Curran: QB duel brings out best in each

Curran: QB duel brings out best in each
November 21, 2013, 10:45 pm
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FOXBORO – The notion of one quarterback “beating” another is a crock.

Cam Newton didn’t beat Tom Brady on Monday. And Brady hasn’t beaten Peyton Manning nine of the 13 times their teams have played. Quarterbacks beat the defenses they go against. This ain’t golf. It’s not two guys facing the exact same challenges and conditions. They go against the defense across from them primarily, then the defensive coaching staff on the opposing sideline. Hell, most quarterbacks don’t even watch each other play, they are looking at pictures of the defense they’ll be facing again when they get on the field.

Now, with that out of the way? Manning-Brady does represent the closest thing to a head-to-head quarterback duel you can find.

Both men by now know that one slip on their part – a pick, a three-and-out, a bad sack taken – becomes a piece of meat bloody meat dangling in front of the other.

Points, points, points. There’s an urgency to score or – at the very least – keep the ball away from the other guy lest he do what you could not.

The 2009 Patriots loss in Indy when New England went for it on fourth-and-2 late in the game because Bill Belichick hated the idea of Manning getting the ball again. That is the most direct interplay I can point to in all of these seismic Brady-Manning battles.

Both quarterbacks this week have tamped down the hype in advance of Sunday’s game.

“I don’t have [to] play against him,” Brady said. “I think that’s the thing. It’s more of the defense that plays against him. You realize that when you play a good team, another good quarterback, that you’re going to have to score a lot of points. We try to score points anyway, but this is a very good football team, led by a great quarterback, one of the best of all time. I’m excited to see how we do.”

Said Manning, “Certainly we’re focused on the defense and on the challenges they present. At the same time, you realize because of Tom being their quarterback, they’re capable of scoring a lot of points and a lot of points quickly. They put a lot of pressure on the defense, and so as an offense you feel like you better be on top of your game as well.”

The NFL has changed so drastically over the years that comparing the passing numbers from one generation against today’s quarterbacks isn’t fair. The game’s so different.

Brady and Manning are undeniably the best quarterbacks of their generation. Elway, Montana and Marino ruled theirs. Favre fits somewhere. So does Steve Young. Bradshaw and Staubach owned the 70s. Unitas and Otto Graham were the best of their times.

In my opinion, the two statistics that best measure a quarterback’s effectiveness are TD-INT and yards per attempt. The first reflects how well they protect the ball and how often they are directly responsible for scores. The second encompasses accuracy.

For their careers, Brady’s thrown 348 touchdowns and 130 picks in the regular season (2.7 times as many TDs as interceptions). Brady’s career YPA is 7.5.

Manning’s thrown 470 touchdowns and 215 picks (2.18 times as many TDs as interceptions). His YPA is 7.7.

In the playoffs, Manning’s thrown 32 touchdowns and 21 picks and has a YPA of 7.46 in 19 games. Brady’s thrown 42 touchdowns and 21 picks in 24 games. His YPA is 6.71.

How have their teams done? Brady’s 17-7 in the playoffs. Manning is 9-10.

The statistical yardsticks used to measure which quarterback is better are – to the subjects – moot.

Manning stalks the records set by Brady and the Patriots offense in 2007, yet Brady – who broke Manning’s record for TD passes that year with 50 – said it didn’t even dawn on him.

“When you’re going through it, you don’t realize how good it is until you really step back and reflect on it,” Brady insisted. “That was, I know, a great year for us. You watch what [the Broncos] are doing and they have better numbers than we had. It’s incredible to score points like that. They have a lot of guys that can make plays with the ball. Everybody contributes, that’s what good offenses do...Our defense has its work cut out for us. Offensively, we know we have to go out and score a lot of points. We can’t have a lot of three-and-outs and certainly turnovers give them extra possessions to score because the teams that have done that have really gotten blown out. You turn it over and give them extra possessions; you’re going to have a very hard time winning.”

In other words, it’s Brady and his crew vs. Von Miller, Shaun Phillips and the fleet Denver linebackers. And for Manning, it’s his posse against the Patriots dinged-up defense.

It isn’t Brady vs. Manning per se. Still, each man knows that he better be at his best because the guy going against his defense is as good as there’s ever been.