Ken Anderson vs. Phil Simms: Why Raw Numbers Don't Tell the Whole Story

Posted on July 31, 2014 at 8:35 PM

With the Pro Football Hall of Fame annual induction ceremony coming this weekend, I've used the QBS system to evaluate the careers of two retired quarterbacks whom some believe to both be worthy of eventual enshrinement—Ken Anderson and Phil Simms. Their raw career passing statistics are nearly identical across the board.

Anderson (career): 2,654 of 4,475 (59.3) for 32,838 yards, 197 touchdowns and 160 interceptions. 81.9 passer rating.

Simms (career): 2,576 of 4,647 (55.4) for 33,462 yards, 199 touchdowns and 157 interceptions. 78.5 passer rating.

If the Hall of Fame standard is only as good as it's least impressive inductee, Anderson should have been enshrined years ago. His 195.0 career QBS is higher than that of Roger Staubach (178.0), Warren Moon (158.0), John Elway (137.0), Jim Kelly (134.0), Troy Aikman (111.5), Bart Starr (109.0) and Terry Bradshaw (99.5).

Simms' 62.5 career QBS puts him in the class of Matt Schaub (67.0), Chad Pennington (66.0), Jeff George (59.5) and Bobby Herbert (57.0). 

Anderson's 36.0 QBS in 1975 is higher than any season ever produced by Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Brett Favre, John Elway, Roger Staubach or Aaron Rodgers.

In 1981, Anderson earned AP NFL MVP honors and was the AP First-Team All-Pro selection at quarterback—two distinctions that Staubach, Moon and Aikman never achieved during their Hall of Fame careers. Then in 1982, Anderson's 70.6 completion percentage set a new single-season mark that would go on to last for 27 years.

Simms' career, for as similar as it may appear statistically, was drastically different. His role was to play the opposite side of a coin whose better half included a defense coached by Bill Bellichick and led by Lawrence Taylor. In 1986, the year of the Giants' first Super Bowl victory, Simms produced an abysmal 3.5 QBS. He peaked in 1990 with a career-high (but still unremarkable) 13.0 QBS—but then road the bench in Super Bowl XXV, contributing nothing on the field to the Giants' win over the Bills.

Simms' claim to fame was his performance in Super Bowl XXI—going 22 of 25 for 268 yards, 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions—setting the Super Bowl record for completion percentage at 88.0. It was an impressive performance against the Broncos' unimpressive 16th ranked pass defense. It didn't matter that to reach that very Super Bowl, Simms only had to attempt 16 passes vs. the 49ers in the playoffs' Divisional round and 14 passes vs. the Redskins in the NFC championship game.

The reality is often less glamorous than "highlights" left for fans to watch. During the Giants' first Super Bowl run in 1986, Simms closed out six games with a passer rating below 66.0—including marks of 47.9 and 43.4 in two games vs. the Cardinals, 29.6 vs. the Eagles and 22.2 vs. the Cowboys—all during the season he's best known for.

Anderson's 30.9 QBP is one of the highest in NFL history—higher than Dan Marino (30.0), Brett Favre (30.0) and Tom Brady (30.0).

Simms' 10.2 QBP is nowhere near Hall of Fame caliber—lower than Matt Schaub (12.6), Jeff George (12.0), Marc Bulger (11.6) and Mark Rypien (10.6).

Despite nearly identical statistical outputs, the years in which they played have a monumental impact in evaluating how well the two quarterbacks performed. Anderson's career spanned from 1971-1986, while Simms' career spanned from 1979-1993. Anderson absolutely tore up the NFL in 1974 and 1975—right in the thick of the league's "dead ball" era. His raw statistics wouldn't captivate casual fans, but they should.

Anderson (1974): 213 of 328 (64.9) for 2,667 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. 95.7 passer rating.

Anderson (1975): 228 of 377 (60.5) for 3,169 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. 93.9 passer rating.


In 1974, Anderson ranked 1st in passing yards, 5th in touchdown passes, 1st in completion percentage and 3rd in adjusted net yards per attempt—34.0 QBS.

in 1975, Anderson ranked 1st in passing yards, 4th in touchdown passes, 2nd in completion percentage and 1st in adjusted net yards per attempt—36.0 QBS.

Anderson, prime for prime, was as dominant during the "dead ball" era of the mid-1970's as Unitas was during the 1960's, as Marino was during the 1980's and as Favre was during the 1990's. His raw statistics suffer in comparison to other quarterbacks who played during more favorable eras, but his level of performance, as illustrated by the QBS system, was no less impressive. As we continue to live in an age of inflated passing statistics, we drift further away from understanding the early-mid 1970's.

The careers of Anderson and Simms are, in reality, as different as their raw statistics appear to be similar. You have to evaluate their careers based upon how they performed against their contemporaries, season for season and era for era. In that respect, it's clear that Anderson had the much more impressive career of the two.

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