Drew Brees vs. Archie Manning? Is there really any debate here?
Mike Tanier of Football Outsiders did an article last week where he took a look at Archie Manning and tried to figure out just how good he really was.
It's time to start an irrational Manning versus Brees debate.
No, not Drew Brees versus Peyton Manning. Drew Brees versus Archie Manning.
Last year, I picked an All-Time Cardinals team on the eve of their first Super Bowl appearance. One of the hardest decisions was selecting the quarterback. I only wanted to count Cardinals accomplishments, so I chose Jim Hart and Paul Christman, the quarterback of the great 1940's Cardinals, over Warner. After this season, I would probably rank Warner first, though I would still have to give Hart a long look. Of course, there's no comparison if you count the Rams years.
I planned to pick an All-Time Saints team this week, but I realized the team would consist of the 2006-2010 Saints, with the Dome Patrol (Sam Mills, Rickey Jackson, Pat Swilling, and Vaughn Johnson, for readers under 25) at linebacker and Morten Andersen kicking. There's no interesting competition at any other position but quarterback. Like last year's Cardinals, the choice for the Saints comes down to a '70s legend versus a contemporary player whose resume for his current team is short.
I think most people, when selecting an All-Time Saints team, would choose Archie Manning at quarterback. I would choose Drew Brees. And I don't think it's close.
Let's rewind Archie Manningís career briefly. He was the second pick overall in the 1971 draft, after Jim Plunkett. He joined a terrible Saints team just four years after their inaugural season, in an era before free agency and favorable rules gave expansion teams a jump start. Manning took over the starting job as a rookie and held it until 1982. His record with the Saints was 35-101-3.For the Saints, he threw 115 touchdown passes and 156 interceptions. His best record as a starter was 8-8, in 1979.
Drew Brees' record as the Saints starter is 38-25. Yes, Brees has won more games for the Saints in four years than Archie Manning won in 11. I won't compare their other statistics, because Manning played most of his career in the 1970s, when quarterback statistics were far lower, both as totals and percentages. You can make a million little adjustments to correct for this -- trust us, it's what we do around here -- and you aren't going to make Manning's best years look as good as Brees' last four seasons. And donít even try it with Manning's worst years.
So Drew Brees has a far better record than Archie Manning, and he has better stats. What is there to argue about?
Older fans will tell you that Archie Manning was far better than his record: This is true. Of course, it has to be true to consider him anything but one of the worst quarterbacks in history. Manning played for dreadful Saints teams. His best receivers were guys like tight end Wesley Childs until the Saints drafted Wes Chandler in 1978. The Saints typically ranked 20th or below in defense in a 26-28 team NFL. In 1980, they fielded one of the worst defenses of all time and finished 1-15 despite 3,716 yards and 23 touchdowns from their quarterback. Peyton Manning would have a hard time going 8-8 for many of those Saints teams.
Fans and media of the 1970s knew Archie Manning was better than his record. I knew it, even though I was eight or nine years old, because announcers would talk about it whenever the Saints were on television (not often). Manning made two Pro Bowls, in 1978 and 1979, after he threw for over 3,000 yards each season and led the Saints to 7-9 and 8-8 records. Fans and writers weren't overwhelmed by the "not a winner" mentality back then. Read contemporary records of Manning, and you'll find opponents and writers praising his talent and his toughness.
So Archie Manning was much better than his record, but his "better than the record" reputation took on its own life. Some people now think he's an all-time great, an Ernie Banks type who played at a Hall of Fame level on teams too dreadful to support him. He wasn't nearly that good.
Let's look back at those two Pro Bowl seasons. The 1978 Pro Bowl quarterbacks were Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw, Bob Griese, and Manning. He won some first-team All Pro consideration, and Griese was slipping, but I think anyone from that era who was asked to rate the best quarterbacks in the league based on more than one season would rank Manning fourth on that list. Fran Tarkenton led the league with 3,468 passing yards that season (Manning was second), and I think many people would have ranked Tarkenton ahead of Manning that year. So let's say Manning was the fourth or fifth best quarterback in the NFL in his best season.
In 1979, Staubach, Bradshaw, Fouts, and Manning were again the Pro Bowl quarterbacks. Griese was still in the league but declining, so let's rank Manning ahead of him that year. But who should we rank Manning behind? Joe Theismann finished second in the NFL in passer rating. Ken Stabler was fourth, Ken Anderson fifth. Manning was 10th, behind Ron Jaworski. The AP and UPI sources listed in the ESPN Football Encyclopedia give second-team honors to Theismann and Brian Sipe, not Manning. I would call Manning, charitably, the fifth best quarterback in the NFL in 1979.
Archie Manning doesn't get any Pro Bowl attention in any other season. We're left with a two-year high water mark, during which Manning peeks into the discussion of the league's best quarterbacks. Compare that record with Brees, who was a first-team All Pro in 2006 and has been among the four or five best quarterbacks in the league since. Like Manning with Bradshaw and Staubach, Brees faces a Peyton Manning-Tom Brady barrier at the top of the quarterback discussion. Unlike Archie Manning, Brees sometimes pierces it, and he can stake legitimate claim to being the third-best quarterback in the NFL over a four year window.
You can argue that Archie Manning would have won four Super Bowls with the 1970s Steelers, give him all sorts of credit for passes he didn't complete and teammates he didn't have. You have to give him a mile of extra credit to reach Brees. The only reason to prop Manning up that much is for nostalgia: he was a very good player when we were young, he was loved and respected, and his sons became superstars, so he somehow just has to be better than his accomplishments show.
In today's terms, Archie Manning isn't Drew Brees. He's Jon Kitna: a smart, tough, savvy survivor who put up big numbers for terrible teams. He could frustrate opponents, pick them apart on his best days, and earn their respect. He just couldn't beat them very often. If the Kitna comparison is too cruel (I think Manning was better than Kitna), you can take it up to Tony Romo: a gutsy, fun-to-watch scrambler who can put up big numbers and make things happen on the field, a guy whose talent-to-victory ratio is a little too low and whose big-game record is paltry. That's as high as I can rank Archie Manning. He's nowhere near Brees.
Archie, of course, will get lots of face time on Sunday, and he earned it. I loved watching him when I was a kid, and I love watching his children play now. He was very good, about as good as Jaworski and Sipe, Steve Grogan and Joe Ferguson, almost as good as Theismann and Ken Anderson in his best years. But when I want to see the best Saints quarterback of all time, I will have to watch the action on the field.
I mean, I have defended Archie pretty vehemently in the past. But at best, all you can say is that Archie *might* have been an elite QB stuck on a horrible team. On the other hand, we KNOW that Drew Brees is an elite QB.
I don't think I've met a single person who says they would take Archie ahead of Brees.
Archie was the NFC's (NFL's?) Player of the Year in 1978, and his 1979 season was excellent too. It's odd because he thrived under a defensive coach Dick Nolan where he could not under Hank Stram the great offensive guru. However Stram was generally recognized as building the offensive team around him (except for Wes Chandler). 1980 was statistically good too, but of course that was in playing constant comeback ball on a 1-15 ballclub.
Archie never had a reliable 1st round offensive lineman picked for him. He did have one - Royce Smith - who literally was among the worst all time 1st round offensive linemen ever taken by any team ever. Stan Brock was a great O-tackle but he was only selected in 1980 at the end of Archie's career.
It took until 1976 (6 seasons in) for Archie to get a decent RB to play with. It took until 1978 for him to get a big time WR.
Archie is loved by Saints fans. He was the man in their formative years. He was The Franchise, The Hope.
But he was not even the Saints' 2nd best QB. Billy Kilmer was. And maybe Bobby Hebert after that.
In 1977 Manning went 13/21 with 1 TD (in garbage time) and 3 INT's vs what had been an 0-26 Tampa Bay Bucs team. That performance included 3 Interception returns for TD's by the Bucs and a fumble recovery for another TD (off a Manning fumble I believe). One of the interceptions was stunningly bad, maybe one of the all time worst throws by any NFL anywhere at any time, a pick thrown in his own end zone on a floating screen pass. This was one of the worst performances by an NFL QB in any game ever. This was not just bad, it was JaMarcus Russel bad. Maybe worse.
Here's a major problem for Archie - when he finally had a decent team around him, he failed. His teams in 1978 and 1979, built by Dick Nolan and Hank Stram, went 7-9 and 8-8 and they probably should have been playoff teams.
In 1978 in 2 key games vs Atlanta, who would go 9-7, he would lose those twin games by a mere 6 points, to clutch, classic last second TD passes by Steve Bartkowski. In key games vs playoff QB's Jaworksi and Staubach (and their excellent defenses) Mannings had terrible games.
In 1979, it was much the same, failing again to clinch a close game with a poor Falcons team and throwing 5 INT's in a crucial game vs the LA Rams (a performance which weirdly ends up in the movie Poltergeist by the way).
In 1979 he also failed to hold a 35-14 late 3rd quarter lead vs the Oakland Raiders in still what has to be one of all the time wost collapses in Monday Night Football history.
In 1980 his team held a 35-3 lead against a woeful SF 49'ers team only to fall to a Joe Montana led comeback, still 2nd biggest in NFL history. That 1980 team would go on to have one of the worst seasons ever for an NFL team. The 1980 team also blew a 16-0 4th quarter lead to the Dolphins.
In 1973 he "quarterbacked" the Saints team that lost 62-7 (still one of the worst all time losses in NFL history) to the Atlanta Falcons; Manning went 5 for 13 with 5 INT's before being yanked.
The man was not a closer.
He wasn't a starter either: in the first 3 games of seasons, Manning was 5-30-1.
The problem for Manning is that he himself never crossed the rubicon. He had opportunities. While arguably he never had a Sid Gillman or Don Coryell to play for he did have a Hank Stram - who probably should have been given at least one full season with Manning, but then Manning's own failures had something to do with that, in reality he was never capable of handling Hank Stram's complicated offenses. You know who was? Len Dawson, like Drew Brees a Purdue grad.
AS NFL QB's, Drew Brees and Archie Manning do not belong in the same breath. After Kilmer and Hebert it becomes a question of whether Manning or Aaron Brooks were better, and that becomes a tougher discussion.
John Kitna and Tony Romo are not good comparisons. Kitna is a hard scrabble ex free agent who has managed to hang on in the league through grit, skill and determination. Tony Romo is an ex free agent who was coached and mentored by Sean Payton and who is an elite or near elite QB. In 1978-79 Manning maybe is comparable to that since he was not Staubach or Jaworski or Bartkowski or Theisman (just as Romo is not on par with Brees, Favre, McNabb, Warner), but he was probably right after that. For a short while Manning was actually the highest paid player in NFL ($600,000 per year) though.
To find something comparable to Manning, you would have to look at a David Carr or a Tim Couch who was never given up on by his team and who for regional reasons and for what he did in college was beloved by his fans. Not sure there really is anyone like that.
Jim Plunkett could be compared but he went on to win 2 Super Bowls.
In comparison Manning lost the last 20 games he started.
Edited by SaintsInDome2006, 08 February 2010 - 11:33 PM.