Some things in the NFL are just inevitable.
Brett Favre retires every offseason, the Washington Redskins overpay every high-profile free agent they can and Peyton Manning manages to put up MVP-caliber numbers each season, despite a supporting cast that consists of a bunch of guys off the street.
This year is just like any other year…except for Manning.
Manning’s numbers aren’t bad, but they’re not Manning-esque. Colts fans have grown spoiled by No. 18. We as NFL fans have grown spoiled from watching him. He’s just too good. We expect an MVP award each season. We expect a 13-3 record and a first-round bye in the playoffs from the Colts.
All you have to do is turn on ESPN to realize Manning is in the worst three-game slump of his career. If you didn’t know better, you might think it was the worst three-game slump of any athlete in history.
I thought I would look into Manning’s season as in-depth as I could. I’m an Eagles fan— I have no ties to the Colts, but like every football fan, quarterbacks fascinate me, particularly Manning. For this, I read a lot of articles, checked out a lot of stats and came to as honest a conclusion as possible.
I decided to present both the pro-Manning and anti-Manning side, and will let you as the reader be the judge.
The Pro-Manning Side: Why Peyton Manning is Still the NFL’s Most Valuable Player
It’s amazing the way the NFL works, particularly when it comes to MVP voting. For a player to receive MVP consideration, it is virtually a necessity that the particular player’s team qualify for the postseason.
With the Colts at 6-6 and currently on the outside looking in, even Manning might not be able to bring them back. And that’s a shame because once again, Manning has been simply brilliant this year.
Let’s look at his projected numbers:
471 of 712 for 4,945 yards, 32 TD, 20 INT, 89.4 passer rating
The 471 completions would shatter an NFL record. Drew Brees currently holds the single-season mark at 440 in 2007, and that figure holds a significant lead over runner-up Rich Gannon’s 418 in 2002.
If Manning were to throw the ball 712 times, it would mark the first time in the history of the NFL that a quarterback was asked to throw the ball over 700 times in a single season. That’s 44 times per game.
To give you a comparison, Michael Vick (another strong NFL MVP candidate this season) has thrown the ball that many times in a game just twice in his entire career.
Manning’s 4,945 passing yards would be the third-highest single-season total in NFL history, and his 32 touchdown passes would likely rank in the top three in the league.
The 20 interceptions would be the most the 10-time Pro Bowler has tossed in a season since his rookie year (1998), but then again even Manning doesn’t normally throw the ball 700-plus times in a single year.
The Colts historically have run a very pass-happy offense (especially in recent years), and Manning has never been called upon to throw the ball even 600 times in a 16-game season. His interception percentage of 2.8 this season is EXACTLY the same as it was last year, a year in which Manning captured his fourth MVP award.
What makes Manning’s numbers even more impressive is his supporting cast, or should we say lack thereof. Manning does still have the always reliable Reggie Wayne, who is third in the league in receiving yards, but both Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie have missed several games this year due to injury.
Wayne has also uncharacteristically dropped 10 passes, a figure that leads the league, while Pierre Garcon is having the worst season by a colts wide receiver since 1999.
Dallas Clark, who was named Tuesday Morning Quarterback’s Non-QB, Non-RB NFL MVP last season, had to undergo season-ending wrist surgery following Week 6, leaving Manning without his play-making All-Pro tight end—and a couple of guys named Jacob Tamme and Gijon Robinson to fill the void.
As bad as his receivers have been this season, what sets Manning’s year in 2010 apart from any other is his running game.
The 2010 Colts are dead-last in the NFL in rushing offense at just 79 ground yards per game. They’re averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, also worst in the NFL.
The Colts have helped Manning out with a COMBINED total of 135 rushing yards. Never in his career has Manning received such little support from his ground game in a three-game span.
The offensive line isn’t pulling their weight. Manning has been sacked just 13 times this season, but it’s more of a tribute to his rapid quick release than the star blocking of the Colts’ big five. Letting guard Ryan Lilja depart to the Chiefs in the offseason was a huge mistake. Manning hasn’t felt comfortable in the pocket all season. He’s been forced to rush his throws, ultimately leading to the unusually high number of interceptions.
His defense hasn’t been much better.
The front seven can’t stop the run to save their lives. It’s tough for Manning to win games when his defense gives up 31, 36, and 38 points.
Last week, Manning’s ground game accounted for 24 yards, and his defense gave up 217 to the Cowboys running backs, plus 38 points. What quarterback in the world could possibly win that game? For Manning to even lead the Colts to 35 points and a brief stint in overtime speaks volumes of his abilities. (And did you see Reggie Wayne’s drop?!)
The Colts defense has failed to generate a single turnover in three consecutive games. That’s never happened before for Manning in his entire NFL career. That SHOULDN’T happen for any quarterback.
You want to know why Manning has thrown 11 picks in three games? Because he’s had to throw the ball 50 times per game. His interception percentage isn’t any worse than it was last year, but it’s tough to tell when Manning is playing six quarters worth of football in 60 minutes.
Imagine what the Colts would be without Manning. No disrespect to a guy like Tom Brady— who is having arguably the best season of his legendary career—but he went down with an injury in 2008 and the Patriots STILL went 11-5.
The Colts are 6-6 right now WITH Manning. Without him, they might be 3-9. Maybe 2-10. Actually, given backup Curtis Painter’s 9.8 career passer rating, they might be 0-12 with no offensive touchdowns this year.
It would be a season to forget. Manning has simply been a giant band-aid for the Colts for the last several years. He defines the phrase “Most Valuable Player.” The Colts organization has had a lot of holes at many key positions over the years and been able to compete solely because of an offense so designed around one player.
The Colts rushing offense was dead-last in the NFL in 2009, and Manning STILL took them to the Super Bowl. In 2008, it was second to last. And this year, it’s last again.
How is a quarterback supposed to win football games with a team that has ranked second to last or last in rushing offense for THREE consecutive seasons?
Take a guy like Matt Cassel, for instance. No disrespect to Matt Cassel, who is having a fabulous season for the first-place Kansas City Chiefs. But Cassel has the league’s No. 1 rushing attack and the Chiefs are running the ball at a greater pace than anyone in the league. They’re literally handing the ball off over 35 times per game. It’s no wonder Cassel has thrown just four picks. Defenses can’t play the run or Cassel will beat them with his arm. And if they play the pass, Cassel will just hand the ball off.
Manning has no running game. Defenses are playing Manning in more nickel and dime formations than ever before.
To steal a line from an article I saw by a friend of mine on Bleacher Report:
“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.”
Even so, Manning has taken two nobodies at wide receivers—Garcon and Collie—and made them legit NFL names. He turned Jacob Tamme (who?) into an exceptional fantasy tight end.
And you know what else?
This was THREE GAMES. Three simple games, during which he led the Colts offense to an average of 29 points per game. His passer rating during that time was 77.7. Tom Brady’s passer rating when he played his first postseason and won the Super Bowl was 77.3 for the whole playoffs.
Maybe Manning has taken a tiny step back. He is 34 years old. Then again, maybe he hasn’t. I don’t watch the game film. I can’t see if Manning is a fraction of a second slower getting rid of the ball than he used to be. I don’t know if he doesn’t react as quickly to the blitz as he used to.
But what I do know is that the Colts as a team have put out a worse football team year after year after year, relying solely on one man—Peyton Manning—to win them football games.
And if this is as bad as it is going to get—if a three-game stretch like this gets Manning national attention for “slumping,”—then he must be doing something right in his career.
The Anti-Manning Side: Why Peyton Manning is Clearly On the Decline as a Quarterback
Numbers don’t lie. You can change them, move them around all you want, find statistics to prove that other statistics aren’t what they seem to be, but the bottom line is this:
Peyton Manning has thrown 11 interceptions in the last three games.
Eleven. Four of those have been returned for touchdowns. This is the same guy who went interception-free in his first three games before imploding as of late.
His defense isn’t responsible for giving up 30 points in three straight games. Four of those scores are the direct result of Manning. It’s tough for a defense to do its job when the quarterback is turning the ball over at such a rapid pace. Manning is making bad reads, forcing the ball, not trusting his receivers and playing like the erratic, interception-crazed quarterback he was as a rookie back in 1998.
Even Manning’s numbers—the good ones—aren’t as good as they may seem.
He has 471 completions...well yeah, he is throwing the ball at an all-time record pace. He’s completing 66 percent of his passes, a good number nonetheless, but nothing that would lead the NFL.
His 4,945 passing yards aren’t nearly as impressive as they seem. Passing yards may get you your fantasy football championship, but they don’t correlate with wins out there on the actual field. In fact, passing yards correlate MORE with losses.
Manning’s yards per attempt this season is just 6.95, a number that would by far be his worst total since his rookie year. Check out the following quarterbacks who have higher yards per attempt averages this season than Manning: Jon Kitna (7.54), Donovan McNabb (7.21), Chad Henne (7.14), Jason Campbell (6.99) and even our very favorite, Brett Favre (6.97).
And Manning’s 32 touchdowns this season? Deceiving. Remember, he’s on pace to throw the ball over 700 times this year. He’s bound to throw some touchdown passes. The more important statistic—his touchdown PERCENTAGE—is at an all-time low, lower even than his rookie season.
Sure, Manning isn’t getting sacked a lot, but maybe it’s because he forces an interception every time he feels himself getting pressured. I would much rather have a quarterback who knows to take a sack than one who tries to make a play and gets picked off in crucial situations.
It’s tough to argue that the Colts would be a contender without Manning. But it’s tough NOT to blame Manning for their losses.
Manning isn’t the only QB who has had to play through adversity this season.
Tom Brady lost his best wide receiver (Randy Moss) early in the season (say what you want about Moss this season, but any QB would love a guy with Moss’s size, speed and talent). His running game consists of two undrafted players, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead. He is throwing to two rookie tight ends, and his best guard held out for half the season. Brady is having a year that rivals his 2007 season as the best of his career while leading a talented 10-2 Patriots team that looks to be making another strong Super Bowl push.
Philip Rivers didn’t have his top play-making wide receiver (Vincent Jackson) for most of the season. Malcom Floyd missed some time to injuries and both Buster Davis and Legedu Naanee are on IR. LaDainian Tomlinson left in the offseason. Ryan Mathews hasn’t developed as quickly as the Chargers would have liked. And yet, Rivers is putting up stellar numbers (24 TD to just 10 INT and a league-leading 8.78 that is nearly TWO YARDS higher per attempt than that of Manning). The offense hasn’t missed a beat.
Maybe Manning is missing some key talent. Maybe he needs some better running backs, guys who can hit a hole and get some tough yards. But maybe more of it comes down to Manning himself. No. 18 might just have to step it up if the Colts want to make the playoffs.
It was a lot easier writing the first part of this article than the second part. I’ve always admired Manning for his ability to do so much with so little talent, especially in recent years. He’s been the single most valuable player to one team that I can remember in my lifetime.
I wonder if any player has ever meant so much to their team as Manning does to the Colts. It’s tough to know without Manning suffering an injury and missing some games, but his impact on the team is pretty clear by some of the core numbers of the Colts: worst rushing attack in the league, a defense that can’t stop the opponents and more no-namers on the roster than ever before.
Manning has been the best player in NFL history over the last eight seasons. Has he started to decline this season? Maybe. Maybe not.
Either way, when a guy changes from the best player in NFL history to a top two quarterback in the league, people notice. Every little flaw of Manning’s is exposed.
Who do you think people are going to blame—Taj Smith for running the wrong route or Manning for throwing the pick?
The blame goes to the quarterback. The credit goes to the quarterback. That’s the way it works in the NFL, fair or not.