Quarterbacks and Forty Pass Attempts

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One of the most difficult aspects of football is determining the value of a single player. Football is one of the most team oriented sports, in which every player plays a significant role in the success of a team.

Quarterbacks play the biggest role on their team. Unless there is a direct snap to a wide receiver or running back, the quarterback will touch the ball on literally every offensive play. A quarterback’s presence is felt on almost every offensive play in a team’s seasons.

The team is always on the shoulders of the quarterback, but what determines how much burden they have? A recent study showed the winning percentage of quarterbacks when they threw the ball at least 40 times in a game. Here are the results.

Winning % #of games with 40+ attempts
Tom Brady .648 91
Dan Marino .500 60
Peyton Manning .484 95
Joe Montana .464 28
Tony Romo .393 28
Andrew Luck .390 41
Brett Favre .384 78
Drew Brees .368 117
Aaron Rodgers .365 48
Ben Roethlisberger .341 63
Matt Ryan .310 58
Eli Manning .299 67
Philip Rivers .269 52
Russell Wilson .222 9
Cam Newton .206 17

Quarterbacks and Forty Attempts

Why Throw So Much

The most obvious reason that a quarterback would tally up 40 pass attempts in a game is because his team is down. Usually, once there is a comfortable lead, the leading team will favor running the ball in order to keep the clock rolling. There is a much higher chance of the clock continuing to roll when a team runs the ball vs passing it.

For example, in this season’s Week One win against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Kansas City Chiefs passed the ball 22 times in the first half vs 11 in the second. Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes was on pace to break the NFL quarterback passing yards record after the first half. Instead of chasing records however, the coaching staff decided to play more conservative in the second half and grant the Jacksonville offense the least amount of time as possible on the field.

Despite this common footballing philosophy, there are a lot of quarterbacks on this list with high winning percentages. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger have played on winning teams for most of their careers, and Drew Brees is up there too. This brings up the second reason why quarterbacks would have forty pass attempts: they’re the best player on the field and the ball should be in their hands. If one of these quarterbacks is dissecting the opposing defense and building a lead, what reason is there to stop the onslaught? Fear of an interception is not reason enough to not continue the punishment from the air especially when dealing with elite quarterbacks who make less mistakes than others.

On Their Shoulders

In simple terms, this chart shows how successful a team is when their quarterback consistently has to throw the ball. The results aren’t close when comparing the very top to the rest. Tom Brady has an almost fifteen percent edge in winning percentage than the next best quarterback, Dan Marino. There are three quarterbacks that should be looked at intently from this list and that first quarterback is Marino. In an era where throwing the ball so many times wasn’t normal, Marino was doing just that. Joe Montana, who many consider to be the best QB of that era, didn’t even reach half of the number of games that Marino did with forty pass attempts. Marino was also able to win exactly half of those games, which is even more impressive.

Andrew Luck is a quarterback that has fallen victim to bad teams, like Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees. In such a short time, the recently retired Luck played 41 games where he threw forty passes and still has a higher win percentage in those games than Super Bowl winners like Eli, Roethlisberger and Brees. Luck’s career will always be looked at as what could have been, and how far up the ranking of these elite quarterbacks he could have ended.

Finally, Russell Wilson has an interesting place on this list. Wilson is viewed as one of the most clutch quarterbacks in the NFL right now, however, he only has nine games with forty pass attempts. Compare this to Luck, because they were drafted in the same year, and Wilson’s win percentage with forty attempts is much lower, but the sample size is smaller as well.

There are two reasons that Wilson would have less games with 40 attempts. The first is that the coaching staff prefers to keep the ball on the ground more than other coaches, which is true. The Seahawks run the ball more than many other franchises, they consistently remain on the top of rushing attempts per year. However, another reason for that is that Russell Wilson runs the ball a lot himself. With an average of almost six rushing attempts per game, Wilson often opts to tuck the ball and use his legs rather than throw down the field.

Eliminate Excuses

When these numbers were posted on social media, the fingers pointed to the teams that Brady has played with versus every other quarterback on the list. The popular opinion is that Tom Brady’s teams were many steps better than everyone else’s. Playing from the lead is a lot easier than playing from behind, but unfortunately for naysayers, Tom Brady plays from behind a lot too.

This may be a shock to some, but the New England Patriots are not always outscoring their opponents. Tom Brady has the second most fourth quarter comeback wins in NFL history. In order for Brady to be that high on the fourth-quarter comeback list, the Patriots have naturally found themselves behind in plenty of games. In a similar study, it was found that Tom Brady has passed the ball 50 times in a game 28 times, more than anyone else. He has the highest winning percentage and also, for the naysayers, he was down in every single one of those games.

The All-Time Greats

Every quarterback on this list has had the unfortunate circumstance of being down on the scoreboard. Some quarterbacks are better at coming back and carrying their teams to victory. Tom Brady has proven himself time and again that he is the best at it. The second level of quarterbacks include Manning, Marino, Brees, Montana and Favre. Everyone else falls to a third tier of the greats.

The chart above has a lot of likeness to the many all-time lists of quarterbacks that NFL fans make and read. Trust these numbers, most of the quarterbacks on this list are the very best at what they were asked to do, throw the ball.

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