During the preseason, there were numerous questions surrounding the physical ability of Peyton Manning after neck surgery and a layoff of over 300 days. Manning did his best to calm concerns about his health, but the regular season is a different animal. Defenses that were going to scheme against Manning for the first time would surely take advantage of any physical limitation.
One physical limitation that popped up during the preseason was Manning’s ability to throw right, particularly 15 or more yards down the field. It was reported by ESPN and broken down by yours truly in great detail.
After one game, Manning showed no signs that throwing to his right remains an issue. In fact, Manning attempted nearly twice as many passes to his right than to his left.
Perhaps the direction doesn’t matter as much as the distance. Manning had just one attempt of more than 20 yards, an effortless and accurate deep throw to Demaryius Thomas. The Broncos only attempted it because they were hoping it would be a free play, with the Steelers caught with too many men on the field.
Manning attempted 15 throws to his right and eight to his left. The only bad throw in the entire game against the Steelers was a pass thrown over the head of Brandon Stokley in the end zone—which may have been intentional.
Manning didn’t throw any passes that were noticeably wobbly, he didn’t throw any floating passes and just about everything he did throw hit its target.
The only thing Manning didn’t do with regularity was throw deep, and so what? Manning didn’t need to throw deep because he kept the Broncos in manageable down-and-distance situations. Manning used his football intelligence to change plays at the line and found open receivers against just about any defense the Steelers put on the field.
Play No. 1
This is perhaps the best example to date of Manning’s ability to throw right. The Broncos went to the no-huddle at the end of the first quarter, hoping to catch the Steelers napping with 12 men on the field.
There is nothing special about this play. Thomas is going to run vertical and Manning is going to take a shot.
Manning looks comfortable in the pocket. He’s doesn’t have to waste any movement and doesn’t appear as uncomfortable as he did during the preseason.
The ball was right on target to Thomas. The trajectory of the pass was perfect for this type of throw and gave Thomas a chance to run under it without slowing down. It was the only Manning pass that traveled more than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage, but it was a great throw.
Conclusion: Throwing to the right is not an issue and neither is throwing deep; Manning just prefers high-percentage throws. Had Manning not attempted any deep throws, testing his ability to throw deep might have been a potential strategy. This one throw will keep defenses honest and prevent all but the most daring, desperate teams from leaving receivers open past 20 yards.
Play No. 2
I already used this play to demonstrate Manning’s smarts, but it’s equally good at demonstrating Manning’s ability to throw.
Manning sees Tamme getting around the linebacker, and that’s enough for him. He knows there is an opening to fit in the pass.
What you can’t see in the previous frame is the deep safety and the linebacker that are in zone coverage. Manning sees Tamme getting open and knows he has a small window between three defenders.
When the ball arrives the defense has converged, but Manning still completes the pass. Manning anticipated Tamme getting to a spot, but he still needed a good arm to make sure his tight end wasn’t blasted by the charging defense. The Broncos would score two plays later.
Play No. 3
It’s pretty clear by now that Manning isn’t having many issues throwing to any part of the field, but what about his overall arm strength?
Perhaps no throw better characterized Manning’s arm strength than this semi-deep throw (17 yards) to the outside.
Check out the trajectory on this throw. Manning put some juice behind this one, and it was headed straight to a place where only Thomas could make the catch. Notice Manning’s balance and form—he doesn’t look like he is laboring.
It’s a great catch by Thomas, with good placement down and away from the defender. With such tight coverage, any loop in Manning’s throw may have allowed the defensive back to make a play.
Manning can make any throw he needs to make with good accuracy. He’s throwing to the right when there is open space to the right and left when there is open space to the left. Manning threw surprisingly little deep, but he demonstrated that he can do it and with good accuracy.
Manning attempted only a few passes between the hashes, but that had more to do with the Pittsburgh defense than anything else.
If you are going to limit Manning, don’t count on any physical limitation helping. Defenses are going to have to give him new looks on each series, and opposing offenses are going to have to sustain drives to keep Manning’s brain and arm off the field.