For Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos It All Comes Down to Timing
I never gave it enough credit until I watched Peyton Manning carve apart NFL defenses this fall like a seasoned surgeon.
I haven’t enjoyed anything involving a Manning brother this much since, “Cut that meat!”
It all began this spring, after Peyton Manning signed with the Denver Broncos, when a friend of mine traded for him in our dynasty fantasy league. This led to more than a few discussions about what type of season we expected from the future hall of fame quarterback this year.
Like everyone else, despite those that wouldn’t admit it at the time, neither of us had any real idea what Manning would look like in a Broncos uniform. Coming off multiple neck surgeries, adjusting to new teammates and coaches, shaking off the rust of sitting out an entire season, especially at the age of 36 would be a daunting task for any athlete.
Eventually it came down to two undeniable truths.
First, that Peyton would not be as physically talented as we were used to seeing him, especially in the arm strength department.
Second, that we have never seen someone playing professional football with as much functional knowledge of the game.
So what we were left with was a simple, yet profound NFL question: What is more important to success as an NFL quarterback; physical skills like a strong arm and speed, or the mental aspect of playing the position?
Would you rather have a young guy like Matthew Stafford or Sam Bradford, who can throw the ball a country mile, or would you rather have a savvy vet who’s past his physical prime like, like, oh wait, I can’t think of one because they’re usually sent out to pasture quickly. I have to go back in the archives to come up with a good example. Chad Pennington maybe? Trent Dilfer? No, he’s better at talking about playing quarterback then he was at actually doing it.
In the end you always ended up with major drawbacks when you were at either extreme of the talent/arm strength versus Xs and Os understanding curve. You had to find someone who met in the middle, but that’s proved difficult at best to find throughout the years, so answering the question of which side to gravitate towards would give us as football fans a better understanding of how the game works at its best.
Now, normally, I’m not a big fan of these types of debates because in the end they almost always come down to opinion and not fact, and there is really no way of determining which side is right. But this time if was different.
This time we were going to have front row seats to the ultimate case study in what mattered more, the strong arm or the strong brain.
Initially I was leaning towards the physical skills being the more important of the two. I just couldn’t get past the idea that it didn’t really matter whether or not Manning could spot the open receiver more often than his better equipped counterparts if he just didn’t have the arm strength to get the ball there.
I didn’t know for sure if I was right, but I couldn’t remember being more excited to see how a quarterback would perform.
I watched all of Manning’s preseason snaps. He looked good but I couldn’t shake the creeping doubt that preseason defenses aren’t the same as regular season defenses, and that when the play went live it would speed up and his wobbly throws would start to find themselves in the hands of defenders more often.
But then as the season got going somehow he still kept hitting his receivers in stride, at exactly the right moment. There was no doubt that his throws didn’t have the same type of velocity that they did in his heyday with the Colts, but it didn’t seem to matter.
Then it hit me, it was all about timing.
Manning understood the game at such a high level; he could see where the open receiver was going to be quicker than anyone in recent memory. And to make it even more impressive, he was clearly releasing the ball earlier than he would have just a few years ago, compensating for his lack of ball speed.
This was savvy on a whole new level. Not only was he consistently getting his team in the best formation and play before the snap and manipulating the defense after it, but he was actively adjusting for his declining skills.
And the scary thing for the rest of the NFL is that he’s getting better as the year goes on. He’s getting better chemistry with his receivers and a better understanding of what defenses are doing to stop the Broncos attack.
He’s well on his way to proving that you’d rather have a quarterback with a coach’s understanding of the game, and in the end that might be the way the league has been heading for a while now.
Football is constantly getting more and more complex. Coaches have spent decades coming up with better and more effective ways to score points and stop the other team from scoring points. Offensive masterminds like Bill Walsh come up with revolutionary scoring machines, and defensive gurus like Dick LeBeau come up with ways to stop them.
It may very well have been that not so long ago the scales were tipped in the favor of the lively arm and quick legs, but now defenses are becoming so complex that reading them is more important than out throwing them.
If Peyton Manning continues his 2012 success into 2013, taking his new team deep in the playoffs and even maybe all the way to the Super Bowl, he’ll settle the debate, at least for now.