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Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning: Who's the Best? - Part II

Brady vs. Manning
Who Is the Better QB and Why?

In Part II of "Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning: Who's Better and Why?", we look at the two quarterbacks' supporting skill position casts during the respective tenures.

One argument Colts fans love to use is the quality of New England's defense, generally considered far better than Indy's (though they choose not to breakdown the run defense vs. the pass defense). But when the statistics we discussed in Part I are considered, they employ selective amnesia and appear oblivious to the top-notch quality of the other skill position players on the Indy offense.

Check out the following chart of running backs, wide receivers and tight ends that have played with Brady and Manning. (Note: We're looking at players who had significant roles, not every player on each roster.)

The Supporting Skill Positions

Brady Manning
Running Back Antowain Smith (2001-2003)
Corey Dillon (2004-2006)
Laurence Maroney (2006)
Kevin Faulk (2001-2006)
Patrick Pass (2001-2006)
J.R. Redmond (2001-2002)
Larry Centers (2003)
Mike Cloud (2003-2004)
Cedric Cobbs (2004)
Amos Zereoue (2005)
Marshall Faulk (1998)
Edgerrin James (1999-2005)
Dominic Rhodes (2001-2006)
Joseph Addai (2006)
Wide Receiver Troy Brown (2001-2006)
Deion Branch (2002-2005)
Reche Caldwell (2006)
Brandon "Bam" Childress (2005-2006)
Fred Coleman (2001-2002)
Andre Davis (2005)
Tim Dwight (2005)
Jabar Gaffney (2006)
David Givens (2002-2005)
Terry Glenn (2001 (3 games))
Donald Hayes (2002)
Chad Jackson (2006)
Bethel Johnson (2003-2005)
David Patten (2001-2004)
J.J. Stokes (2003)
Dedric Ward (2003)
This isn't even a complete
list of Patriots receivers.
Marvin Harrison (1998-2006)
Jerome Pathon (1998-2001)
Reggie Wayne (2001-2006)
Brandon Stokley (2003-2005)
E.C. Green (1998-1999)
Terrance Wilkins (1999-2001)
Torrance Small (1998)
Qadry Ismail (2002)
Tight End Jermaine Wiggins (2001)
Rod Rutledge (2001)
Cameron Cleeland (2002)
Christian Fauria (2002-2005)
Daniel Graham (2002-2006)
Ben Watson (2004-2006)
David Thomas (2006)
Ken Dilger (1998-2001)
Marcus Pollard (1998-2004)
Dallas Clark (2003-2006)
Ben Utecht (2006)

Anything jump out at you?

How about that in three fewer full seasons, Brady has had nearly twice as many players in key roles around him? The talent level of the Patriots players also dramatically pales compared to the talent level of the Colts players.

The Running Backs

In 2001, Tom Brady's first year, he had the triumvirate of Antowain Smith, Kevin Faulk and J.R. Redmond. No one would ever confuse Smith with a premiere back, and Faulk was (and remains) a third-down, change-of-pace, out-of-the-backfield back. Redmond never excelled. Yet, New England won the first of their three Super Bowls with Brady leading a last-minute streak down the field -- all passes under tremendous defensive pressure (not to mention psychological pressure) -- to set up the game-winning kick. Contrary to popular (read "Colts fans") belief, the Patriots defense played no part in the final drive.

Miraculously, Smith was still around in 2003 for the Patriots second Super Bowl win, flying in the face of conventional wisdom (at the time) that you need a premiere running back to win a Super Bowl. In fact, the Patriots backfield remained pretty much the same, but for Redmond being replaced by a combination of Larry Centers and Mike Cloud. If you remember, that was a 32-29 game, and it's difficult to assert that defense won that game. Brady was 32 of 48 for 354 yards, 3 touchdowns and an interception.

The following Super Bowl year, Smith was finally replaced with what many considered a washed-up, trouble-making Corey Dillon, and Centers was gone. Disappointing Mike Cloud remained and Cedric Cobbs came aboard. Pretty impressive, huh? Well, Dillon had a phenomenal season. The Super Bowl XXXIX win was truly an all-around team effort, and Brady was edged out for his third Super Bowl MVP trophy by Deion Branch who tied a Super Bowl record by catching 11 of Brady's 23 completions (33 attempts, 236 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs).

Since then, Dillon has faded, Cobbs disappeared, Amos Zereoue came and went, and last year's rookie Laurence Maroney spent a little too much time on the bench. Yet, the Patriots came within a play of reaching (and very likely winning) their fourth Super Bowl in six years.

In Indy, Manning had Marshall Faulk, one of the great backs of the last decade, his first season. While Faulk skipped town and led St. Louis to a Super Bowl win (nearly two, but for New England), Manning was devastated when Faulk was replaced with .. Edgerrin James, one of the most hyped and promising backs -- and a spectacular one until he was injured in 2001. Fortunately, they had Dominic Rhodes to take up the slack.

When James, a shell of his former self, finally packed his bags, the Colts landed another highly prized draftee in Joseph Addai. With the pair of Addai and Rhodes, Manning and the Colts finally broke through in another total team Super Bowl effort that is perhaps neck-and-neck with the 2004 Patriots.

But that's it. Manning has had four primary running backs in nine seasons. Brady has had 10 in six seasons. And the talent level (outside of one great year from Dillon) aren't comparable at all.

The Wide Receivers

There's no chance I'm going to recap the litany of receivers Brady has needed to work with. Possibly the most talented receiver he's had to date is Terry Glenn, who was too busy stroking his ego to be a teammate, and Brady had Glenn on the field just three games early in 2001. After that, Branch is the only other "premiere" (not even elite) receiver Brady has ever had. Branch was only Seattle's No. 2 receiver last season.

Even the best of the rest -- Troy Brown, David Givens, Bethel Johnson, David Patten -- most of them wouldn't even be starters on other teams. Yet, Brady has thrown to all of them, made most of them integral to the success of the Patriots offense.

AP Photo

Just last year, with virtually a completely new receiving corps of castoffs and has-beens, Brady worked insanely hard until the hither-and-thither individuals came together into a semi-cohesive unit. And had not Reche Caldwell dropped two wide-open passes to the numbers, we probably wouldn't have been invaded by Colts fans the last couple days.

The only receiver who has been on the team all of Brady's years is Brown, and he had to be reallocated to defensive back for much of the Patriots 2004 Super Bowl run. The next two longest-tenured receivers in Brady's reign have been Patten (2001-4) and Givens and Branch (both 2002-05).

Meanwhile, Manning has had seven primary receivers, and that's being generous. Perennial Pro Bowler Marvin Harrison has been there since the beginning and has been Manning's No. 1 target since the middle of that first season. Brady has never even sniffed such a close relationship with a receiver in his career.

Otherwise, the Colts transitioned smoothly from Jerome Pathon to Reggie Wayne, who have been Manning's No. 2 target his entire career. Brandon Stokley was generally an afterthought and few people remember the rest. Of course, they never got the ball that much.

I saw a question: Is Harrison great because of Manning, or is Manning great because of Harrison?

You'd have to think that was a joke. Harrison is tall, fast and extraordinarily talented. Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Either would be among the greats without the other (assuming Harrison had at least a better than average quarterback, if not Manning).

Harrison has more than tripled the next closest Colts receiver for the season in receptions on more than one occasion. I don't think you can attribute that simply to Manning. Same with Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. They were exception without each other; together they were nearly unstoppable. Brady has never had the benefit of a talent like Harrison.

Brady has never really had the benefit of talents on the level of Pathon or Wayne either, and he certainly has never had someone like Harrison and someone like Pathon or Wayne.

What If .. ?

It's been said more than once that "Brady makes receivers." Guys who some pundits believe don't belong in the league. Yet they're successful with Brady. What underachieving receiver has Manning taken under his wing to make a viable offensive threat?

To put it a different way, what do you think Manning would have done in 2006 with Caldwell, Bam Childress, Jabar Gaffney, Brown and oft-injured rookie Chad Jackson? All but Brown playing their first seasons with Manning?

Brady had them within a single play of the Super Bowl.

Prior to the season, the "experts" said the receiving corps was the Patriots weak link. They said the dynasty was dead, the Patriots barely had a chance at the playoffs, much less the Super Bowl. And Brady would have his worst year.

But Brady finished 7th in passing yards, 4th in touchdowns and 9th in rating. Stellar? No, but far from awful; far better than (almost) anyone expected.

Really, what would Manning do in that situation? Strange receivers. Second-rate receivers.

All we have to judge are Manning's Pro Bowl appearances, where the receivers are strange to him -- but they're the best in the league. And the defenses, while composed of the best defenders, are similarly unfamiliar with each other, and there are a lot of blown coverages. The latter led to this year's Pro Bowl and Manning's hook-up with .. oh, wait, Marvin Harrison -- not exactly unfamiliar with him. But otherwise? Manning's been awful in Pro Bowls.

How good would Manning be in the same situation? Look at his Pro Bowl performances. In those games he has the best receivers in the league, but they're not all familiar with each other. And the defenses, while composed of the best defenders, are similarly unfamiliar with each other, and there's a lot of blown coverages. But Pro Bowls have not been Manning's forte. Far from it.

The Tight Ends

Then there are the tight ends. Once again, Manning has had just a handful. With Ken Dilger and Marcus Pollard playing with Manning from 1998 to 2001. Dilger left in 2002, replaced partly with Jermaine Wiggins, who had moderate success with Brady, but none with Manning. The next two years, it was Pollard and Dallas Clark, and when Pollard left, it was Ben Utecht (although Utecht was virtually anonymous his first season). Smooth transitions among few key players.

Brady was subject to more of the same. Wiggins and Rod Rutledge in 2001. Three different tight ends (Cam Cleeland, Christian Fauria and Daniel Graham) in 2002. In 2004, with the addition of Ben Watson, tight end possibly became the strongest skill position offensive unit. But, overall, no one can argue that Brady's tight ends have had the consistency and talent-level as Manning's.

Other Supporting Players

While insultingly not considered among "skill players," offensive linemen are the foundation of any team's offensive scheme. Colts tackle Tarik Glenn and center Jeff Saturday have both made several Pro Bowls over the last few years.

New England's Matt Light had to wait for others to drop out to get invited to the Pro Bowl. Yet, he's the first New England offensive linemen to go to the Pro Bowl since Bruce Armstrong in the 1997 season's game. The last Patriots lineman elected was Damien Woody in 2002. So, you could say Brady has thrived despite not having the best offensive linemen.

In fact, the very offensive line with whom Brady won New England's first Super Bowl was often blamed for Drew Bledsoe's woes. "Experts" like Ron Borges said that the unit pulled together because Brady was young and fragile, but for some reason was unable to explain why they didn't pull together to help the guy who was allegedly the Patriots franchise player. Maybe Brady just knows a lot more about how to work with and move behind even a shaky offensive line.

Like New England's defensive backfield, the offensive line for several years was decimated with injury. Yet Brady continued to ply his craft and make do. Only recently has this unit shown signs of promise of being among the league's elite lines.

What If .. ? (Part II)

The ultimate "fantasy" question is: What would either team be like if they swapped quarterbacks?

It's impossible to answer, of course -- isn't it? There's simply no way to know. But it's mighty interesting to contemplate. Consider just 2006. Do you think Manning has a good year throwing to Caldwell, Gaffney, Watson? Do you think Brady has a good year throwing to Harrison, Wayne, Clark?

The Very Near Future

From a Patriots fan's view, it would be spectacular to see Brady hold onto Randy Moss, Donte' Stallworth and Wes Welker for three or four years (Not that I love Moss, but I'm speaking from a purely talent-sans-character perspective), so they really get to know each other and can build the kinds of relationships Manning has with Harrison and Wayne.

But let's remember, while Brady will be surrounded with much higher quality talent, they're coming together all at once in one year .. again. They have no experience together, and it will take time to "work out the kinks." This isn't like Indy where the same players have been together for several years and changes have been made piecemeal.

So is it reasonable to expect Brady, Moss, Stallworth and Welker to steamroll the league? Not really. But if it happens, would you be surprised?


Which quarterback has done the most with the least?

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    Tom Brady
    (121 votes)
  • 34%
    Peyton Manning
    (64 votes)
185 votes total Vote Now