Brock Osweiler Faces Huge Challenge in Replacing Peyton Manning

Cian Fahey@CianafFeatured ColumnistNovember 17, 2015

Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler (17) lies on the turf after being tackled against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)
Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

Peyton Manning's career is ending in spectacular fashion.

That sentence should mean something other than what it actually means. Manning was supposed to be an unstoppable cyborg. A player who could demolish records despite being in his late 30s and after enduring multiple neck surgeries.

Instead, he's faltering fast. He's completing fewer than 60 percent of his passes at a time when only eight players with at least 200 attempts this season are that inefficient. Manning is sharing a tier with Blake Bortles, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Nick FolesColin KaepernickAndrew Luck, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston.

Of those eight quarterbacks, Manning is in the middle of the pack in terms of yards per attempt.

While those numbers are damning for a player who is used to leading the league in almost every positive category, they aren't the most alarming for the veteran. What has really been the issue for Manning this season is his propensity for turning the ball over.

An inability to throw the ball down the field and a reluctance to absorb punishment in the pocket has led to the signal-caller too often rushing his decisions and throws. As a result, he is throwing the ball to defenders at an abnormal rate: Manning has nine touchdown passes and 17 interceptions this season.

Not only does he lead the league in interceptions, but he has been pulling away from the field for a while now, as there isn't another quarterback with more than 12 interceptions.

It was an interception that pushed the Denver Broncos to finally sit Manning on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. More precisely, it was his fourth interception. Manning was replaced by Brock Osweiler in the third quarter with the Broncos trailing 22-0.

Manning looked completely out of sorts throughout the game, and it was revealed afterward that he was playing hurt. It was actually revealed last week but only came to the nation's attention after the quarterback was benched.

With minimal arm strength left in his broken-down body, Manning needs his lower half to be at full strength to be effective. So, the Broncos need to get him healthy. This should open the door for Osweiler to make his first start in the NFL.

Osweiler has been in the league for four seasons now. He was a second-round pick of the Broncos in the 2012 draft. The 6'8", 24-year-old Arizona State product has just passing 54 attempts in his career, with 24 coming Sunday.

Against the Chiefs, Osweiler completed 14 of those passes for 146 yards and one touchdown with one interception. He was sacked three times and ran the ball three times for 18 yards. Although those numbers aren't flattering, they still overstate how well Osweiler played in relief of Manning.

Credit: NFL.com

The youngster's first drive was a three-and-out. He opened it with a short completion on a curl route to Demaryius Thomas in the slot before a failed running play set the offense up for 3rd-and-2.

Before the snap, Osweiler moved one receiver from the left side, so he ended up with three receivers on the right side.

This isolated a receiver on the left side because the motioning receiver brought a cornerback with him. By moving a corner across the field in pursuit of a receiver, the defense was suggesting that it would play man coverage when the ball was snapped.

Credit: NFL.com

Osweiler understood that and, after the ball was snapped, immediately looked to the left side of the formation, where he had Bennie Fowler running a curl route. Fowler was working against off coverage, so he had a clean release and could establish himself between his defender and the ball.

If he were going to throw the ball to Fowler, Osweiler needed to get it there in a hurry.

Quarterbacks with great arm strength don't need to throw with anticipation—they can rely on placement and velocity to help the ball catch up. Osweiler has a strong arm, but he has a laborious release that slows his delivery and negates the impact of his velocity. As such, he can't afford to throw without anticipation.

Credit: NFL.com

Fowler was expecting the ball to lead him toward the sideline because it wasn't there as soon as he turned around. Instead, Osweiler's pass arrived on his inside shoulder, in the perfect position for the cornerback covering Fowler to break on it.

This should have been an easy interception for the defense, but the defender couldn't complete the catch.

While you could argue Osweiler made the mistake because he came in cold and needed time to adjust, that seems less realistic for this type of mistake. It wasn't a mental error; it was Osweiler's elongated throwing motion that afforded the defender this opportunity.

Although he made a pair of accurate throws on simple plays to begin the following drive, Osweiler's decision-making and accuracy remained a consistent concern.

Credit: NFL.com

This play comes from the beginning of the fourth quarter. The Broncos pass protection blows an assignment, so Osweiler is under pressure. He is forced to rush his throw downfield to avoid a sack and attempts to get the ball to a well-covered tight end.

Osweiler's pass was way off target and could have been intercepted by a defender who read the ball quicker.

Dealing with pressure is going to be a big part of Osweiler's evaluation. He isn't inheriting a strong supporting cast from Manning. In fact, he's inheriting a weak one. The Broncos may have talent at wide receiver, but they have little elsewhere.

The team's offensive line wasn't a strength entering the season, and now that it's not at full health, it's an even bigger issue. Head coach Gary Kubiak was expected to build a running game in Denver, but the unit ranks 27th in DVOA so far this season.

Osweiler is more athletic than Manning, which should help open up the running game, but that is a minimal addition for a team that doesn't have enough talent up front to consistently create space for its backs.

The Broncos can't change their philosophy and become a run-heavy offense that only asks its quarterback to make easy throws. They aren't talented enough to do that, so Osweiler will need to make difficult plays under pressure to keep the team on track to make the playoffs.

He definitely can't afford to struggle when given time in the pocket.

Credit: NFL.com

On this play early in the fourth quarter, Osweiler had to try to make a play because it was 4th-and-10 and the Broncos were so far behind. However, he didn't have to rush his throw like he did. Osweiler had time in the pocket and released the ball early.

He never appeared to be settled when he took the ball in the pocket, and his mechanics when he released the ball reflected that. Osweiler didn't completely step into the throw, instead leaning off to one side.

Credit: NFL.com

Because he was trying to fit the ball into an extremely tight window, Osweiler needed to be perfect with his pass. To be perfect with his pass, he needed clean mechanics. Instead, his poor mechanics caused the ball to float and arrive short of its intended destination.

A Chiefs defensive back was able to tip it out of the sky and into the hands of safety Eric Berry.

Osweiler tried to make a play downfield to get a first down in this situation, but he didn't need to rush his decision or get sloppy with his mechanics. There was no pressure on him in the pocket; the interception was simply a result of a lack of poise from the quarterback.

To be fair, Osweiler flashed some of his physical talent in this game, but the overwhelming takeaway was that he is going to need time on the field to become a viable starter.

In this game, he showed a lack of touch as a passer, erratic accuracy and unreliable decision-making. Those negatives could be compounded by his lack of experience and highlighted by his poor supporting cast. It's possible that Osweiler elevates those around him, but it seems unlikely at this point.

The biggest concern with Osweiler filling in for Manning is not that he will make the same mistakes but that he won't offer the same positive plays.

For as much as Manning has struggled this season, the future Hall of Famer has also made important plays at crucial times that have helped the Broncos win seven of their first nine games.

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