You always hear armchair meteorologists say, "it's not the heat, it's the humidity" on those swampy summer days.
Well, the Johnny Unitas of armchair quarterbacks, the Cold, Hard Football Facts, has a similar philosophy when it comes to passing the pigskin: it's not how high the mercury rises on a QB's passing yards that count. It's how effectively he moves the ball down the field, regardless of total passing yards, that make a performance hot.
That philosophy applies perfectly to Tom Brady's historic productivity over the last half season of football: he's Georgia asphalt hot, and it has little to do with him passing for a record 940 yards through the first two games of the year.
Brady is scorching hot because he's topped more than 10.5 yards per attempt both games this season. He also topped that mark in his last regular season game of 2010, and an amazing five times in the past eight regular season games, dating to Week 12 in 2010.
It's a period of prolific efficiency we've rarely seen in pro football, if ever. Here's a look at Brady's last eight regular season games (all Patriot wins). Take particular note of the yards per attempt (YPA).
The numbers are obviously amazing. Seriously, 24 TDs against just one interception? Ridiculous. But to truly appreciate how deadly effective Brady has been at matriculating the ball down the field in recent games, compare his last half-season of football to the careers of the five most prolific passers (based on total yards) in NFL history:
• Brady has topped 10.5 YPA 5 times in his last 8 games and 11 times in his 147 career games.
• Peyton Manning topped 10.5 YPA 17 times in 208 career games.
• Warren Moon topped 10.5 YPA 13 times in 208 career games.
• John Elway topped 10.5 YPA 12 times in 234 career games..
• Brett Favre topped 10.5 YPA 12 times in 302 career games.
• Dan Marino topped 10.5 YPA 8 times in 242 career games.
The Beatles didn't produce as many hits in 1964 as Brady has since shredding the Lions back on Thanksgiving Day (12.63 YPA)..
It's no coincidence, by the way, that the Patriots are a perfect 8-0 in these eight games. After all, the most effective passing teams almost always win in the NFL, regardless of how many yards they produce.
In fact, passing yards per attempt is probably the best way, and certainly the easiest way, to measure the effectiveness of a quarterback's effort -- far more important and effective than passing yards. There are two reasons why you need to look at YPA.
First, YPA is a great equalizer over time. Passer ratings, for example, have risen dramatically in recent decades. A 100 passer rating was a rare occurrence in 1977. It's an every-Sunday occurrence in recent years. But average per attempt has hovered around 7.0 for more than half century. In fact, the all-time leaders in passing YPA (Otto Graham, Sid Luckman, Norm Van Brocklin) were all out of football by 1960.
But second, and more importantly, passing YPA is an incredible way to separate winners from losers.
Quarterbacks with a higher average per attempt historically win 75 to 80 percent of all NFL games. Few individual indicators in sports, outside of score, have such a high correlation to winning games. Quarterbacks with more passing yards, meanwhile, historically win only about half the time.
The young 2011 season is no exception. Teams with a higher average per pass attempt are 24-8 through Week 2. Teams with more passing yards are 17-15. It's only two weeks of evidence, but you can look at any year in NFL history and find similar results (we track the Correlation to Victory of more than a dozen indicators at CHFF Insider).
Passing YPA is vital because it tells us which team was most effective at getting the ball downfield -- and, therefore, which team is most likely to win. Total passing yards are merely a function of volume. Teams that pass more often are likely to pass for more yards. But it doesn't mean they're passing the ball better. And if often means they're scrambling to catch up, and playing ineffective football in the process.
Just ask Cam Newton. The Carolina rookie has electrified the NFL with a pair of 400-yard-plus passing performances in his first two games. But the Panthers are 0-2.
One big reason the Panthers are winless: the opposing passers in each game (Kevin Kolb and Aaron Rodgers) posted a higher average per attempt than Newton, even if they didn't accumulate as many total yards. In other words, Newton was outplayed in each game by more effective passers.
Brady understands the pain. In fact, New England's lone loss during the QB's historic run here helps prove the importance of passing YPA and the unbearable lightness of passing yards.
The Patriots lost to the Jets, 28-21, in the divisional playoffs in January. Brady passed for 299 yards; New York QB Mark Sanchez passed for just 194 yards. But Sanchez was the better quarterback that night. He needed just 25 attempts to produce those 194 yards (7.76 YPA).
Brady was largely ineffective, despite the gaudy 299 yards. It took him 45 attempts to produce that number, a dismal average of 6.64 YPA -- well below is usual recent standards.
So there we find the secret to beating the Patriots: your quarterback merely needs a hotter performance than Brady. It's a game plan so simple even an armchair weatherman can figure it out. As for actually executing that plan? Well, good luck with that.
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