Peyton Manning Is Not a Great Deep-Ball Passer Anymore

Nate DunlevyGuest ColumnistMarch 19, 2012

Peyton Manning isn't the deep threat he used to be.
Peyton Manning isn't the deep threat he used to be.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Tennessee Titans are in hot pursuit of Peyton Manning, and it's easy to see why. With four MVP awards and a raft of records, the mere presence of Manning under center for the Indianapolis Colts helped propel them to a decade of success and excellence. Manning is as decorated and respected as any NFL player in history.

All the enthusiasm can create unrealistic expectations, however. Many Titans fans have expressed delight at the idea of Manning stretching the field and creating more room for the running game with vertical passing.

That idea should be shelved right now.

Peyton Manning is not a great deep passer, and hasn't been for several years. It's well known among Colts fans and media alike that Manning has struggled with arm strength going back several years. Fans would always count up the number of potential "wind" games Manning would have to face late in the year, knowing that he lacked the zip necessary to get the ball deep.

It's easy to point to his declining YPA since 2004, culminating in the second-lowest total his career in 2010. There were outside factors crippling that team's offense, however. The truth is that Manning's struggles deep were evident as early as 2008.

At the time, fans chalked it up to the injuries to Marvin Harrison, but as the seasons progressed, it was clear that Manning's deep ball was simply not as automatic as it had once been.

The raw numbers are striking. Thanks to Pro Football Focus for the charting data.

In 2008, he was 26-of-78 for 932 yards with six touchdowns and six picks. That's a rating of just 73.2.

In 2009, he was 32-of-92 for 1,058 yards 12 touchdowns and seven picks on passes over 20 yards. That's just an 86.9 rating for the league MVP.

In 2010, the numbers fell off further. He was 29-of-95 for 968 yards with 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions for a passer rating of 77.9.

Of Manning's 45 interceptions over his last three seasons, 44 percent of them came on passes over 20 yards, despite the fact that they accounted for just 15 percent of his total passes. By comparison, only 31 percent of his touchdowns were off of long throws.

Manning was brilliant in both 2008 and 2009, and even in 2010, his will to win was a sight to behold. Manning still has a lot to give to the game, but the Titans have to realize that unless he suddenly gains arm-strength after four neck procedures and at the advanced football age of 36, they will not be getting a field-stretching quarterback.

NOTE: For those wanting context, I wrote a follow-up piece.