Some Clarification is in Order: "Clutch" Part 3: Improvement

How does Peyton Manning stack up when we compare how quarterbacks played in different quarters. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

In the last two installments of my study of the clutch we've covered two topics so far:

- How do fans, players and coaches view the clutch
- Which quarterbacks did the best when behind in the 4th

Today we'll be looking at the 3rd part of this series, the 2nd dealing with trying to narrow down who is clutch. In this statistical side of this study, here is what we'll be looking at:

  • 4th quarter comebacks
    - This one is most commonly associated with clutch, and while not perfect, should be included in any study
  • Improvement in the 4th quarter over the first three quarters (This is today's topic)
    - As mentioned above the 4th quarter is tied to the term clutch, and the level of play of a quarterback in the 4th compared to the first three should be looked at.
  • Performance on 3rd down (Next time)
    - How a player performs on a 3rd down is key, and is one of the most pressure-filled situations in game.
  • Playoff numbers compared to regular season
    - This one is important because each game in the playoffs is high pressure, and improvement under these circumstances are a good sign.

Well be looking to see how different quarterbacks played in the first 3 quarters compared to the 4th quarter. We'll also be discussing whether this is a relevant topic related to the clutch and whether 4th quarter play only matters when you are behind.

The Importance of the 4th Quarter:

Like has been discussed in the past two segments, few dispute the importance of play in the 4th quarter when it comes to judging a players "clutchness." The real dispute is the difference between the two "4th quarters," the one where the team is ahead and the quarterback is nursing the lead and the other where the quarterback is behind and playing catch up. Most would see the second option (playing catchup) as the most clutch option of the two and look to those stats to see if that quarterback is clutch. But after interviewing players and coaches, as well as surveying fans, I feel there are some key flaws to this. The first is that most coaches view a player playing well while ahead just as clutch as playing catchup. Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith presented it like this:

When a player is playing from ahead and throws an interception, he has just choked in people's mind, so it's possible to choke when ahead but you can't be clutch when ahead, that's illogical. To choke is the opposite of being clutch, so you can only choke when you are in a situation to be clutch.

Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said something similar, saying that a player who will not make mistakes in the 4th is just as important as playing catch up:

The value of a player who can play smart and not make mistakes when the game is on the line is equal to that of a player who can try and play from behind, make big plays and bring us back. If we have a win in the bag and our quarterback or running back make a mistake, turning the ball over, it could cost us the game, so the value of a player who can hold that win is incredible.

With that being said, along with other information I gained from this study, both from interviews as well as metrics like Win Probability Added used by ESPN and Advanced NFL Stats, I came to the conclusion that only including 4th quarter stats when behind stain the basis of the study and miss some key points about the nature of clutch.

Now having said that, there were other reasons for not limiting this part of the study to only being behind. The first being that often times fans will have issue with the idea of "garbage time" compared to "clutch time" despite the issue in identifying which is which till after the game is over. Add in it would be impossible to identify, separate and organize all those numbers in any reasonable manner. Now I know some may not agree with this decision, and that's fine, actually I would love to hear why, the whole point of this series is to inspire conversation and debate.

The Table:

As with last time I'll be using the same list of all-time greats along with a few young guns and players who are connected to the Broncos. So in this table we'll be comparing a quarterbacks play through the first three quarters and then look at their play in the 4th and then we'll compare them. Here are the categories we'll be looking at and the title it will be displayed on the table will be in ():

- The quarterbacks passer rating (Rating)
- Yards per pass attempt (Y/A)
- Passing completion percentage (Comp. %)
- Touchdown (both passing and rushing) percentage (TD %)
- Turnover (interception and fumble) percentage (TO %)

Note: Sadly there just isn't accurate data on a number of quarterbacks who have been out of the league for a while so there will be dashes through the areas for which we have no data. And while there may be no data for those quarterbacks, I included them in this table to keep continuity throughout this series. Please remember that this includes both rushing and passing statistics so it includes rushing and passing touchdowns as well as including fumbles into the formula

Name Rating Y/A Comp. % TD % TO % Rating Y/A Comp. % TD % TO % Rating Y/A Comp. % TD % TO %

Quarters 1-3 Quarter 4 Difference
Manning, P 97.0 7.8 65.6% 5.6% 2.7% 89.6 7.2 63.0% 5.2% 3.2% -7.4 -0.6 -2.6% -0.4% -0.5%
Marino 81.9 7.1 60.3% 4.5% 2.9% 85.5 7.1 61.1% 4.6% 3.2% 3.6 0.0 0.8% 0.1% -0.3%
Elway 89.3 7.4 59.1% 5.0% 3.3% 86.3 7.1 60.3% 4.8% 3.4% -3.0 -0.3 1.2% -0.2% -0.1%
Favre 89.3 7.3 62.5% 5.1% 3.5% 81.5 6.9 60.7% 5.8% 4.3% -7.8 -0.4 -1.8% 0.7% -0.8%
Testaverde 80.1 6.9 59.4% 4.2% 3.8% 78.8 6.8 56.8% 4.5% 4.4% -1.3 -0.1 -2.6% 0.3% -0.6%
Tarkenton - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Unitas - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Montana 93 6.6 62.1% 3.7% 2.5% 91.5 7.1 64.3% 3.4% 2.5% -1.6 0.5 2.2% -0.3% 0.0%
Moon 82.9 6.9 60.3% 4.2% 3.5% 78.5 6.5 57.1% 3.6% 3.4% -4.4 -0.4 -3.2% -0.6% 0.1%
Bledsoe 78.9 6.8 59.1% 5.9% 5.8% 73.7 6.3 54.0% 4.1% 3.2% -5.2 -0.5 -5.1% -1.8% 2.6%
Kelly 89.8 6.9 60.3% 5.3% 4.0% 71. 6.9 59.7% 5.1% 4.8% -18.6 0.0 -0.6% -0.2% -0.8%
Fouts - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Brady 97.4 7.6 64.8% 5.7% 3.4% 91.0 7.0 61.0% 5.5% 3.2% -6.4 -0.6 -3.8% -0.2% 0.2%
Roethlisberger 94.2 8.2 63.7% 5.6% 3.8% 86.2 7.7 62.0% 4.1% 3.7% -8.0 -0.5 -1.7% -1.5% 0.1%
Brees 95.1 7.4 66.7% 5.0% 2.8% 87.4 7.2 62.8% 4.6% 3.5% -7.7 -0.2 -3.9% -0.4% -0.7%
Starr - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
McNabb 86.6 7.1 59.3% 4.7% 2.8% 82.1 6.3 57.8% 4.1% 2.2% -4.5 -0.8 -1.5% -0.6% 0-6%
Manning, E 81.0 6.9 58.3% 4.5% 3.8% 84.9 7.2 59.3% 5.6% 3.7% 3.9 0.3 1.0% 1.1% 0.1%
Stabler - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Namath - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Griese, B - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Bradshaw - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Aikman 82.5 6.9 61.0% 3.5% 3.0% 79.7 7.0 60.9% 3.2% 3.3% -2.8 0.1 -0.1% -0.3% -0.3%
Dilfer 74.7 6.8 57.3% 3.7% 3.7% 56.2 5.4 50.1% 3.1% 4.0% -18.5 -1.4 -7.2% -0.6% -0.3%
Romo 93.0 7.7 64.5% 5.3% 3.2% 100.4 8.7 63.1% 5.7% 3.2 7.4 1.0 -1.4% 0.4% 0.0
Staubach - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Young, S 100.2 8.0 66.3% 6.8% 2.9% 97.1 7.4 65.4% 5.8% 1.6% -3.1 -0.6 -0.9% -1.0% 1.3%
Rivers 95.8 8.1 64.3% 5.0% 3.0% 93.8 7.7 61.5% 5.5% 3.8% -2.0 -0.4 -2.8% 0.5% -0.8%
Cutler 86.6 7.5 62.4% 4.6% 3.7% 76.8 6.6 57.4% 7.8% 7.5% -9.8 -0.9 -5.0% 3.2% -3.8%
Ryan 89.0 7.2 61.4% 4.4% 2.6% 80.6 6.5 59.7% 4.4% 2.9% -8.4 -0.7 -1.7% 0.0% -0.3%
Sanchez 76.6 6.6 58.9% 4.4% 3.5% 63.2 6.4 49.4% 3.8% 4.0% -13.4 -0.2 -9.5% -0.6% -0.5%
Smith, A 76.3 6.6 58.9% 3.3% 3.5% 71.4 6.1 56.1% 4.0% 3.7% -4.9 -0.5 -2.8% 0.7% -0.2%
Freeman 75.8 6.7 59.8% 3.3% 3.2% 82.3 6.9 62.1% 5.3% 4.3% 6.5 0.2 2.3% 2.0% -1.1%
Warner 94.2 8.0 66.0% 5.1% 4.2% 91.9 7.8 63.7% 4.6% 3.8% -2.3 -0.2 -2.3% -0.5% 0.4%
Orton 80.6 6.5 58.5% 3.9% 3.0% 77.3 6.8 58.0% 3.8% 3.9% -3.3 0.3 -0.5% -0.1% -0.9%
Tebow 64.7 4.9 40.1% 4.0% 2.7% 82.9 7.9 52.0% 5.2% 2.9% 18.2 3.0 11.9% 1.% -0.2%
Dalton 90.0 6.6 61.0% 4.5% 2.4% 59.4 6.4 50.0% 3.9% 4.8% -30.6 -0.2 -11.05 -0.6% -2.4%
Rodgers 106.6 8.4 66.7% 5.9% 1.8% 96.2 7.7 62.9% 6.9% 2.4% -10.4 -0.7 -3.8% 1.0% -0.6%
Skelton 53.3 5.5 49.6% 2.9% 4.2% 89.3 8.0 57.3% 4.8% 2.4% 36.0 2.5 7.7% 1.9% 1.8%
Graham - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Notes and Thoughts:

- While it seems like guys like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Steve Young seem to get worse in the 4th, the reason is because they are so good early it's hard to improve. This also explains why quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow and John Skelton see such improvement in the 4th, when you are bad in the first three quarters, it's not hard to improve your production in the 4th.

-There are a few quarterbacks are that great in all 4th quarters, seeing only minor drop off between quarters. These include Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre and Jay Cutler.

- Some quarterbacks saw some big drop off though in the 4th, such as Drew Bledsoe, Joe Namath, and Andy Dalton.

As I said last time, this may not be for everyone since there are those who believe clutch isn't connected to the 4th quarter or any other metric or measurement, which is fine, the idea of clutch is one hotly debated with no real correct answers, but for those who do tie the idea of clutch to the 4th quarter, I hope this was educational.

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