When Peyton Manning was making his free agency tour during the offseason, there were many and varied proclamations regarding the veteran quarterback's arm strength. We heard reports ranging from "he's just a shell of his former self," from various news outlets to "he looks like he did six years ago," from former teammate Brandon Stokley.
Both sides, of course, likely went over-the-top in their analyses and the truth probably laid somewhere in between (much more than a shell of his old self but certainly not the Peyton Manning of 2007). Stokley, obviously biased, made those comments after he ran routes for Manning in March. Following his workout with Peyton, Stokley reported his positive assessments of Manning to the Broncos and helped the team give their pitch to Manning.
Ultimately, Manning signed in Denver and the Broncos, in somewhat of a thank you to Stokley, brought back the veteran receiver, who was also a free agent when Manning hit the market. In regards to Manning's arm strength that's neither here nor there, but it is worth noting that Stokley's confidence in Manning's arm—and his familiarity with both Manning and the Broncos—played a role in the Broncos' decision to bring Manning in to the tune of $18 million per season.
That was in March. We are now heading into Week 9—midseason—of Peyton Manning's fifteenth NFL season and are looking to analyze Manning's progression since his workout with Stokley eight months ago. Before judging how Manning's arm strength compares now to when it was before his neck injury two years ago, we must first go back and analyse his arm strength pre-2012.
Manning's Passes Were Wobbly During His Colts' Days.
As the folks over at IAOFM pointed out a month ago, Manning's passes have, on occasion, come out wobbly. That's been going on for years and is not something that just started this season, as the film shows (watch closely at the 0:59, 1:22, 1:44, 2:49, 4:34, and 4:39 marks in the video to the right):
Criticism of Manning's velocity and spirals has been going on since he was scouted prior to the 1998 NFL Draft—Manning not having a rocket for an arm is not a result of post-injury decline; Peyton Manning has thrown wobbly passes his entire career and has never been portrayed as having a cannon for an arm.
In Week 2, the Broncos were trailing to the Atlanta Falcons with time running out. With Manning sitting on the bench, the team was prepared to send in rookie quarterback Brock Osweiler to attempt a Hail Mary pass if the team got the ball back. The Falcons ended up running the clock out and Osweiler did not get an opportunity in that particular game. But the fact that it would have been Osweiler and not Manning attempting the Hail Mary started a firestorm of speculation among the media, which leads us to the next point.
Manning's Arm May Not Be What It Was Six Years Ago, but a Veteran pulled for a Young Gunslinger in a Hail Mary Situation Is Not Unprecedented.
Manning has never consistently thrown beautiful throws throughout a game, as was noted above, but I would be foolish to not consent that Manning's arm strength has regressed over the years—he is human after all. That is to be expected from every quarterback, but the fact that Manning was nearly pulled for a Hail Mary attempt does not necessarily indicate that his arm strength has regressed significantly.
As PFT pointed out in September, Bill Belichick pulled starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe in 2000 and left Tom Brady on the bench and brought in little-know, strong-armed backup Michael Bishop to attempt a Hail Mary pass. There was no controversy in that case because Belichick was simply putting the strongest arm on the field to attempt an incredibly far pass.
Fellow B/R contributor Sigmund Bloom did a great job breaking down Manning's Week 2 performance, concluding that Manning's arm strength may not be what it used to be, but his decision making against the Falcons was the main factor in Manning's poor performance. Which brings us to our final point.
Manning Knows He Doesn't Have a Rocket for an Arm, but He Gets the Job Done.
Following the Broncos 34-14 rout of the New Orleans Saints, Manning has gone 176-of-257 for 2,113 yards and 17 touchdowns, against just four interceptions. Manning's arm strength, much diminished or not, has not prohibited him from having what has been a phenomenal season thus far.
That said, it hasn't been a cake walk for Peyton.
“That’s how it might look like to someone on the outside,” Manning told SI's Peter King. “Some things are harder than they used to be. The game is harder. The whole goal was try to get better every week, even if only a little bit better every week. And I knew all along... [I] couldn’t rush it. It’ll be a tad better in two weeks, then a tad better two weeks after that. On game day, I get a little juice and feel pretty good. All I’m saying is, I still have strength to recover and rehab to do."
Manning's arm and confidence have improved throughout the season, which could ultimately lead to him being named the Comeback Player of the Year at season's end. One thing is for sure, with the Broncos 4-3 and Manning completing 68.5 percent of his passes, the rest of the NFL surely is not looking forward to Manning returning to 100 percent full health.
His arm strength may not be as strong as it used to be (and it never was amazing), but it's unwise to doubt Manning's ability to get the job done. On pace for 4,829 yards and 38 scores, his current arm strength appears to be more than adequate for moving the ball and putting points on the board.