A Detailed Analysis of Big Ben vs. Eli

Hello, everyone! This is the first ever post on the newly created Wolfpacksteelersfan’s Blog. Some of you may recognize me from Behind the Steel Curtain or other SBNation blogs. Most of my posts will consist of statistical analyses, but I may throw in something else if I feel like it. Anyway, if anyone has any ideas for an analysis that you want to see, let me know. I will do my best to get them. Anyway, let’s dive right into the first analysis.

A few days ago, on ESPN.com‘s AFC North blog, James Walker argued that Ben Roethlisberger is ahead of Eli Manning in every way.  Then, ESPN’s NFC East blogger, Matt Mosley, argued the opposite. After reading both arguments, I wanted to take a more in depth look at Big Ben’s accomplishments versus Eli’s. James’s arguments are based on Ben’s superior numbers in every category except sacks. Matt’s rebuttal seems to largely rest on the argument that the Steelers were loaded in 2004 while the Giants sucked and that because the NFC East is stronger than the AFC North, Eli has faced tougher defenses, on average. So, I thought it was worthwhile to test the validity of these arguments and see what else the pertinent data can tell us. All data in this post comes from www.pro-football-reference.com.

First, let’s take a quick look at the raw data. Eli Manning’s career statistics can be found here, while Ben’s can be found here. As Walker argued, the raw numbers favor Ben significantly. Since both have started 71 games and the number of games appeared in is only one more for Eli, this is about as close a comparison as can be made. So, given the same number of starts, Ben has

  • 9 more wins
  • over 300 more pass yards
  • 3 more passing TDs
  • 5 fewer INTs
  • a higher yards/attempt (1.5 more)
  • a higher passer rating (13.3 points higher)
  • one more SB win
  • 4 more playoff wins
  • one less playoff loss
  • rushed for 401 more yards and 7 more rushing TDs than Eli
  • lost 7 fewer fumbles than Eli
  • and taken 72 more sacks for an additional 409 yards lost, which approximately offsets Ben’s additional rush yards.

So, based on raw numbers, it does appear that Ben has a considerable advantage over Eli. So, the real question is: How valid are Mosley’s arguments that the Steelers were much better than the Giants in 2004 and that the NFC East is much stronger than the AFC North? And, I will add one more: If the NFC East was stronger, what was the difference in the level of defense that each QB has faced, on average, in their career? That is to say, even if one division was stronger or weaker, division opponents only account for 6 games each year. The other 10 games, almost 2/3 of the schedule, come from outside the division.

One of Mosley’s arguments was that the Steelers have had a much stronger run game and faced, on average, an overall weaker defensive schedule than the Giants. You know, because the NFC Beast, as he calls it, is always the toughest division in the NFL. So, I pulled the data for each team during the last five years for both offensive rushing ranks and the average rank of defense that each has faced throughout the year. To be fair, I eliminated those games that Ben and Eli did not play in when considering the average rankings of opposing defenses. Here are the results:

Ben Roethlisberger
Year Rush Offense Rank Average Yearly Opponent Defensive Ranks
2004 2 10.81
2005 5 18.13
2006 10 14.53
2007 3 19.81
2008 23 12.53
Career Avg 8.6 15.16
Eli Manning
Year Rush Offense Rank Average Yearly Opponent Defensive Ranks
2004 11 9.63
2005 6 16.94
2006 7 17.24
2007 4 15.05
2008 1 11.06
Career Avg 5.8 13.98

First, let’s review the rush offense that supported each QB. From reading Mosley’s defense of Manning, one would have expected to see a rush offense ranked near the bottom of the league early in Manning’s career. On the contrary, Manning was a supported by a rush offense that has ranked in the top third of the league his entire career. In fact, although it is true that Ben enjoyed the top ranked rush offense in the NFL his rookie year, it is Eli who has had more overall support from the running game through the course of his career.

Next, let’s review the average ranking of opposing defenses that each faced. In this case, Eli does have the slight edge. When compiling the defensive ranking of each QB’s opponents, the average ranking for the defenses that Eli has faced is slightly more than 1 position higher than Ben’s. As Mosley argued, that discrepancy is likely due to the fact that the Steelers have played the Browns and Bengals, whose defenses have sucked for most of Ben’s career. However, let’s not get the idea that they were ranked 31 and 32 each year. In fact, the Bengals were ranked 12th in total defense last year. And while the Cowboys, Eagles, and Redskins were each ranked in the top 10 defensively last year, they were certainly not all top ten defenses every year of Eli’s career.

So, where does this data really leave us in the Ben vs. Eli debate? Honestly, I don’t see a huge difference overall. I think that the key differentiator is in playoff success. During the regular season, you could say that Ben has had slightly better overall success in most categories, significantly better in passer rating. But in the playoffs, Ben has so far exceeded Eli’s accomplishment by a significant amount. His poor performance in SB XL notwithstanding, he still has twice as many playoff wins and twice as many SB victories as Eli. Even in SB XL, he had a huge clutch play, converting a 3rd and long with a 37 yard pass to Hines Ward. Certainly, his performance in SB XLIII stacks up with Eli’s performance in SB XLII. So, on balance, I would still have to give the nod to Big Ben as the class of the 2004 draft.

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36 Responses to “A Detailed Analysis of Big Ben vs. Eli”

  1. Ben Stuplisberger Says:

    I can make an even better case that Eli has had superior run support compared to Ben.

    The effectiveness of a running game is better measured using yards/carry rather than total yards. A high yards/carry means shorter distances for first downs, fewer 3rd and longs, and more options in a pass/run mix.

    Throughout Eli’s career, the Giants have had far better runs/carry numbers than the Steelers.

    Pittsburgh New York Giants
    2004 4.0 4.5
    2005 4.0 4.7
    2006 4.2 4.7
    2007 4.2 4.6
    2008 3.7 5.0

    It’s no coincidence that Manning’s best year as a pro was last year. 5.0 yards per carry is a huge number for a team without a running qb. Running qb’s skew the averages, because qb’s generally get higher numbers per attempt than running backs. No team since 2004 other than the New York Giants has averaged 5 or more yards per rush without a great running quarterback.

    • jim Says:

      huge giants fan here….
      ben’s got 2 rings, that ends it. when they even up in that category this debate might be interesting. bottom line, 6 points down and 2 minutes to go…you’d feel pretty good with either of them.

  2. BD Says:

    I think Ben gets a raw deal about SB XL. OK, his rating was only 23 or so but he made a number of clutch plays in that game. This reflects a weakness in the QB rating system rather than in Ben. The system doesn’t differentiate between a scramble, fake, dodge and complete the 10 yd pass on the run to keep a drive alive, from a routine 10yd completion against a prevent defense when the team is 3rd and 20. These are the intangibles we all talk about.

    • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

      I have thought so too. He scored a rushing TD, saved that drive with his big pass to Hines, threw the block that sprung Randle El on the game-clinching TD pass, and ran for the first down that clinched the ability to run out most of the clock. As I’ve heard others say, if Hines hadn’t dropped a TD in the endzone, that single catch would have given Ben a much better passer rating in that game. It still wouldn’t have been good, but it would probably have been around 50 or 60, instead of 23.

  3. Don Says:

    very nice stuff the media would let you to believe eli has it harder then Ben,,
    Ben needs one more super bowl to get the respect he deserves, he dont’ need any more from us steeler fans just media..

  4. cgp Says:

    additionally, rush offense rank includes QB scrambling yards on passing downs, which boosts the steelers results, so the difference in “running game” quality is actually understated

  5. WyoFan Says:

    Sure the numbers show that Ben is better, but it is much more than that. I always get the feeling that Eli is a deer in the headlights. Ben’s presance is so much greater than Eli’s. I feel like Eli can win if everything is clicking, but Ben can drag a struggling team to victory. Given the choice of either quarterback on a bad team, I would pick Big Ben.

  6. GMenfan Says:

    You’re right, statistically Big Ben is a better QB. As a life long, die hard Giants fan, living in the middle of Redskin Nation, I see the best (Giants) and the worst (Redskins) of what a front office can do to a young QB. I will stay with Eli. NY is a tough town in many respects not the least of which is how the organization treats its palyers. You can keep big ben. Eli is our guy. We sold some stock to get him and for my money Eli is a better Giants QB. How he would fair in another town or how Big Ben would fare in NY is a waste of good footbal talk.
    Peace!

    • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

      Hey, I agree with you. Absolutely, if I was a Giants fan, I don’t think that I would trade Eli for Ben. The reason, for me, is that he gave you guys a championship. He had a ton of help from his D in that game, but he delivered the game-winning drive for you when needed it. Things like that build plent of love for a player in the fanbase.

  7. Doug Says:

    I’m a Giants season ticket holder but I would be the first one to concede that Ben has had the better career so far. The biggest knock on Eli, and this shows up in his stats, is that he has games where he is beyond awful. They are fewer than they used to be, but last year’s playoff game against the Eagles was a good example of Eli having a stinker, in that case at the worst possible time. I was mad at Eli for months but have gotten over it.

    In defense of Eli, he does one thing that does not show up well in stats. When the game is in the fourth quarter and in doubt, Eli lifts his game. I’d love to see if some one could isolate Eli’s stats when the Giants enter the fourth quarter and the game is within 10 points either way. My bet is that if you isolate on that situation, Eli is one of the top 3 QB’s in the league. I’m sure has better numbers than Peyton in that situation. Eli loses too many games in the first three quarters to be included with the Upper Echlon QB’s, but I always like the chances when the game is close.

  8. craig henry Says:

    Great post.

  9. Varmint Says:

    As a follow-up, it would be interesting to know which division had the better pass and rush defenses. Obviously, a better rush defense puts more pressure on the QB to get the job done. The combined defensive rank is more important, but I think knowing both categories would be an interesting addition. (Yes, I’m giving you homework!)

    When you consider how many times the Steeler offense has made 4th quarter comebacks, it make it pretty obvious Pittsburgh is not just sitting on a lead and allowing their defense to settle the game. Ben deserves credit for the wins.

  10. kevin Says:

    There was a nice complilation of data and research done in this article which is truly appreciated as opposed to the talking heads who usually just pull things out of … Anyway there are a couple of omissions that would definitely tip the argument in eli’s favor. One is the defenses. Only the last 2 years has eli enjoyed a top ten defense. Ben has never endured a season without a top ten defense. And we all know defense wins in the playoffs. Look especially at the giants defenses as they entered the playoffs during those years eli lost in the playoffs. Look at the 3rd down conversion rate of philly in this last playoff loss. Meanwhile in the superbowl harrison runs the ball back for a td and they win by 4. If Warner doesn’t throw that pick and they even get a field goal there now win. Afc champ. game score 16-14 flacco throws pic ret. for td. Game over. Eli has never had his team ret. a pic 6 in playoffs even in ’07. In the 1st supe for ben he stunk up the joint but seattle was held to 10. Randel El throws td in 2nd half. If giants hold philly to 10 pts this year Eli has another playoff win. So that playoff win comparison for ben doesn’t really carry much weight. The other thing is eli has never missed the playoffs as a full time starter ben has. Eli has taken a team ranked 22 and 25 in defense to the playoffs ben hasn’t. Eli won a superbowl with a team that led the league in drops ben hasn’t. Eli won a divison with a team that was third in the league in penalties. Here’s the point if you give Eli the defense ben has he has more than one superbowl also if you give ben the defense eli has he may not have had even one.

    • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

      Some really good points there. Especially the fact that Ben has enjoyed stronger defenses than Eli through most of his career. I would only counter with a couple of points. The last two years, both enjoyed great defenses, while Ben had a top five rushing attack only one of those two years. This past year, Ben had the number 1 defense, but the number 23 ranked rush offense. The other point that I would make is that, yes, Ben did miss the playoffs one year as a starter, while Eli has taken the Giants to the playoffs every year as a starter. However, the Giants squeaked into the playoffs at 8-8 in 2006. That’s the exact same record the Steelers had the year that Ben missed the playoffs. I think that this really just shows the overall discrepancy in quality between the AFC and NFC for the most of the decade. Until 2007, the NFC had been called by some the JV conference of the NFL. Ben’s record against the NFC (18-4) compared to Eli’s vs. the AFC (11-9) would seem to support this, as well.

      • kevin Says:

        This argument has always made me laugh when I here that ben was in the afc and the nfc was the jv league. This makes my argument about eli vs ben. Here’s the question what is more impressive the qb of college team beating college team and nfl teams or the qb of an nfl team competeing with nfl teams and crushing college teams. If the nfc was the jv league and yet eli could take the jv talent around him and have an above .500 record against the varsity it proves what I’ve always said is the difference between eli and ben and every other qb except brady and his brother. Ben beats the teams you are suppose to beat. eli beats the teams you are not suppose to beat ie. perfect pats, the cowboys, greenbay.

        • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

          This argument seemed to me a very good point at first. Because you’re saying that Eli must be great to have such success against the AFC, who, in this analogy, is clearly superior to the NFC. Since he is on a “JV” team, but is still able to have success against the varsity teams, he elevates his team more, right? The only problem is that the more I think about that, it doesn’t really work. Eli’s career record vs. the NFC is 31-20. In college, if one player is clearly head and shoulders above the others, particularly a QB (e.g. Vince Young, Tim Tebow), he dominates that level of competition. But, Eli hasn’t done that. Also, if you say that Eli “beats the teams you are not supposed to beat,” only one of those teams you listed qualifies: the Pats*. The others were part of the “JV” in your analogy. So, in essence, you’re saying that winning the SB in this case is analogous to App State beating Michigan.

  11. CHAZBO Says:

    all these stats can be further overanalyzed by quality of wide receivers,
    offensive line strength, etc ad nauseam. How about durability? How
    about ability to withstand the rush and accuracy after being hit? If Eli
    were sacked 49 times a season, he’d never play the next. Ben is basically
    a winner. Period. For those who fixate on passing stats, compare Warner’s
    inability to fall in front of Deebo in the SB and Ben’s takedown of the interceptor in the Indy playoff game (after which brother Peyton threw
    his O line under the bus because they didn’t give him 10 seconds to
    throw- the prom queen). Technically imperfect, seldom pretty, Ben is
    still my absolute first choice to QB the stillerz.

  12. kevin Says:

    There was a comment made that eli has to have everything perfect to win and ben doesn’t, interesting. Eli was sacked 8 times against the eagles in ’06 the running game was shut down and the defense was terrible for 3 qtrs. Down 24-7 he puts up 23 straight pts. to win in ot 30-24. Denver ’05 defense gives up 200 yds on the ground down 13pts. in the 4th eli puts up 14 to win. In ’05 it took 16 penalties, 13 offensive 3 missed field goals and the defense giving up the winning drive in ot to beat manning in seattle 24-21 after he came from 8 down in the 4th. The ultimate, he beat a bill b. defense that had 2 weeks to prepare for him, that was undefeated, that held the great ben to 13pts. that year. And he did it with no pro bowlers on offense, and 3 rookies playing a major role on offense. How does that compare with beating 2 nfc west teams in the superbowl. Answer it doesn’t.

    • buzznutter Says:

      I’m a Steeler fan living in NYC. I’m sympathetic to your points, Kevin, but cherry picking particular games doesn’t really help. I don’t really think there’s an argument that Ben isn’t an unbelievably clutch QB. Perhaps Eli is at his level — I haven’t followed him closely enough to know — but the idea that Manning is a BETTER 4th quarter QB is a non starter. And your remark about the “2 nfc west teams” just makes you look silly. If they were in the SB, then by definition they beat the Giants, or beat the teams that beat the Giants. How does beating 2 nfc west teams compare with LOSING to 2 nfc west teams?

  13. wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

    Hey guys, I think that you can reply directly to a comment. kevin, I just saw that you referred to a comment, but didn’t hit the Reply link. If you don’t see that link, let me know. I’ll try to figure out why. I’ve replied to a few comments. Anyway, thanks for all of the great conversation. This has been more of success so far than I thought for the first day of my first blog post.

  14. cornfields Says:

    They are both good QBs, but you are missing a lot of the equation when you leave out durability and health. Ben is already showing signs of wear, and his style punishes the body. Eli is very fresh and has yet to sustain a serious injury or miss a game. It would not surprise me if Ben is nearly done in 3 years. Eli likely has a good decade left in him at least. Why is this important? Because teams typically tailspin when they lose their QB… either for a few games or at the end of a career.

    • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

      cornfields, you may be right. But, we don’t know for sure. We know that Ben is taking more sacks and hits than Eli, yes. But, the most sacked QB in NFL history was John Elway, and he played 17 seasons, I believe. Certainly Ben needs better protection.

  15. steelerfreak76 Says:

    Great post. Obviously, Big Ben’s my first choice to QB the steelers. He is just more of a complete FOOTBALL player than Eli. That being said, I wouldn’t cry if Eli was the QB of the steelers. But, he doesn’t fit the steelers M.O. He’s from football royalty. Ben’s a blue collar guy, like the steelers and the ‘Burgh. He is a flat out winner, ’nuff said. Eli is a flashy, stats type QB. Ben’s a draw-up-a-play-in-the-dirt, go-out-and-get-a-win-some-how kind of QB. Just a winner, plain and simple. Also plain and simple; Ben’s the better QB.
    GO STEELERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. Daddy Says:

    @ Kevin

    Yeah, you can mention all those games you want, but guess what? Ben has been even better, he has the most 4th quarter comebacks in the league since he’s been in the league. Which means he has more than Manning. More rings too.

  17. slr Says:

    Ben had a huge advantage coming in, especially to those of us who saw Eli get smacked around in the beginning when the Giants and Coughlin were awful. Frankly I thought he would be seriously hurt. Also Ben probably had a much better set of receivers even today and i don’t know about the wind conditions in Pittsburgh, but i hope the new Giants stadium is not like the old one or the awful new Yankee stadium.

    As for the drive and the giants win over the patriots man oh man, ties John U for the best. In fact that whole Play off series was magic. BTW beating the Cardinals really. the Giants beat both super bowl teams last year. Eli does come up with clunkers though until the 4th quarter. As for Ben he has a stronger body and arm, but I also think Eli protects himself better, he’s pretty clever that way

  18. fishfan39 Says:

    If Elis’ last name wasn’t Manning the media would have (and rightly so)labeled him a BUST in the very same year that the Giants won the Super Bowl. When you look at what the Giants gave up in order to get him they got SCREWED!!!! There are at least 10 QBs in the league right now that are better than Eli. Give me Merriman and Rivers over Eli. Heck give me either Merriman or Rivers any day of the week and twice on Sundays. The Giants won the Super Bowl yes but it wasn’t due to Mannings’ stellar play. He sucked then and still sucks!! His defense tossed Brady around like a rag doll. I’ve never seen Brady with so many grass stains on his uniform. That one LUCKY pass which shouldn’t have been but was somehow caught (again nothing to do with with Manning) instead of intercepted or at the very least incomplete. The receiver catching the ball off of his helmet had absolutely nothing to do with Mannings skill set. The media plays him up so much that it makes me sick to even listen to them talk about him. They must not be watching the same games that I do. He doesn’t even compare to Big Ben.

    • Chuckydee9 Says:

      Fishfan funny how you mention how bad Eli was in the game against the patriots…… Eli himself was sacked 3 times and should have been sacked the forth time when he threw the pass to Tyree….. The Patriots defense was all over him as well……. i guess he gets no credit for sticking in there and making throws to his recievers…..If he had a Ben like superbowl he would have lost the game…… I have too much respect for Ben to say anything bad about him but the teams he beat were far inferior to the Patriots…. plus eli was appropriately given the MVP of the superbowl…… 1 mvp vs. none…..

  19. mikey Says:

    Well, there are so many intangibles that go in to this that it becomes hard to really gauge. The playoff loss to the eagles was mainly bad play calling and yes, two missed field goals.

    By the end of this year their stats will be comparable and the argument there will be moot. However, you have to look at performance in the SuperBowl. ben was miserable in his first SuperBowl and the steelers won IN SPITE of him. Eli Manning stepped it up and brough his team down the field and did something that ben still can’t do, he beat the Patriots in the post season.

    • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

      You seem to have forgotten Ben’s performance in the last SB. In yards, TDs, and INTs, their numbers are already comparable. Where they diverge greatly is in completion percentage (63.4 for Ben, 56.3 for Eli) and passer rating (90.5 for Ben, and 78.1 for Eli). Both look awesome so far this year, but in the entirety of their careers, you have to give the nod to Ben.

  20. Understanding Says:

    Well … as I type this the Giants have lost three in a row and Eli is looking downright awful. Granted the Giants losses are not all his fault as the defense [particularly their secondary] is depleted and getting torched plus their pass rush sucks. But overall the way I see it . . . if u are a Number One pick and u’re getting millions and millions of dollars then u are getting paid for times like these. When your team needs u, u have 2 put your team on your back, elevate your play and WILL your team 2 win. Eli is NOT looking so hot in his ability [or lack thereof] to do that over the past three games. He has looked mediocre at best.

    This debate will no doubt continue but 4 me I’d take Ben over Eli any day. I was speaking with a Giant fan be4 the season started and he confided in me that he just didn’t trust Eli and he said [like someone in this thread said] Eli looks like a deer caught in the headlights. He’s been looking that way more and more over the past couple of games.

  21. Understanding Says:

    In a DAILY NEWS article on Eli Manning 2day it said:

    “It’s time for the $106.9 million quarterback to step up and save the season instead of being one of the main reasons for the three-game losing streak. There are many culprits during this disappearing act during which the Giants have been outscored 112-61 by the Saints, Cardinals and Eagles – can this secondary cover anyone? – but Manning is the highest-paid player in the league because he’s supposed to lift his team and make everyone around him better.

    This is all part of the responsibility and job description of a veteran quarterback who has been a Super Bowl MVP, but even more than that, it’s an obligation after the organization made such a huge financial commitment this summer, including $35 million guaranteed.

    Just a few weeks ago, Manning was a leading candidate, along with his big brother Peyton, Drew Brees and Brett Favre, in the early-season MVP race. But in the last three games, he has six interceptions and a lost fumble, and has returned to the days of making every pass an adventure.”

    • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

      Over at PFR.com, they had a post a few weeks ago showing how much better Eli had been playing since Week 17 of 2007. Link here: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/?p=4265.

      One of the commenters noted that it was really two very good streaks (2007 playoffs and first 5 games of 2009) sandwiched around 13 games of mediocre performances. Eli may be streaky. . . .

  22. Jack Wolfskin Says:

    Jack Wolfskin…

    [...]A Detailed Analysis of Big Ben vs. Eli « Checking the Numbers[...]…

  23. Girls For Marriage Says:

    Girls For Marriage…

    [...]A Detailed Analysis of Big Ben vs. Eli « Checking the Numbers[...]…

  24. Tavio Dock Says:

    Big Ben is the better qb period… Eli shouldn’t even have 2 rings… The helmet catch was incomplete… So give me a break.. San Diego should’ve just picked rivers outright and left Eli right there because he’s not worth a #1 pick…

  25. boasupreme Says:

    Black and Gold….

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