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The "Clutch Game Manager" and the Super Bowl

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First, as a little introduction I'd like to compliment Davis Hsu for the hard work he's done at this site. If you're not familiar with Davis or his work, let me just break it down for you because it's really pretty awesome. An example of one a day in the life of Davis might include going to his job for 10 hours, hanging out with his family and putting his kids to bed, then retiring to his study to do hours and hours of research on the Seahawks cap structure, putting together spreadsheets detailing every single player on the Seahawks, how long they're under team control, and how much they make, projecting future cap space and potential for signing free agents and retaining Seattle's star players. On another day, he'll do this with other teams that he admires as well, so he can better understand what the Seahawks' front office is doing and/or should be doing.

In his other free time, he reads books on the Ravens and Steelers because he's fascinated with their ability to win consistently over the years. He's read Pete Carroll's book. He's read Paul Allen's book. Not for fun, but to understand his team better and understand how to win in the NFL better. He not curious, he's studying furiously. He scribbles down notes in the margins. How do I know this? I first met him when we went to the VMAC for Pete Carroll's Win Forever coaching seminar (this was way before he wrote for this site, that's how much of a Seahawks' nut he is) and he brought me, unsolicited, Tim Layden's Blood, Sweat and Tears, an excellent book that explains in detail the evolution of every important offensive and defensive scheme in football history. It came complete with Davis' revelations jotted into the line breaks.

Anyway, he takes a scientific process and and academic viewpoint to his NFL fandom. And I love it. Davis and I email frequently, typically just shooting the shit, but he'll also bounce interesting ideas off of me (and others) and one recent chain I thought I'd share because I found it interesting. Davis was exploring the idea of the "Clutch Game Manager" that Pete Carroll has mentioned on many occasions. Davis has added the word 'clutch' because if you've listened to his recent press conferences, Carroll clearly wants a guy that has some late-game heroics in him. A guy that's able to lead a team back in the fourth quarter. A guy that's proficient in the two-minute drill.

Scott Enyeart has argued this, and I've mentioned it several times as well, but I think the whole "game manager" label has been misconstrued or mis-characterized a bit by the media and fanbase here. People will inevitably point to the idea that only two or three teams in the past twenty years or so have won a Super Bowl with these so-called 'game-managing' quarterbacks, and people picture Trent Dilfers and Brad Johnsons running around in Pete Carroll's mind's-eye. 'In the modern NFL,' people will say, 'only teams with the elite quarterbacks can win the big one.'

The exceptions, of course, as many would report, would probably be the Buccaneers in 2002 with Brad Johnson and the Ravens in 2000 with Dilfer, and... that's kind of it. In like, the last 30 or 40 years.

Well, Davis explored that notion and depending on how you look at it, that's not necessarily true. The following is my paraphrasing from Davis' mad-scientist emailing, with the following jointed disclaimers:

First, we all agree that Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning are 'elite,' but maybe weren't way back when in terms of what we're about to describe.

I also think we define "elite" as: a QB that is (1) generally regarded as top 5-6 QB in the NFL by most experts/fans (2) throws for todays equivalent of 4000 yards (which may have been like 3600 back 5-10 yrs ago but ten QBs threw for 4000 yards in 2011) (3) first ballot (non-injury replacement) Pro Bowler.

There are QBs that are really good and not 'clutch game managers' and are not 'elite,' ie - Matt Schaub, maybe Matt Ryan.

The top 5-6 Elite QBs are: Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, and honorable mention Matt Stafford. "High volume" QBs that are not elite but not game managers are probably: Matt Stafford, Michael Vick, Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Jay Cutler, Ryan Fitzpatrick. Tony Romo is an example of high volume but not elite.

The game managers that are possibly clutch? Alex Smith, maybe Joe Flacco and maybe Mark Sanchez circa 2009, 2010. Anyway, here we go.


2001 Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots

Yes, they had Tom Brady- and yes - he went to the Pro Bowl that year - but he was not "Elite".

In 2001, he threw for 2,843 yards in 14 starts. The Patriots, as a team, threw for a shade over 3000 yards for the year. Drew Bledsoe got hurt in game two. The four 'Elite QBs' that year were Kurt Warner (threw for 4663 yards), Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Rich Gannon- they all threw for over 3700 yards.

New England was 22nd in the NFL in passing in terms of yards.

That year they ran 473 times and passed 482 times, nearly exactly 50-50 balanced offense. Their defense gave up yards - 24th in the NFL - but only gave up 17 points a game - good for 6th in the NFL. They were 9th in the NFL in turnover margin at +7. Tom Brady threw 18 TDs and 12 Picks and he was sacked 41x, which was a ton.

In the Super Bowl that year, Brady threw for 145 yards with 1 TD and no picks.

Brady was not "Elite" but rather a "Clutch Game Manager" at the time. This idea gets clouded because of what he has done since.

2005 Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)

In 2005, Pittsburgh passed the ball a league-low 379 times, and ran the ball a league high 549 times (41% / 59%). They had the 24th ranked passing offense in terms of yards 2926 yards.

They had the 5th best rushing offense at 2223 yards, but only 12th in YPC at 4.0 (they just ran a ton). That Steeler team a turnover margin of +7 (good for the 10th).

In the Super Bowl, Ben Roethlisberger had a QB rating of 22.6, was 9/21 for 123 yards and two picks, and did "rush" for a TD (though did he cross the line?).

Interestingly, he won a Super Bowl in his 2nd season - same as Tom Brady in '01. Ben was 23, Tom was 24. You can win a Super Bowl as a QB in your 2nd season- but YOUR TEAM has to be STRONG.

The '05 Steeler sefense was strong:
- 1st vs the run in YPC at 3.4
- 3rd vs the run in yards per game at 86
- 16th against the pass in yards at 198
- 4th best defense in total yards allowed
- 3rd best defense in points allowed at 16.1 per game
- 8th best defense in QB rating allowed

Basically the defense was rock solid vs. the run, average against the pass in terms of yards - but stingy in points. That defense did not have a ton of picks (only 15) good for 19th, but they did have 47 sacks (good for 3rd).

For comparison, the Seahawks had 50 sacks that year and led the NFL. To be fair to Ben, he was the offensive rookie of the year in 2004 and his numbers in 2005, were 196 for 295, 66.4%, with league high YPA at 8.9, 17 TD, 11 INT, 98.1 QB rating.

So, the little they did throw, he was very efficient. The key here is that he led six 4th quarter comebacks. He was the QUINTESSENTIAL CLUTCH GAME MANAGER. I bet that 6th 4th quarter comeback by Big Ben was a record that lasted till Tim Tebow did that this year..

Ben was not voted to the AFC Pro Bowl for the 2005 season - he was behind Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, Jake Plummer, Steve McNair and Trent Green. Tom Brady did go to the Pro Bowl in 2001 but finished with only 2843 yards passing. Ben Roethlisberger passed for 2400 yards and PIT 2800 yards or so for the year and didn't go to the Pro Bowl in 2005.

The point is, they had a balanced or run-based offense with a very clutch quarterback in Big Ben. Defense was good, turnovers were good.

I also think with a good team, as Big Ben and Brady showed, a QB can win a Super Bowl in their "sophomore" year if the team around them is good and the QB is clutch.

Of course the Seahawks want an elite QB - but on his way to being that - if he can be that 'clutch game manager' in his early years, and they have a good team around him, they can win a Super Bowl in 2013/2014, theoretically. Obviously, it will be hard, but not unprecedented, even in the last decade. Also obviously, you have to get lucky in several different ways, but as we're seeing this year, if you get hot at the right time anything can happen.


Davis went on with some other theories and ideas that I think he'll get into more soon. I would add another team to this list as we talk about this 'clutch game manager' theory - and that would be the 2007 Super Bowl winning New York Giants.

2007 Super Bowl Champion New York Giants

In '07, Eli Manning passed for 3,336 yards, 23 TD to 20 interceptions, and completed 56% of his passes. 6.8 yards per attempt. For a comparison to that, Tarvaris Jackson passed for 3,091 yards this year, 14 TD to 13 interceptions while completing 60% of his passes. 6.9 yards per attempt. Apart from the touchdown/interception totals (though similar ratio), fairly parallel.

The Giants, that season, had the 16th ranked offense in terms of yards per game. They were 21st in the league in passing with just under 200 yards a game. They were fourth in the NFL in rushing at 132 yards per game while rushing 29 times per game on average. In the playoffs, the Giants didn't particularly lean on Eli - he passed for 185 yards and 2 TD to beat Tampa Bay in the Wild Card round, 165 yards and 2 TD to beat Dallas, 251 yards and no TDs or interceptions to beat Green Bay to go to the Super Bowl. All three wins were on the road though and close finishes, and propelled the Giants to the Super Bowl.

In that game, they beat the previously undefeated and seemingly invincible Patriots on Eli's 19 of 34 passing for 255 yards, 2 TD, 1 interception game. They held New England to 45 rushing yards and a surprisingly low 229 passing yards. They sacked Brady five times and disrupted their game (essentially what they just did to Green Bay last week actually).

In the 2007 playoffs, the Giants had a +5 turnover ratio, averaged 200 yards passing a game, averaged 103 yards rushing, and played solid defense, giving up only 16.5 points a game and only 3.5 yards per carry on the ground.

Eli Manning is now considered much more than a game manager, maybe even 'elite' these days, but his late season and fourth quarter play and efficiency - and ability to make that huge play to David Tyree, for instance- , is more in line with this CLUTCH GAME MANAGER model that Davis brings up.

Using this model, instead of just saying "you need a Tom Brady, a Drew Brees, a Peyton Manning to win it all in the modern NFL," or something akin to that, you can see that there have been several Super Bowl winners in just the last decade alone that point to another way to win. Defense. Efficiency. Winning the turnover battle. Late game effectiveness and a QB with that intangible 'clutch' factor.

Brandon Adams wrote about this yesterday as well, using Alex Smith as an example and citing a Greg Cosell article that impressed just how clutch Smith was against New Orleans. Adams said:

"This redefines "game manager". As Cosell aptly put, every team that wants a Lombardi will eventually require the quarterback to adapt and overcome. Whether that's on the occasional inevitable third-down-and-long, or the fourth quarter with the game on the line, this moment will come. The 49ers have built their scheme around minimizing these moments for Smith, essentially making him a game manager. When he beat the Saints, did he make himself worthy of these moments? Did he rephrase "game manager" to include epic throws, or did he transcend the phrase on his way to a new plateau of play?"

Brandon, ever the champion for finding that 'elite quarterback' that will lead the Seahawks to the promised land, sort of, kind of, a little bit, acknowledges that maybe he's coming around to another mode. He writes:

"As a Seahawks fan, I'm continuing to induce vomiting amidst the 12th Man by complimenting Alex Smith. Elite throws deserve recognition, and they solicit thought on what Seattle should be looking for in a quarterback. Do we hold out for the all-time elite QB whose origins remain a seeming mystery, or do we seek, as a baseline, a QB who can come through in the clutch and work from there? As of today, I'm considerably more comfortable with the latter option."

/Scratches chin, interested, intrigued.

Now, so what's the point then here? Well, I think that some people worry that the Seahawks are primed and ready and now just need that final piece, an elite QB, the mythical "QBOTF", to lead them to the Super Bowl Championship. Their window of opportunity is closing by the day and the stars will need to align soon so the Hawks can win it all. That might be true.

The idea presented with this line of thinking here though is that with a good, solid team with a strong defense and run game, a less than elite quarterback can suffice as long as he has that clutch gene in him. San Francisco is showing it's possible so far this season and the examples cited above provide more precedent. So really, what this does is widen or lengthen the perceived window of opportunity for the Seahawks to do what we all want them to do with the talent they've compiled on both sides of the football. In theory, anyway.

/Scratches chin, interested, intrigued.