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NKySteeler
07-21-2011, 11:39 AM
James Harrison doesn't know how lucky he is
Cold, Hard Football Facts for July 18, 2011
By Ian Roderick
Cold, Hard Football Facts Doctor of Bigbenology

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Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison caused a firestorm in the football world with an interview for Men's Journal in which he criticized his team’s quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.

“Stop trying to act like Peyton Manning,” Harrison said, “You ain’t that and you know it, man; you just get paid like he does.”

Beyond the question of whether Harrison was wise to publicly denounce a teammate, there is the question of whether Harrison was correct.

Is Peyton Manning a demonstrably better quarterback, and are the Pittsburgh Steelers overpaying for Ben Roethlisberger’s services?

The answer in both cases is no: Manning is not demonstrably better than Roethlisberger and the Steelers are not overpaying for Big Ben, at least if Manning's contract is the yardstick by which we measure "overpaying."

Let’s begin with salaries. Manning signed a seven year contract with the Indianapolis Colts in 2004 worth $99 million, meaning his average salary over the past seven years has been $14.17 million. Roethlisberger signed an eight year deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2008 worth $102 million, with an annual value of $12.75 million.

The Manning contract is worth approximately 11 percent more per year than the Roethlisberger contract, not counting inflation. So Harrison is correct that Roethlisberger’s salary is in the same ballpark as Manning’s. Both are considered elite quarterbacks, and both are paid as such.

The real question worth answering, though, is whether Harrison’s implication that Manning is significantly more valuable than Roethlisberger lives up to statistical scrutiny.

Manning vs. Roethlisberger: Passer Rating
The most popular statistic that measures quarterback performance in the NFL is passer rating. A lot of fans and analysis dis passer rating because of the complex formula used to create it and because of the seemingly arbitrary numbers it spits out. We understand the complaints.

But the Cold, Hard Football Facts love passer rating because it is a "Quality Stat," that is, it's a stat that has a direct correlation to winning football games.

Let’s compare Manning's and Roethlisberger's passer ratings since 2004, Big Ben's first year in the NFL.

Manning vs. Roethlisberger (passer rating)
Year........Manning..........Roethlisberger
2004.........121.1 ................98.1
2005.........104.1 ................98.6
2006.........101.1 ................75.4
2007.........98.0 .................104.4
2008.........95.0 ..................80.1
2009.........99.9 .................100.5
2010.........91.9 ..................97.0
Totals.......101.6 ................92.5

As a volume passer, Peyton Manning is superior to Ben Roethlisberger. Over the past seven years, Manning has thrown more times for more completions, yards, and touchdowns, with a better rating.

Manning had a historically great season in 2004, when he threw 49 TDs to break Dan Marino’s 20-year-old record (48) and set the mark for best passer rating in a season (121.1). Since 2004, Manning has been exceptionally good. But his performances, as measured by passer rating, have also been on a fairly obvious downward trajectory since that record peak in 2004.

As Manning’s performance has slipped in recent years, Roethlisberger’s passer rating has surpassed Manning’s. Most fans and analysts, not to mention teammates such as James Harrison himself, seem ignorant of the fact that Big Ben has posted higher ratings than Manning in three of the past four seasons, including each of the past two.

The numbers are even more remarkable when you consider that Manning enjoys the benefit of playing his home games in a stat-inflating dome, where the conditions are always conducive to big passing days; Roethlisberger plays in one of the NFL's worst-weather outdoor arenas.

Manning vs. Roethlisberger: Passing YPA
The Cold, Hard Football Facts also like Passing YPA as a way to measure the effectiveness of each quarterback. It's easier to understand than passer rating, it provides for better comparisons across eras (YPA has remained relatively constant over the past 70 years, while passer ratings have soared) and, most importantly, YPA is also a Quality Stat. In other words, like passer rating, it has a direct correlation to winning football games.

Manning vs. Roethlisberger (YPA)
Year........Manning..........Roethlisberger
2004..........9.17 ..................8.89
2005..........8.27 ..................8.90
2006..........7.89 ..................7.49
2007..........7.85 ..................7.81
2008..........7.21 ..................7.04
2009..........7.88 ..................8.55
2010..........6.92 ..................8.23
Totals........7.88 ..................8.04

By this measure, Roethlisberger has often outperformed Manning, particularly over the past two years. As we wrote earlier this week, Yards Per Attempt is extremely predictive of success in the NFL. Teams that pass the ball most effectively are often the teams that make deep runs into the playoffs and end up bringing home Super Bowl trophies.

In this respect, Roethlisberger is one of the most prolific and underappreciated quarterbacks not just today, but in all of NFL history. Big Ben is No. 5 all time with a career average of 8.04 YPA. Three of the players ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame: Otto Graham (8.63), who parlayed his record average into a record six straight NFL championship games; Sid Luckman (8.42 YPA) and Norm Van Brocklin (8.16 YPA).

(The one oddball in the Top 5 is No. 4 Tony Romo of Dallas, who has yet to parlay his statistical proficiency and slight advantage over Roethlisberger in YPA (8.043 vs. 8.036) into championship-caliber playoff performances.)

The Steelers went undefeated with Roethlisberger starting at QB during his rookie year, before finally falling to the dynastic Patriots in the AFC title game; they won the Super Bowl the following year, with Big Ben the youngest QB in history to lead his team to achievement. He was far more than a caretaker: his incredible 8.9 YPA in 2004 and 2005 represents the most prolific first two years by a quarterback in NFL history, even if everybody but the Cold, Hard Football Facts failed to take notice.

Manning vs. Roethlisberger: running with the ball
A third statistical category that can be used to compare the quarterbacks is rushing. Since 2004:

* Ben Roethlisberger has rushed for 874 yards and 14 touchdowns.
* Peyton Manning has rushed for 140 yards and 8 touchdowns.

While rushing statistics are secondary to passing when measuring a quarterback’s performance, the superior rushing ability of Roethlisberger, who stands 6-5 and weighs 241 pounds, presents a real challenge to opposing defenses.

As noted above, Peyton Manning is a more statistically prolific quarterback than Ben Roethlisberger, at least in terms of meaningless volume indicators (i.e., he passes the ball a lot more).

In terms of the more important Quality Stats that relate to efficiency (passer rating) and effectiveness (YPA), Roethlisberger has been the better passer in recent years. And he remains a better rusher.

Most importantly, Roethlisberger outperforms Manning in the most crucial statistic of all: Super Bowl wins. By that measure, there is no question that Roethlisberger is worth every penny, even if his on-field performance resembles a fuel efficient Honda Accord more than Peyton Manning’s high performance Ford Mustang.

The Steelers have won three AFC titles and two Super Bowls in seven seasons with Roethlisberger at the helm; the Colts have won two AFC titles and one Super Bowl in Manning's 13 years at the helm.

Bearing that in mind, Harrison might want to rethink his opinion of his team's quarterback. Then again, thinking before speaking has never been a strong suit for James Harrison.

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