This was a hot topic on the TV debate shows Monday in the aftermath of the Colts 29-17 Super Bowl victory over the Bears. Did Indianapolis win because of Peyton Manning? Or was Rex Grossman the "real" MVP of the game for the Colts because of his horrible play?
There are some statistical ways of looking at this which could shed light on the issue. Most everyone knows what a quarterback's job is. Measure his production, or his lack thereof...make some comparisons...and we might just find an answer.
Let's start with passing. That's the main job of the quarterback. He must throw completions downfield without turning the ball over to the other team. First the basics:
You can see right off the bat that Manning had the higher volume. Grossman was surprisingly accurate considering all the buffoonery. Only six of his 28 passes hit the ground. Twenty were complete to his own players, and two were alley-oops caught by the other team.
One thing I like to do with passing stats is to subtract 60 yards for every interception. I've mentioned in past articles that each turnover is worth about four points in the big picture. Because the standard yards-per-point ratio is about 15, that means each interception should have a penalty of 60 yards. Making this adjustment will give you a better sense of each guy's impact on the game.
Manning: 179 yards
Grossman: 34 yards
That's a squash. Manning had the much better day by a good degree. I haven't set up the standards for what these numbers mean in context. If you do the stats for all QB's in all games over the course of a season, Manning's numbers would be in the "average" range, while Grossman's would be PATHETIC. If the net impact from your quarterback is that he only moved you forward 34 yards, then he's a significant reason for a loss.
In Sunday's case, we have some additional turnovers to consider. Both quarterbacks fumbled the ball away to end possessions. This is an additional 60 yards that can be subtracted from each guy's impact.
"True" Passing Minus Fumble Impact:
Grossman: negative 26
Obviously Grossman is a huge negative. It's important to note that Manning really wasn't all that big a positive in the big picture. It's pretty rare for a guy to win the MVP award in a game where he threw an interception and fumbled the ball away. I went back and pulled some Super Bowl stats from Hall of Fame guys in the '80's and 90's to give you a comparison for what a GREAT big game performance looks like:
1985 Joe Montana: 326 (24-35-0-326)
1989 Joe Montana: 341 (23-36-0-341)
1990 Joe Montana: 317 (24-32-0-317)
1993 Troy Aikman: 271 (22-30-0-271)
1995 Steve Young: 316 (25-38-0-316)
1999 John Elway: 276 (18-29-1-336)
Most of those games were routs, so I didn't bother looking up to see if each guy fumbled or not. That means we should compare Manning's 179 mark to those stats rather than the 119 mark. You can see that Manning's performance doesn't stack up well compared to what's possible in the Super Bowl. Yes, it was raining. Yes, he was playing the Bears. He's still not Joe Montana playing for all the marbles.
There's more to playing quarterback than just passing the ball though. Probably the single most important thing these days is to move the chains with third down conversions. That's not just moving the ball...that's moving the ball and letting your defense rest so they can be fresh when they take the field.
Third Down Conversions:
Manning: 44% (8 of 18)
Grossman: 30% (3 of 10)
Manning was pretty good given the context, Grossman was awful. There's a synergy in this particular category. You can make a very good case that Grossman's poor conversion rate led to the Bears defense tiring because they were on the field so much. Remember that time of conversion was about 38-22 in favor of the Colts. If you're a Manning fan, you could point out that his success helped the Colts defense stay fresh. The problem with that is that 44% isn't a lights out percentage. If it was 60% to 30% on conversions, then you could call it equal. Manning was a little bit better than what was expected, Grossman was a lot worse.
Reasonable minds can differ in an esoteric discussion like this. I think the preponderance of evidence is that Grossman's negatives had a bigger impact than Manning's positives. I don't mean to discount Manning's positives. Let's just remember that:
*Manning only led the Colts to two offensive touchdowns on the day. One of their TD's was on an interception return.
*The offense by itself only scored 22 points if you take out that interception return.
*Manning led the Colts into the red zone six times. But it only resulted in one red zone touchdown. The Colts were three of four on field goal tries, and lost the ball once on downs late in the game in this part of the field. This is a very odd characteristic for an MVP quarterback.
Voters gave the Super Bowl MVP award to a guy who had a below average impact on his offense (because of the interception and fumble)...a guy who was just "pretty good" on third down conversions...and a guy who could only get his team into the end zone twice all day.
Grossman had a monumentally negative impact on his own team thanks to two interceptions (one of which was returned for a score), one lost fumble (and another drop that resulted in a 12-yard loss on a critical third down play), and a horrible 30% conversion rate on third downs. The Bears offense only scored 10 points on the day against a fairly soft defense. And, that one TD drive was the result of a long run from scrimmage.
On "Pardon the Interruption" Monday on ESPN, Tony Kornheiser tried to suggest that Grossman really didn't play that badly. He praised the 20 of 28 completion effort like it somehow trumped all the Keystone Kops nonsense we all saw with our own eyes all day. Look...if a guy goes 20-28 for just 154 yards, then he's basically throwing extended handoffs all day. If a guy goes 20-28-154 and his offense only scores 10 points, then it was a horrible day. You don't give a QB credit for completing handoffs, you shouldn't give him credit for completing extended handoffs either.
Grossman's "true passing" mark of 34 is ridiculous for a game of this magnitude. His "true impact" number of negative 26 after you factor in the fumble is a joke. Going 20-28 passing while completing just 30% of your third down conversions means that you were completing irrelevant passes for relatively meaningless yardage...but failing on the plays that really mattered.
Rex Grossman was the MVP for the Indianapolis Colts. No other individual did more to help the Indianapolis cause Sunday evening. Peyton Manning's "pretty good but shaky" performance won the MVP award by default. This was arguably a case where they just should have given the award to the offensive line as a unit. Indy's blockers kept picking up Chicago blitzes (Manning was sacked only once while attempting almost 40 passes), and opened enough holes for Colts rushers to put 191 yards on the board. Hopefully Manning will chauffer them around in his new Cadillac in the offseason.
Those of us rooting for the Bears didn't get there. But, you know what? Even with the ludicrous quarterback play, Chicago was STILL in position to cover the Vegas spread in the final minute of action. One wonders what might have happened if Brian Griese had been given the reins at halftime, or even in the fourth quarter. It's not like he would have played WORSE than Grossman ultimately did!