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The Greatest Drive in NFL History

Posted by Scott Kacsmar on February 9, 2011

Eighty-seven yards away from the end zone. 119 seconds on the clock. One timeout remaining. Down by six. The Super Bowl is on the line. This is the stuff football fans dream of watching, and players dream of performing on the biggest stage. This is the stuff legends are made of.

This is what the Steelers had staring them down at the end of Super Bowl XLV against the Packers. If they were successful, there would be only one way of describing it. The Steelers may not have known it when they took the field, but they were looking at the greatest drive in NFL history.

What is currently the greatest drive in NFL history? There are many great moments that stand out in NFL lore, but this is not a question that has had a definitive answer to it. I will go back now and review the candidates.

34 Comments | Posted in Best/Worst Ever, History, Quarterbacks

Quarterbacks: Career Playoff Drive Stats

Posted by Scott Kacsmar on February 3, 2011

Robert Duvall once said "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" in Apocalypse Now. I have never smelled napalm before, but there is something I enjoy. I love the smell of freshly produced spreadsheets on quarterbacks that will provide the data to expose myths and spit in the face of conventional wisdoms. I want to know why certain teams succeed and others fail, especially in the postseason. Well after my latest research efforts, I feel much more knowledgeable about certain quarterbacks and why their playoff record is what it is.

Just in time for a big quarterback match-up in Super Bowl XLV between Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers, I compiled playoff drive stats for two dozen quarterbacks that have played in the last thirty years. It was my goal to get every quarterback with at least 8 playoff starts since 1980, and I almost succeeded. Only Phil Simms, Joe Theismann, Jim Plunkett and Danny White were left out due to lack of complete career data. I also included a few active quarterbacks with 4-7 playoff starts to their credit. I used official NFL gamebooks to get this data. While many of these gamebooks offer drive summaries, I actually went through the play-by-play for each drive (over 3400 of them) to get a better understanding of how the game progressed and for more accurate statistics.

Here is a table of stats that you may be familiar with for the quarterbacks involved:

Player GP W L Att. Comp. Pct. Yards YPA TDs INTs Rating
Aaron Rodgers 4 3 1 135 94 69.63 1212 8.98 10 3 112.9
Kurt Warner 13 9 4 462 307 66.45 3952 8.55 31 14 102.8
Drew Brees 7 4 3 285 189 66.32 2052 7.20 15 2 102.0
Joe Montana 23 16 7 734 460 62.67 5772 7.86 45 21 95.6
Peyton Manning 19 9 10 718 453 63.09 5389 7.51 29 19 88.4
Troy Aikman 16 11 5 502 320 63.75 3849 7.67 23 17 88.3
Brett Favre 24 13 11 791 481 60.81 5855 7.40 44 30 86.3
Steve Young 20 12 8 471 292 62.00 3326 7.06 20 13 85.8
Tom Brady 18 14 4 637 395 62.01 4108 6.45 28 15 85.5
Ben Roethlisberger 12 10 2 329 201 61.09 2598 7.90 17 14 85.4
Warren Moon 10 3 7 403 259 64.27 2870 7.12 17 14 84.9
Jake Delhomme 8 5 3 226 130 57.52 1847 8.17 12 10 83.3
Matt Hasselbeck 10 5 5 360 211 58.61 2483 6.90 15 9 83.1
Tony Romo 4 1 3 135 80 59.26 832 6.16 4 2 80.8
Donovan McNabb 16 9 7 577 341 59.10 3752 6.50 24 17 80.0
John Elway 22 14 8 651 355 54.53 4964 7.63 27 21 79.7
Philip Rivers 7 3 4 229 134 58.52 1820 7.95 8 9 79.2
Eli Manning 7 4 3 193 113 58.55 1297 6.72 8 7 77.6
Dan Marino 18 8 10 687 385 56.04 4510 6.56 32 24 77.1
Randall Cunningham 12 5 7 365 192 52.60 2426 6.65 12 9 74.3
Dave Krieg 12 5 7 282 144 51.06 1895 6.72 11 9 72.3
Jim Kelly 17 9 8 545 322 59.08 3863 7.09 21 28 72.3
Steve McNair 10 5 5 311 184 59.16 1764 5.67 6 11 66.7
Mark Brunell 11 5 6 307 156 50.81 1833 5.97 11 11 66.3

Those are your conventional passing stats. Drive stats are something I have taken much interest in the last few years. I guess it started with my work on fourth quarter drives, and has since carried over to the full game. They offer more measures of efficiency and give better insight into how productive a team's offense or defense is and what style or tempo they may play at. Think about basketball and how the stats for a run and gun/fast break offense are going to be different than the numbers of a half-court offense.

The number of possessions a team gets in a game or season is one of the most overlooked parts of football. Every offense and defense is held to the same standard of points and yards scored/allowed, but did the defense that allows 20 points on 8 drives really play better than the defense that allowed 24 points on 13 drives? Some teams get the ball less than others year after year, meaning their offense has to play at a higher level on fewer opportunities. This would make the offense's stats look better, and the defense's look worse since they are not on the field as much as other teams. The Colts have often been a team in recent seasons that are at the bottom or close to it in offensive possessions every season. Jon Gruden, on a Monday Night Football telecast in Miami in 2009, is probably the only analyst I have heard reference this fact in the media.

If you are not familiar with drive stats, I would highly recommend a visit to that section on the FootballOutsiders site, where Jim Armstrong does a great job of putting out the drive stats on a weekly basis each season. They are listed for 1997-2010. You can familiarize yourself with the kind of numbers you can expect from an offense that is ranked at the top of the league, the average, and at the bottom, to use as a reference when you look over these playoff drive stats.

Disclaimer: the stats presented here are in the quarterback's name, but even more than usual this is really about the team's offensive performance as a whole rather than the individual quarterback. There are certain parts, like the breakdown on interceptions, that are mostly all about the quarterback, but overall drive stats are something you have to keep the team in mind first for. There are of course drives where a quarterback does nothing but hand the ball off every play. The entry "Joe Montana" is another way of saying "1981-90 49ers, 1993-94 Chiefs". Also I will note that I tried to include every drive a QB played in during the playoffs, whether or not they started the game did not matter. I will point out several things, but I will also leave the reader to make their own observations on all the various data presented below. Kneel down drives at the end of either half are excluded.

With that cleared up, on to the data.

25 Comments | Posted in Best/Worst Ever, History, Quarterbacks, Statgeekery

What John Elway Really did Forty-Seven Times in His Career

Posted by Scott Kacsmar on November 30, 2010

This is a guest post by Scott Kacsmar. Thanks to Scott for sharing his comeback data with us on the site. A complete list of comebacks for quarterbacks is available on their player pages linked just above their passing stats. (Sean Forman)

When Brett Favre produces a comeback victory, the sports world is a flutter with excitement. Highlight reels of the winning drive are shown ad nauseam. Mariucci cries. Madden sweats. The sales of Crocs go up. Nothing says "Brett Favre's just having fun out there" more than a signature comeback win.

62 Comments | Posted in Best/Worst Ever, General

Terry Bradshaw & Joe Montana – Playoff Mortals to Playoff Gods

Posted by Scott Kacsmar on January 28, 2010

by guest blogger Scott Kacsmar

The only two QBs in NFL history to go 4-0 in the Super Bowl are looked at as two of the best playoff performers of all time.

They won multiple Super Bowl MVP awards. Joe Montana has the record with three, and Terry Bradshaw won two in his final two appearances.

39 Comments | Posted in History, Player articles

Quarterbacks and fourth quarter comebacks, Part III

Posted by Scott Kacsmar on January 15, 2010

By Scott Kacsmar (posted by Sean Forman)

Last time I wrote out my methodology in gruesome detail for tabulating comebacks and game-winning drives. What's changed since then? Now that data can be found on every QB's page at Pro-Football-Reference in it's own table.

20 Comments | Posted in General, History, Site Features, Statgeekery, Trivia