Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Marino Mythology Redux

The Cold Hard Football Facts site of Kerry Byrne has revolutionized football analysis in the decade-plus it has been active, and among its signature analyses is The Marino Mythology, a piece dissecting the defenses Miami Dolphins fans have used in response to Dan Marino's inability to win a Superbowl. It is especially relevant now because the excuses used for Marino are now being cited for Peyton Manning, who managed to win Superbowl50 and finished his career having lost thirteen of twenty-seven career playoff games - indeed, it is worth noting that Tom Brady by himself has  twenty-five playoff wins (five of them Superbowls) while Marino and Manning have twenty-two combined.

One of the Marino myths is that he was saddled with weak defenses - this isn't true, as Marino played with top-12 scoring defenses seven times (twice with #1 scoring defenses, 1983 and 1998).  It is worth noting because Tom Brady has been accused of having good defenses for his Superbowl runs, except the reality of his defenses was they were grossly overrated and consistently failed in big games -

The defense in 2001 could not stop the Raiders from surging to a ten-point fourth-quarter lead, and then Brady rescued it with three scoring drives for the 16-13 overtime win.

Given a 14-point lead against the Rams in the Superbowl, the Patriots defense disintegrated, and Brady rescued it with the first walkoff scoring drive in Superbowl history.

Against the Panthers in 2003 the Patriots defense was ripped to shreds as the Panthers erased deficits of 11 points and then seven points; once again Brady led the rescue.

In 2004 the defense gave up a late touchdown to the Eagles.

The Patriots defense infamously disintegrated twice against the NY Giants when given leads by Brady - the David Tyree miracle remains the ultimate black mark on the Patriots defense.

The Patriots defense was hammered by the Seahawks until Brady, down 24-14, led the first biggest comeback in Superbowl history - and even then the defense was speared to the one-yard line until the ultimate shocker of a play.

The defense was bullied for over thirty-five minutes against the Atlanta Falcons - and it was Brady leading the biggest comeback in Superbowl history.

The defense argument has also been cited with Peyton Manning, as his 2006 Superbowl was credited to a Colts defense getting hot in the playoffs while his 2015 title was credited to the Broncos defense.   The fact here is also opposite to the myth - Manning's first two Superbowl runs (2006 and 2009) came against matchups overwhelmingly in his favor - both times he faced the Baltimore Ravens, a team he utterly owned at that point in the middle of his nine-game winning streak against them; in 2006 he faced the Kansas City Chiefs, a team he's lost just once to in six career games, and after his stunning AFC Title win over the Patriots - in which his vaunted defense was shredded for 34 points - he faced the cupcake of the Rex Grossman Chicago Bears in the Superbowl; in 2009 he faced a semi-cupcake in the always-erratic New York Jets, a squad that has nonetheless beaten him in the playoffs twice.   His 2013 Superbowl run came against two perennially tough matchups in San Diego and New England; he somehow won both then failed completely in the Superbowl against a Seahawks team the Patriots shot down the next year.   His 2015 run - coming after he was benched and then inexplicably reinserted - came against a shaky Steelers team, then he barely escaped another Brady comeback, then faced a Panthers team that suddenly got scared of the fact of being in the Superbowl.   Manning played poorly, Cam Newton played scared, and the Broncos defense did nothing better than escape when it faced an opponent not intimidated by the moment.


The other signature Marino myth is that he lacked an adequate running game.   Here also the myth is false, and it is worth expanding on for CHFF's original piece missed a key fact about Superbowl history - the number of Superbowl winners with inferior run games to what Marino had.  

Here are the Yards Per Carry run games of Superbowl winners  -

1966 Packers - 3.5 YPC
1967 Packers - 4.0
1968 NY Jets - 3.4
1969 Chiefs - 4.3
1970 Colts - 3.3
1971 Cowboys - 4.4
1972 Dolphins - 4.8
1973 Dolphins - 5.0
1974 Steelers - 4.4
1975 Steelers - 4.5
1976 Raiders - 4.1
1977 Cowboys - 4.2
1978 Steelers - 3.6
1979 Steelers - 4.6
1980 Raiders - 4.0
1981 49ers - 3.5
1982 Redskins - 3.6
1983 Raiders - 4.1
1984 49ers - 4.6
1985 Bears - 4.5
1986 NY Giants - 4.0
1987 Redskins - 4.2
1988 49ers - 4.8
1989 49ers - 4.0
1990 NY Giants - 3.8
1991 Redskins - 3.8
1992 Cowboys - 4.2
1993 Cowboys - 4.4
1994 49ers - 3.9
1995 Cowboys - 4.4
1996 Packers - 4.0
1997 Broncos - 4.6
1998 Broncos - 4.7
1999 Rams - 4.8
2000 Ravens - 4.3
2001 Patriots - 3.8
2002 Buccaneers - 3.8
2003 Patriots - 3.4
2004 Patriots -  4.1
2005 Steelers - 4.0
2006 Colts - 4.0
2007 NY Giants - 4.6
2008 Steelers - 3.7
2009 Saints - 4.5
2010 Packers - 3.8
2011 NY Giants - 3.5
2012 Ravens - 4.3
2013 Seahawks - 4.3
2014 Patriots - 3.9
2015 Broncos - 4.2
2016 Patriots - 3.9

Here are the Dolphins run games in YPC in Marino's career -

1983 - 3.8 YPC
1984 - 4.0
1985 - 3.9
1986 - 4.4
1987 - 4.1
1988 - 3.6
1989 - 3.3
1990 - 3.7
1991 - 3.6
1992 - 3.7
1993 - 3.5
1994 - 3.8
1995 - 3.6
1996 - 3.5
1997 - 3.1
1998 - 3.4
1999 - 3.3

In all just eleven Superbowl champions had a better run game than what Marino had.

It is also worth noting how teams ostensibly with great ground games such as the Lombardi Packers and No-Name Defense-era Dolphins were superior passing teams rather than winning because they ran the ball well.   The bottom line here is that Marino had run games superior to multiple Superbowl champions for basically the whole of his 17-season career.    The argument that he lacked a run game is not only false, it is dishonest.

The counterargument I've heard from Marino defenders is that he didn't have "a 1,000-yard rusher, a stud running back like Barry Sanders or Emmitt Smith."   It doesn't matter.   Sanders never got to a Superbowl because, though he got some genuinely good seasons out of Scott Mitchell, overall it was quarterbacking that was the Sanders-era Lions' downfall.   Smith ostensibly made the Aikman-era Cowboys offense go, except much of his yardage came after Aikman's passing had put the Cowboys up over their opponent (not my words, those of NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell).  Smith needed Aikman more than Aikman needed Smith.

As for 1,000-yard rushers, the greatest rushing attacks in league history are the 1976 and 1978 New England Patriots, who combined for 6,122 yards on the ground - the 1976 team averaged FIVE yards per carry at 2,957 yards (higher than every Superbowl champion except the 1973 Dolphins who only tie the 1976 Pats at Five YPC) while the 1978 team's 3,165 yards (4.7 YPC)  remains the most in league history - and not once did they have a 1,000-yard rusher.


Another Marino myth is that he had to carry the Dolphins - an assertion better suited to Tom Brady and Drew Brees than to Marino.    Marino inherited a Superbowl power and spent his career doing less with more - Marino ended up as a quarterback whose average season was 10-6 - the same as Steve McNair, who unlike Marino had to help bring the Oilers/Titans franchise to contention after the tumultuous 1995-98 move from Houston to Tennessee; he did that and made the Titans a playoff contender and made himself league co-MVP in 2003.   Further worth noting is that McNair brought the Titans to the doorstep of overtime in his one Superbowl, where Marino was outclassed from the opening gun in his.

This myth is also true of Peyton Manning, though Manning played a bigger role in resurrecting the Colts at the time of his drafting - the Colts between 1977's "Ghost To The Post" playoff loss to the Oakland Raiders and the off-season 1999 trade of Marshall Faulk to the Rams won just 107 games; they reached 141 wins in Manning's thirteen seasons there.  

Yet even here Manning had a better roster than his archenemy Tom Brady - Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Marcus Pollard, plus some quality running backs - and when he joined the Broncos he had Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas (of Tim Tebow vs. the Steelers fame) and then got Julius Thomas for the 2013 season.   Manning has not had to build rosters the way Tom Brady has, and the way Marino never did; it is noteworthy that Manning quit on several receivers, notably Pierre Garcon, who has become an effective weapon for the Washington Redskins.

Then there is the big-game quarterback myth.   Marino won only eight playoff games and just one of them on the road (1999 at Seattle) while Manning won fourteen of twenty-seven playoff games with  nine playoff runs in which he failed to win one game.    The game usually cited in Marino retrospectives is the Fake Spike Game against the NY Jets - a regular-season game against a team that finished 6-10.    

More relevant to Marino's career is the 51-45 overtime loss to the Jets in 1986 - up 45-38 in the fourth quarter - this after his defense kept forcing Jets turnovers - Marino only needed to convert one first down to win - and he didn't do it, a cutting illustration of Marino's career.   His 1995 games where he broke Fran Tarkenton's records for touchdowns, yardage, and completions were all losses - 27-24 and 36-28 to the Colts, 34-17 to the Patriots - and another fitting illustration of the illusions surrounding his career.

Also instructive is the play-by-play sheet of Marino's only Superbowl -

Dolphins drives in Superbowl XIX  -

No score - Marino drive ends in field goal - 3-0
SFO takes 7-3 lead - Marino drive, five straight completions, touchdown - 7-3
SFO takes 14-10 lead - Marino drive three plays and punt
SFO takes 21-10 lead - Marino drive, two incompletions and punt
SFO takes 28-10 lead - Marino drive ends in field goal - 28-13
SFO up 28-13 - SFO fumbles kickoff, Dolphins field goal, end of half - 28-16 halftime

SFO up 28-16 - Marino drive, sacked once, three plays, punt
SFO takes 31-16 lead - Marino drive, sacked twice, three plays, punt
SFO takes 38-16 lead - Marino drives to SFO 27, then intercepted
SFO up 38-16 - Marino drives to SFO 21, then intercepted
SFO up 38-16 - Marino drives to SFO 30, fumbles, recovers fumble, clock expires, end of game

Finally there is what the Dolphins did before they drafted Marino - they won 141 games, two Superbowls, and ten additional playoff games in the seventeen years before they drafted him.   Fifty-seven wins and a Superbowl berth came in the six seasons immediately before they drafted Marino; Marino won 60 games and just three playoff games in his first six seasons - and just 141 games total in his seventeen seasons.   The Dolphins then won 41 games in the four seasons after Marino retired where Marino won 45 games in his last five seasons in the league.

If anything Marino was rescued by the league's 1990 decision to add a third wildcard playoff team - of his eight playoff wins five of them came after the addition of a sixth playoff team, and only once (1992) in that span did he get out of the Divisional Round.

Marino's volume stats are his only real claim to be a Hall Of Famer - his inferior yards per throw, mediocre completion percentage, and subpar touchdown to interception ratio tag him as one of the more overrated quarterbacks in NFL history as well - and it is telling that Don Shula has admitted that Marino often changed playcalls so he could throw the ball more (while Jimmy Johnson was criticized for taking that away from Marino when he became Dolphins head coach) - a sign Shula should have given up on Marino well before he retired.

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