Great Expectations - "Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There's no better rule."- C. Dickens
In his career, Peyton Manning has scored an average of 26 points per game.
The Denver Broncos, from 2000-10, have scored an average of 23 points per game.
Tim Tebow has a career average of 22 points per game.
At what point do we ask ourselves the question, just what do we expect from Peyton Manning as a Denver Bronco and what is the fallout of letting Tebow go for so little?
I get the sense that there is a widely held belief that when Manning joins this Broncos team, the whole landscape of our offense will change. I'm not talking just about a read-option heavy run offense versus a no huddle heavy pass offense. I'm talking about pure point production. The idea that when Manning takes over at QB our history of low scoring, win by the skin of our teeth games are going to be a thing of the past.
I hear a lot of talk about the new Broncos always being up by two touchdowns and thus are going to have a ferocious pass rush. I hear that Manning is going to save our defense, our offense and probably solve our traffic problems here in Denver as well. Expectations are sky high.
They are too high.
As Bronco fans we've seen first hand the best of Manning. No hyperbole there. It's entirely true. Manning had arguably his single greatest game against the Broncos. Check out this stat line:
458 Yards, 81.8% CMP, 4 TD's, 1 INT, 145.7 Rating.
That game happened on January 9, 2004 in the first round of the playoffs.
Every time Manning has come to town he has given this Broncos team a clinic in offensive football. It's only natural to think that when Manning becomes a part of this team permanently he will do that to every other team right?
Manning's own history would suggest otherwise. History suggests that while our offense may look a lot different we will not be suddenly blowing teams out by 2+ touchdowns each week. Will will still be entering the fourth quarter with the game on the line.
The crazy thing is deep down you know it. You know it because just like John Elway, Manning has earned his Hall of Fame status not just in the games where he blew teams away, but also in the games where he came from behind to win it.
Settling the Score
Manning-led teams scored more than 35 points 15 percent of all games during his regular season career as a Colt, or an average of 2.3 games in a 16-game schedule. Compare that to the last decade of Bronco quarterbacks (from Brister all the way to Orton) who scored more than 35 points 13 percent of the time, which comes out to exactly two games in a 16-game schedule.
If we are counting on Manning to consistently blow teams away we may be setting ourselves up for disappointment. The true greatness of Manning doesn't lie in his ability to blow teams away, but in his ability to win close games and win the fourth quarter. This is territory that should feel a little more familiar to Bronco fans.
Manning is a winner. While scoring only three more points per game on average than the Broncos over the same 10-year period, Manning has won 20 more games. Quick calculus tells me that's an extra two wins per season. Meaning, while scoring marginally more points than the Broncos have been historically used to, Manning represents the difference between, say, an 8-8 team and a 10-6 team. How important is that?
Since 1990 (when the wildcard was added) only five teams have won 10 games and failed to make the playoffs.
This is the power of Peyton Manning. Sure we'll have some high scoring games. Statistically we should get about two or three of those. The real value of Manning, however, lies in his ability to keep his team close and ahead when the clock ticks down to zero.
That is the winning gene. You win with a lot of points. You win with a few points. Bottom line is, you still win.
Throughout his career, Manning has found a way to win time and time again, just like John Elway was defined in his career by finding ways to win again and again when the game hung in the balance. When one play can make it or break it, Manning and Elway each made that play more often than any other QBs in history.
We are faced with an interesting situation. We were a 4-12 football team in 2010. One complete coaching overhaul and draft later we started out exactly the same at 1-4 in 2011. We added Tebow, benched Orton and became an 8-8 team. Now we have removed the catalyst that gave us a 7-4 run to the playoffs and replaced him with one of the greatest in the game at that position. How much has really changed?
If feels like we upgraded our QB position dramatically, but history tells us that unless last year for Tebow truly was a fluke or divine intervention, the actual difference in the win/loss column will be modest (1-2 games). Consider this collection of fourth quarter stats.
4th Qtr/OT score within 8 points. Last 2 seasons per ESPN stats.
|'10 Manning||'11 Tebow|
|Yds per att||7.0||10.5|
What are the expectations? I can tell you that signing the biggest free agent in NFL history means that this deal only works if we make it to the Super Bowl in the next three years. That should be exciting for us. High risk, high reward. A prototypical John Elway move.
However, I believe we are still riding the high of the past week if we believe the pieces around Manning make this team a Superbowl contender. Without Tebow, Manning is walking right back to a losing team. This team has a long way to go and it needs to get there quickly or we will miss our window of opportunity as time works in no man's favor... except maybe for Benjamin Button.
Peyton Manning may be the missing piece that gets us back to the Superbowl, but he is going to need to do it with these pieces quickly and without the guy that accounted for over 30 percent of all Denver touchdowns since he joined the team in 2010.
It's a shame, really, that we are effectively giving away one of the few young prospects in the NFL that has shown an uncanny ability to be that quarterback with the game on the line to just go out and win for pennies on the dollar. Sure he didn't give us the blowout win yet, but when it mattered most, he found a way to win more often than not. That is a product of will and a product of leadership. Is that product really worth a fourth and change?
It's bad business to just give away prospects.
Still, John Elway has acquired the foundation of the team he envisioned. He has banked his reputation as a manager on a 36-year-old QB legend and whatever amount of time his body has left. In the same breath he kicked the most important player in obtaining Manning out the door. Let us all hope that Elway is building something to last and not a tall house of cards.
Tebow-time may have run out in Denver, but a new time has started and its end is frighteningly close in comparison. Mr. Elway may be enjoying the high of landing the most important free agent in NFL history, but when the games begin in the fall he must be sure that these steps will take us to the next level. The stakes are impossibly high.
There will be a reckoning time, and it will consider all the actions of these past few hours. I must admit, it has felt like someone has both given me the greatest news imaginable and then punched me in the face. Tebow's roots in Denver went deep and, regardless of how you feel about him, they were ripped out as violently as they were quickly. I'm sad and a little angry to lose him as a Bronco considering all he has done for us and for a price that hardly seems to replace his value to this team, even as a backup.
However, what's done is done, and I can hardly contain my excitement to see where this team goes in the next 10 months. I'm sure the person who is most acutely aware of the need for this team to win now is the one in charge of bringing in the necessary players to make it happen. The weight of responsibility to get us back to the Superbowl is on him, and he tends to deliver. I'm glad it's not mine.
"Heavy lies the head that wears the crown." W. Shakespeare
The Broncos have work to do.
The clock is ticking.