Mythbusting with Mr. Marowni: Domes Don't Matter

Andy Lyons

On Sunday Night Football, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning became the NFL's all time leader in touchdown passes thrown, surpassing former quarterback Brett Favre's previous record of 508. In typical league fashion, when Manning breaks a record, everyone is supposed to care. Everyone and their grandmothers were cued up to give their congratulations. As much as I don't care for Peyton Manning or his inflated passing numbers, it was nice of his compatriots to take the time to say some nice words. Tom Brady was interviewed by WEEI's Dennis and Callahan the next day and the theme was Manning's new record. At the 6:45 mark of the interview, Brady was asked about the advantages for a quarterback "playing half their games in a controlled environment?" Brady responded carefully, making sure he didn't take away from Manning's accomplishment.

"I think controlled environments, like everything, there’s positives, there’s negatives," Brady said. "It’s like anything, if you play golf in a controlled environment, which most of those guys do, you’re going to have great scores. If you play golf and it’s 20 mile-an-hour winds and rainy, your scores aren’t going to be as good. But like everything, both teams play in it, and your competition is against your particular opponent. It’s not against a statistics sheet. I would say that the statistics in great conditions are typically going to be — I would say on average — better than they would be if there was really inclement weather. "

The advantages of playing in a controlled environment are controversial to say the least. There are plenty of people, such as Scott Kacsmar, that believe there isn't enough evidence to support the belief that controlled environments make it any easier to throw the football. Despite the arguments made against the supposed advantages, it was clear leading up to Super Bowl 48 that there was fear of weather playing a part in deciding the outcome of the game. Instead of just doing the work and uncovering an answer, many would rather just blindly assert whichever position supports what they wish was true. It's time to put the myth to bed for good.

Myth: Playing in a controlled environment does not give quarterbacks a significant advantage passing.

To begin, the highest league-wide passer rating in NFL history was 84.1 in 2013. I then took every quarterback with a career passer rating above 84.1 as a starting group of quarterbacks to measure. The reasoning here is that these quarterbacks, by virtue of being above the highest single season average ever, are at the very least average. I then chose Peyton Manning as the quarterback whose time-frame in the league would be used as the basis for the analysis. Using this time-frame of 1998-2013, I eliminated quarterbacks that did not spend the majority of their career in the league in these years. The quarterback must have been in the league for at least 6 years as well, leading to the latest a player could have started being 2008. This brought the list to 20 quarterbacks. (Note: Joe Flacco is included as his career passer rating eclipsed the 84.1 mark in 2014)

Player PR (2013) Seasons
Aaron Rodgers 104.9 2005-2014
Peyton Manning 97.2 1998-2014
Philip Rivers 96 2004-2014
Tony Romo 95.8 2004-2014
Tom Brady 95.7 2000-2014
Drew Brees 95.3 2001-2014
Kurt Warner 93.7 1998-2009
Ben Roethlisberger 92.6 2004-2014
Matt Ryan 90.6 2008-2014
Chad Pennington 90.1 2000-2010
Matt Schaub 89.9 2004-2014
Daunte Culpepper 87.8 1999-2009
Jeff Garcia 87.5 1999-2011
Trent Green 86 1997-2008
Carson Palmer 85.9 2004-2014
David Garrard 85.8 2002-2013
Donovan McNabb 85.6 1999-2011
Jay Cutler 84.6 2006-2014
Marc Bulger 84.4 2002-2009
Joe Flacco 83.7 2008-2014

From here, I went and broke each quarterback down by their outdoor and indoor passer ratings. The quarterbacks are in the same order as above. Quarterbacks with an (*) next to their name had a higher passer rating outdoor than indoor.

Player Outdoor Rating Indoor Rating
Aaron Rodgers 101.8 116.8
Peyton Manning 95.9 99.1
Philip Rivers* 97.1 76.3
Tony Romo 93.1 101.0
Tom Brady 95.1 104.6
Drew Brees 89.9 101.7
Kurt Warner 86.4 102.8
Ben Roethlisberger 92.1 99.4
Matt Ryan 87.0 92.8
Chad Pennington 89.0 101.7
Matt Schaub* 93.2 82.6
Daunte Culpepper 77.7 95.3
Jeff Garcia* 88.5 83.4
Trent Green* 87.1 76.1
Carson Palmer 85.3 90.9
David Garrard 84.1 108.0
Donovan McNabb 84.6 94.0
Jay Cutler 83.4 91.1
Marc Bulger 75.3 90.9
Joe Flacco 82.7 98.3

16 of the 20 quarterbacks have higher indoor passer ratings than outdoor. 16 quarterbacks have an indoor passer rating over 90. There are 7 quarterbacks with an indoor passer rating over 100, the same number of quarterbacks with an outdoor passer rating over 90. The majority of the most efficient passers in history throw better outdoors than indoor.

The retort to this is that quarterbacks that play outside the majority of the time would have the advantage of not playing in controlled environments consistently. This has some merit. The average percentage of indoor attempts of all quarterbacks was 26%. Below is a chart that shows the quarterbacks with less than 10% of their career pass attempts indoors.

Player Outdoor Rating Outdoor Attempts Indoor Rating Indoor Attempts Total Indoor %
Philip Rivers 97.1 3879 76.3 229 4108 5.60%
Joe Flacco 82.7 2907 98.3 196 3103 6.30%
Tom Brady 95.1 6128 104.6 458 6586 7.00%
David Garrard 84.1 2120 108 161 2281 7.10%
Ben Roethlisberger 92.1 4027 99.4 319 4346 7.30%
Chad Pennington 89 2255 101.7 216 2471 8.70%
Donovan McNabb 84.6 4871 94 503 5374 9.40%
Trent Green 87.1 3388 76.1 352 3740 9.40%

The numbers are more sporadic. What about for quarterbacks with more than 40% of their career attempts indoors?

Player Outdoor Rating Outdoor Attempts Indoor Rating Indoor Attempts Total Indoor %
Matt Ryan 87.0 1239 92.8 2049 3288 62.3%
Marc Bulger 75.3 1323 90.9 1848 3171 58.3%
Daunte Culpepper 77.7 1344 95.3 1855 3199 58.0%
Drew Brees 89.9 3553 101.7 3226 6779 47.6%
Peyton Manning 95.9 4644 99.1 3808 8452 45.1%
Kurt Warner 86.4 2256 102.8 1814 4070 44.6%

Unlike before, these quarterbacks of all different degrees of skill and circumstances all have higher passer ratings indoor than outdoor. It would appear that the more time a player spends indoors, the more obvious that discrepancy becomes.

Overall, how much more significant are the numbers? Here are the totals of all the quarterbacks combined, broken down by outdoor and indoor.

Completions Attempts Yards Touchdowns Interceptions
Outdoor 38107 60811 446493 2864 1610
Indoor 14200 21736 170309 1184 558

Completion % YPA TD % INT % PR
Outdoor 62.7% 7.3 4.7% 2.6% 89.6
Indoor 65.3% 7.9 5.4% 2.6% 96.6

Interceptions stay relatively the same, debunking any idea that these quarterbacks will turn the ball over more outdoors than indoors. Completion percentage, yards per attempt, and touchdown percentage are significantly higher. Add it all up, and the combined passer rating is a ludicrous 7 points higher. Playing in a controlled environment clearly provides a superior statistical advantage. The myth that playing in a controlled environment does not provide an advantage to quarterbacks has been busted.

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