see from a quarterback with six seasons of at least a 101.0 passer rating. He completed a high percentage of his passes and had a decent YPA, although he did manage another interception. By TAY/P, he was well above league average but only slightly better than you’d expect a QB to fare against the Lions.
In week 4, against a stout Vikings defense, Manning upped the ante with two picks (the first of three consecutive multi-interception games). He did add a touchdown, but it was the 72 yard scoring run from Ronnie Hillman that proved to be the game’s most significant play. Not only did it provide points, but it also kept Manning from having to drive the length of the field.9 On the day, Manning was below average, but not alarmingly so.
Against Oakland in week 5, Manning was below both league average and Oakland opponent average. His most egregious play was the redzone interception to fellow 1998 draftee Charles Woodson, but the rest of his play wasn’t very good either. After a career of bailing out his defense, Manning’s defense responded in kind. Chris Harris Jr.’s long interception return touchdown helped the QB pick up the W.
In week 6, Manning threw three interceptions and struggled to move the ball against an inferior Cleveland defense. He was below league average in completion rate, touchdown rate, interception rate, first down rate, and yards per attempt. About the only thing he did well was avoid sacks. He was well below league average in TAY/P, and he was comically bad relative to what other QBs did to the Browns.
After a much needed bye week, Manning looked like he was back on track against the Packers. Traditional stats didn’t love this performance, as zero-touchdown-one-interception games tend to be frowned upon. However, the aging field general averaged an incredible 11.72 net yards per dropback and picked up first downs on over half his plays. Given how well the Green Bay defense played against other quarterbacks,10 Manning’s performance stands out as the eighth highest TAY/P over expectation among all QB games with 20 or more plays.11 While some Broncos fans were hopeful that this was a sign of a turnaround, the game turned out to be just an outlier in an otherwise anemic year for the offense.
Returning to his old stomping grounds, Manning helped the Broncos build a 17 point deficit halfway into the second quarter. With the help of his defense and special teams, he looked to add to his record 43 comebacks and 54 game winning drives.12 It was not meant to be, as Manning threw an interception on first down of what would be Denver’s final drive of the game. His 8.73 TAY/P was better than league average but was below what you’d expect for a passer facing the Colts.
The week ten monstrosity that brought about the rise of Brock Osweiler was inarguably the worst outing of Manning’s career. In 22 dropbacks, the legendary passer gained 26 net yards, took two sacks, threw four picks, fumbled once, and picked up just one first down. His 25% completion rate was well below his previous worst of 45.16%. His 35 yards were the fewest he has gained in any game outside of two meaningless week 17 starts (in which he gained 5 and 6 yards on two attempts each). His four interceptions tied for the second worst number of his career, but his 20% interception rate was easily the worst of his career. The man who holds the record for games with a perfect passer rating (4) suffered the only game of his career with a 0 rating. It was also the only game in Manning’s career with negative adjusted yards per pass attempt (-7.25 AY/A). His -7.73 TAY/P was by far the worst score of the year among qualifying passers.13 Even after accounting for the Chiefs’ strong defense, Manning was still an incredible 15.11 TAY/P below expectation, easily the worst of the season.14
News broke that Manning played that game with torn plantar fascia in his left foot, and he was relegated to the bench until he was determined to be healthy enough to play again. That turned out to be in relief of Osweiler in the third quarter of a week 17 win to clinch homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. He quickly led a scoring drive and melted the icy hearts of a nation. The Broncos outscored the Chargers 20-7 from the point Manning entered the game. Far from some of his masterful comebacks in the past, this version of Manning looked different. Instead of carrying the offense, he took what the defense allowed and leaned on a revitalize ground game. His efficiency numbers were well above average, primarily on account of reducing risk and eliminating turnovers.15
Manning didn’t play particularly well in Denver’s divisional round victory over the Steelers, but he did manage to increase his turnover-free streak to two games. With a dominant defense facing an opponent without its top receiver and top two running backs, Manning’s newfound game manager approach was enough. By TAY/P over expectation, he was slightly below average, but Football Outsiders did rate him above average in DYAR per play.16
The AFC Championship Game was advertised as yet another contest between Manning and his career-long foil, Tom Brady. In reality, the game showcased Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware against a hapless New England offensive line. Statistically, Manning’s performance rated below average compared to the NFL as a whole and compared to typical Patriots opponents. He produced 157 yards on 37 plays (145 passing on 35 dropbacks; 12 rushing on 2 carries), for a paltry 4.24 yards per play. He led the offense to a touchdown on their first offensive drive, and he cashed in with another touchdown thanks to great field position set up by a Miller interception. Aside from that, his biggest contributions to victory were avoiding costly turnovers and checking to runs at the appropriate time.
The graphic below provides a visual for the above table. In it, you can see that most of the negative value from Manning’s season came from one game (which happened to be the worst game of his career). When you remove that one extreme outlier, his season-long stats increase dramatically. His marginal TAY/P jumps from -1.43 to -0.61, and his TAY/P over expectation jumps from -1.48 to -0.73. This is still a below average season, but it’s the kind of below average season a defense like Denver’s can use to win a title.17 And, thanks to the second-best fumble rate (just one fumble all year) and essentially a league-average first down rate, Manning fares a little better in TAY/P, relative to average, than he does in ANY/A.
It is clear Peyton Manning can no longer be the player who won five MVP awards and deserved another one in 2006. The thing is, Wade Phillips and the gang don’t need MVP Manning to succeed. They just need a game manager who can avoid inexplicable turnovers (the kind Manning has made when forced to carry the offense and trying to do too much). Manning has never, at any level, taken a back seat on the offense. Now, in the twilight of his career, his best chance of hoisting another Lombardi Trophy is to follow the path of Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson, and early-career Tom Brady by relying more heavily on the rest of his team and allowing himself not to play the hero.
- A team that also went 3-13 the prior year and earned the right to draft him first overall. [↩]
- Using Pro Football Reference’s Advanced Passing Index Scores as my measurement of choice. [↩]
- Of course, being Peyton Manning, he was still better than average; his Sack%+ score was 110 in the regular season. [↩]
- Among all quarterbacks with at least 224 action plays. His second place rank in 2013 becomes a first place rank if you finagle the threshold to exclude Josh McCown’s 269 play, 85.2 QBR bout. [↩]
- Using the average of his averages rather than a weighted average of all DYAR on all pass plays. The point here is to show his average season, not his average performance over the course of his career. [↩]
- I covered this in more detail after his poor week 2 performance. You don’t have to call me a prophet, but I won’t stop you. [↩]
- If you look at the average of those games, you could argue that it resembles a run-of-the-mill game manager. However, looking at the variance of good and bad games that went into making up that average tells you a different story. [↩]
- Note that Manning’s DYAR data came from Football Outsiders’ Quick Reads from each week. Thus, the D in DYAR changed from each week as opponent adjustments became increasingly complex. I’m fine with it not being 100% accurate for the purposes I am using it. [↩]
- Obviously we can’t know what would have followed if Hillman’s run would have been a boring 4 yard carry. Perhaps they would have marched down the field for a touchdown anyway, or perhaps they would have punted, eventually lost the game, earned the number two seed in the AFC, and lost the AFC Championship Game in Foxboro. Who knows? I sure don’t. [↩]
- 7.76 TAY/P allowed, or 0.77 better than average [↩]
- In case you’re interested, the top ten: Ben Roethlisberger v San Francisco 10.01; Andy Dalton v Kansas City 9.96; Kirk Cousins v Buffalo 8.73; Ryan Tannehill v Houston 8.47; Aaron Rodgers v Kansas City 7.64; Drew Brees v Jacksonville 7.44; Russell Wilson v Pittsburgh 7.17; Peyton Manning v Green Bay 7.07; Derek Carr v New York Jets 6.84; Tom Brady v Pittsburgh 6.78. [↩]
- He now has 45 and 56, respectively. However, in week 9 he had not yet gained a 4QC or GWD against the Chargers or Steelers. [↩]
- Landry Jones had a -11.75 game against Seattle, but he only had 4 plays. The next worst qualifying game was Brian Hoyer’s disaster against the Chiefs (-0.76 on 37 plays). [↩]
- Fact that may interest only me: The two worst performances this season both came against the Chiefs. By marginal total adjusted yards, Manning’s -358 and Hoyer’s -344 easily outpace Nick Foles’s third-worst -279 against Green Bay. [↩]
- The San Diego game was Manning’s first game all season without an interception. He has not thrown an interception in either playoff game. [↩]
- Note that TAY/P over expectation measures Manning against the average of other quarterbacks who faced his opponent, whereas DYAR uses a much more granular approach to measure him against a theoretical replacement level quarterback. [↩]
- If we want to even things out by also removing his best game, his marginal TAY/P becomes -1.16, and his TAY/P over expectation becomes -1.34. [↩]