The Whistleblower No. 6: Andrew Luck Doesn’t Put Out His Own Fires

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It’s been a while since The Whistleblower last made his appearance. If I ever hit the lottery I would do nothing but write articles like this at my leisure, but for now we’ll settle for periodic outbursts of statistical shaming.

In NFL circles, Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady is the all-time quarterback debate, and Matt Ryan vs. Joe Flacco is one that rages on in only the darkest corners of the internet. Somewhere in between, there’s a growing Andrew Luck vs. Russell Wilson war with the basis for comparison being the 74 picks that came between them in the 2012 draft.

For today, I don’t care about Russell Wilson.

This Rolling Stone article about Luck, written by what I am led to believe is a Seahawks fan, was brought to my attention. The article links to Luck’s fourth-quarter comebacks at PFR, which is of course my personal addition to the site, but like with any other general counting stat, there’s a lot of context missing.

The author especially misses this context when he makes the mistake of assuming “Luck has often had to fail in order to set himself up for success.” Using the comeback win against Kansas City in the playoffs is one of the worst examples anyone could make.

“Take that win over Kansas City. The same game that had many saying that Luck had “arrived” also happened to be a game in which he threw three interceptions. Indianapolis came back from a 38-10 deficit largely because of Luck, but how quickly we forget that he also had something to do with his team being down 28 points in the first place: Two of his three picks led to scoring drives by the Chiefs.”

He didn’t mention one of Luck’s interceptions was really a bad-luck drop by T.Y. Hilton, but forget that. What about the fact that Luck was down 24-7 and to that point had completed 7-of-9 passes for 74 yards and a touchdown? Both incompletions were a direct result of pressure in the pocket. Luck didn’t make a mistake and still trailed by three scores, which is usually a recipe for a loss, especially in the postseason. Any later turnovers are rather irrelevant to the story, and not just because he rallied them back to a win. If you’re trying to pinpoint the reason the Colts were down big so fast, the obvious answer was a defense unable to stop Alex f’n Smith.

Luck didn’t set that fire, but he put it out with 45 points, 483 yards of offense, a memorable fumble recovery and a dagger throw for the game-winner.

So that made me whip up a table. Luck has led the Colts to wins after trailing by double-digits seven times in the last two years, which is remarkable. Somehow, Luck is 7-9 (.438) when trailing by 12+ points compared to a league average win percentage of about 10 percent.

Whether a team is down 14-0 early or 28-14 late, they still had to come back from a two-score deficit to win the game. I wanted to see what Luck had done up to the initial point in which he needed a two-score rally to get the win. Does he really put the Colts behind with poor play only to get the credit for bailing them out later?

Does Andrew Luck put out his own fires or not?

I included Success Rate (SucRate), just so we’re not crediting the QB for completing a 2-yard pass on 3rd-and-10. A “successful play” gains 45 percent of needed yards on first down (40 percent for runs), 60 percent on second down and 100 percent on third/fourth down. I also included the number of drives Luck engineered in the game to that point along with the time remaining when the Colts first trailed by double digits.

Luck7CB

The success rate could be better, but those numbers don’t look too bad for the quarterback, who barely had the ball before facing a big deficit. That’s 7.62 YPA and a very low sack rate with just one turnover. One. Those numbers actually should be zero interceptions and three sacks. In the 2012 game against Tennessee, officials blew the replay on a sack (knee was down) that Luck tried to get rid of the ball on, and that became a pick-six. So the only turnover actually shouldn’t have even counted.

We also can see that in the last three games, Luck trailed by multiple scores despite not throwing more than two incompletions. That sounds like a defense getting burned to me. In all three games the defense allowed a game-opening touchdown drive.

It’s a legitimate stance that Luck carries a flawed team to victory. The Rolling Stone article continues with this gem:

If Andrew Luck is great because he has to keep bailing his team out every week, then that’s not a very good reason for being known as “great.”

Well, when you’re not the main reason they need bailed out, then why not? Great quarterbacks elevate their teams and Luck has been doing that since he was a rookie. How else can the Colts be 22-10 the last two years with suspect coaching, a porous offensive line, an insignificant running game and a sieve for a defense?

Evidence that Luck starts these early deficits is lacking, but there’s plenty of evidence that he’s responsible for finishing the comebacks.

I don’t expect Luck to continue pulling out these wins with regularity, but as long as Trent Richardson is chugging along at 2.9 yards per carry, expect to see more early big deficits for the Colts. We can also expect to see more ill-contrived articles blaming Luck for each triumph.

When boy sets fire God knows you’ve lost at a cost that has no price when you’ve purchased guilt.

— Coheed and Cambria, Junesong Provision

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The Whistleblower No. 5 – Peyton Manning in Most Overrated Colts, a NFL.com Hack and Adam Rank

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It’s been too long since we’ve heard from The Whistleblower, but it’s June, and this is the time of year for inane arguments after nearly five months without football.

This week there was an article posted on NFL.com by mystery hack Sean Neumann about the most overrated and underrated players for the Indianapolis Colts. I only called him a hack. His own Twitter claims “The worst writer in the history of the world.”

In an obvious attempt to generate views, Neumann included Peyton Manning on the most overrated list. He’s entitled to that opinion, but read his putrid reasoning:

“This is not to troll anyone, but the hand wringing over whether he should stay or go was pretty much pointless. That’s why he’s on this list. Not because he kept losing to New England in bad weather. Not because Brady always seemed to have his number. And certainly not because he has happy feet and always seemed to make a really bad throw in the fourth quarter. No, it’s because when you have a chance to draft Andrew Luck and hit the reset button on your franchise instead of letting your veteran ride off into the sunset while you surround him with less-talented spare parts, you do it and never look back.”

We’ll just blow the whistle on the part in bold. Anyone can have an opinion, but don’t make it invalid with pathetic reasoning.

The “always seemed to make a really bad throw in the fourth quarter” is the same case of perception owning reality that continues to be the crutch for the lazy. The link actually goes to the 2010 game between the Colts and Patriots when Manning threw a game-ending interception with the Colts in field goal range in a 31-28 game. Manning was hit as he threw and the ball sailed.

Never mind that on the previous drive with a chance to end the game in the four-minute offense, Tom Brady threw a third-down pass directly to Colts linebacker Tyjuan Hagler, who dropped the interception. Does that ring a bell?

Want the facts?

  • Fourth quarter or overtime, down by 0-8 points in the playoffs: Brady and Manning have each thrown TWO interceptions in this situation.
  • Fourth quarter or overtime, down by 0-16 points in the playoffs: Brady has thrown FIVE interceptions compared to THREE for Manning.
  • Fourth quarter or overtime, down by 0-8 points: In 13 head-to-head meetings, Brady has thrown FOUR interceptions in this situation. Peyton Manning has thrown ONE interception (that 2010 game) and lost ONE fumble (2007).

So where does the perception come from? Of course. One player won three Super Bowls many moons ago. The other took nine years to win one. Same old crap.

If that article’s text wasn’t bad enough, included at the top is a video where NFL Network’s Adam Rank and Dave Dameshek discuss the topic. When it comes to the overrated choice, they both only talk about Manning.

Dameshek gets it started with the playoff losses where “Manning threw a lot of big-time interceptions.” The old comparison to the Atlanta Braves comes up next.

But then pops in Rank with the “he beat Rex Grossman!” argument. Fair enough, but one of the biggest double standards used for today’s NFL quarterbacks is the 2006 Rex Grossman argument. So Manning only beat Grossman, yet it’s completely okay that Drew Brees LOST BY 25 POINTS TO GROSSMAN? You know Brees, the quarterback who beat Manning in Super Bowl XLIV and gets a lot of credit for his playoff performances which have often been great outside of said Grossman loss? Brees has also only made the playoffs five times in 12 NFL seasons.

You could mention the 2006 Colts were the only team to ever beat the top three defenses in the same postseason, but let’s stick with Grossman.

Frankly, I could have skipped all this nonsense and just got right down to the meat, the finale of the video.

Rank: “When you talk about big-time game-crippling interceptions, that’s Peyton Manning’s specialty.”

I’m not on TV, I have no desire to be on TV. I write (or type at 110 WPM) print media that I hope people find useful in their enjoyment of the game. So when I see bullshit like this being spoon-fed to the masses, I can’t help but say something about it. That’s been a huge part of my motivation to go down this career path in the first place. I was tired of talking heads on TV who do no research and stick to flimsy narratives.

The facts need to come out somewhere.

Where does the evidence for what Rank said even come from? Oh yeah, he saw this one play this one game and that’s good enough. This January’s Ravens game was all he needed. Forget the other 13 seasons of data or the fact that even in that game Manning had the go-ahead touchdown pass late and the Broncos were leading in the final minute.

If you look at the stats above, it was Tom Brady who threw two huge interceptions in clutch situations in back-to-back weeks in the 2006 playoffs. There was the fourth-down play in San Diego, which he got lucky on again with the Chargers fumbling the ball. Then there was a game-ending pick to Marlin Jackson in the 2006 AFC Championship.

In that game, Manning went 80 yards in 1:17 for the game-winning touchdown. Brady had 0:54 and two timeouts left to answer. He went 34 yards and threw a season-ending pick right to Jackson.

For Manning, he never threw an interception in the playoffs in a clutch late-game situation until the Tracy Porter play in Super Bowl 44.

That was a career first, yet to someone like Rank, that’s “what he always does,” facts be damned. Fueling the fire for Rank would be the 2010 season where Manning had an unusually bad year in the clutch. He threw late interceptions against the Eagles, Patriots and Cowboys (OT).

Counting the Porter play, that’s 4 clutch interceptions in a calendar year. Yet from 2003 thru the 2009 AFC Championship, nearly a full seven seasons, Manning threw TWO clutch interceptions in losses, and both were Hail Mary throws in the final seconds of games (2003 Jacksonville, 2007 San Diego).

If you only focus on the Porter play, you ignore the best seven-year run of clutch QB play in NFL history. In that time, Manning went 29-17 (.630) at game-winning drive opportunities. Even when looking at the 17 losses you mostly find good things for Manning:

  • Four times Manning either tied the game (3) or led a go-ahead score (1) the last time he touched the ball. Defense lost the game at the gun.
  • Three times Manning watched his kicker miss with a 2-3 point deficit (2004 @NE, 2005 PIT, 2007 @SD). In the NE game, Edgerrin James also fumbled at the 1-yard line with 3:43 left.
  • Two times Manning needed a last-minute comeback against Jacksonville after putting the team ahead earlier in the fourth quarter (2003, 2004). Something similar happened against San Diego in the 2007 playoffs. His passes on third down (R.Wayne) and fourth down (D.Clark) were dropped.
  • In the classic 2003 game against New England, the Patriots made that goal-line stand to win 38-34, stuffing Edgerrin James on fourth down. In the AFC Championship rematch, even on his worst day Manning was down 21-14 with 2:01 to go. He went 0/4 with the NFL admitting they failed to call penalties on the Patriots on both third and fourth down. This led to the reinforcement of illegal contact in 2004.
  • That leaves the four worst things Manning did as being: 1. taking a sack to fall out of field-goal range against 2005 Chargers, falling to 13-1 after Michael Turner TD run ended perfect season. 2. Throwing incomplete on 4th-and-2 at the DAL 8 in 2006 with a 21-14 deficit. 3. After the defense blew a 20-10 lead against 2007 Patriots, Manning was sacked and fumbled with 2:25 left, down 24-20. 4. Down 17-14 to 2008 Titans on MNF, Manning threw incomplete on a 4th-and-2 pass. TEN scored a touchdown to go up 24-14; won 31-21.

We’re going to pretend none of this ever happened and focus on two plays?

In working my way through Fringe on Netflix, I can only think that perhaps an alternate universe really does exist. That’s the only logical explanation for why people like Rank say what they do.

If it’s not that, then maybe some people just choose to specialize in stupidity.

The Whistleblower No. 4 – Mike Mayock, the 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers and the Worst Example Ever

Since we haven’t heard from The Whisteblower in a while, here was a little gold from right before the kickoff of Thursday Night Football on NFL Network.

Mike Mayock was talking about Kansas City’s awful turnover differential (-13; it was actually -18), and said this line in regards to it:

“I don’t care if you’re the 79 Steelers, you are not winning football games turning the ball over.”

That’s fine, except Mayock could not have picked a worse example than the 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers.

The 1979 Steelers turned the ball over 52 times (worst in the league), and still went 12-4 in the regular season. They even led the league in scoring as well (416 points). Their turnover differential was -10, so it’s not like the defense balanced things out that much.

In the playoffs, the Steelers continued turning the ball over, with 8 giveaways in the three games. They still won the Super Bowl. Terry Bradshaw was Super Bowl MVP despite still throwing three interceptions in the game.

Everyone gets it. “Turnovers are bad, mmkay?” But Mayock could not have picked a worse example to make his point.

This is probably going to be the highlight of the night watching this awful game between San Diego and Kansas City.

Update 8:57 P.M.: Mayock is in a battle with the Chiefs, who just turned the ball over again, to see who can have the worst night. After the Chiefs fumbled on a third-down screen, Mayock said it wouldn’t have mattered as they would have turned the ball over on downs. No, not even thinking it was fourth down, but thinking it was third down.

Wow. What ever happened to the punt and better field position?

Update 11:01 P.M.: After a pick six by the Chiefs, Mayock went to the well for the third time on the 79 Steelers.

The Whistleblower No. 3 – Heath Evans and Simple New York Jets’ Math

Looks like The Whistleblower has the first repeat offender after Heath Evans’ latest comments on Monday’s NFL Total Access about the New York Jets’ QB situation.

After three preseason games without a single touchdown, Evans believes the Jets have the wrong QB in Mark Sanchez, and should “salvage the season, which has yet to actually start, by going with Tim Tebow.

According to Evans, “past says Tim Tebow can win football games, the past says Mark Sanchez can not.”

Whoa, Nelly! Time for a simple bit of math here. Forget the fact that Tebow’s lone playoff win, a Wild Card game over a banged up Pittsburgh team, is not better than the two AFC Championship appearances Sanchez has had. Just the regular season alone proves this to be a factually incorrect statement.

Simple math: The past says Mark Sanchez is 31-22 (.585) as a starter, while Tim Tebow is 9-7 (.563).

I know things work in reverse in the Heath Evans’ zone, such as running back carries leading to wins instead of winning leading to carries, but 58.5 percent beats 56.3 percent. At the very least, they have about the same record of winning, and both often need a lot of help to get many of their wins.

The New York Jets may very well be screwed on offense this year, but there is no secret winner on the bench ready to save the day. They need to start with the guy that at least completes over 55 percent of his passes.

After apparently having someone do the stat work for him, Heath just glossed over the actual records, and must have forgot about 2009 and 2010 for Sanchez.

Next time Heath Evans asks someone to do stat work, he can always contact The Whistleblower. I’ll save him the embarrassment of spraying “winner juice” on live TV for the wrong player.

Shout out to @SeanLDurham on Twitter for pointing out the video and comments.

Addendum: as another pet peeve, Evans mentions “QB rating” in the segment. No, not even “quarterback rating.” He said “Q-B.” It’s just passer rating, people. Why is that so hard to understand?

The Whistleblower No. 2 – Heath Evans and Buffalo Bills’ Run Defense

Just as I’m ready to get through some brutal preseason action, I hear Heath Evans on the NFL Network talking about RG3’s first drive against the Buffalo Bills. According to Evans, the Redskins gave the rookie no chances to succeed on the drive, which featured two vanilla runs and a third-down pass caught of bounds.

But The Whistleblower’s ears lit up when Evans exclaimed that the Buffalo Bills have “always been good at stopping the run.”

Which Buffalo Bills would that be? Now I’m not an avid Bills watcher, but even I know this team has been lousy against the run for years. In fact, they have been one of the very worst in the league at stopping the run.

Always good at stopping the run? Since 2009, no team has allowed more rushing yards or rushing touchdowns than Buffalo. Only Tampa Bay has allowed a higher YPC.

Come on Heath, even YOU ran for 56 yards on 10 carries against Buffalo in 2007 with the Patriots. That’s the third highest rushing game in your career.

Heath Evans, you used to be pretty good at being bald too. What gives with the hair?

The Whistleblower No. 1 – Mark Kriegel and the Most Worthless Stat in the NFL

I had my heart set on doing a weekly “Captain Comeback” column ever since December 2010. Had that idea fail, I was going to do a series called “The Whistleblower”, where I keep my eyes and ears open for media people who use significantly inaccurate and/or misleading statements in their coverage of the NFL, and then I would expose them by stating the facts.

I know, the list could be huge depending how much NFL content one is willing to digest.

It finally crossed my mind that I could use this blog as a forum for “The Whistleblower” every so often, and here is the first edition. You could print it out if you want, but I’m sure it won’t be worth anything like a Batman No. 1 would fetch.

Perhaps it’s fitting my first edition would involve the NFL Network and Dallas Cowboys. That was motivation for my first article at Football Nation a little over a year ago.

Rather than Jamie Dukes and Tony Romo, this time it’s NFL AM’s Mark Kriegel and DeMarco Murray. On Tuesday morning, Kriegel mentioned that the Cowboys need to use their workhorse back DeMarco Murray more, and cited arguably the most useless statistic in football: “the Cowboys are 5-0 when he has 20-plus carries!” Surprised he didn’t support it with “and 2-6 when he’s under 20!”

To quote Kriegel from Monday: who cares?

Does something magical happen when a running back hits 20 carries? Is this to say Murray is really valuable when he gets a lot of carries? No, it just means it’s later in the game, and his team is likely leading and trying to ice the game. I’ll prove it in a second for Murray.

Beyond Murray, there have been 194 running backs with at least 10 career games (incl. playoffs) of 20+ carries (see link here).

Of those 194 running backs, 179 of them have a winning record when they get 20+ carries. Damn, that’s a lot of valuable running backs. And I thought this was the “dime a dozen” position?

Five more have a .500 record, and only an unlucky 10 have a losing record. Most notably, Steven Jackson is 27-30 (.474). Of course the Rams are 37-91 (.289) since 2004, so it’s not like Jackson has had a great opportunity to win no matter what he runs for.

Gerald Riggs (17-25-1, .407) and James Wilder (11-23, .324) are the only other players with a losing record in 20+ games.

Know who had the best records? The immortal group of Leroy Hoard (11-0), Edgar Bennett (18-1), Rob Carpenter (18-1-1),  Mike Alstott (12-1), and Craig James (12-1).

Even Joseph Addai was 15-2 with the Colts. If only Peyton Manning delegated more of the offense to him…

And what about Murray specifically? The five teams he did it against were 26-54 (.325) for starters. The defense allowed 14.0 PPG in the wins. Romo was very good.

And when Murray hit that nice, round number of 20 carries, it was always in the second half, and all but one time with Dallas leading (often by double-digits at that).

If your team is even just average, check your running back’s record when he gets 20 carries and chances are it’s respectable. Likewise, check your QB’s record when he throws 25 passes or less. It’s the same thing. A ton of winning records, because that means the team has taken the air out of the ball and are (literally) running out the clock.

This isn’t just Murray. This isn’t just Kriegel.

It’s the general lack of NFL fans understanding carries are a product of winning, and not the other way around. That is why “RB X’s team is [insert great record] when he gets 20-plus carries” is the most worthless stat in the NFL.

The whistle has been blown. It’s time to put an end to the use of this stat.