The NFL lockout might soon be settled and football’s return may be near; however, there is one debate that shall never be settled: the greatest quarterback of all time.
Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, John Elway, Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, and so on and so forth… the list can go on and on. The NFL has a wonderful history of superstar quarterbacks. Regardless of whether one thinks Marino is the greatest or Montana is the greatest or somebody else is the greatest, I shall provide statistics which show that Favre is not nearly as great as his career NFL records indicate.
There is no doubt that Favre is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time; however, his accomplishments pale in comparison to Marino. Dan Marino played 242 games in his NFL career; Brett Favre played 241 career games through the 2006 NFL season.
During Favre’s 241 games, he played as much as five or six seasons in a new passer-friendly NFL that promoted more offense after Marino retired from the league. Favre’s prime also coincided with the twilight years of Marino’s career. Nevertheless, let’s compare Favre’s 241 games to Marino’s 242 games.
Completions, attempts and completion %
Marino: 4,967 for 8,358 (59.43%)
Favre: 5,021 for 8,223 (61.06%)
As you can see from the above numbers, both quarterbacks threw a similar number of passes in their respective careers. Both men were gunslingers who could throw the deep ball and did it often. Marino played in a more vertical passing attack system whereas Favre made many vertical passing plays; however, he also threw more short passes than Marino.
Yards and touchdowns
Marino: 61,361 yards and 420 TD
Favre: 57,500 yards and 414 TD
Despite trailing Favre by 54 completions, Marino leads by six touchdowns and a mind-boggling 3,861 yards. Nevertheless, these numbers should not come as a complete surprise. Favre and Marino clearly threw touchdown passes at a similar rate in their careers. Marino’s much higher yardage reinforces my point about how he played in a more vertical passing attack whereas Favre threw more short passes than Marino did.
Both quarterbacks had impressive numbers and passer ratings for their respective careers. They threw touchdowns at similar rates in their careers and both piled on impressive yardage; it is no surprise that their passer ratings are similar as well.
Interceptions and sacks
Marino: 252 INT and 270 sacks
Favre: 273 INT and 424 sacks
Marino and Favre were very similar in their production for touchdowns and passing yardage and QB passer rating; therefore, those are not the categories I use to differentiate between the two. Interceptions and sacks are the categories in which Marino’s dominance truly shines and Favre’s flaws become exposed.
Despite trailing Marino by 135 attempts, Favre was sacked 154 more times and threw 21 more interceptions than Marino! Marino’s detractors often cite his inability to scramble for yardage (Marino rushed for 87 yards in his NFL career); however, Marino had superb footwork in the pocket. Although Marino did not take off upfield for big yardage, he had uncanny pocket presence and knew how to sidestep the rush to avoid the sack. Marino was also intelligent enough to throw the ball away (which certainly dinged his completion percentage a tad).
Avoiding the sack is such an important part of being a quarterback, and that aspect of the game is always overlooked by the casual fan. The quarterback who avoids the sack is the quarterback who keeps the team in position to achieve first downs, kick field goals and be within striking distance of the end zone. In this area of the game, Marino was in a league of his own. Marino’s quick release combined with his ability to sidestep the rush and read the defense made him a master of avoiding the sack.
With all due respect to Favre, he is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game; however, he pales in comparison to Marino. Frankly, there has only been one quarterback I ever dared to compare to Marino as the greatest of all time: Peyton Manning. In my eyes, Marino and Manning are the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Manning is very Marino-like in that he has a strong arm, a quick release and can read the defense very well. Marino had the stronger arm and quick release; however, Manning is the best I have ever seen at reading the game.
I recently jotted down the names of 20 random quarterbacks and decided to analyze their passing attempts and their sacks. Among these 20 quarterbacks, athletic running quarterbacks like Steve Young, Michael Vick and Roger Staubach were the worst at avoiding the sacks on passing plays. These eye-opening numbers show that you must not underestimate the pocket presence of pocket passers.
Attempts per sack (career)
Peyton Manning (31.21)
Dan Marino (30.96)
Drew Brees (26.21)
Tony Romo (19.53)
Brett Favre (19.37)
Tom Brady (19.30)
Troy Aikman (18.20)
Dan Fouts (17.57)
Philip Rivers (17.54)
Joe Montana (17.22)
Warren Moon (14.90)
Jim Kelly (14.80)
John Elway (14.05)
Aaron Rodgers (12.99)
Terry Bradshaw (12.71)
Ben Roethlisberger (10.22)
Steve Young (10.19)
Michael Vick (9.57)
Roger Staubach (9.45)
Randall Cunningham (8.86)
Note: I did not include the likes of Johnny Unitas in the sacks per attempts numbers above because I found no records of how often Unitas was sacked in the early years of his career.
The ability to run for yardage should be seen as an advantage to a quarterback; however, the more mobile quarterbacks apparently get sacked much more frequently than the prototypical pocket passer. This reinforces my point that pocket passers like Manning and Marino have the best pocket presence.
Marino amassed his impressive career numbers in an era where the NFL wasn’t as pass-happy as they are today; furthermore, the rules were tougher on offenses back then. Back in Marino’s glory days, wide receivers were mauled downfield. Quarterbacks could not run as many timing plays as they run in today’s NFL. A prime Marino in today’s NFL would again make a mockery of the record books. Marino’s numbers in today’s NFL would be very similar to Peyton Manning, if not better than Manning’s!
Marino’s detractors will continue to mindlessly criticize him for failing to win a Super Bowl. People need to remember that teams win Super Bowls, not individuals. If you put a prime Marino on the Super Bowl teams that Joe Montana, Trent Dilfer, Steve Young or Troy Aikman had, there is no doubt in my mind he also would have won at least one Super Bowl. Those same mindless detractors were also criticizing Manning before he won the Super Bowl against the Chicago Bears.
With all due respect to Favre and his brilliant career, I see Manning and Marino as the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Both had the ability to dominate games but also avoid sacks while throwing interceptions at a lower rate than Favre. I hope these numbers have been educational for you in not only shining a light on the greatness of Manning and Marino, but also on the greatness of Favre in comparison to other quarterbacks.