What Have We Learned About Peyton Manning Entering the 2012 Season?
After 13 years of starting every single game, Peyton Manning missed the entire 2011 season.
And now he's back.
Few players have been more prolific than Manning—he is, after all, one of the best quarterbacks ever—so naturally his return is garnering plenty of attention.
So we have a first-ballot Hall of Famer returning from a year off.
Oh, and he's on a new team. The guy who put together a Hall of Fame career with the Indianapolis Colts is now a Denver Bronco.
After multiple neck surgeries, Manning is facing a few questions, to put it lightly. No one knows just what to expect.
So what will Manning give Denver?
This is the obvious issue for Manning. The former No. 1 overall pick has never had a rocket arm, and he's always been one of the slowest players in the game.
At age 36, Manning is clearly on the physical decline, and his neck injury doesn't help. Many have expressed concern about Manning's arm strength.
How good will Manning be in 2012?
Manning probably won't be able to stretch the field vertically quite how he used to, and his intermediate passing game may not be quite the same either.
Fortunately, neither of these aspects has ever been Manning's strong point. He's always been best at reading and taking advantage of the defense.
Without great arm strength, Manning has always needed great accuracy, and he's had it. He rarely misses an open receiver, and he gives his wideouts opportunities to make plays with the ball.
If Manning's accuracy is unchanged, he should be fine, even with some possible decreased velocity. And, to this point, we see no reason to believe Manning's accuracy will be any different.
It's hard to imagine that Manning will be any different here. The former Colt is arguably the smartest quarterback to ever play the game, and that doesn't seem likely to change.
For years, Manning has routinely dissected defenses. He is one of the few players to call his plays at the line of scrimmage, and he has nearly always led an elite offense.
Though Manning has at times put up high interception numbers, he is great at avoiding mistakes and maximizing on defensive opportunities.
The simple fact is that as he ages, Manning is going to start declining. Quarterbacks can play well into their 30s, but they won't be the same as they once were.
Manning's injuries aid the aging process. A player who has had four neck surgeries isn't going to be able to throw the ball as hard as he otherwise could. That's just the reality of the situation.
If Manning were a player who relied on his physical ability, this decreased physical ability would be more problematic. But Manning has never been overly physically blessed, and he's instead used his other skills.
Manning is used to working the mental game and using short passing to his advantage. He knows how to cope with less arm strength.
However, defenses will know Manning's limitations. They will be defending the short game while allowing the vertical attack. That will cut down on Manning's effectiveness.
This is, of course, assuming Manning has lost arm strength, which seems likely. He has admitted his arm isn't the same it used to be, and he probably isn't lying.
It's unreasonable to expect Manning to be the same player he used to be. But that doesn't mean he can't still be an upper-level quarterback.
Manning will do some things as well as he always has, but he will be worse at others. That's the simple progression of the NFL, and it will be a bit more rapid for Peyton Manning than it is for most players.
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