Judging NFL QBs By The Company They Keep

Kevin C. Cox

These days, quarterbacks may get passer ratings of 100.0 or greater in a game more often than they've done in the past, but it is still a pretty impressive milestone. We take a look at how the active NFL QBs measure up against this milestone.

The NFL passer rating as we know it today was initially presented by Don Smith in 1973, then working for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and has been used ever since. The passer rating combines four different efficiency measures into one number: completion percentage, average yards per attempt, touchdown percentage, and interception percentage.

The objective in creating the passer rating was to have a single number that would differentiate between outstanding, excellent, average and poor performance. Below are the values that - at the time - denoted those performances in the passer rating.

Completion Percentage Yards per Attempt Touchdown Percentage Interception Percentage Passer Rating
Outstanding 70% 11.0 10% 1.5% 133.3
Excellent 60% 9.0 7.5% 3.5% 100.0
Average 50% 7.0 5% 5.5% 66.7
Poor 30% 3.0 0% 9.5% 0.0

 

The passer rating was implemented based on the league averages in the early 1970s, and over time, those averages have changed (e.g. nobody except Giants and Jets fans would call a 60% completion rate "excellent" anymore), as has their weight in the passer rating formula.

And while a passer rating of 100.0 may not be considered "excellent" anymore in this pass-happy era of the NFL, it is still a pretty good performance any way you look at it. And one way of looking at it is through the W/L records of QBs who had a rating above 100: Pro-Football-Reference.com shows that there are 61 active QBs in the NFL today who have thrown for a 100+ passer rating at least once in their career. The combined W/L record of those QBs in games with a 100+ rating is 820-201-2 for an impressive .801 winning percentage.

If we accept that that a 100+ rating in a game is a "pretty good", perhaps even an "excellent" performance by the QB, it follows that a QB with a lot of 100+ rating games is a pretty good, perhaps even excellent quarterback. And indeed, if you look at the active QBs with the most 100+ rating games in their career, you'll find the usual suspects at the top of the list: Peyton Manning (92 games with a 100+ rating), Tom Brady (84), and Drew Brees (73) lead all QBs in this category.

In fairness though, all three guys have been around the block a few times, and also lead all NFL QBs in number of games started with 224 (P. Manning), 175 (Brady), and 169 (Brees), so it's not a big surprise to see that the three also lead the league in 100+ rating games. So let's look at these numbers a little differently. The following table is limited to the 33 active NFL Qbs who've started at least 32 games in their career and shows the QB's W/L records in 100+ rating games and their 100+ rating games as a percentage of games started.

100+ Passer Rating Games (click on column headers to sort)

QB 100+ Passer Rating games Games Started 100+ games in %
of total games started
Win Percentage
Total W L T
Peyton Manning 92 82 10 0 224 41% .891
Tom Brady 84 79 5 0 175 48% .940
Drew Brees 73 61 12 0 169 43% .836
Philip Rivers 53 44 9 0 112 47% .830
Ben Roethlisberger 51 46 5 0 126 40% .902
Tony Romo 48 37 11 0 93 52% .771
Aaron Rodgers 47 38 9 0 78 60% .809
Matt Hasselbeck 39 31 8 0 152 26% .795
Eli Manning 37 27 10 0 135 27% .730
Matt Schaub 36 28 8 0 81 44% .778
Carson Palmer 36 21 15 0 121 30% .583
Matt Ryan 33 32 1 0 77 43% .970
Joe Flacco 31 28 3 0 80 39% .903
Michael Vick 29 19 10 0 102 28% .655
Jay Cutler 26 25 1 0 93 28% .962
Matt Cassel 20 14 6 0 62 32% .700
Jason Campbell 18 11 7 0 71 25% .611
Alex Smith 16 14 1 1 75 21% .933
Byron Leftwich 15 10 5 0 50 30% .667
Kyle Orton 15 11 4 0 69 22% .733
David Carr 15 5 10 0 79 19% .333
Matthew Stafford 14 11 3 0 44 32% .786
Charlie Batch 14 10 4 0 55 25% .714
Josh Freeman 14 11 3 0 56 25% .786
Cam Newton 12 8 4 0 32 38% .667
Mark Sanchez 12 10 2 0 62 19% .833
Ryan Fitzpatrick 12 8 4 0 67 18% .667
Andy Dalton 10 9 1 0 32 31% .900
Trent Edwards 7 6 1 0 33 21% .857
Tarvaris Jackson 7 6 1 0 34 21% .857
Sam Bradford 7 5 1 1 42 17% .833
Chad Henne 5 4 1 0 37 14% .800
Derek Anderson 5 5 0 0 43 12% 1.000

 

If you sort the table by "100+ games in % of total games started" you'll see that Aaron Rodgers throws more 100+ rating games than anybody else, and by quite a margin: His rate of 60% is eight points better than the next guy on the list, none other than Tony Romo. Romo leads a small group of QBs around the 50% mark that includes Tom Brady and Phillip Rivers.

If you judge a QB by the company he keeps, Cowboys fans should be quite happy about Tony Romo, as he is in pretty good company in this ranking. So when Tony Romo says "I'm not an 8-8 quarterback", he's not kidding.

There's a three-point drop-off from Rivers to Matt Schaub, who leads a list of seven quarterbacks through to Cam Newton, who are all tightly bunched around the 40% mark. There's another six-point drop-off after Newton to QBs who only manage a 100+ rating performance in less than a third of their starts. The list eventually peters out with QBs who only manage a 100+ rating in every fifth or even fewer games.

Sorting the table by "Win percentage" reveals some absolutely astonishing numbers: Matt Ryan and Jay Cutler have had 33 and 26 100+ rating games respectively, and have each lost only one of those games. Ryan and Cutler lead a group of QBs that includes Tom Brady, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning who are all at or above a .900 win percentage. Quite an extraordinary feat, but one that also highlights the importance of a good supporting cast on both defense and special teams that can hold the opponent in check when the own QB has a good day.

There's another group of eight QBs who have a win percentage of between .800 and .850, which is just slightly above the league average. As a group, these QBs have struggled a little more with getting defensive support.

Another nine QBs, including Tony Romo and Eli Manning, find themselves with a below average win percentage of between .700 and .799. Now if you're thinking that these are pretty impressive win percentages anyway, consider that these percentages are significantly different versus those of the top group. Take Tony Romo: if we were to apply Jay Cutler's win percentage of .962 to Romo's 37-11 W/L record, Romo's record would jump to 46-2. That's nine extra wins over the last seven years, which may have been the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs the last two years.

Here's are Romo 100+ rating games of the last two seasons:

Season Game Opponent Result Passer Rating
2011 1 @NYJ L 24-27 101.9
2011 2 @SFO W 27-24 116.4
2011 6 STL W 34-7 107.3
2011 8 SEA W 23-13 112.2
2011 9 BUF W 44-7 148.4
2011 10 @WAS W 27-24 113.8
2011 13 NYG L 34-37 141.3
2011 14 @TAM W 31-15 133.9
2012 1 @NYG W 24-17 129.5
2012 8 @ATL L 13-19 109.3
2012 9 @PHI W 38-23 122.1
2012 12 PHI W 38-33 150.5
2012 14 PIT W 27-24 111.3
2012 15 NOR L 31-34 123.8

 

All four losses here were very painful losses, and you can't help but wonder where the Cowboys would be today had they won those games. Ultimately though, it's not one player that wins and loses games. Tony Romo has more than his fair share of detractors, but going by the company he keeps in the stats above, he is at the very top of the game. Now if only the rest of the team would catch up.

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