Peyton Manning looked awful in week one. For 90% of the first half on Thursday night, he may have been worse. Something clicked after Manning tossed his second pick-six of the year, though, and he quickly dug his Broncos out of an ugly 14-0 hole.
Truth be told, my reaction to Manning’s demise was knee-jerky. He did look bad, but there was more to his regression (this year, at least) than him being old and having a weak arm. Three things contributed heavily to his slow start, and they’re in no particular order:
- He isn’t comfortable under center
- His pass protection is poopy
- Denver can’t run the ball
This was a team with a serious identity crisis and after letting Manning carry them to a win playing primarily out of the shot-gun from the end of the second quarter on, we may have learned that, like it or not, their best chance in 2015 may be to ride Manning’s dying arm.
It’s much like Brett Favre’s first go-around with the Minnesota Vikings. Favre’s arm strength really wasn’t in question, but he had shown signs of decline at the tail end of previous seasons. Heading into his first season with the Vikes, he figured to be nothing more than a game manager, with Minny relying heavily on Adrian Peterson and the ground game. That changed quickly when he was forced to win a home game against the 49ers and with teams putting 8 or more in the box to stop Peterson, Favre kept having to do it largely by himself.
Luckily that worked out, and it led to arguably Favre’s most efficient season ever and a trip to the NFC title game. At 39, I doubt Manning is headed for his most anything ever. He didn’t look all bad last night, though. He threw some really nice passes, looked light years more comfortable running something closer to “his” offense and once he got into a groove, he largely was effective.
There were still some bumps along the way, some bad timing, some ducks, etc. But the protection was improved with Manning have that extra 1-2 seconds away from the center.
Another key note: the running game was better with Ronnie Hillman in the lineup. Nothing against C.J. Anderson, he was impressive late last year, but I prefer Hillman. He’s quicker, faster, generally more explosive and arguably more versatile. Anderson is the better blocker and probably will take better care of the ball (i.e., he’s hypothetically safer) but he doesn’t bring the same upside or excitement. He’s not nearly as threatening to the defense.
I’m sure that doesn’t change and Anderson, who many spent a first round pick on, will continue to start and be fine enough. But Hillman is eating into his load for a reason – because he’s good. I see Anderson more as a high-end RB2 going forward and if someone wants to trade for him, I’ll all for it.
Back to Manning.
Week one is looking closer to a fluke after what we saw last night. Manning was able to get something going and he figured out a pretty good KC defense on the road. It was a hostile environment, his protection was shaky, he had an awful start and his running game was bringing nothing to the table. Yet Manning turned it around and ended week two with three touchdowns and over 250 passing yards.
Manning isn’t suddenly a top-5 guy again, but he’s back in the top-10 consideration. Just like I did have a knee-jerk reaction to a rough week one (I ranked Manning 12th going into the week), I don’t want to overreact to a solid overall outing here.
Week two showed us Manning might not be totally dead. He has Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, after all. In spots, he still exhibited excellent timing and placement. In spots, he was highly accurate and responded to pressure extremely well.
There were also moments of ineptitude, horrible passes that hit the dirt, near-picks and awful over throws.
Emmanuel Sanders may have stated the obvious and said it best after the game, though. He and DT both missed a ton of camp and preseason with injuries or contract issues, Peyton himself didn’t spend much time on the field during preseason and the offensive line has moving pieces (Ryan Clady died again, and all).
Add in a lethargic running game that is adapting to a new system, and all of these struggles really shouldn’t be overly surprising.
If you already abandoned Manning and traded him away, that’s fine, provided the deal was really worth it. If you haven’t, I see no reason to panic. Next week Manning and co. get a Lions defense that is sans Ndamukong Suh and got lit up to the tune of 404 yards through the air in week one. Manning also has two dates with the inept Raiders and a slew of other favorable matchups. He could crash and burn, but if week two is any indication, I don’t think he will. He won’t be the #1 quarterback or even in the top three, but he could be close. And for a 39-year old guy you probably didn’t draft until round give or later, anyways, close should be good enough.