The Myth of Peyton Manning Always Being Surrounded by Exceptional Talent

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The Myth of Peyton Manning Always Being Surrounded by Exceptional Talent

You've heard it many times before.

Peyton Manning has ALWAYS been surrounded by talent.

Peyton Manning has ALWAYS had dangerous weapons to throw to.

Peyton Manning has played with the best offensive line of this generation.

Peyton Manning's defenses are not really that bad.

Now are these generalizations, or incorrect perceptions that have now become accepted as factual?

It has become abundantly clear that a great percentage of the population has adopted the aforementioned beliefs and have passed the following information around as if it was reality.

What I now seek to do is to take a closer look into the career of Peyton Manning in an effort to provide a more accurate account of the support he has had along the way.

For the purpose of this discussion, I looked at various areas of criteria that should help shed some light on the situation.

We will be taking a look at the annual defensive ranking (in terms of points per game allowed), number of 1,000 yard receivers, receivers who caught ten touchdowns or more, and offensive linemen who were selected to the Pro Bowl.

The defense is being taken into account for the sheer fact that it comprises 50 percent of the game. The greater support the quarterback has on defense, the much greater chance he has of winning while also being productive without the pressure of having to win games on his arm alone.

The number of receivers who eclipsed 1,000 yards and ten or more touchdowns in a single season are being tracked in an effort to provide us with a realistic concept of just how many dangerous weapons Manning had to throw to.

The number of offensive linemen selected to the Pro Bowl are being tracked in an effort to establish just how great the blocking support has been for Peyton Manning over the years.

Without further ado, let's take a look at the timeline of Peyton Manning's career...

1998: Indianapolis Colts (3-13)

Defensive Ranking: 29th

1,000 yard + receivers: zero

Receiving yards leader: Marshall Faulk w/908 yards.

Ten touchdown + receivers: zero

Touchdown receptions leader: Marvin Harrison w/seven.

Pro Bowl Offensive Linemen: zero

Conclusion: Peyton Manning did not play with any true receiving threat during his rookie season. Marvin Harrison missed a quarter of the entire season with injuries and there was no other credible receiving target outside of his running back, Marshall Faulk.

Manning also did not play with a single offensive linemen who made it to the Pro Bowl.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Colts were atrocious and gave little to no support in that department.

 

1999: Indianapolis Colts (13-3)

Defensive Ranking: 17th

1,000 yard + receivers: Marvin Harrison w/1,663 yards.

Next most productive: Edgerrin James w/586 yards.

Ten touchdown + receivers: Marvin Harrison w/12.

Next most productive: Terrence Wilkins w/four.

Pro Bowl Offensive Linemen: zero

Conclusion: 1999 was the year that many people remember as the birth of "The Triplets" (Manning, Harrison, & James). Yet while Marvin Harrison went on to set then franchise records, there was not another receiver of any quality caliber.

Edgerrin James was their second leading receiver and while his 586 yards were productive for a running back, the numbers are not very impressive considering he was Manning's second most productive target. Nobody besides Harrison caught any substantial amount of touchdowns as Terrence Wilkins finished second with only four.

For the second year in a row, Manning did not have a single Pro Bowl offensive linemen blocking for him. While the defense did improve, it remained poor which became something of a trend early in Manning's career.

 

2000: Indianapolis Colts (10-6)

Defensive Ranking: 15th

1,000 yard + receivers: Marvin Harrison w/1,413 yards.

Next most productive: Jerome Pathon w/646 yards.

Ten touchdown + receivers: Marvin Harrison w/14.

Next most productive: Edgerrin James w/five.

Pro Bowl Offensive Linemen: zero

Conclusion: Marvin Harrison posted his usual productive numbers while the second most productive receiver, Jerome Pathon, gained only 646 yards. Harrison caught an impressive 14 touchdowns while Manning's running back Edgerrin James came in second with only five touchdown receptions.

For the third year in a row, Manning played without any Pro Bowl offensive linemen. This year, the defense ranked 15th which was high by the Colts standards during that era.

 

2001: Indianapolis Colts (6-10)

Defensive Ranking: 31st

1,000 yard + receivers: Marvin Harrison w/1,524 yards.

Next most productive: Marcus Pollard w/739 yards.

Ten touchdown + receivers: Marvin Harrison w/15.

Next most productive: Marcus Pollard w/eight.

Pro Bowl Offensive Linemen: zero

Conclusion: Marvin Harrison went on to have a very productive year while Marcus Pollard finished second with a pedestrian 739 yards. That total was impressive for a tight end, but not impressive for a team's second leading receiver. Same can be said for his eight touchdown receptions which ranked below the team leader Marvin Harrison who nabbed 15.

Again, no Pro Bowl offensive linemen were to be found. The defense sunk to a new low as they ranked 31st which was dead last in the NFL during 2001.

 

2002: Indianapolis Colts (10-6)

Defensive Ranking: seventh

1,000 yard + receivers: Marvin Harrison w/1,722 yards.

Next most productive: Reggie Wayne w/716 yards.

Ten touchdown + receivers: Marvin Harrison w/11.

Next most productive: Marcus Pollard w/six.

Pro Bowl Offensive Linemen: zero

Conclusion: Marvin Harrison set an NFL record with a mind blowing 143 receptions for 1,722 yards. Reggie Wayne also showed some signs of improvement by recording a then career high of 716 yards. Harrison led the team with 11 touchdown receptions which was followed by an unimpressive six that were caught by Marcus Pollard who placed second on the team.

While Manning again did not have the benefit of playing with a single Pro Bowl offensive linemen, the defense did improve drastically to rank seventh in the league.

 

2003: Indianapolis Colts (12-4)

Defensive Ranking: 20th

1,000 yard + receivers: Marvin Harrison w/1,272 yards.

Next most productive: Reggie Wayne w/838 yards.

Ten touchdown + receivers: Marvin Harrison w/10.

Next most productive: Reggie Wayne w/seven.

Pro Bowl Offensive Linemen: zero

Conclusion: Manning's first MVP season was aided by some improvement in the support department. Marvin Harrison's numbers sunk to 1,272 yards (which was only low by his standards) while Reggie Wayne improved to gain 838 yards. Harrison led the team with ten touchdowns while Reggie came in second with seven.

Manning still did not play with any Pro Bowl protection and the defense sunk 13 spots to rank 20th in 2003.

2004: Indianapolis Colts (12-4)

Defensive Ranking: 19th

1,000 yard + receivers: Reggie Wayne w/1,272 yards, Marvin Harrison w/1,113 yards, and Brandon Stokley w/1,077 yards.

Next most productive: Edgerrin James w/483 yards.

Ten touchdown + receivers: Marvin Harrison w/15, Reggie Wayne w/12, and Brandon Stokley w/10.

Next most productive: Marcus Pollard w/six.

Pro Bowl Offensive Linemen: Tarik Glenn

Conclusion: Manning's second MVP season was the first in which he benefited from the support that many feel he received during his entire career. Three receivers eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark and all three caught ten touchdowns or more.

At the same time, Tarik Glenn became the first Pro Bowl offensive linemen to ever block for Peyton Manning.

Unfortunately, the defense remained towards the lower end of the league as they ranked 19th overall.

 

2005: Indianapolis Colts (14-2)

Defensive Ranking: second

1,000 yard + receivers: Marvin Harrison w/1,146 yards and Reggie Wayne w/1,055 yards.

Next most productive: Brandon Stokley w/543 yards.

Ten touchdown + receivers: Marvin Harrison w/12.

Next most productive: Reggie Wayne w/five.

Pro Bowl offensive linemen: Tarik Glenn and Jeff Saturday.

Conclusion: For only the second time in Manning's career, he benefited from playing with two 1,000 yard receivers. While Reggie Wayne may have eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark for the second time in his career, he finished second on the team with only five touchdown receptions.

2005 was the first season in which Manning benefited from having two Pro Bowl blockers and a top tier defense which ranked second in the NFL.

 

2006: Indianapolis Colts (12-4)

Defensive ranking: 23rd

1,000 yard + receivers: Marvin Harrison w/1,366 yards and Reggie Wayne w/1,310 yards.

Next most productive: Ben Utecht w/377 yards.

Ten touchdown + receivers: Marvin Harrison w/12.

Next most productive: Reggie Wayne w/nine.

Pro Bowl Offensive Linemen: Tarik Glenn and Jeff Saturday.

Conclusion: Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne both dominated in 2006 with both of them eclipsing over 1,300 yards receiving. Both were also effective in nabbing touchdown receptions with Harrison catching 12 and Wayne catching nine.

However, Harrison and Wayne were the exceptions in the Colts receiving corps with Ben Utecht coming in third with only 377 yards receiving.

Glenn and Saturday both returned to the Pro Bowl and provided Manning with excellent protection during 2006. The defense, however, fell to the bottom of the league once again and ranked 23rd.

 

2007: Indianapolis Colts (13-3)

Defensive Ranking: first

1,000 yard + receivers: Reggie Wayne w/1,510 yards.

Next most productive: Dallas Clark w/616 yards.

Ten touchdown + receivers: Dallas Clark w/11 and Reggie Wayne w/ten.

Next most productive: Anthony Gonzalez w/three.

Pro Bowl offensive linemen: Jeff Saturday.

Conclusion: Reggie Wayne led the entire league with 1,510 receiving yards in 2007. Yet, the rest of the team provided little in the way of exceptional productive support. Dallas Clark finished second on the team with only 616 yards receiving.

Jeff Saturday was the lone Pro Bowl offensive linemen while the defense ranked first in the league for the first and only time in Manning's career.

 

2008: Indianapolis Colts (12-4)

Defensive Ranking: seventh

1,000 yard + receivers: Reggie Wayne w/1,145 yards.

Next most productive: Dallas Clark w/848 yards.

Ten touchdown + receivers: zero

Touchdown receptions leader: Reggie Wayne w/six.

Next most productive: Dallas Clark also w/six.

Pro Bowl offensive linemen: zero

Conclusion: In the year in which Peyton Manning earned his third MVP award, he had exceptionally little in terms of offensive support. Reggie Wayne led the team with 1,145 yards receiving, but himself and Dallas Clark led the team with only six touchdown receptions a piece.

The Colts rushing attack ranked 31st in the entire league while no offensive linemen making the Pro Bowl. The defense remained effective, however, by ranking seventh in the league.

So what does all of this tell us?

While it might be a lot of information to process, let's take a closer look into what these numbers indicate.

Peyton Manning played with at least one 1,000 yard receiver during every year of his career besides his rookie season. Marvin Harrison was responsible for eight such 1,000-yard seasons.

Without question, Marvin Harrison is a future Hall of Famer, but was his production more a product of his superior ability or the fact that he played with Peyton Manning?

This was an issue that is certainly worthy of close inspection.

Marvin Harrison played two complete seasons prior to Manning's arrival in Indianapolis.

His average annual production during that two year span looked like this:

 

Marvin Harrison (1996-97): 68 receptions for 851 yards and seven touchdowns.

Harrison has only had injury issues during three of the eleven years of his career.

He missed a quarter of the season in 1998, two thirds of the season in 2007, and played the majority of the 2008 season after coming off of two knee surgeries. Harrison also experienced his least productive seasons when missing the most time.

So, in the interest of fairness, I decided to take a look at Marvin Harrison's production with Manning when he remained as healthy as he did in 1996-97.

So, let's now take a look at Marvin Harrison's average production from 1999-2006.

Marvin Harrison (1999-2006): 103 receptions for 1,402 yards and 13 touchdowns.

 

Now, one can make the argument that many receivers take a few years to develop, which is certainly true. None the less, there was a massive difference between the production Harrison produced with and without Manning.

As a matter of fact, he averaged 35 more receptions, 551 more yards, and five more touchdowns per season while playing with Peyton Manning. There was a shocking rise of production that happened almost immediately after Manning's arrival.

As stated before, Harrison missed a lot of Manning's rookie season with injury. With that being said, lets take a look at Harrison's 1997 season compared to his first full season with Manning in 1999.

 

Marvin Harrison (1997): 73 receptions for 866 yards and six touchdowns.

Marvin Harrison (1999): 115 receptions for 1,663 yards and 12 touchdowns. 

 

There appears to be a massive mark of improvement following Manning's arrival.

One thing many people fail to realize is the fact that Peyton Manning has played the majority of his career throwing to a singular exceptional target on a yearly basis.

In eight of Manning's eleven seasons, he played with only one receiver to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark. That means he spent 73 percent of his career with only one moderately productive target.

Still, I never said that eclipsing 1,000 yards is the only way one can be dangerous. It's simply a generic mark of productivity that, to me, indicates that the individual player who surpassed that mark performed at a relatively productive level.

Players who do not even eclipse 1,000 yards are only contributing so much to Manning's productivity.

With that being said, how much support did Peyton get from his secondary targets?

Since the player who holds that distinction tends to vary from season to season, I took a closer look at the average seasonal production of the players who finished second on the team in terms of receiving production.

 

Average of Colts' second leading receiver (1998-2008): 840 yards and seven touchdowns.

However. these totals might prove to be a bit deceptive.

The reason being that Manning only played with an exceptionally productive second target in three of his 11 seasons. Both Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark during the same season from 2004 to 2006.

But what about the other seasons in which Manning didn't play with a productive secondary target?

How much support was he getting then?

Average of Colts' second leading receiver (1998-2003, 2007-08): 720 yards and 6.62 touchdowns.

 

To put that number in perspective, for 73 percent of Peyton Manning's career, his second most productive target gained less receiving yards than Matt Jones did in 2008 (761) and caught less touchdowns than Visanthe Shianco caught in 2008 (seven). 

This brings forth a very different revelation than what has become popular opinion.

I will agree that during three of Manning's 11 seasons, he played with multiple productive targets. No one could argue that from 2004-2006, Peyton Manning played with exceptional talent.

Yet as a whole, he rarely played with productive talent outside of the team's leading receiver.

So to say that Peyton Manning has had dangerous weapons for "his entire career" is simply not accurate.

One could even make the argument that he's played the majority of his career with very little support outside of Marvin Harrison, but even in his case we can clearly see how much Manning impacted his production.

As far as Manning having played with the "best offensive line of our generation", that appears to be another claim that lacks proper foundation.

I would certainly not be ignorant enough to say that Pro Bowl selections are the only factor that determines an offensive linemen's ability, but to have not even been selected would typically indicate that the various blockers are if nothing else, playing at a level below elite.

Peyton Manning played with a total of five starting offensive linemen for 11 seasons. That's a total of 55 opportunities to make the Pro Bowl squad. Yet, that only happened six times with two players.

To say that the protection Manning has received during his entire career was of exceptional quality is a bit of a stretch to say the very least.

The fact that Manning typically remains one of the least sacked quarterbacks in the league has given people the false impression that the majority of that is due to exceptional blocking.

Outside of the performance of Tarik Glenn and Jeff Saturday, I'm just not seeing any substantial amount of excellent protection. Manning actually played seven of his 11 seasons without a single Pro Bowl offensive linemen.

Of course, you can't ignore the running game either.

Peyton Manning has played with the likes of Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James, and Joseph Addai during his career.

Such star power would lead you to believe that Manning must have been backed by a top tier running game, right?

The issue is, the running game consists far more than the production of your star back alone. So, while Manning has played with some very productive running backs, the other backs he's played with have not contributed much.

Individual production from any one running back does not display the entire picture.

How well the entire Indianapolis Colts team produced when running the ball is the most accurate indication we have regarding how much backing Manning really had in this department.

This is what the Indianapolis Colts averaged rushing per season over the course of Manning's career:

 

Colts running-game (1998-2008): 428 carries for 1,684 yards (3.9 YPC) and 14 touchdowns.

To put that into perspective, the numbers were quite similar to how well the 2008 Houston Texans performed.

Texans running-game (2008): 432 carries for 1,846 yards (4.3 YPC) and 16 touchdowns.

 

While you wouldn't think that the 2008 Houston Texans running game would be as productive as the average Colts squad during Manning's career, the Texans actually gave their quarterback more support last season than the average Colts team gave to Peyton Manning over the course of his career.

So why is it that many people claim that Peyton Manning has been the beneficiary of so much support?

Giving the fact that he is the most productive quarterback in NFL history, it becomes very easy for people to assume that he must have received extensive backing to be as productive as he has.

People are very familiar with the explosive Indianapolis offense that had been on display from 2004 to 2006 and have likely reached generalizations that the quality of support he received during that time span must have been there throughout the entirety of his career.

I would agree that from 2004 to 2006, Peyton Manning played with support that many people felt he had during his entire career but during eight of his 11 seasons, Manning did not benefit from any exceptional support.

Keep in mind that this period of time comprised 73 percent of his entire career.

This is a look at the average support Peyton Manning had from 1998-2003/2007-2008...

 

Number one receiver: 1,395 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Number two receiver: 720 yards and 6.62 touchdowns.

(2008 Equivalent: Matt Jones 761 yards, Visanthe Shianco seven touchdowns).

Rushing support: 422 carries for 1,651 yards (3.9 YPC) and 14 touchdowns.

(2008 Texans: 432 carries for 1,846 yards (4.3 YPC) and 16 touchdowns).

Pro Bowl blockers: one selection in eight seasons.

 

So next time you make the claim that "If so and so had the same support that Peyton Manning had during his entire career", please be exactly sure of what you're proclaiming.

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