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Big passing yards don’t correlate to championships

Colts-win-Superbowl AP

With the explosion of passing yardage in 2011, it’s easy to assume that some pass-happy team with throw its way to a Super Bowl championship.

That would be a bad assumption.

Our corporate cousin Tom Curran of CSNNE.com recently pointed out something that quickly has become my favorite factoid of the week.  The top 10 single-season passing yardage performances in NFL history came from men whose big numbers did not result in the biggest possible prize:  a Super Bowl win.

Ditto for the top 20 single-season passing yardage performances.

And for the top 30.

In fact, it’s not until No. 34 on the list that the quarterback who generated big yardage won the Super Bowl — Peyton Manning in 2006, with 4,397.  Next, at No. 35, Drew Brees and the Saints won the title in 2009, with Brees throwing for 4,388 yards.

Only two other Super Bowl winners appear in the top 100:  Kurt Warner at No. 39 in 1999 (4,353) and Steve Young at No. 98 (3,969).

It’s too early to know what it exactly means, but it’s safe to say that guys who have generated big numbers in the regular season have seen their luck run out at some point in the postseason.  For three of the top four single-season passing yardages (Dan Marino in 1984, Kurt Warner in 2001, and Tom Brady in 2007), the bottom fell out in the Super Bowl.

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58 Responses to “Big passing yards don’t correlate to championships”
  1. rkel10 says: Sep 28, 2011 10:05 PM

    Either way, the best teams in the league have an Elite QB, and so do most teams that win the Super Bowl. Good passing game = Championships

  2. kingkreg12 says: Sep 28, 2011 10:06 PM

    I think we can use Brady and his 2007 season as a great comparison here. Guy had one of the best seasons that any QB has ever had and they ended up losing it.

    A solid defense can always make it tough on a passing offense, especially the front seven. It’s fun as anything to watch these guys make it rain all over the field, but anyone who thinks that wins you a game is crazy.

  3. Mr. Wright 212 says: Sep 28, 2011 10:09 PM

    The last time it really translated was Young in 1994, and that was really one of the last years where teams could hoard talent like SF did that year.

  4. henrykissingerisgod says: Sep 28, 2011 10:11 PM

    Volume stats are meaningless …us big Ben supporters have been saying this for years

  5. upperdecker19 says: Sep 28, 2011 10:14 PM

    Pass happy offenses don’t work????

    I gotta work on that.

    Time’s yours,
    Andy Reid

  6. mataug says: Sep 28, 2011 10:15 PM

    ever noticed those “D-#” banners in a stadium ?

  7. packersareandwillalwaysbebetterthanthebears says: Sep 28, 2011 10:17 PM

    Why?

    Cause there’s 21 other players on the field.

  8. h3min1230 says: Sep 28, 2011 10:18 PM

    R.I.P. NFL

    F Goodell

  9. pompitous says: Sep 28, 2011 10:19 PM

    There’s a difference between correlation and causation. Looking at this differently, 3 of the 4 top passing seasons in history put teams in the championship game. Anybody can beat anybody in the NFL on any given Sunday, but you have to be there on Super Bowl Sunday to have a chance to win it all. I’ll take the top passers putting me in position to win.

  10. FinFan68 says: Sep 28, 2011 10:22 PM

    They need balance or at least the threat of a running game or a solid defense. (how many of the top 100 would have lost with the Ravens defense from 2000? Maybe 5-10 at most) I would expect that “factoid” to be less of an issue in the future as the rule changes are almost forcing teams to throw the ball on disadvantaged defenses. They should have stopped tinkering once they prevented the DBs from mugging the receivers but scoring makes the money. Drive-by fans and fantasy players abhor a great defensive game because there aren’t any good offensive stats. That’s a shame but Roger is all about maximizing profit at the expense of the game itself. It will soon turn into the Arena League on a bigger field.

  11. mianfr says: Sep 28, 2011 10:23 PM

    I think you’d have to adjust for league averages here, like they in advanced baseball stats (I like OPS+ for this, where 100 is league average adjusted, 50 is 50% of league average adjusted, and 125 is 125% of league average adjusted and so forth).

    Of course, this probably only serves to further explain what’s going on in the article… Marino, Warner, and Brady still had absurd seasons compared to the league.

    But if everyone in the league is throwing for 4000 yards, obviously you’re going to have a 4000 yarder win the Super Bowl.

  12. kalispellmt says: Sep 28, 2011 10:24 PM

    Note that those winning passing teams are recent, indicating that perhaps passing is more important now than in the past.

  13. vicktator says: Sep 28, 2011 10:25 PM

    It means that the old adage is true, Defense wins championships. When Brady won his superbowls, it was because of the team’s defense, not the offense.

  14. kalispellmt says: Sep 28, 2011 10:28 PM

    That is, Manning and Brees

  15. pooflingingmonkey says: Sep 28, 2011 10:29 PM

    I know exactly what you mean.

    Regards,

    Dan Fouts

  16. daddyoscar says: Sep 28, 2011 10:34 PM

    same can be said for big rushing seasons, that aside. out of the last 5 super bowls, 3 of the winners and 3 of the losers have passed for over 4000 yds. the other teams were the steelers twice, the bears and giants, defensive teams.

    If you have to pass more for more than 42oo yds, odds are you are flawed in other areas (usually a bad defense}.

    most good teams will run a lot later in the game, since they are trying to kill the clock with a lead

  17. jmsincla says: Sep 28, 2011 10:35 PM

    If I’m not mistaken, Manning and Brees had dome-field advantage in their Super Bowl years. I’d have to imagine that some of the reason that you don’t see the high output passers winning Super Bowls is because one can’t rely on a potent passing attack to propel them through the playoffs (alliteration much?) when there is a higher frequency of wind, cold, snow, etc…

    Beyond that, those numbers show that it takes more than one player to win a Super Bowl. Unless of course you’ve got Rex Grossman, as the opposing QB.

  18. The Phantom Stranger says: Sep 28, 2011 10:36 PM

    Great news! Super Bowl, here we come!

    - Minnesota Vikings

  19. jefftberg says: Sep 28, 2011 10:36 PM

    TOTAL yards passing may be irrelevant, but it is a documented fact that YARDS PER PASS ATTEMPT is the stat which is most highly correlated with winning.

  20. radrntn says: Sep 28, 2011 10:40 PM

    it’s a well known fact that you need to be able to run the ball in order to win.

  21. tluke25 says: Sep 28, 2011 10:41 PM

    So this means Kansas City or Seattle will win the Super Bowl this year? Awesome!

  22. rexismybff says: Sep 28, 2011 10:44 PM

    Top passing yards almost always means that your defense and running game have major weaknesses, and that your coaches have been using gimmicky spread and no-huddle, quick release passing games to cover up for your serious weaknesses elsewhere. Ala Brady and the Pats last year and this year.

    That kind of offense isn’t usually worth much when the weather turns bad, and when you have to face a series of tough defenses to have playoff success.

  23. stealersfannot says: Sep 28, 2011 10:51 PM

    It’s because big passing yards indicate one dimensional teams.

  24. severs28 says: Sep 28, 2011 10:52 PM

    It seems like yesterday I was hearing that the league is changing to a passing league. Now you’re telling me we have to run the ball?

  25. macker1283 says: Sep 28, 2011 10:52 PM

    Another way to look at it…2 of the last 5 superbowls have been won by QBs with huge passing years. ‘

    Its also necessary to point out that 21 of the top 35 passing seasons have come in the past 10 seasons, making this whole argument pointless.

    Its so fun to spin stats to make your argument work.

  26. kdish87 says: Sep 28, 2011 10:57 PM

    Luke McCown: “So you’re telling me there’s a chance? YEAH!”

  27. checkdownchatter says: Sep 28, 2011 10:59 PM

    Could it not be as simple as, in very general terms, most teams that pass for big numbers do so because their teams don’t have the defense to keep other teams out of it? Brady, for example, can never really take his foot off the gas because the Pats defense can’t stop anybody, so, he’ll pass for one of the all time seasons this year, in great likelihood, but, as much as I love my Pats its hard to envision them winning a SuperBowl with paper thin defense…

  28. jordannels says: Sep 28, 2011 11:01 PM

    Interesting.

    Maybe Super Bowl winning teams have good defenses?

  29. nkappel says: Sep 28, 2011 11:02 PM

    Yea but, the game is changing. As you wrote, many of the SB champs in recent history have been passing teams, many of them QBd by guys on this list…

  30. j0esixpack says: Sep 28, 2011 11:02 PM

    As a Pats fan I’ve been saying all along – big passing numbers are usually put up when teams NEED to put up big numbers.

    It’s cool that Brady’s up to the task – but I’d prefer he not need to put up numbers like that.

  31. KeepitReal says: Sep 28, 2011 11:05 PM

    In this day of everyone thinking they’re an expert and thinking you need a Pro Bowl Quarter Back to get to the Super Bowl. Don’t be surprised a team like the Raiders make a Super Bowl run. Great offensive line. Great Runners and an Average QB who gets hot. We’ve seen it before. They also have a really physical on defense. The era of the runners controlling the game will return at some point.

  32. daddyoscar says: Sep 28, 2011 11:08 PM

    ps

    in o7 manning only played 1 qtr last game, warner ditto in 2,000 and brees as well in 09, rodgers missed almost 2 games due to injury last year, flynn, sorgi, brunell, germaine all also passed for yardage

  33. favreforever says: Sep 28, 2011 11:13 PM

    Coincidentally, the bottom 34 single season passing yardage totals were not represented at the Super Bowl either.

  34. catdelmonte says: Sep 28, 2011 11:14 PM

    lets look at the top rushing seasons

    Rk

    Player

    Team

    Yards

    Year

    1

    Eric Dickerson

    Los Angeles Rams

    2,105

    1984

    2

    Jamal Lewis

    Baltimore Ravens

    2,066

    2003

    3

    Barry Sanders

    Detroit Lions

    2,053

    1997

    4

    Terrell Davis

    Denver Broncos

    2,008

    1998

    5

    Chris Johnson

    Tennessee Titans

    2,006

    2009

    6

    O.J. Simpson

    Buffalo Bills

    2,003

    1973

    7

    Earl Campbell

    Houston Oilers

    1,934

    1980

    T8

    Ahman Green

    Green Bay Packers

    1,883

    2003

    T8

    Barry Sanders

    Detroit Lions

    1,883

    1994

    10

    Shaun Alexander

    Seattle Seahawks

    1,880

    2005

    11

    Jim Brown

    Cleveland Browns

    1,863

    1963

    12

    Tiki Barber

    New York Giants

    1,860

    2005

    13

    Ricky Williams

    Miami Dolphins

    1,853

    2002

    14

    Walter Payton

    Chicago Bears

    1,852

    1977

    15

    Jamal Anderson

    Atlanta Falcons

    1,846

    1998

    16

    Eric Dickerson

    Los Angeles Rams

    1,821

    1986

    17

    O.J. Simpson

    Buffalo Bills

    1,817

    1975

    18

    LaDainian Tomlinson

    San Diego Chargers

    1,815

    2006

    19

    Eric Dickerson

    Los Angeles Rams

    1,808

    1983

    20

    Larry Johnson

    Kansas City Chiefs

    1,789

    2006

    1 superbowl, Its not all about rushing either but that said i dont think there is a cut out ratio to win the superbowl, just do what scores points

  35. raiderlyfe510 says: Sep 28, 2011 11:15 PM

    Running the ball and stopping the run wins championships.

    Ask John Elway who lost three superbowls before T Davis…

    Ask Marino.

    Ask any Run & Shoot team from the 90′s(houston, Atlanta, and Detroit)

    Ask the Bills who lost to power running teams in the championship.

    Ask Air Coryell and the early 80′s Chargers.

    Passing the ball for a lot of yards will win you a lot of games from September to Decemeber…But not in January.

  36. keeponhating says: Sep 28, 2011 11:22 PM

    Sweet so hopefully Philip rivers never wins a SB

  37. huejackson says: Sep 28, 2011 11:24 PM

    Raiders are going to win the super bowl..
    it will be the first time in history ESPN does not mention the superbowl..
    No Highlights, No talk about it.. Nothing
    Instead they will review the last little leauge world series..
    Anything but mention the Raiders won a game because in the words of Tom Jackson when Raiders beat the Chargers last year and of course ESPN did not show a single highlight but they just said at the end of prime time “oh and the raiders beat the chargers for the second time’ QUE TOM JACKSON
    “IT’S A DAMN SHAME”

  38. MCxShow says: Sep 28, 2011 11:54 PM

    Hats off to Tom Curran, this is a really interesting stat.

  39. cosanostra71 says: Sep 28, 2011 11:55 PM

    part of it is because you rack up more passing yards when you’re constantly coming from behind.

  40. blackcatnfl says: Sep 29, 2011 1:11 AM

    Because of pass-happy rule changes in recent years, this is a changing dynamic in the NFL and its really too early to draw that conclusion. In recent playoffs, defense has had a declining impact and its quite possible that defense no longer will win championships depending on how the calls in these critical games are made in 2011 and beyond.

  41. scudbot says: Sep 29, 2011 1:38 AM

    “Volume stats are meaningless …us big Ben supporters have been saying this for years” Leaving aside the implication that two smoking sexual assault guns don’t mean anything, your point is somewhat well taken.

  42. scudbot says: Sep 29, 2011 1:40 AM

    “TOTAL yards passing may be irrelevant, but it is a documented fact that YARDS PER PASS ATTEMPT is the stat which is most highly correlated with winning.” Except for Romo.

  43. kingkreg12 says: Sep 29, 2011 2:46 AM

    Ask Brady too… he won 3 rings when he had some strong defenses and they had more emphasis on the running game.

    Pats haven’t won a SB since Brady really developed into an elite passer(Cue spygate comments)

  44. therealsmiley says: Sep 29, 2011 6:34 AM

    Raiderly captured it. Rushing and a good defense. Hail!

  45. EJ says: Sep 29, 2011 7:14 AM

    You must have a good passing/running ratio with a decent Defense to have a higher Superbowl winning percentage.

  46. kisstherings says: Sep 29, 2011 7:17 AM

    Big yardage would have a lot to do with winning a Super Bowl if the defense stepped up.

    Brady wasn’t on the field when a fluke scramble by Eli Manning relulted in the one of the luckiest fluke catches in Super Bowl History.

    That one catch isn’t made and Brady’s 2007 season is on the other side of your study. Doesn’t seem to have much to do with the QB’s yards as much as the defense. And in Brady/Patriots case you can say that is definately true because Belichick doesn’t care what the score is. He will keep throwing if its 40-3 if it is what the opposing defense gives him.

  47. imopen7 says: Sep 29, 2011 7:31 AM

    ah la Big Ben. nuff said. Oh, and if you want to get technical, yards per reception DOES have a direct correlation to winning….again ah la Big Ben.

    GO STEELERS!!!

  48. hockeyfan1701 says: Sep 29, 2011 9:12 AM

    Ray Lewis said it best, Offense sells tickets and Defense wins championships

  49. descendency says: Sep 29, 2011 9:14 AM

    The problem with record years is that it doesn’t account for how bad your defense is.

    If your defense gives up points every 3 minutes, but you put up 1000 yards per game, you probably aren’t going to win playoff games.

  50. forthelove says: Sep 29, 2011 9:36 AM

    1. Control the line-of-scrimmage (on offense and defense).

    2. Solid D.

    3. Solid running game.

    4. Competent passing game.

  51. xinellum says: Sep 29, 2011 9:38 AM

    If I understand this article correctly, it is basically saying that the teams that pass the most don’t necessarily win the super bowl and then a commentor pointed out that leading the league in rushing doesn’t win the super bowl either. So my only deduction is, if passing and running has nothing to do with winning the super bowl, then why don’t teams just sit down in the middle of the field and win (since the only 2 ways to move the ball on offense, outside penalties, is to run or pass) . What kind of useless dribble is this article anyway?

  52. grilledjesus says: Sep 29, 2011 9:47 AM

    raiderlyfe510 says:
    Sep 28, 2011 11:15 PM
    Passing the ball for a lot of yards will win you a lot of games from September to Decemeber…But not in January.
    ————————————————

    Ah yes, I remember that SB in 2008. It was surely the 91yds and 0tds that the Giants had rushing that won the game for them. Those touchdown passes were just there for show.

  53. joetoronto says: Sep 29, 2011 10:07 AM

    This is all a bunch of crap.

    A dominating run game and a good run defense is where it’s at.

    You only need to be decent at passing the ball and against the pass.

    A dominating run game will protect the defense and raise your TOP.

  54. axespray says: Sep 29, 2011 10:27 AM

    yards don’t matter.

    The stat that matters for Offenses are third down conversions, limiting turnovers, red zone %, and points.

    Wether you do it running/or passing, it doesn’t matter.

  55. CKL says: Sep 29, 2011 10:33 AM

    blackcatnfl says: Sep 29, 2011 1:11 AM

    Because of pass-happy rule changes in recent years, this is a changing dynamic in the NFL and its really too early to draw that conclusion. In recent playoffs, defense has had a declining impact and its quite possible that defense no longer will win championships depending on how the calls in these critical games are made in 2011 and beyond.
    —————————————————————-
    That must be why in SB 45, the #1 & #2 defenses in the entire NFL in points allowed were in it, but the top 2 QBs in the NFL in rating/yards weren’t.
    ****************************************
    grilledjesus says: Sep 29, 2011 9:47 AM

    raiderlyfe510 says:
    Sep 28, 2011 11:15 PM
    Passing the ball for a lot of yards will win you a lot of games from September to Decemeber…But not in January.
    ————————————————

    Ah yes, I remember that SB in 2008. It was surely the 91yds and 0tds that the Giants had rushing that won the game for them. Those touchdown passes were just there for show.
    _____________________________________
    Please tell me you aren’t a NYG fan and think that ANYTHING but your defense, oline dominance and run game won that SB (run games kill clock not allowing the other o to get on the field). Scoring 17 pts wouldn’t cut it in a lot of wins. Your defense holding the best PPG offense in the league that year to 14 does. Eli played very well in the playoff wins up to the SB but was quite average (and lucky) IN the actual SB. I bet he was happy when Samuel wound up in his division.

  56. grilledjesus says: Sep 29, 2011 10:59 AM

    CKL says:
    Sep 29, 2011 10:33 AM
    Please tell me you aren’t a NYG fan and think that ANYTHING but your defense, oline dominance and run game won that SB
    ———————————————
    I completely agree that the NYG defense was the biggest contributer to that win, but to say the running game played a larger roll than the passing game is just plain wrong. Feel free to go back and look at the Giants scoring drives, you may notice that the only drive they scored on while primarily running was for a FG. Both TD drives were almost exclusively passing.

  57. bobhk says: Sep 29, 2011 2:54 PM

    This may have been stated here before but lopsided passing stats almost always mask deficiencies in the running game and defense. In the playoffs, when you meet the elite, it’s hard to beat at least three teams in a row with such a flawed team.

    That is why, a team like the Pats, will get bounced early in the playoffs this year (much like recent years in the past).

    No matter how many Gerrard Warrens or Haynesworths they sign it won’t help. They got away from how they won in 2000s.

  58. Mr. Wright 212 says: Sep 29, 2011 3:10 PM

    bobhk says: Sep 29, 2011 2:54 PM

    This may have been stated here before but lopsided passing stats almost always mask deficiencies in the running game and defense. In the playoffs, when you meet the elite, it’s hard to beat at least three teams in a row with such a flawed team.

    That is why, a team like the Pats, will get bounced early in the playoffs this year (much like recent years in the past).

    No matter how many Gerrard Warrens or Haynesworths they sign it won’t help. They got away from how they won in 2000s.
    ————-

    Too easy. Won’t even say it.

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