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Kurt Warner Better Than Peyton Manning? Really?

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One of the fun Super Bowl XLIII storylines has been the Hall of Fame case for quarterback Kurt Warner, the man who once had such a huge chip on his shoulder he initially thought it was just Ricky Proehl.

When thinking of active Hall of Fame quarterbacks, you'd probably mention Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Brett Favre, and perhaps Donovan McNabb. Warner doesn't really factor into one's head until some unknown fantasy football champion pipes up and says, "Hey … what about Kurt Warner?" Well, holy crap, he does have a pretty good case, if not air-tight. He's already played in two Super Bowls, has one ring, and will start his third on Sunday with a chance at his second championship with as many teams. Those years he languished the Giants pretty much knocked him off the radar of people's minds. But he's there now, and the praise is coming in from all directions.

One such pat on the back came from ColdHardFootballFacts.com's Kerry Byrne, who used the numbers to say that not only is Warner great, but he's greater than Peyton Manning. Certainly it's an unorthodox argument, and he lays it out well.

Well, time to destroy it.

They both joined the NFL in 1998.

In 1998, Manning played all 16 games his rookie year and Warner threw all of 11 passes.

They both spent the bulk of their careers playing in domes, giving them plenty of opportunity to cook up fat, juicy stats. And both were often surrounded by great offensive talent.

So we're qualifying that, all ceilings being equal, the stats are comparable. Remember this.

Hell, both of them played with Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James.

Ha. Yes, but … Peyton played with Faulk for one year, his rookie season, while Warner played with James for about one and a half. It's probably another article altogether, but Faulk gets the slight-to-medium edge over, well, Edge, as the better back.

Manning is second in NFL history with a 94.7 career passer rating. Warner is third in NFL history with a 93.8 career passer rating. The two are tight as ticks statistically in the regular season.

Tight as ticks? Well, no. No. Not at all, actually. With Warner getting injured and having to compete with playing time for guys named Matt Leinart in Arizona, Trent Green in St. Louis, and that other Manning in New York, Warner has played in about 60 percent fewer regular season games (109 to 176) and equally as few pass attempts (3557 to 5960).

It's no strike against Warner that he's played less football, but it's a default collection of plusses in Manning's column that he has a better QB rating than Warner in almost two-thirds as many chances.

So they're not tight as ticks at all. They're actually about as loose as some kind of tick escort, provided ticks believe in prostitution.

Byrne jumps right into his difference, which is staunch and favors Warner: the postseason numbers:

Warner in the postseason (10 games): 
230 of 360 (63.9 percent), 2,991 yards, 8.31 YPA, 299 yards per game, 23 TD, 12 INT, 97.3 passer rating.

Manning in the postseason (15 games):
 348 of 565 (61.6 percent), 4,207 yards, 7.4 YPA, 280 yards per game, 22 TD, 17 INT, 84.9 passer rating.

Well, right away, I would say that getting to the postseason more times is also a plus. But he's comparing the two numbers straight up, and so shall we.

But other than that, it really looks like Warner's just a better playoff quarterback. And he probably is. Manning's always known for not winning "the big one," except for Super Bowl XLI, in which he beat a team with, as Lovie Smith said, "Rex [Grossman] as our quarterback."

Remember how Byrne said their numbers were similar because they both played in domes? Let's look at the ceilings, or lack thereof, in Manning's postseason games:

• 7 home (dome) games
• five outdoor cold games
• three outdoor warm games

In Warner's 10 games, six of them were played in a HomeDome™, one was an away game dome, two of them were Super Bowls (both domes), and only one was outdoors — the great win against the Panthers this year. So while Manning has played 5 more playoff games, Warner actually had more indoor playoff games than the Colts.

Thanks goes to Bleacher Report for compiling Eli's brother's playoff stats into one nice, neat little table. If we separate Manning's eight HomeDome™ games with Warner's eight HomeDome™ games (I'm also sluicing off the away loss at New Orleans for the purpose of lining up two equal sets of eight games) we get:

Manning: 205 of 301 (65.9 percent), 2,617 yards, 8.69 YPA, 327 yards per game, 16 TD, 8 INT, 98.5 passer rating

Warner: 185 of 288 (64.2 percent), 2,406 yards, 8.35 YPA, 301 yards per game, 18 TD, 8 INT, 99.7 passer rating

Attention evil-doers, The Tick is here and he's wearing the blue tights of justice. (Translation: more yards for Manning, more TDs and a better rating for Warner … those are very close to being equally wonderful.)

This is not to throw out Manning's seven outdoor games as meaningless stats. the 68.2 passer rating (6 TDs, 9 INTs) and 2-5 record speaks for itself. What also speaks volumes is the five losses. That means Manning and his team was in the playoffs at least five times, which is more times than Warner even appeared in the playoffs (four).

1) Warner is much more likely to play well in the postseason. Warner produced a passer rating of 90.0 or better in six of 10 postseason games. Manning produced a passer rating of 90.0 or better in six of 15 postseason games.

So, 90 is good. Remember that.

2) Warner is far less likely to lay an egg in the postseason. Manning has played his worst statistical game of the year in the playoffs in 1999, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006 (as measured by passer rating). Three times in 15 playoff games Manning has posted a passer rating of less than 40 (compared with just twice in 176 regular season games).

Warner has never performed so poorly in the playoffs. In his worst statistical game, his passer rating was 56.2.

While this is true, the AFC and NFC, by property of the arenas in both conferences, require different concepts in the playoffs. Seven NFC teams have a dome or retractable roof stadium (St. Louis, Arizona, Dallas, Minnesota, Atlanta, New Orleans, Detroit), which means there's a 50 percent chance the game will be inside. In the AFC, it's 1 in 7 — either Indianapolis or Houston. In the NFC your offense has to be on. In the AFC it's an outdoor battle of attrition.

And all those bad Manning games were played — yep — outside, where the temperature turns nipples into Ginsu-quality cutlery.

Most importantly, Warner's teams are much more likely to win the playoffs. Warner's teams are 8-2 in postseason play. Manning's Colts are 7-8 in postseason play.

I could cite numbers about Manning having an 11 percent better winning record in the regular season, or having six more 10-win seasons than Warner, or reaching the playoffs in more than twice as many seasons.

Warner is perfect in wherever he calls the dome his home, while Manning is a blech-like 4-3 in the recently-blown-up RCA Dome. It's very fair to say Warner's teams have been better than Manning's teams in the playoffs, but scroll back up. Those numbers were like teenage lovestruck ticks sharing the malt of a human forearm. The difference between three losses was, I'm guessing, more than just the quarterback. One of those games was perhaps Manning's fault, since he had a QB rating of 60, when he was 23 years old. In the other two games his QB rating exceeded that magic 90 number.

More remarkable is that Warner has done it with historically dysfunctional organizations. Before Warner took them to the big game, the Rams had reached just one Super Bowl (XIV) in their history, including their time in Los Angeles. Warner led the franchise to its only Super Bowl victory and to its first NFL title since 1951.

So just because the team has had seasons upon seasons of losing, that suddenly appreciates the value of one's postseason run? If it does, then maybe he can cite the Colts' years in Indianapolis before Manning's entrance: 14 years, five winning seasons, never more than 10 wins in any regular season, three playoff appearances, and two playoff wins.

And not to keep diminishing Warner's accomplishments this year — he really is one of the most overlooked quarterbacks of this generation — but Byrne seems to paint the picture that Warner and Warner alone fixes bad teams.

The Rams have fallen off the face of the earth since he left.

They were starting to dissipate with him, too. In 2002 he played five full games and lost all of them, which means legendary quarterback Jamie Martin won more games with the Rams (one) than Warner that year (zero). The reason the Rams are god-awful in recent years is that their offensive line consists of Orlando Pace's exoskeleton and four Ionic columns, not because Kurt Warner doesn't play football there.

The Cardinals are easily the worst franchise in league history: they had won just two playoff games in their first 88 years of NFL football. Yet they've won three playoff games this month alone, and they head to the Super Bowl with what's easily the worst defense (426 points allowed) of any conference champion in league history.

That was a bad regular season defense, yes. Hence the 9-7 record. Out of nowhere, that defense recovered the ball no less than three times every playoff game (12 total turnovers over three games). Of course Warner and smart offense will use that field position to score 30 points a game.

This is not to say Kurt Warner is bad, but taking the step and declaring fervently that he is clearly better than Manning is probably overdoing it. Is he a better playoff quarterback? Well, maybe. Probably. Is he a better complete quarterback? They're both going to the Hall of Fame, in my book, but if my team is playing the Steelers, Patriots, Giants, or Bears in a snowy January game, and I have Kurt Warner and Peyton Manning on my team, I'd choose either, but if the catch is that I have to have Manning and Mike Vanderjagt on the team, I might reconsider.

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  • http://www.confessionsofafanboy.com Josh Hathaway

    I’ll take Warner over Manning today and if Warner wins on Sunday it makes it all the clearer.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    is this the start of a series where you take on the claims of unknown bloggers from unknown websites? should keep you very busy

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Yes. A little known sports publication named Sports Illustrated (great name!) put that column on its website. I expect big things from them.

  • charlie doherty

    Good job Matt. About the Warner-Manning comparison, I don’t think it’s that close. Peyton is easily the better QB. One other thing, I really HATE that QB passer rating statistic. It is so misleading. I mean, Tom Brady’s lifetime rating is below 90, but I don’t think anyone would think that means he is no less successful a QB than Warner or Peyton! That stat is meaningless and shouldn’t be used for any serious comparisons. It’s a little like using the points (or assists or rebounds) per 48 minutes stat in the NBA. Totally deceiving stats indeed.

  • Tony

    Just to play devils advocate, here are a few points:

    – I don’t see the relevance in stating that Manning has achieved his passer rating in more games. Warner’s situation — being old, starting late, and having teams loose faith in him because he’s old (every team wants to go with the young guy i.e. Eli, Matt) — account for the disparage in the number of games, more than anything. The point is, that when it comes to PASSER rating (it irks me when its called “qb rating” because it literally only accounts for passing statistics), when the two are on the field they post similar stats.

    – Looking at their postseason stats I think the big indicator is the interception total. Five picks is a huge difference when it comes to playoff football, and is the most dominating factor when understanding the difference in winning percentage.

    – “While this is true, the AFC and NFC, by property of the arenas in both conferences, require different concepts in the playoffs. Seven NFC teams have a dome or retractable roof stadium (St. Louis, Arizona, Dallas, Minnesota, Atlanta, New Orleans, Detroit), which means there’s a 50 percent chance the game will be inside. In the AFC, it’s 1 in 7 — either Indianapolis or Houston. In the NFC your offense has to be on. In the AFC it’s an outdoor battle of attrition.”

    * Don’t you think this is slightly misleading? St. Louis, Arizona, Minnesota, Atlanta, New Orleans, and Detroit are not even close to perennial playoff teams, with Detroit, NO never going, Atlanta and the Vick situation, and St. Louis becoming what they are now. I think more revealing would be an actual statistic on how many NFC playoff games have been played outdoors compared to domed and fair weather cities in the AFC. I’m not motivated enough to find the stat, but im sure its not nearly as one sided as you make it out to be.

    Is Warner better than Manning statistically? Probably not. Joe Montana wasn’t statistically better than Dan Marino either, but I’d still take him every time over Marino in the playoffs or in a close game. Some QBs are built to put up stats, some are built to win. While Warner has the good stats he also possesses an intelligence and sense that is rare from a QB. Take a look at his passer rating against the blitz this year or the average amount of time he gets sacked in a season. The man reads defenses and reacts to coverages better than most in the history of the game, hence the big difference in interceptions in the postseason.

    If Arizona can run the ball at all watch for Warner and Steve Breaston to have a monster day.

  • Tony

    *by never going, I obviously didn’t mean it literally.

  • Victor

    If it wasnt for spygate Warner would have won 2 superbowls going for 3 Peyton is like alex rodriguez great in the regular season no choker in the playoffs

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Re: The NFC dome teams. Except for Detroit, every one of those teams hosted a playoff game in at least one of the last six seasons.

    Ya made me do it, Tony! I hate and/or love you for that. Here’s the breakdown.

    NFC dome playoff games, per year in the Manning-Warner years (there are five in each conference each year)
    2008-09: 3 (Arizona, Arizona, Minnesota)
    2007-08: 1 (Dallas)
    2006-07: 1 (New Orleans)
    2005-06: 0
    2004-05: 1 (Atlanta)
    2003-04: 1 (St. Louis)
    2002-03: 0
    2001-02: 2 (St. Louis, St. Louis)
    2000-01: 2 (New Orleans, Minnesota)
    1999-00: 3 (St. Louis, Minnesota, Seattle’s Kingdome)
    1998-99: 4 (Dallas, Atlanta, Minnesota, Minnesota)
    Total: 18 (out of 55)

    AFC dome playoff games (All in the RCA Dome)
    2008-09: 0
    2007-08: 1
    2006-07: 2
    2005-06: 1
    2004-05: 1
    2003-04: 1
    2002-03: 0
    2001-02: 0
    2000-01: 0
    1999-00: 1
    1998-99: 0
    Total: 7 (out of 55)

    So, about 2½ times as more common in the NFC. Not entirely an epidemic of nicely heated games, but still prevalent enough for teams like the Vikings and Falcons and Cardinals to flourish with a heavy passing game to reach the Super Bowl, where that kind of game can succeed in another dome or warm stadium.

  • charlie

    Building on what Matt and Tony wrote, this (the lack of Dome playoff games in the AFC) just makes Tom Brady and the Patriots’ 3 Super Bowl championships that much more amazing.

    And to Victor, do you live with Matt Walsh or something? Because the NFL has looked into that allegation and never found any credible evidence that the Patriots taped the Rams walkthrough, and the Boston paper who published that rumor apologized for the piece! You have to understand that Walsh was the former Pats 3rd-rate videotaper who got caught recording a Scott Pioli conversation illegally and got fired from the Pats a few (maybe five) years ago because of that (and his poor recording skills).

    He hasn’t gotten a job with the NFL since and apparently felt the need to spread some BS about his former club last year in revenge.

    Most of the media saw through that man’s agenda or at least wouldn’t publish his allegations without confirming evidence (Boston Herald aside, until its aforementioned retraction). It’s time everyone else (from Arlen Specter to Rams fans) stop believing the Spygate allegations (of in-game cheating) too, since there’s still no evidence of it after all this time. Let it go.

    The Pats played and won every game under Belichick fairly and legally, including all playoff games and Superbowls. If you’re not willing to believe that, you might as well join the club of bitter Raiders fans who can’t get over the Snowbowl/Tuckrule game either.

  • Bobman

    A lot of this is missing context: Manning had 4 INTs in ONE GAME, but when you look at broad stats, it implies they’re spread out all over the place, adding about .25 INTs to the remaining 15 playoff games. It’s simply not the case.

    For further context, how about the team around the QB: Have Warner’s playoff teams ever allowed a 200 yard runner or two 100 yard runners in one game like the Colts did in 2000 and 2002? That affects the other side of the game, depriving the QB of TOP when his D allows the other team to gobble it up. Having fewer possessions shrinks his margin for error. How about big ST returns and field position? Same thing. (Just this year Manning’s average start was about hs own 15 and Rivers averaged about 20 more yards–a lot easier to drive a team 65 yards than 85.) How about starting off in a 17-0 hole 5 minutes into a game? That led Manning to (foolishly) go pass-happy and the Jets to (wisely) anticipate that and take advantage of it, on the road, in the cold and windy Meadowlands, BTW. Where Warner has never played a playoff game.

    Now I am not a person who talks a lot about Spygate, but if the broad allegations are true, then Manning might well already have had 3 SB rings–the Pats D crushed the Colts in 2003 and 2004 and went on the win the SB. IF (a big if) they had inside knowledge and used it and won because of it, then Manning COULD (a big if) have more SB rings and playoff wins. So saying it about the 2001 SB game above and applying it only to Warner is as disingenuous as the CHFF article to start with. You say “yeah, well the Pats beat them and if they didn’t cheat then my guy would have won.” Perhaps, but you neglect to point out that the Pats also beat the Colts twice in the playoffs….. duh. That fairly lame argument could result in additional wins for Manning from 2-5 and up to 2 additional SB rings. Further leaving Warner in the dust.

    Also, and this is purely personal opinion that is likely true, over much of this time, the AFC has been dominant. Not just having a lot of SB winners, but having maybe 7 of the top-10 teams for much of the last decade. (How many years has the media declared the AFCCG the “Real Super Bowl?” There’s a reason for that.) That means the Colts generally faced a higher caliber of competition. Now how many times did Warner enter the playoffs as a wild card, where he has to go on the road? Manning’s road games: 7 IIRC (3 as WC and 4 as lower seed, none in a dome). So: Road games against better teams, more than half the time in poor weather conditions… and you’re somehow surprised that one QB has “underperformed” while the other guy, playing most of his games at home, in a dome, has done better? Or you declare one superior despite a very biased set of criteria?

    There is just a huge gap in that logic.

  • charlie doherty

    Honestly, before this past NFL season, if you weren’t thinking Kurt Warner was a borderline Hall of Famer, you certainly shouldn’t think he is a shoe-in now based on one great season. I’m hearing quite a few people on sports radio say he’s bound for the Hall now, and I just don’t get it.

    Warner has only played in 4 full seasons (1999, 2001, 2007, 2008) his entire career! [And I count 14 games in 2007 as one of them.] His 11-game 2000 season was on the way to being great but it is what it is – he only had 21 TDs vs. 18 INTs.

    What should keep him out of the Hall is his lack of consistency and games played overall. From 2002-2006, with the Rams, Giants and first couple of years with the Cardinals, he never played in more than 10 games! The fact that he had to fight for his job or stay healthy all those years in between his 3 great and 1 more potentially great season (2000) matters, folks.

    If you’re going to put a QB like Kurt Warner in the Hall for having just 3-4 great seasons (and 1 just “good” year in 2007) then that will open the floodgates to lots of QBs that had similar years of success while being mediocre, average, or irrelevant in other years.

    Think Drew Bledsoe or Steve McNair. Are they Hall of Famers? I think not. But they all had at least 3-4 great seasons, and Bledsoe has as many Superbowl rings as Kurt Warner – though Drew only played a small but pivotal role to earn his in January 2002 when filling in for an injured Tom Brady during the AFC Championship game; he also led the Pats to the Superbowl before losing to Brett Favre’s Packers in 1996-1997 (Superbowl 31, I believe).

    Ultimately, IMO, Peyton Manning is a shoe-in for the Hall. Warner definitely is not.

    On a side note, if anybody deserves to get into the NFL HofF based on 3-4 great seasons, it’s Terrell Davis. Unfortunately, he didn’t make the cut this year and is unlikely to make it anytime in the near future either. I mean, what chance does HE have when Cris Carter hasn’t even gotten in yet!

  • Maddy Pumilia

    “When thinking of active Hall of Fame quarterbacks, you’d probably mention Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Brett Favre, and perhaps Donovan McNabb.”

    What a sec … what about Big Ben? TWO Super Bowls in five years? Now, that’s Hall of Fame. Sorry. Had to point that out. :)

    And Ben did it without cheating (Cough Tom Brady Cough.)

    A very interesting article and very well written. I go back and forth between the two, but the more I think about it, the more I am glad that the Steelers played Warner and not Manning.

    But I’d still take Ben over both of them!

    Nice job,
    Maddy

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    And Ben did it without cheating (Cough But he didn’t do it without the refs botching calls Cough.)

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Ben’s team won two Super Bowls. His team didn’t rely on Roethlisberger’s arm or even his offense; Warner’s (and Manning’s) teams did. But Roethlisberger sure as hell did win SBXLIII. SBXL was another story.

    He was also drafted into the perfect situation, whereas top-four picks Eli Manning and Philip Rivers had a couple of growing-pain years. Had Rivers gone to Pittsburgh and Roethlisberger to the Chargers — and this is me doing a Duke & Duke bet with myself — but I would guess their careers would have been identically swapped. Rivers would be the toast of Pittsburgh, and Roethlisberger, while mobile and accurate himself, would have not gotten many breaks out by the ocean.

    The boy is 26, which is as old as I am, so I have a very hard time saying his entire career to date warrants a Hall of Fame plaque. We’ll see what else he does from today until he retires and there’s a very modest chance he’ll deserve to be in Canton.

  • Maddy Pumilia

    “His team didn’t rely on Roethlisberger’s arm or even his offense; Warner’s (and Manning’s) teams did.”

    Warner’s team relied on the entire offense. Would Warner be as effective if he didn’t have Fitzgerald? Probably not.

    Under that logic, Ben is in the same class as Warner and both belong in the Hall of Fame.

    “And Ben did it without cheating (Cough But he didn’t do it without the refs botching calls Cough.)”

    There were plenty of times when the refs screwed over the Steelers too. It’s part of the game.

    Maddy