The Peyton Manning Story

Lies, damn lies, statistics and other things
Share |

At some point in the next week or two, and for an unprecedented fifth time, Peyton Manning will likely win the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award. For more than a few, it’s tough to argue that he hasn’t earned it: after missing a year with a scary-sounding neck injury, Manning led his new team, the Denver Broncos, to a 13-3 season and the top seed in the AFC while essentially tying career highs in completion percentage (His 68.6 mark just trailed his previous best of 68.8), yards (4,659/4,700) and YPG (291.2/293.8). On Saturday, for a (coincidentally?) fourth time, Manning threw two or more interceptions in a playoff loss. It was (less coincidentally) the eighth time in his (record) 12 postseasons that Manning failed to win his first playoff game.

This matters, if that’s the right word for it, but in at least one meaningful way it almost certainly won’t. Manning, like Brett Favre if not quite like Brett Favre, is known not just for his greatness but for the degree to which and the volume at which that greatness is celebrated. He has lost 11 postseason games, which is as many as any quarterback in history, while throwing game-turning interceptions in several playoff games: against the Patriots in an AFC championship, the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV and now the Ravens in this year’s divisional playoffs. It has not really impacted the perception of his genius at all.

In some ways, this is a good thing: a rare instance of sports media holding two contradictory opinions -- Manning as consummate field general; Manning as player who, for whatever reason, has not excelled in big games -- at once without heads exploding. But it’s worth wondering, in the wake of Manning’s most recent defeat, why he’s above the law in this regard, and mostly beyond criticism.

Grantland’s Bill Barnwell, unequivocally the best football writer (on non-Andy Reid related topics) working, led the charge yesterday, explicitly blaming second-year Denver safety Rahim Moore for his mistake -- something Moore did himself in as upfront a way as can be imagined, while the verge of tears -- before acknowledging in passing that Manning’s interception played a role to the loss. 

“You can rightly blame Manning for that second interception, of course,” Barnwell writes. “But the game should never have even gotten to that point. Manning had performed well enough to put his team in an extremely advantageous position. His team promptly blew it. It seems worth separating the two.”

There’s a certain “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” thing at work here, though. Manning’s team explicitly and directly lost the game because they gave up the ball within their opponent’s field goal range, which happened explicitly because of a pass thrown by Manning which was -- by his own admittance -- a bad throw off a bad read. Barnwell essentially absolves Manning of the same thing for which he blames Moore. Whether or not Manning’s defense put him in a position to make a bad play -- and they did -- is irrelevant with regard to the actual very bad play that Manning made. Denver lost the game when their quarterback threw a bad pass at the worst possible time. That the quarterback happened to be Peyton Manning shouldn’t invert the narrative quite this much. If the quarterback hadn’t been Peyton Manning, it’s hard to believe it would.

***

Baseball’s statistics, advanced and un-, are uniquely valued in the sport, and unique in some other ways beside. They’re numbers and decimals on their own but, if taken together, they give us an understanding that’s surprisingly concrete, if not especially poetic. The clear distinction between “power” and “skill/speed” stats help provide a firm idea of the shape, size and style of the individual players that the numbers are supposed to represent; while they’re not there yet, it’s easy to imagine fielding stats like Ultimate Zone Rating eventually rounding out this understanding. The function that baseball statistics play as signals of value (current and predictive) in the noise of the sport -- even when the relative utility or relevance of the stats is being debated, or when curmudgeons fall back on “more like DORK, you blogger nerds” grumpiness -- suggest that we’re all more or less okay with statistics and in agreement on their import. It’s not like that in football.

Mostly, this is because football’s stats are not nearly as illuminating or intuitive as baseball’s. The counting stats are counting stats; the advanced stats are still opaque; quarterback ranking is impenetrable. More to the point, football statistics don’t tell you much about what a player looks like or plays like and -- because of the team-to-team and situational variations in terms of how different positions are used -- they really can’t offer anything other than a suggestion of how effective players are at the style of play that their team uses. Individual stats in football provide only marginally more insight than trying to determine the quality of a violin player using an individual piece of sheet music in an orchestra: you may get an idea, but that idea isn’t worth much without an understanding of role and context and conducting and a host of other obvious influences. Without that other understanding of the broader picture, it’s easy to misconstrue -- or completely misunderstand -- quality; it’s almost impossible to properly construe it. Football stats have some meaning, in other words, but they don’t mean much on their own.

So, what to make of Peyton Manning’s numbers, then? There’s his otherworldly consistency: the twelve 4000-yard seasons, 25-plus TDs in all fourteen of his NFL campaigns, the record twelve trips to the playoffs. These certainly suggest that Manning is the great player of his generation, and he has been rewarded with accolade after accolade -- at least four MVP’s so far, five first-team All-Pro selections, and hilariously high rankings on the type of lists that measure historical greatness to name a few -- that further shore up that impression. He has won passing titles and awards and honors and a great many football games, and so Manning is perceived as a winner.

And he is one, if not necessarily in the most important games of his career. In addition to those eight one-and-done postseasons and four multiple-interception postseason losses, Manning is just 9-11 in the playoffs. He has had supporting casts of varying quality during those seasons, but Manning’s sole successful Super Bowl run included some of his worst-ever playoff performances. His Super Bowl XLI postseason began with two legitimately putrid games -- a three-interception, one-touchdown stinker in a 23-8 victory over the Chiefs, followed by a 15-6 escape against the Ravens in the midst of a no-touchdown, two-pick shitstorm. He turned things around in the second half of an AFC Championship Game win against the Patriots, but neither his Championship Game nor Super Bowl stat-lines were especially inspiring.

Compare this, and even Manning’s regular season resume, to the work of Tom Brady. Brady, who is two years younger than Manning, has spent the second half of his career speaking the preferred language of the pundits in his cosmic argument against Manning. He has passed for more scores in a season; his 50 touchdowns in 2007 surpassed Manning’s old record by one. He has thrown for more yards in a season, 5235 to 4700. He has won three Super Bowls, yet still suffers a certain perception deficit relative to Manning. Brady has been on two fewer All-Pro teams and being chosen for three fewer Pro Bowls, already won 2 less MVP awards and is seen, in a way Manning never has been, as being a product of a coaching system and team culture. On the NFL Network’s list of the greatest players of all-time that I linked above, Brady is ranked 21st; Manning is eighth. He is also in many fewer television commercials, although that’s neither here nor there.

None of which is Manning’s fault, of course. But why are Brady’s achievements couched in the context of Bill Belichick’s genius and the Patriots’ “culture,” while Manning’s successes are seen as standing apart from the work done by coach Tony Dungy -- a significantly more successful coach before he joined forces with Manning than Belichick was when he brought Brady on board -- and Colts GM Bill Polian, who built four Super Bowl teams in Buffalo and won six NFL Executive of the Year Awards? Even by the standards of the NFL’s usual resistance to common sense, this is strange.

***

Narrative, in the free-range “____ is a warrior” and “___ doesn’t have the heart of a champion” sense, is still the language of the NFL broadcast booth. But, in other venues and for some very good reasons, it has eroded under a wave of numbers. Even those who prefer that old emo-soothsaying stuff -- the most hardcore of fans and the hackiest of writers who have begun to cling on for dear life -- use numbers to make their cases. Football stats are inert in a way that baseball stats aren’t, but both can be used selectively to shore up an argument, pro or con. I did it above, as you probably noticed.

There’s not quite a stats-versus-emotion dynamic at work here so much as it’s a debate between different types of stats. Miguel Cabrera’s counting stats win him a Triple Crown and a Most Valuable Player Award; Mike Trout’s superior WAR (and steal totals, and UZR) loses out. ESPN’s tumid choir of Tebow-worshippers focus on his won-loss record as a starter, and leave out the other metrics attesting to his manifest not-goodness. And Peyton Manning cruises towards another MVP because of some numbers, while Adrian Peterson -- another comeback story, another player who made a massive individual impact on a team, and a player who had one of the best seasons for a running back in history -- may see his own numbers fall short. Peyton Manning has numbers that make his case; even Tebow has some numbers that make his. But Manning’s great advantage is one that the NFL’s narrative junkies have constructed over years. His numbers are fine, except when they’re not. But his story is a winner.

This is unfair in a basic sense, but the schism isn’t as daunting as it seems. Stat geeks should be able to acknowledge the relative worth of an evaluation not driven entirely by stats, or by the right stats. Narrative proponents should acknowledge that Manning’s greatness, while buttressed by very-good-to-great regular season stats, owes much to the fact that he’s likable, and that they’re choosing to overlook his postseason performance because of that. And this is all fine: Peyton Manning may sell us shitty pizza and make some bad passes at even-worse moments in the postseason, but he represents what a quarterback is supposed to represent. He stays late after brutal losses to congratulate fellow greats on a career well done. He really does make his teammates better. And he throws for a lot of touchdowns and wins a lot of games, although those are secondary to his harder-to-define greatness.

If that’s why we talk about him the way we do, there are worse stories we could tell. If only to acknowledge that we’re trying to tell a story as much as we’re talking football.


Share |

Comments

I read your website as often as possible and I just thought I'd say keep up the astonishing work! 5 MSP AIRPORT CAB

You make so many great points here that I read your article a couple of times. Your views are in accordance with my own for the most part. This is great content for your readers. 3d animation studios in vietnam

Affection to peruse it,Waiting For More new Update and I Already Read your Recent Post its Great Thanks. pour investir en bourse

I’m flattened by your contents keep up the excellent work. lien

I’m flattened by your contents keep up the excellent work. lien

We are really grateful for your blog post. You will find a lot of approaches after visiting your post. Great work. subway surfers windows

A debt of gratitude is in order for a brilliant offer. Your article has demonstrated your diligent work and experience you have in this field. Splendid .i cherish it perusing. assisted living in greensboro

I would never want to miss out any opportunity to read out your contents. custom beach home plans

PSG to Win and Over 2.5 desires is 8261261b8ee23b46c3c262a065603e2e at four/9 and appears to be a banker, with huge potential of a tremendous income. http://www.perfectbettingonline.co.uk/

I imagine that much obliged for the valuabe data and bits of knowledge you have so given here. best advices

Men have long been outnumbered by women in higher education in the U.S., going back to the 1980s. What's drawn less notice is they are also less likely to earn bachelor's degrees. plumbing industry products

Much obliged to you for peopling get the data they require. Incredible stuff of course. Keep up the considerable work!!! steroid alternatives

Decent blog and totally exceptional. You can improve however despite everything I say this perfect.Keep striving generally advantageous. male enhancement pills at walmart

"If we are talking about the latest craze all over the world, what you are going to say? Fidget Spinner and Fidget Toy? Yes! Oh well, you can't believe it. In just 2 months, it has craze the world! First, you can see these Fidget Spinners everywhere with kids and teens in every classroom and school. Shortly they quickly invaded offices and became the favorite hand toys of adults.

Brands and Businesses are quickly catching up this new hot trend for their marketing purposes, like event promotions, conference gifts, corporate gifts, trade show giveaways, promotional gift items with those customized, logo Fidget Spinners as the best promotional products today!" Promotional Fidget Spinner

Lots of thanks for this post.I think it is a very good post. It helps us many away. So many many thanks for this article. sale designer handbags uk

I felt exceptionally glad while perusing this site. This was truly exceptionally enlightening site for me. I truly preferred it. This was truly a sincere post. Much obliged!. this phen375 post

Incredible overview, I'm certain you're getting an awesome reaction. quality ladies clothing brands

As the power of PageRank is getting lower, flow metrics matter. Google gives a huge importance to metrics like domain authority, trust flow or citation flow as a ranking factor. high trust flow backlinks

it was a brilliant opportunity to visit this sort of site and I am upbeat to know. much thanks to you such a great amount for allowing us to have this open door.. Male Extra reviews

Your music is astounding. You have some extremely capable specialists. I wish you the best of accomplishment. buy noocube

Thank you for some other informative website. The place else may just I get that kind of information written in such a perfect method? I have a venture that I am simply now running on, and I’ve been at the glance out for such info. Anabolic Alternative

I as of late ran over your website and have been perusing along. I thought I would leave my first remark. I don't realize what to say aside from that I have delighted in perusing. Decent blog. I will continue going to this online journal frequently. crazy bulk review

Awesome post, and incredible site. Much obliged for the data! ultimatenutritionz

This is a splendid web journal! I"m extremely content with the remarks!.. women's health

It was a decent post in reality. I altogether delighted in understanding it in my lunch time. Will without a doubt come and visit this blog all the more frequently. A debt of gratitude is in order for sharing. mens health

Much thanks to you for another awesome article. Where else might anyone be able to get that sort of data in such an impeccable method for composing? I have a presentation one week from now, and I am on the search for such data. top diet pills

It seems this query isn’t asked too regularly with the resource of a number of humans on foot social media channels who decide to buy their followers that lets in you to enhance their numbers. instagram likes kaufen

Just log on the Internet and presto! You can have instant and vast access to a wide variety of exceptional brochure printing templates for a trouble-free brochure creation. postcard print

I think this is an okay article. You make this data intriguing and locks in. You give perusers a considerable measure to consider and I value that sort of composing. Moving company

Extraordinary things you've generally imparted to us. Simply continue written work this sort of posts.The time which was squandered in going for educational cost now it can be utilized for studies.Thanks non-medical in-home care in bossier

i am continually searching for some free stuffs over the web. there are likewise a few organizations which gives free specimens. buy garcinia cambogia

Main product is an email newsletter and email marketing platform with built-in content for professional service firms, including accounting firms, estate planning law firms, payroll providers, PEOs (Professional Employer Organizations), employee benefits firms, human resource consultants and health care professionals. (Industries overview can be found at http://industrynewsletters.com/industrynewsletters-overview/industries-served/.) eNewsletters

A company can shell out a substantial amount of money to design an attractive website with the main goal being generating brand awareness. SEO for Business

Its me Brayden Ben a professional and well experienced Designer.There are many designer more experienced then me , but now i am here to provide you the real design service I will design your name with real stones and give you high quality image , Unique and professional and no one will copy your design because its all Hand Made. name design fiverr

The brand’s equity value comes into play here. Brand equity is partially built on the brand’s promise, the somewhat unspoken statement of “Best in Class." Combining years of delivering their wares with a consistent high level and staying true to their mission statement, whether written or implied, brands build equity. In turn this equity helps command generally higher prices, which feed the aspirational desires of the consumer. Honeymoon

All in all, there are two approaches to approach Twitter when constructing your taking after. get twitter followers fast | clash of clans cheats deutsch iphone

WE PROVIDE HIGH TRUST FLOW AND CITATION FLOW BLOG COMMENTS BACKLINKS WITH ON DA PA Are Citation and Trust flow metrics really a necessary statistic?There was a time when SEO was at a nascent stage and primary metrics such as Google Page Rank mattered a lot in SEO. Today, SEO has advanced far beyond the domain of Page Rank and as such, secondary metrics such as trust flow, domain authority, citation flow, etc., have taken over Google Page Rank in terms of importance as far as ranking in Google is concerned. Trust Flow

I truly cherished perusing your online journal. It was extremely very much composed and straightforward. Not at all like different online journals I have perused Which are truly not that good.Thanks alot! credit reports from all 3 bureaus

You know your activities emerge of the group. There is something exceptional about them. It appears to me every one of them are truly splendid! tattoo supply

A human-edited listing is created and maintained by means of editors who upload hyperlinks based on the rules unique to that listing. search engine optimisation prices

Awesome! It’s genuinely awesome article, I even have got obvious idea concerning from this article.
write and essay for me

Really nice and interesting post. I was looking for this kind of information and enjoyed reading this one.
voyance amour gratuite

You have made an incredible showing on this article. It's exceptionally comprehensible and exceedingly wise. You have even figured out how to make it justifiable and simple to peruse. You have some genuine composition ability. Much obliged to you. free walking tour Stockholm

I want to say many more thanks for providing instructive and qualitative stuff here.
business furniture

You have to waste less time to search your obligatory matter on web, because these days the searching ways of search engines are nice. That's why I found this article at this point.
hqessays.com

Check out this video. Very funny. But also a great idea. Knowunder

Nice to be visiting your blog again, it has been months for me. Well this article that i’ve been waited for so long. I need this article to complete my assignment in the college, and it has same topic with your article. Thanks, great share. Dwayne Corbitt

The latest models of luxurious vehicles are the part of our fleet.We provides affordable (MSP) Airport Limousine Services for business, frequent travelers and families. MSP Airport Car Service

Pleasant post, stay aware of this fascinating work. It is a pleasure to see that this subject is being secured likewise on this site so cheers for setting aside time to talk about this! Real Estate Agents Maryland

It's really nice and meanful. it's really cool blog. Linking is very useful thing.you have really helped lots of people who visit blog and provide them usefull information. real estate newcastle