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Brady, Brees, and Manning are so Efficient it's Scary

The Patriots offense fell off a cliff in 2013 due to insurmountable injuries. Give Tom Brady a few weapons and he's the most efficient quarterback in the league.


Which running back would you consider more impressive:

a) A running back who runs for 1200 yards on 300 carries


b) A running back who runs for 1000 yards on 200 carries

Some will say running back A. He gained more yards, would likely rank in the top 5 on the season, and would be considered a bellcow rusher.

Other would say running back B. He was clearly more productive in his fewer carries and perhaps he'd exceed running back A if given the chance.

Of course, you can't really be correct without knowing either situation.

Running back A could be 2011 Marshawn Lynch, who was basically the only viable offensive player on the Seahawks offense, where opposing defenses would just stack the boxes; gained 4 yards per carry is a tremendous feat.

Running back B could be 2007 Marion Barber, just a complementary piece facing defenses that had to account for Terrell Owens and Jason Witten on every snap, leaving plenty of space to run.

No one is actually right and it's all about personal preference. Production is valued differently by different folks and so are different players.

The same goes for quarterbacks and their offenses.

Peyton Manning lit up the league with one of the most impressive seasons in history. The Broncos exceeded the 2013 league's average scoring more than any other team in league history, including the 2007 Patriots. That's undeniable.

Then there's the fact that the Broncos faced the 31st easiest schedule in the league, which drops their offensive value down to "just" the sixth best offense of all time. For point of reference, the 2007 Patriots faced the 10th hardest schedule in the league, while the 2011 Packers and Saints faced the 31st and 30th easiest schedules, respectively (all per Football Outsiders).

This is the context that frames the argument for "which season is more impressive." As a Patriots fan, I'm coming with the clear bias of always being correct and that can make these debates less enjoyable for everyone.

So this isn't a debate. This will be a celebration for all the great quarterbacks of the past fifteen years and Trent Green.

I was inspired by a Reddit post of an image from the Patriots 2007 season, which stated that the Patriots had the fewest drives in the league, yet had produced the greatest number of touchdown drives. By the end of the season, the Patriots had increased their drive total to the third fewest in the league (170, ahead of only the Colts166 and the Jaguars 169), but the point stood: the Patriots were ruthlessly efficient.

I'm not going to lie; I was immediately intrigued to see how the 2013 Broncos stacked up in comparison. Were they just like running back A, a product of sheer volume?

Spoiler: no, they weren't.

I went Pro Football Reference's drive finder to see how teams fared over the course of the season, with respect to touchdown efficiency. How did Aaron Rodgers' 2011 Packers compare to the 2000 Rams? The website had fourteen seasons of data, so I pulled all teams that produced touchdowns on 30% or more of their offensive drives.

Year Team QB TDs Drives Rate
2007 Patriots Brady 69 170 40.6%
2011 Packers Rodgers 64 170 37.6%
2010 Patriots Brady 58 157 36.9%
2011 Saints Brees 62 171 36.3%
2013 Broncos Manning 72 203 35.5%
2004 Colts Manning 62 177 35.0%
2000 Rams Warner/Green 64 188 34.0%
2011 Patriots Brady 57 172 33.1%
2012 Patriots Brady 61 190 32.1%
2004 Chiefs Green 60 187 32.1%
1999 Rams Warner 57 182 31.3%
2001 Rams Warner 57 185 30.8%
2007 Colts Manning 51 166 30.7%
2006 Colts Manning 48 158 30.4%
2003 Chiefs Green 58 191 30.4%
2004 Chargers Brees 54 179 30.2%
2002 Chiefs Green 54 180 30.0%
2008 Saints Brees 54 180 30.0%

For full disclosure, the 2009 Saints were 56/187 for 29.9%, and the 2005 Colts were 49/165 for 29.7%.

With regards to brutal efficiency, we see the 2013 Broncos fall behind two Patriots seasons and the absurd 2011 seasons of Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees (where Brady also broke the passing yards record, but only posted the third most impressive season of the quarterbacks).

We can find four seasons from Tom Brady (including a string of three seasons from the 2010, 2011, and 2012 years of decline). There are three seasons from Drew Brees. Four from Peyton Manning. One from Aaron Rodgers. The general big four of current quarterbacks all make appearances on the list over the past three seasons (only Brady makes the list twice).

And then there's the Greatest Show on Turf. Kurt Warner shows up three seasons in a row, from 1999 to 2001 with the St. Louis Rams, with one split season of 2000 where somebody by the name of Trent Green stepped in with five starts when Warner had a broken hand.

Oh, Trent Green. Is he possibly the most underrated quarterback of the past two decades? His three and a half mentions on this chart leaves him a mere half a season behind Brady and Manning.

Yes, he greatly benefit from handing the ball off to the overworked Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson. But he still produced with his arm.

Check out this list. It's quarterbacks with years of 400+ passing attempts over the past twenty seasons who have had a passer rating 10% greater than the league average, yards per attempt 15% greater than the league average, and who have exceeded the league average in interception rate. It's a list of quarterbacks who are winning with their arm and by making smart decisions.

There's Peyton Manning (9 times). Tom Brady and Drew Brees (6 times). Brett Favre (5 times). And then there's Trent Green and Philip Rivers (4 times). Aaron Rodges has only accomplished this feat three times thus far into his career.

That's some fantastic company and I think you'd have to look pretty hard to find people who would consider Green worthy of being discussed in the company of Rivers.

But back to Brady and his killer instinct. His 2007 season is the most impressive on the list as the only season breaking the 40% barrier. However, a more interesting tidbit could be his 2010 season, ranking third on the list; the Patriots somehow managed to lead the league in touchdowns (58!) and come in dead last for total number of offensive drives (a paltry 157). That's efficiency.

And that's the question. Efficiency or raw output. Patriots fans will clearly lean to the former, Manning fans will lean to the latter; I'm sure Brees fans are somewhere in the middle. No one is right and it's just a matter of personal preference. But the results are undeniable: no one is better than Brady, Manning, and Brees at putting points on the board.

Except for maybe Trent Green.