Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Patriots, Tom Brady, and Stats Padding. A Happy Family

Let me preface this post by saying that Tom Brady is having the best season of his career, and he is obviously the MVP choice at this point. 

That being said, there was a good article this week that broke down the percentage of NFL QBs' stats that were accumulated in garbage time. My guess is that the writer was motivated to dig into the stats by the recent blowout wins the Patriots racked up where Tom Brady was in the game throwing until the very end. Regardless, it comes to a very interesting (although not surprising) conclusion. Brady has accumulated a much higher percentage of his stats in garbage time than his fellow MVP candidates, Michael Vick, Peyton Manning, and Aaron Rodgers. Now, I don't know the exact percentages for the other MVP candidates, but the article states that their garbage time stats percentage falls below league average. Brady's garbage time stat percentage on the other hand, is over 4.2% higher than the average NFL QB and at least that much higher than the other three named QBs. While that may not sound like a lot, it's a very significant amount. 

Nobody should really be surprised to read of those stats. Haven't we all at some point thought "Why is he still in the game and throwing?" Perfect example: New England vs. New York two weeks ago. The Patriots are ahead of the Jets 45-3 with four minutes left in the game. Is Tom Brady sipping Gatorade and running his hands through his hair on the bench? Nope. He's in the game throwing passes out of the shotgun formation with a 42 point lead. Of course, anyone who watched the 2007 season, when Brady threw for 50 TDs, would have seen this act time and time again. I lost count of how many times Brady threw jump ball after jump ball to Randy Moss as the Pats were blowing out their opponent late in the game. Rest assured, nothing was sweeter than watching 18-0 turn into 18-1 because it felt like karma was finally having her way. Well ladies and gentleman, the 2007 Patriots seem to have been resurrected, at least in the sportsmanship department. Karma, please be ready.

The main thing that struck me about this article was that it didn't even mention the difference between the two types of garbage time. The vast majority of passes that get thrown in garbage time are thrown by the team that is trailing. Almost always, the defensive strategy of the team with the lead shifts completely to protecting against the pass and big plays. While the underneath routes are left open for short gains, the defense is focused on preventing long passes and quick scores. The defensive line no longer plays the run, they just pin their ears back and go after the QB. Watch a Colts game when they have a big lead and see how many times Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis get late sacks and pressure. Without any responsibilities for playing the run, the defensive linemen are free to focus on teeing off on the QB. What this means in terms of the losing QB is that his job can get pretty dicey. While he can amass chunks of yardage by dropping the ball off for short completions, he has to take risks with the deep ball if he wants to try and bring his team back. In doing so, he plays right into the defense's hands. That's why you will see a lot of interceptions thrown in garbage time because QBs are forced to take chances and look for miracles.

Now when the winning team has the ball the strategy is completely different (Usually). Generally speaking, teams with large leads are content to run the ball, keep the clock running, and get the game over with as quickly as possible. By the time a team has put up a massive lead, the defense is just trying to get out of there and lick their wounds. As was evident in the Pats Jets game, putting up a huge lead will break the spirit of the defense, and they will almost always lose their intensity. This is when the true garbage time occurs. If a winning team is truly unaffected by a need for sportsmanship, they can exploit that broken defense for huge stats. That's what I see whenever Tom Brady continues to throw up 42 points with four minutes left in the game. It's stat padding, plain and simple. 

The reasoning the 2007 Patriots gave for consistently running up the score was that the game was never out of hand. There is always the chance that a team could pull off a miracle comeback (Or in the Jets case, throw a couple of 21 point TDs). However, that logic falls flat on its face when you see Brady get pulled in a losing effort as happened against the Browns this year. Better yet, think back to 2009 when the Patriots went to New Orleans and got pounded on. With three minutes left in the game, down by 18, Brady is on the bench and his backup is playing. How can anyone make the claim that a 42 point deficit isn't safe, but an 18 point deficit is too much to overcome? Well, for one thing, the guy from Indianapolis led his team to 21 points in around three minutes to tie the Buccaneers on Monday Night Football. O yea, and then there was the time the Colts scored 21 points in two minutes and ten seconds to come back from a 17 point deficit at the end of the game. Is that Belichick admitting that Brady isn't capable of that kind of magic? Or that Peyton is better? Nonsense. It solely had to do with protecting Brady and his stats. Like I mentioned before, a lot of interceptions occur in garbage time. I guess in New England, games are always in doubt when you're ahead but not when you're behind. Makes a TON of sense. 

Lastly, here is a leaderboard of career TD passes by situation for you to digest. They seem to lend a lot of support to the original argument. As Nate Dunlevy from observed, these numbers taken as a percentage of total passing TDs are even more outrageous. 

Most career TD passes with a 17+ point lead
1T. Tom Brady - 33
1T. Brett Favre - 32
3. Peyton Manning - 30
4. Steve Young - 28
Most career TD passes with a 28+ point lead
1. Tom Brady - 10
2. Sid Luckman - 8
3. Norm Van Brocklin - 8
4T. Craig Morton - 6
4T. Len Dawson - 6
Most career TD passes in the 4th quarter with a 28+ point lead
1. Jacky Lee - 5
2T. Tom Brady - 4
2T. Pete Beathard - 4
2T. Craig Morton - 4
I was shocked when I stumbled upon these numbers. Four TD passes with a 28 point lead in the 4th quarter is simply outrageous. Remember this post the next time you see Brady out there slinging it around with a huge lead. It might put some things in perspective.

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