It is no secret that Peyton Manning has had both his successes and his struggles in the 2010 season. I have recently read articles that call Manning the most overrated quarterback in the NFL as well as articles that call Manning the 2010 NFL MVP. Through 12 games, how good, or bad, has the Colts' quarterback been? Well, let's take a look.
The Colts have designed their 2010 offense around the short passing game. By completing an almost endless number of short passes, the Colts create something that substitutes for their complete lack of a running game. This impacts the quarterback's statistics by increasing passing yards and completion percentage (Manning ranks first and fifth in the NFL, respectively) and decreasing yards per attempt (Manning is tied for 20th in the NFL). It also limits the number of sacks that a quarterback takes.
With that in mind, Manning has put up stats through sheer volume, not any special ability of his own. Take a look at his rankings in the following categories:
Yards per pass attempt - 20th
Touchdowns per pass attempt- 16th
Interceptions per pass attempt- 14th (just for clarification, 14th lowest)
Passer rating- 16th
At first glance, the ratings appear to go against Manning. However, we need to take a closer look at the circumstances around Manning to understand what is going on. It is no mystery that the Colts have injury issues on their offense.
The four best receivers on the Colts' offense are Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Austin Collie, and Pierre Garcon. Before looking at how the Colts' backups have performed, note that these four along with Joseph Addai have accounted for 71.9% of the Colts' passing offense this year and two thirds of the Colts' passing touchdowns. So, don't say that Manning has been posting great numbers just throwing to Blair White and Jacob Tamme, as such a statement is very misleading.
The Colts' receivers have had injury issues, but these issues are exaggerated beyond belief.
Reggie Wayne has been criticised this season for his drops, but at the same time we must realize that Wayne has been targeted 143 times, the most in the NFL. With that many passes thrown his way, he is bound to have some drops.
Even with all of the drops, Wayne is posting yet another Pro Bowl caliber season, with statistics as follows:
90 receptions, 1,107 receiving yards, 5 receiving touchdowns
Extrapolated over 16 games, those numbers would look like:
120 receptions, 1,476 receiving yards, 7 receiving touchdowns
Even though the Colts' still have Reggie Wayne, the loss of starting tight end Dallas Clark seems to have hurt the offense. With Clark in the lineup, defenses would not be able to focus as much of their coverage on the Colts' other receiving threats. Just compare Peyton Manning's passing numbers with and without Dallas Clark starting:
With Clark: 6 games, 171/254 completions/attempts (67.3 completion percentage), 1,916 yards, 7.54 yards per attempt, 13 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 103.4 quarterback rating
Without Clark: 6 games, 182/280 completions/attempts (65 completion percentage), 1,793 yards, 6.4 yards per pass attempt, 11 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 76.7 quarterback rating
When there is a 26.7 point drop in Manning's quarterback rating after Clark's injury, you know that Dallas Clark was a key part of this offense and not just a product of Peyton Manning's greatness.
It is true that Peyton Manning has struggled mightily from a passing numbers perspective, and has fallen to the middle of the pack in that regard. However, passing numbers aren't always the best way to evaluate what a quarterback means to his team.
There is often the claim that the Colts would be a two win team without Peyton Manning leading them. Let's take a look at the Colts' first six wins this season to see if that really is the case:
Week two vs New York Giants: The Colts rushed for 160 yards on offense. The Colts' defense allowed only 14 points and forced three turnovers. Peyton Manning had an excellent game but the rest of the Colts' team was so dominant that there was almost no way that they could lose.
Week three at Denver Broncos: The Colts' defense allowed only 13 points and forced two turnovers. While not as lopsided as the Giants' game, a halfway decent game by the Colts' offense would have won it.
Week five vs Kansas City Chiefs: The Colts' defense allowed only 9 points and overcame a mediocre game by Manning to win.
Week six at Washington Redskins: Through 12 games, this was the only game where the Colts' gave up more than 20 points in a win. However, the Colts also rushed for 170 yards and benefited from two Redskin turnovers.
Week eight vs Houston Texans: The Colts' defense only allowed 17 points and forced two turnovers. The Colts rushed for 107 yards.
Week 10 vs Cincinnati Bengals: The Colts' one offensive touchdown came on a drive set up on the Bengals' 28 yard line. The Colts' also scored a defensive touchdown and won 23-17 despite a below average game from Manning.
There are the Colts' first six wins of the season. If you really think that the Colts would be 2-14 without Peyton Manning, explain to me how they would lose more than two of those six games with even an average quarterback. Once again, Manning's support is far from the greatest in the NFL, but the lack of support is blown out of proportion to make Manning's season look far better than it actually is.
Also, two four interception/two interception return touchdown games by Manning cost the Colts two games that they might have otherwise won. The Colts would likely have at or near the same record in 2010 that they currently have with another above average quarterback.
With all of this said, where does Manning rank among the NFL's top quarterback's of 2010?
He is clearly not the league MVP. Many of you are probably asking why it is so clear? The answer is that the MVP award is not just about who has had the worst supporting cast. It is about which player has performed the best in any given season. There are so many players that are having better seasons and deserve the award more. Also, it is not fair to credit Manning for playing at an elite level without Dallas Clark when it is clear that he hasn't.
The three front runners for MVP are Philip Rivers, Tom Brady, and Michael Vick, and there are several dark horse candidates for the award, but Peyton Manning is not one of them. It is also a moot point if the Colts miss the playoffs, because a player from a non playoff team is almost never voted MVP.
Manning still has a chance at a Pro Bowl berth, but in a conference that has Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Matt Cassel, and even Kyle Orton or Joe Flacco as possible Pro Bowlers, that is no guarantee either. My best guess would be that Manning gets a Pro Bowl vote on name recognition alone.
That's not really the interesting question though. The real question is: are Manning's struggles just due to issues with the rest of the Colts' roster or due to Manning being in a slump?
I really think it is a combination of both. Manning has dealt with terrible rushing support and terrible defensive support before, and he never played this poorly in those situations.
However, it has been a rare sight to see Manning without one of the best receiving corps in the NFL and without a good, if not great, offensive line. We as fans might have underestimated the importance of Howard Mudd, the former Colts' offensive line coach, because the Colts' offensive line has never had a stretch this bad in Manning's entire career.
At the same time, the lack of support that Manning does have is vastly overstated at times.
No team can give up two defensive touchdowns in a game and still expect to win the game. Manning did this not once, but twice.
Peyton Manning has had a major slump this season; there is no denying that.
There have been reasons for Manning not playing at a Pro Bowl level. Those reasons alone don't make him a Pro Bowler, and they certainly don't make him the league's Most Valuable Player.
The purpose they do serve is to help us understand why Peyton Manning is not performing at the level we are used to seeing from one of the NFL's top quarterbacks.