Is Peyton Manning officially "over the hill" yet?
If at any point during the 2010 season you have had to sincerely ask yourself that question, then you may fall into the following category.
The general public.
A group rarely without the desire to provide examples as to why their very own misconceptions continue to dominate mainstream thinking.
It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
It's simply the reality; a tradition decades old, so firmly established in the public's subconscious that even the most overly-optimistic practicalists must continue to shrug their shoulders in disappointment.
Much like Peyton Manning.
It's been no secret; suffice to say that the cat's officially out of the bag.
Peyton Manning is struggling and the Indianapolis Colts are losing games.
This is not the Peyton Manning that we (or at least some of us) all know and love; or at least that's what they would have you believe.
The reality, shocking though it may be, is that this is very much the same Peyton Manning that became the single most productive player in NFL history.
He's simply wearing a different uniform.
Out with pass-protection.
Out with creating running-holes.
Out with runs of positive yardage.
Out with playing defense.
Out with advancing the ball past the 20 on kickoffs.
Heck, out with Dallas Clark, Austin Collie, Joseph Addai, Mike Hart, Bob Sanders, Gary Brackett, Kelvin Hayden and company.
In with Blair White, Jacob Tamme, Jarvarris James, Brandon James, Gijon Robinson, Aaron Francisco, Justin Tyron, Kevin DeVan and Jeff Linkenbach.
It's okay, don't worry...they have Peyton Manning.
Besides, how can defenses possibly stop this guy anyway?
Hasn't worked over the past decade, and 2010 will be no different.
COME BACK TO REALITY and we realize they may have actually been right—for half the season at least.
It took time for guys sick, tired, hurt and injured. It took time to call up the practice squad to invite undrafted talent to block our billion-dollar investment, run behind non-existent holes, and catch passes while being smothered in nickel defenses.
It was looking great at first.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, after Week 6 of the NFL season, the average NFL team recorded 19.8 touches per-game against defensive sets featuring five or more defensive backs.
At that same point in time, the Colts averaged 42.3 touches per-game against defensive sets swamped with the same pass-coverage.
Essentially, Peyton Manning was facing defenses loaded up to prevent passing production at a rate above double the league average.
And he was phenomenal...
Peyton Manning (Thru Week 6)
171-of-254 (67.3) for 1,916 yards, 13 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Quarterback Rating: 103.4
That was of course, before Austin Collie (fourth round draft selection turned NFL's leading receiver at one point in 2010) fell victim to concussion, after concussion. And before Joseph Addai was replaced with backs that refuse to run forward; no easy task while running behind a line allergic to creating holes.
Peyton Manning (Weeks 9-13)
156-o-235 (66.4) for 1,525 yards, nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Quarterback Rating: 74.2
Declining performance that's skewed a bit given how well Manning performed against New England (yes, 396 yards and four touchdowns even taking into consideration the three picks); a game in which Collie was partially active for before re-concussing himself. Remove the "exception" from the equation and...
Peyton Manning (Weeks 9-10, 12-13)
118-of-183 (64.5) for 1,129 yards, five touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Quarterback Rating: 67.9
Manning goes from being on-pace to produce one of the greatest seasons in NFL history to an interception-streak worse than anything we've seen in almost ten years.
How does that happen?
The obvious explanation (the key word here) is due primarily to injuries.
When any NFL team (Indianapolis or otherwise), resorts to making practice-squad players their starters without any time to even break them in as legitimate backups, they are in for drastic trouble.
Peyton carried them for as long as he could, but the injuries took their tolls.
The countless instances of having under two-seconds to release the football before taking a sack, took its toll.
Having his two starting wide receivers ranked first (Reggie Wayne) and fourth (Pierre Garcon) in the entire league in dropped passes, took its toll.
Being backed by the league's 32nd ranked rushing offense (79.1 yards-per-game) took its toll.
And for the doubters who believe that dead-last ranking is only due to a lack of carries, the Colts come through with the league's 32nd ranked rushing offense in terms of yards-per-carry (3.5) to counter your argument.
Sprinkle a little bit (let’s say double the league average or so) of nickel defensive schemes to be swamped with as Blair White is running in the wrong direction and...
Peyton produces heavy amounts of turnovers (11), four times for touchdowns in a three-game span.
Some of them fall on Peyton, and he'd be the first to admit it.
He's making bad reads, throwing to the other team and forcing passes into places and during times that he shouldn't.
Reality-wise, he's only been pick-friendly for 25 percent of the season.
Reality-wise, he may have very well helped cost his team two victories against San Diego and Dallas (17 percent of the season).
There were other times in which he was far from perfect, but throwing the majority of the blame on his shoulders during those instances would be less than logical; although that wouldn't appear to bother most people who certainly don't watch the entirety of these games.
The unfortunate reality is…most people just watch the highlights (if even that).
And certain analysts often appear to do little justice to reality; with "prime" (no pun intended) examples coming from Deion Sanders and Michael Irvin (both of whom would be incapable of bias in this instance) following the Colts loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
Michael Irvin (12/5/10):
"And you talking about Peyton doesn't have anybody to throw to, he has Reggie Wayne to throw to."
I take no issue with Irvin taking the time to point out how fantastic Reggie Wayne is. While I had no expectation for him to make any mention of Wayne leading the league in dropped passes (why take the time to make reference to that?), his praise of Wayne was warranted nevertheless.
The issue here was the tone—and forgive me for taking notice.
You heard no mention to the effect that while Wayne may be an incredible receiver individually, the Colts receiving corps collectively at this stage of the season could be considered "poor."
Irvin's sentiments are not uncommon as many fans and analysts alike seem to be salivating at the opportunity to point out why they feel Peyton might not really have it that bad.
"Primetime" would conquer.
Deion Sanders (12/5/10):
"You keep saying Peyton, he doesn't have the receivers. Reggie Wayne will one day be a Hall of Famer."
A "Hall of Famer" Prime?
Reggie Wayne has been a phenomenal athlete and a consistently productive player for a number of years now, but to talk about his Hall of Fame potential with such absolute certainty appeared to be quite misinformed at best.
Is Sanders himself not a semi-finalist, probable first-ballot selection for 2011?
Wouldn't you think a player of Sanders’ caliber would be more aware of the likelihood of possible induction?
Cris Carter, a player multiple times to the caliber of Wayne (who produced 130 touchdowns to Wayne's 68, without the aid of a Peyton Manning) has struggled (and to-date, failed) to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame; yet Sanders is confident that "Reggie Wayne will one day be a Hall of Famer" without providing a single ounce of hesitation (in tone or verbal content) to the contrary.
I mention this not to pick on Sanders and certainly not to strip Reggie Wayne of his just due, but to illustrate an issue that Sanders (and other analysts) seems to share with a great percentage of the general public.
That being, the desire to magnify Manning's support in an effort to minimize the realization of the lack thereof.
No fan, analyst or player with any respectable understanding of the game is insinuating that Reggie Wayne individually isn't a formidable target for Manning to throw to. The implication (or should I say, practical understanding) is that at this point in the season, the Colts receiving corps collectively are not of a "formidable" caliber.
That taking players off of the practice squad with zero experience at the backup level and having them thrown into NFL games without even so much as an impressive NCAA resume is going to lead to serious issues.
That's what logical people are "saying" Deion; not ignoring the obvious talent of the one individual named Reggie Wayne.
But it didn't end there.
Deion Sanders (12/5/10):
"Peyton Manning has only been sacked 13 times this season; the second fewest in the NFL. Tom Brady's been sacked 15 times. When you talking about Peyton Manning against this game with the Cowboys, PEYTON MANNING WASN'T EVEN SACKED VERSUS THE DALLAS COWBOYS TODAY."
And yes, I CAPPED a portion of that quote to illustrate the strong emphasis and emotion Sanders' emitted while he was emphatically delivering evidence that he unlikely had the time to watch the entire game and presumably, relied on just the highlights to derive his "expert analysis."
Allow me to ask the readers this, why do you feel Sanders took the time to refer to Tom Brady's 2010 sack-total?
What relevance was there to be had in that instance?
Keep in mind that he didn't take the time to mention the name of a single Colts offensive lineman.
He didn't take a moment to refer to a semi-important aspect of football that I'd like to refer to as "time in the pocket."
No instead, he pointed out that Tom Brady has actually been sacked more times than Manning.
What Sanders appeared to be doing is what most people do while sitting at home on their sofas reading statistics they don't truly comprehend off of the television screen.
He made assumptions based on a flawed method of evaluating an aspect of the game foreign to most viewers.
He used sack-totals as his primary tool of evaluating pass protection.
After all, your offensive line has to be good if opposing defenses are incapable of sacking your quarterback.
Essentially take one of Manning's greatest attributes (his ability to utilize his quick-release and pocket-presence to avoid unnecessary sacks) and credit his offensive-line with the results, regardless of what actually happened to yield those results.
Again Deion, the argument has not been that Peyton Manning is sacked too frequently (we're not talking about Jay Cutler); it's that his offensive line all too often provides him under two seconds to stand upward in the pocket before an opposing defensive player is given the opportunity to to throw his frightened remains to the turf.
It's that while this is happening, Manning has to rely on the route-running prowess of Blair White to get open in under two seconds as defenses double-cover Wayne and Garcon.
It's about the amount of time available to Manning in the pocket, not the sack totals, a point which no sensible person watching the entirety of these games would attempt to make.
And to use “Tom (my o-line blocks like the difficulty is set to "Rookie" in Madden 11) Brady” as an example of a quarterback who is sacked more often (implication again being, Peyton ain't got it that bad), typifies the issues created directly at the source of alleged expert analysis that's being force-fed to millions of unsuspecting (and quite frankly, unaware) viewers who trust that current and future Hall of Famers would have an "expert" understanding of what is happening to the subject matter.
Besides, who is going to take the time to read the Wall Street Journal when we have NFL Network available to us?
I did and call me "different" for so doing.
I enjoyed the read, and the perspective provided.
They noted that while Manning has indeed thrown 11 interceptions over the past three weeks, he has performed at a level never before seen in history for a quarterback turning the ball over at that rate.
Three weeks ago, Johnny Unitas' 68.4 rating was the highest in NFL history for a quarterback after having thrown ten or more interceptions in a three-game span.
Manning's rating over the past three weeks: 77.7.
It's simply not even close and while few might take the time to care as they're instead being treated to the "expert analysis" of pass-protection, there's some serious relevance to be found here.
We know that the Colts have been devastatingly injured, that Manning has been turning the ball over; but how on earth does a quarterback who has thrown 11 interceptions in three games maintain a quarterback rating higher than that which Tom Brady posted during a three-game undefeated 2001 post-season run that resulted in an eventual Super Bowl MVP?
77.3 for those who are curious.
Answer: production without protection.
1,046 yards and eight touchdowns in only three games.
The turnovers have been costly, but Manning's productivity and pass-accuracy (70.9 percent over the past three weeks) has defied logic in regards to what we expect from a "slumping quarterback."
We've all seen his wrapped-up right elbow. Nobody in the 90-year history of the sport has ever known what it's like to have to throw this often (on pace to throw 712 passes this season); and he'll continue to do so until he sets the NFL record for most pass completions in a single season.
Drew Brees shattered the old record of 418 (set by Rich Gannon in 2002) when he completed an astronomical 440 passes in 2007.
Manning's on pace to complete 471 in 2010; and for his health’s sake, I wish the aforementioned were a typo.
Only the misinformed will scoff at Manning's 6.9 yards-per-attempt (well below his 7.6 career average).
That would be of course because, many don’t actually take the time to watch the games.
Those who do have seen numerous instances where Manning completes four to five-yard passes from the shotgun on first down.
Evidence of abandoning the most pathetic ground-game the league has to offer in favor of "passified running;" my own self-created term to define the Colts attempt to start drives off with something more than one to two-yard running plays by completing short passes that pull down Manning's yards-per-attempt average at an alarming rate.
Passing attempts provide opportunities to produce on the football field. But how many quarterbacks pace themselves to obliterate the completion record and post the third highest passing yardage season in NFL history (4,945 yards projected at this point) while being blocked by un-drafted free agents, throwing to practice-squad players, being backed by the 32nd ranked rushing offense (both in terms of total-yards & yards-per-carry) and throwing into defensive coverages swamped to prevent passing-production?
Don't ever confuse "explanations" with "excuses."
Peyton may be too classy to say anything about it, but that doesn't change reality.