Thursday, January 22, 2009

Warner > Montana, Manning?

CHFF thinks so, suggesting Kurt Warner's outstanding playoff numbers push him past Joe Montana and Peyton Manning.

I actually think that in Kurt Warner's five peak seasons ('99, '00, '01, '07, '08), he played quarterback as well as anybody in the history of professional football. Ever.

The problem arises when we consider the years between those peak five seasons. He was struggling, and losing. If you match his playoff numbers against Joe Montana's playoff numbers, you're punishing Montana for actually getting his team to the playoffs a bunch more times, and rewarding Warner for missing the playoffs a bunch of times (he may well have stunk in the playoffs those seasons). Montana should probably be given credit for getting teams to the playoffs a whopping 11 times. And if you use Warner's playoff numbers to move him over Manning, you're basically pretending '02-'06 never happened for Warner, whereas in 11 seasons, Peyton Manning averaged 4,100+ passing yards and 30 TD passes.

Warner at his peak is arguably the greatest quarterback ever. But when he wasn't at his peak, he was mediocre to bad--you certainly couldn't say that Warner from '02-'06 was better than Montana or Manning. So when evaluating a quarterback, should you only consider his peak seasons, dismissing marginal to bad seasons, or should you assess the quarterback on an entire career?

But it is worth the argument.


  1. Anonymous3:57 PM

    Give Warner great recievers and he will deliver. But then again Montana and Manning had great recievers their entire career.
    Maybe we are looking at it up-side down. What if we stated the hypothesis that M&M are better than W in years with high-quality recievers. That basically means M&Ms entire career versus Warners peaks. That would be very close to a tie.

    What I'm sying is, give these three guys good recievers and they are very close to being equally fantastic.

  2. Except Warner had Holt/Bruce in '02, and Fitzgerald/Boldin in '05 and '06. In those three seasons he was 3-18 as a starter with 20 TDs and 25 INTs.

    I also thought that using playoff performance is a little arbitrary. If you up the standard to Super Bowl performance, then nobody tops Joe Montana.

  3. Anonymous12:33 AM

    "So when evaluating a quarterback, should you only consider his peak seasons, dismissing marginal to bad seasons, or should you assess the quarterback on an entire career?"

    Don't forget to consider how much the quality of the total team (not just WRs) contributes to the QB's performance -- which I think most fans greatly underestimate -- as opposed to how much the QB contributes to the team's, which I think most fans seriously overestimate (as in "Montana should probably be given credit for getting teams to the playoffs a whopping 11 times" -- does one player of 53 really get his team to the playoffs even once, much less 11 times?)

    Probably the clearest example of this was Earl Morrall. During 20 years in the NFL he was an occasional 2nd-tier starter, usually a backup -- but in two years he was 1st-team All Pro, in one NFL MVP and the other AFC Player of the Year. Those were 1968 when he QB'd the 15-2 Colts and 1972 when he QB'd the 17-0 Dolphins -- whom he'd joined that year as a $100 waiver-wire pickup.

    And he wasn't just a caretaker on those teams, he earned his awards with real big-time throwing numbers. In 1972 he averaged 9.1 yards an attempt -- before the rules were liberalized to ease passing. (In contrast, Tom Brady during his 16-0 regular season throwing to Moss & Co averaged 8.3.) That's the sort of effect the quality of a team can have on a QB's performance numbers -- up and down.

    A curiosity of QBs is that you can nary find a Hall of Famer who spent his career on a bad losing team. This is not true of players in other sports, plenty of HoF baseball and basketball players spent their entire careers on bad losing teams.

    And it's not true for NFL players at other positions -- e.g, at running back, Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell, Gale Sayers, and OJ Simpson all spent their careers on bad losing teams, as did Walter Payton until his last two seasons.

    Yet HoF QBs near all pile up their HoF-level stats playing on strong teams with good defenses (that save them from having to play from behind) and lots of offensive talent. Coincidence?

    Joe Montana was on superior Bill Walsh-run teams year-after-year. Peyton Manning has played for the last several years on a team that has literally been customed designed for him.

    Kurt Warner spent a whole bunch of years on *bad* teams. So I wouldn't ask about his numbers in all his years. I'd ask about how consistent he was at putting up good numbers in those particular years when he was both healthy and on a team with enough talent to *enable* a top QB to put up top numbers.

  4. Anonymous1:20 AM

    BTW, a couple more data points to indicate the team carries the QB a lot more than most people think (as opposed to the QB carrying the team)

    1) This year's preseason Vegas betting odds on the Patriots set them at winning 12.5 games. Then they lost their HoF QB and replaced him with a guy who hadn't started a game since high school. They won 11.

    2) Over at they did an emprical study on What’s a starting QB worth?", and "came up with an empirical answer of 2.3 points per game" -- or 1 to 2 games in the W column per season. (Exactly consistent with #1).

    Most fans have a really hard time accepting the idea of the QB having such a modest effect on team results, but if one follows this data (and other data that indicate the same thing, such as the percentage of payroll that goes to QB compared to other positions) then one reaches the conclusion that Montana gets rather more credit than he deserves for carrying his team to the playoffs 11 straight years -- and Warner deserves rather less blame than he gets for being on a bunch of teams with poor W-L records.

    (And no, I'm not particularly a Warner fan.)

  5. I've been working on a rambling post involving championship QBs and their Hall of Fame teammates, which has some implications for this issue.