Horse Tracks: Brady, Elway, Manning, Montana vs. top-5 defenses

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Piggy-backing on the great discussion that has been going on regarding "who is the greatest QB of all time," I've decided to add a new discussion point. Just how have these quarterbacks performed in the regular season and playoffs against a top-5 NFL defense?

Criteria is simple, if a QB faced a defense with a top-5 ranking for that season in yards or points, I logged the performance.  Each player's entire career was looked at and compiled.  We will take these results and compare them with their career numbers to discover trends.

Regular Season Career Numbers

Player

Comp

Att

%

Yards

Avg/A

TD

%

INT

%

Rate

Montana

3409

5391

63.2

40551

7.5

273

5.1

139

2.6

92.3

Brady

4178

6586

63.4

49149

7.5

359

5.5

134

2.0

95.7

Manning

5532

8452

65.5

64964

7.7

491

5.8

219

2.6

97.2

Elway

3123

7250

56.9

51475

7.1

300

4.1

226

3.1

79.9

Regular Season Numbers against a top-5 defense

Player

Comp

Att

%

Yards

Avg/A

TD

%

INT

%

Rate

Montana

759

1238

61.3

8753

7.1

60

4.8

32

2.6

88.0

Brady

1065

1688

63.1

11399

6.8

74

4.4

33

2.0

89.3

Manning

960

1532

62.6

11226

7.3

72

4.7

56

3.6

85.3

Elway

881

1612

54.7

11150

6.9

60

3.7

45

2.8

77.2

Each and every quarterback in this comparison takes a step back statistically against a top-5 defense.  In fact let's look at the differences to see how much each QB regresses.

Player

%

Avg/A

TD%

INT%

Rate

Montana

-1.9

-0.4

-0.3

0.0

-4.2

Brady

-0.3

-0.7

-1.1

0.0

-6.4

Manning

-2.9

-0.4

-1.1

-1.0

-11.9

Elway

-2.2

-0.2

-0.4

-0.3

-2.7

Manning shows the greatest drop in completion percentage with a drop of 2.9 points.  Brady's average per attempt drops almost a full yard at 0.7 yards per attempt.  Both Brady and Manning see the biggest drops in TD percentage, while Manning also sees the biggest gain in INT percentage (this is a bad thing).  Overall, Manning shows the greatest loss in overall passer rating losing 11.9 points off of his regular season career average.  Brady comes in 2nd losing 6.4 points off his career average.

Post-Season Career Numbers

Player

Comp

Att

%

Yards

Avg/A

TD

%

INT

%

Rate

Montana

460

734

62.7

5772

7.9

45

6.1

21

2.8

95.6

Brady

590

950

62.1

6424

6.7

43

4.5

22

2.3

87.5

Manning

572

889

64.3

6589

7.0

37

4.2

24

2.7

89.2

Elway

355

651

54.5

4964

7.6

27

4.1

21

3.2

79.7

Post-Season Numbers against a top-5 defense

Player

Comp

Att

%

Yards

Avg/A

TD

%

INT

%

Rate

Montana

240

395

60.1

3026

7.7

24

6.1

11

2.8

95.6

Brady

165

264

62.5

1800

6.8

11

4.2

11

4.2

79.1

Manning

301

466

64.6

3476

7.5

18

3.8

11

2.3

90.0

Elway

152

289

52.6

2246

7.7

13

4.5

8

2.8

81.8

Montana is the only QB from this list that remained almost precisely consistent against a top-5 defense in the playoffs.  Elway and Manning see some statistical improvement, while Brady drops off significantly from his career averages.

Player

%

Avg/A

TD%

INT%

Rate

Montana

-2.6

-0.2

0.0

0.0

0.0

Brady

+0.4

+0.1

-0.3

-1.9

-8.4

Manning

+0.3

+0.5

-0.4

+0.4

+0.8

Elway

-1.9

+0.1

+0.4

+0.4

+2.1

Brady and Manning show the most improvement in completion percentage, Manning improves his average per attempt by half a yard, everyone but Elway remains the same or regresses when it comes to TD percentage, and Tom Brady loses the most points on interception percentage and passer rating.

Verdict

Elway seemed to put up the same numbers no matter who he was playing.  There is not a significant change regular season or playoffs when he faced a top-5 defense.  For that, he earns the award of "Mr. Consistency."

Montana showed the same sort of consistency, but it comes through in his postseason play.  For that I'll award him the "Mr. January" award for consistent QB dominance in the playoffs.

Brady regressed in both the regular season and playoffs when facing a top-5 defense, and for that will be awarded the "Cowardly Lion" award for having no heart against tougher competition.

Manning plays worse against top-5 defenses in the regular season while managing to play better against them in the playoffs.  For his efforts, Mr. Manning has earned the "Jekyll and Hyde" award for both futility and excellence against a top-5 defense.

Does the win-loss record hold water?

Elway: 26-27 regular season, 7-3 playoffs (63 games total)

Montana: 24-15 regular season, 9-4 playoffs (52 games total)

Brady: 31-16 regular season, 5-3 playoffs (55 games total)

Manning: 22-21, regular season, 6-6 playoffs (55 games total)

More or less, that is unless you're one Tom Brady.

Player

Reg Season Record

% of Reg Season games played

Post Season Record

% of Post Season games played

Tom Brady

31-16

24.6%

5-3

31.0%

John Elway

26-27

22.6%

7-3

45.4%

Peyton Manning

22-21

17.9%

6-6

52.2%

Joe Montana

24-15

23.7%

9-4

56.5%

LOL Brady WINS!!!

Remember when I said Brady regressed in both instances when facing a top-5 defense?  Well, that didn't negatively impact his W-L record as his stellar regular season mark stays consistent.  In the postseason, though much closer, he also holds a winning record.  Notice how every other QB on this list has played close to 50% or more of their games against the best competition.  Not Brady, but you see as I've demonstrated in the past when it comes to the postseason, no matter how he plays Brady LOL wins!!!  Call it the "Belichick Factor."

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