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Manning vs Brady, The Ultimate Comparison Part II: The Running Backs and Offensive Lines

Manning vs Brady, The Ultimate Comparison Part II: The Running Backs and Offensive Lines

by Steve Caronia

As we all know, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are fairly good at what they do.  They also happen to do the same thing.  They’ve done it at the same time for 11 years (if you exclude their injuries).  They’ve played against each other 14 times, and number 15 is coming up soon.  It may be the last time we watch them on the same field.  It’s as close as football has come to Bird and Magic.

The debate has rumbled on for years: which QB is better? No one can come up with a concrete answer.  Most answers aren’t backed by much other than “Peyton is a computer” or “All Tom Brady does is win”.  Neither of these are true.  They’re almost true, but I’m trying to find what actually is true.

Yesterday, I broke down the defenses Manning and Brady have each played with and tried to determine who had more help.  While the margin is a little slimmer than most might think, Tom Brady definitely had a better defense supporting him for most of his career, even if only because of the presence of Darth Sidious Bill Belichick.

The Dark side of the Force is strong within this one.

Let’s move on to our next topics: running backs and offensive lines.  Clearly, these two units are key to any football team and impact the play of the quarterback.  Is there a significant difference between them on Brady and Manning’s teams? Let’s find out.

First, and more complicated, let’s tackle the running back situation.  To start, lets have a gander at a few basic stats since 2001.

Year NE Rank Indy/Den Rank NE Yards Indy/Den Yards NE YPC Indy/Den YPC
2001 13 7 1793 1966 3.8 4.5
2002 26 28 1561 1508 3.8 3.6
2003 27 19 1607 1695 3.4 3.7
2004 7 15 2134 1852 4.1 4.3
2005 24 16 1512 1703 3.4 3.7
2006 12 18 1969 1762 3.9 4
2007 13 18 1849 1706 4.1 3.8
2008 31 1274 3.4
2009 12 32 1921 1294 4.1 3.5
2010 9 29 1973 1483 4.3 3.8
2011 20 1746 4
2012 7 16 2184 1832 4.2 3.8
2013 9 15 2065 1873 4.4 4.1

This table shows a few things.  First, the Patriots have outgained the Manning squads on the ground 8 of the 11 years Manning and Brady were both healthy by an average of about 200 yards (1859-1662).  Their yards per carry are pretty comparable, with their average within 0.1 of each other (3.95 to 3.85).  What I find interesting is that neither team had a sustained run of ranking very highly.  The Patriots ranked in the top 10 four times but were a little sporadic, and Manning’s teams never ranked higher than 15th.  They were both average in yards per carry.

To complicate things, let’s look at each teams’ top rated RB in DYAR, FBO’s Defense Adjusted Yardage Above Replacement.  This is sort of a sum total of value of a player over time (you can get a full explanation here).  The results are interesting.

NE Player DYAR Rank Ind/Den Player DYAR Rank
2001 A Smith 17 D Rhodes 7
2002 A Smith 21 E James 30
2003 A Smith 34 E James 8
2004 C Dillon 2 E James 3
2005 C Dillon 15 E James 3
2006 C Dillon 16 J Addai 4
2007 L Maroney 7 J Addai 5
2008 J Addai 31
2009 L Maroney 30 J Addai 15
2010 BGE 3 J Addai 18
2011 BGE 20 D Brown 18
2012 S Ridley 8 K Moreno 21
2013 S Ridley 11 K Moreno 6

Manning’s teams win here, with 7 running backs ranking in the top 8 in DYAR (including a great 5 year run from Edgerrin James and Joe Addai).  The Patriots have Corey Dillon, Laurence Maroney, Benjarvis Green-Ellis, and Stevan Ridley each land in the top ten, but this inconsistency in telling.  Corey Dillon had most of his good years in Cincinnati, the others haven’t strung 2 good years together yet despite being productive.  Edgerrin James was the only true franchise back either of these two have ever had.  Joe Addai probably could have been one, but he couldn’t stay healthy.

So what does all this mean? Before we answer, let’s look at the o-line.

If we look at Football Outsiders again for their o-line run blocking metric, we see another score for the Patriots running game.

Year NE Rank Indy/Den Rank
2001 10 7
2002 9 28
2003 23 10
2004 5 1
2005 27 3
2006 12 5
2007 1 4
2008 23
2009 5 23
2010 1 21
2011 2
2012 3 12
2013 1 8

The Patriots have had a top 5 run blocking line for the past 6 years Brady has been healthy, including 3 times ranked at #1.  Manning’s teams had a few good years too, but were more inconsistent.  Overall, the Patriots average rank is #8, while Manning’s teams are #12. Not a huge difference, but slightly better.

So what’s the sum total of all this? My two takeaways are as such:

Manning’s teams had better talent at running back.

Brady’s teams were better at running the football.

Manning had one of the most dynamic RBs of the early 2000′s in James.  He almost had a great one with Addai.  After a drought for a few years, he’s got one in Knowshon Moreno.  You can’t deny that talent (not to mention all three backs are stellar at catching passes out of the backfield). Having a great RB makes a QB’s life easier.

Brady, however, has had some of the best platoon back sets in recent memory.  Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris, and Antowain Smith don’t scare anyone on an individual basis.  But together, with changing personnel and looks fooling the defense, they were pretty productive. The Patriots have also rushed for more attempts for the season 9 times out of 11.  They have a commitment to run the ball, even at the peak of Brady’s powers.  The Colts let that slip here and there, especially towards the end of Manning’s career there.

In addition, the o-line had better numbers, despite FBO stating that a better back would probably make those number look better than they are.  One would think the RBs leading in DYAR would make this happen, but that’s not the case.

So, in the end, I’m calling this a draw.  Manning had the help of more talented backs, but Brady was part of a system that worked.

Finally, let’s talk briefly about offensive lines and pass protection.  Protection is so crucial to a QBs that lack of it has literally ended careers (pour one out for David Carr).  As expected, the Patriots and Colts knew this.  So do the Broncos.  Take a look at FBO’s adjusted sack rate for these guys:

Year NE Rank Indy Rank
2001 26 7
2002 7 2
2003 13 2
2004 5 2
2005 6 1
2006 8 1
2007 4 5
2008 1
2009 2 1
2010 6 1
2011 8
2012 5 2
2013 9 1

Pretty damn good.  The last time either of them placed outside the top 10 was in 2003.  Manning’s teams have been #1 on the list 6 times and #2 4 times.  Brady’s team has been damn good, in the top 10 10 of 12 healthy years for Brady.  These franchises knew ho to protect their bread n’ butter.  Manning’s people just did it a little better.

Well, until this happened.

The adjusted sack rate leaves out the fact that a quarterback’s quickness of release and pocket presence will skew the numbers.  Luckily for us, Brady and Manning are 1 and 1A in these characteristics and have been for 10 years (for example, this year Manning was the fastest draw, last year it was Brady).  Who has better pocket presence? This is like asking who has a better sleeper hold between Brutus the Barber Beefcake and the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase. It’s an unanswerable question.

All in all, today we see that each QB had certain advantages and disadvantages at running back, leading to a draw.  The Patriot’s line was better at run blocking, but Manning was a little better protected in the pocket.

Let keep a tally as to who got more from each unit.

Defenses: Tom Brady (by a slimmer than you thought but significant margin)

Running game: Draw

Pass Protection: Manning (by a legitimately slim margin)

Next time, let’s talk about playoff matchups.  Who’s paths to glory were more difficult?

Steve Caronia is a New York City based physical therapist. As he looks at Peyton Manning’s numbers, he remembers that Manning deliberately stayed in college one more year because the Jets had the number one pick Just…ah shit.