Life in the National Football League can be brutal. For players, having the opportunity to play in the NFL is a privilege, but at the same time, the chances of making a lasting career at the game’s highest level are extremely slim. When it comes down to it, the NFL is the ultimate “what have you done for me lately” work environment, where fans and the media won’t hesitate to turn on you at the drop of a dime. Nobody knows this more than Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
Since arriving in Denver, Manning has unquestionably been one of the top two or three quarterbacks in the league. Here is a look at his stat line since joining the Broncos back in 2012.
- 40-10 regular season record
- 67.3% completion percentage
- 15,294 passing yards
- 134 touchdown passes
- 38 interceptions
- 106.3 quarterback rating
- 2-3 postseason record
- 1 AFC Championship
- 1 NFL MVP award
- 1 NFL Offensive Player of the Year award
- 2-time First-Team All-Pro
As you can see, Manning turned in one of the best three-year stretches by a quarterback in NFL history since signing with the Broncos in 2012. On top of that, the team’s 2013 offense, led by Manning, scored a total of 606 points and is in the record books as the most prolific offensive unit the league has ever seen. Knowing this, we find the notion that the Broncos need to start thinking about replacing the five-time NFL MVP bizarre and frankly, pretty irrational.
The questioning of Manning’s physical ability and playing future began shortly after the Broncos suffered through an embarrassing loss to the St. Louis Rams on November 16, 2014. In that game against the Rams, the Broncos would score just seven points, but what was more concerning was that Manning took a pounding. The Broncos would go on to win five of their remaining six regular season games, but Manning never really looked like himself for the rest of the season, and as it turns out, Manning played the last month of the season with a torn quad muscle, but that’s a whole other story. It all culminated when the Broncos were upset at home by the Indianapolis Colts in the Divisional round of the AFC Playoffs.
The playoff loss to the Colts led to months of speculation among fans and in the media as to whether or not Manning had any gas left in the tank. Things were complicated even further when the team hired Gary Kubiak to replace John Fox as the team’s head coach. The issue was that Kubiak was bringing a zone-blocking offensive scheme to Denver that was going to require Manning to spend the majority of his time playing from under center, which was something the 39-year-old quarterback hadn’t done in over a decade of playing in the NFL. Fast-forward to the Broncos’ first game of the 2015 regular season against the Baltimore Ravens, and the aforementioned concerns became very real.
Denver won the game over the Ravens, but their offense was unable to reach the end zone and managed to put up a measly 219 yards of total offense. Moreover, Manning look uncomfortable in Kubiak’s offense, his passes lacked zip, and he struggled with accuracy on downfield throws. The situation got so ugly that Manning, who is arguably the greatest quarterback in the history of professional football, and the Broncos’ offense were booed off the field by their own fans after a pick-six and multiple three-and-outs during the third quarter. Manning’s performance was so shaky against the Ravens that Denver fans and several local and national media outlets began floating the idea that the Broncos would be better off with Brock Osweiler. We’re here to tell you that it would be foolish of the Broncos to not stick with Manning in 2015.
For most of the first two quarters against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2, it was more of the same lackluster play from Manning and the Broncos’ offense. Then something clicked. The Broncos opted to move away from Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme and reverted back to an offense that allowed Manning to operate from the shotgun and change plays at the line of scrimmage. The result was an offense that looked more like the record-setting 2013 Broncos and a lot less like the team we saw in Week 1 against the Ravens.
It is also worth noting that most of Manning’s struggles can be attributed to the sub-par performance of Denver’s offensive line. The Broncos offensive line has been a below average unit dating back to their blowout loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. As the o-line play improved against the Chiefs in Week 2, Manning looked like a completely different quarterback. When he had a clean pocket to step up into, his passes were on target and had a noticeable increase in velocity.
All said, in Week 2, we saw first hand that Manning can still play the game at an extremely high level. In fact, we believe that he is still one of the few elite quarterbacks in the NFL. Instead of worrying about replacing the 14-time Pro Bowler, his doubters should voice their concerns over the Broncos’ scheme and improving the offensive line in front of him. If they improve, Manning is still a legitimate MVP candidate.
All statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.