Posted December 10, 2013

The All-22: Peyton Manning proves he’s still got it, even when the temperature drops

AFC South, AFC West, Denver Broncos, Tennessee Titans, The All-22
Peyton Manning busted yet another myth last Sunday against the Titans

Peyton Manning busted yet another myth last Sunday against the Titans. (Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Despite his status as perhaps the greatest quarterback in NFL history, Peyton Manning has had to overcome a few negative issues throughout his career. There was the “He can’t win the big one” ding, which he put to rest with the Indianapolis Colts’ 29-17 win over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI. It was about that time that Manning also put to rest his well-known issues with 3-4 defenses in general, and the New England Patriots specifically. And he has managed to destroy any ideas that he was done after multiple neck and shoulder surgeries in 2011 — Manning’s numbers over the last two seasons with the Denver Broncos have certainly put an end to those.

Still, there was one last perception war to fight — that Manning tends to fold when the weather outside is less than delightful. Coming into last Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans, according to ESPN’s Stats & Info, Manning’s teams had lost seven of the 10 regular-season and postseason games in which the temperature was 32 degrees or colder. He had thrown 12 interceptions in those games to 11 touchdowns, his completion percentage was 59.4 in those games (career percentage: 65.4), and his 214.1 yards per game total was quite a bit below his career average of 269.5.

The point was made because the forecast for Denver during that game was the kind of cold that has always bedeviled Manning, or so the legend said. Of course, the Broncos were hearing none of it, especially offensive coordinator Adam Gase.

“I’ve only been around him two years, but the thing that probably pisses me off more than anything is the fact that I don’t want anybody else as my quarterback,” Gase said last week. “I’m going to go in with him every Sunday and it’s a great feeling to have. When you have him back there, you know your chances of winning are pretty good. When you don’t have a guy like that, and I’ve been in that spot a lot, and that sucks. So, I’ll take [Manning] any day of the week.”

In a game that saw a high temperature of 18 degrees, Manning played about as well as any quarterback could under any circumstances. In Denver’s 51-28 win, he completed 39-of-59 passes for 397 yards and four touchdowns. All of those touchdowns came in the red zone, where he was 10-of-18 for 61 yards. He hit nine different receivers, and each of his touchdowns was caught by a different target. And he did so against a defense with two of the best statistical cornerbacks in the NFL (Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty), and a front seven with a knack for taking quarterbacks down. According to Pro Football Focus’ game charting, those two great corners allowed 13 catches for 193 yards and two touchdowns — Verner hadn’t allowed a touchdown all season before this game. Manning wasn’t sacked … in fact, he was barely pressured.

If Manning wanted to blow that story apart, he could not have done better. Based on his postgame comments on Denver radio station KOA, he desperately desired a surprise ending to that tale.

“One you get out there on the field, and you have those long drives, you have some momentum. Whoever wrote that narrative can shove that one where the sun don’t shine,” he said Sunday, when asked about the cold-weather thing. “I felt pretty good out there today.”

Tennessee’s defenders squawked about some of the penalties they received (and they had reason to at times), but the conclusion was clear — this was one of the game’s greats at his highest peak of performance.

“Without a doubt,” McCourty said after the game. “Their combination of Manning at quarterback with the weapons that they have on the outside is definitely the toughest offense that we have played thus far. It was tough out there. The refs called it really tight on the outside, so it was tough for us as DBs to be more aggressive. We tried to adapt, but we just didn’t do a good enough job. As a defense we just didn’t play well enough.”

Manning’s 39 completions set a Broncos franchise record, and it’s the second-most most he’s ever had in an NFL game, exceeded only by the 40 completions he had against the Houston Texans in 2010, his final year with the Colts. Many of those completions were short ones, but Tennessee anticipated that and played accordingly. Similar to the strategy the Seattle Seahawks employed far more effectively against Drew Brees in their 34-7 win over the Saints two Mondays ago, Tennessee used coverages designed to dare Manning to throw to the intermediate and deep levels — they played aggressive coverage underneath, set their linebackers to the flats, didn’t blitz often and either jammed the Broncos’ outside receivers or played bail-and-trail coverage in order to avoid giving up anything cheap. Manning had to earn every yard he got against this quality defense, and man, did he ever. He was 14-of-22 on throws of 10-plus yards, per PFF, and 4-of -8 on targets of 20 yards or more. The only Broncos who seemed to be affected by the weather were Manning’s receivers, whose seven drops accounted for a decent percentage of his 20 incompletions.

Manning started completing those deep throws with 11:43 left in the first quarter. The Broncos had 2nd-and-6 from their own 42-yard line, and Eric Decker up top with Verner on solo coverage. The Titans had safety Bernard Pollard on Verner’s side, but it was Pollard’s job to help the linebackers out with tight end Julius Thomas. On the other side of the field, McCourty and cornerback Coty Sensabaugh patrolled the nickel zone with Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas in their sights.

At the snap, Manning faked play-action out of the Pistol formation to running back Knowshon Moreno as Decker (yellow box, below) ran right up the numbers. At the Tennessee 42-yard line, Decker ran a little comeback to the left sideline, leaving Verner to clean up, because he had estimated a deeper route. Pollard had not provided help up top, and deep safety Michael Griffin could only run late and helplessly to that side. Manning had given a quick look to the right to freeze the defenders up the middle, but the play was to Decker all the way, and Manning had an easy cross-body throw because Decker ran the right tail of a route, and Verner couldn’t keep up.

ManningTitans1

That was the standout play in a 13-play, 74-yard drive that tied the score at 7-7. However, Denver had trouble getting the ball into the end zone through most of the first half — there was an amazing throw from Manning to Decker with 1:06 left in the first quarter that looked like a touchdown at first, but was reversed upon replay because Decker didn’t cross the plane. Manning tried to fit a seven-yarder to Welker two plays later, but it was called a no-catch, and Denver had to settle for a field goal. Halfway through the second quarter, the Titans had a 21-10 lead after Shonn Greene busted off a 28-yard touchdown run, and that’s when Manning went to work. Denver ate up 5:08 of clock in the second half of the second quarter on a 10-play, 81-yard touchdown drive, and the deciding play here was a 30-yard completion to Welker with 2:48 remaining in the first half.

The Broncos had 2nd-and-16 at the Tennessee 43-yard line, and once again, play action from Manning set the tone. When he faked a cross handoff to running back Montee Ball, Sensabaugh was caught doing double duty from the nickel spot — while he was reading Ball, Welker (again, yellow box, below) blew right by him. This left Sensabaugh and the linebackers to try and play catchup (again), and this time, Manning’s receiver outran his defenders as opposed to cutting underneath. It was a different version of the same principle — overwhelm your opponent with numbers and angles, and win every time your opponent makes a mistake. Manning made another great deep throw, but this was a formation and execution win for Denver’s offense.

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As he has throughout his career, Welker inherently understood where the gaps were, and how to take advantage of them.

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Denver ended the half with a 21-20 deficit after kicker Matt Prater booted an NFL-record 64-yard field goal with time expiring. The Broncos came back out and outscored the Titans 31-7 in the second half with a perfectly balanced gameplan that included several more burners from Manning.

For sheer touch and velocity, it’s tough to top his 20-yard touchdown pass to Decker with 9:19 left in the game. That score put the Broncos up 44-28, and anyone still questioning Manning’s arm strength — or his ability to exhibit that strength no matter the conditions — had probably already gone home by that point.

The Titans tried a little zone handoff in coverage on the Thomas-Decker side, but that didn’t bother Manning — he seemed to be more interested in what Julius Thomas, running an inside route from the formation, would do to Tennessee’s nickel coverage. Griffin was led inside by the route before he bailed to try and give Verner help with Decker on the outside right. Verner was having his own issues — he backed off to play bail, and Decker’s (yellow box, below) little stutter inside on the way to the end zone turned the cornerback around.

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From there, it was on Manning to make what may have been the best throw of the day. From a timing and anticipation perspective, it doesn’t get much better than this.

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“I’m sure he’s tired of hearing it,” Julius Thomas said after the win of Manning and the cold-weather stuff. “He’s been playing so great all season, he’s been playing great his entire career and just to hear people nitpicking about something like the cold; for him to be able to come out there and put 50 on the board and put that whole cold thing to bed, I’m sure he’ll be happy to see that behind him tomorrow.”

Unless some sort of disaster befalls the Broncos in the next three weeks, they’re going to wrap up the AFC’s top seed, which would actually be a detriment if their quarterback was affected by cold weather. As he proved against the Titans, Peyton Manning isn’t just ready to bust that myth in half — he seems almost eager to face that challenge again.

30 comments
BarrySoetoro
BarrySoetoro

Peyton continues to p iss off the haters!!!!!!!!

ltjones12
ltjones12

 Who gave Manning the "status" as the greatest QB in NFL history? He's not even the best playing today. In a recent poll, 54% of fans said they would choose Brady over Manning. 


He has a 9-11 playoff record, so the "can't win the big one" ding is ringing as loudly as ever. They don't hand out Lombardi trophies for video game regular season stats. Your legacy is made in the playoffs and SB, and 9-11 with one ring is where his legacy is right now. You also can't deduce that he is a great cold weather QB from just one game. Let's see how he does once he starts facing good defenses in the cold.  If you plan on retorting that his playoff woes are his team's fault, then you have to credit his "team" for all of the regular season success he has had. 

GaloofvonDorkmeister
GaloofvonDorkmeister

I think Peyton's problem  just needs to be changed to "He can't play away from home in the cold".

SweetLightCrude
SweetLightCrude

Can you explain how a single game (against the Titans!) disproves a body of evidence that is made up of more than 10 games. 


Do you understand how averages work?

BarrySoetoro
BarrySoetoro

Po lil jonesy,he will always be a loser.

BarrySoetoro
BarrySoetoro

Po lil jonesy he will Always be a loser.

tsmith7777
tsmith7777

@ltjones12 Excellent post. As far as I'm concerned, Peyton is the best ever at running up stats against depleted teams, but not one of the best ever when he faces complete teams who are solid on both sides of the ball. He will go down as one of the all time greats, but it's unreasonable to rank him next to Montana or Brady. Those guys personified clutch play against the toughest teams, and very rarely made the big mistake in those situations. 

anon76
anon76

@ltjones12


You credit a QB for QB performance, you credit a team for win/loss.  It's as simple as that.

MichaelMartin2
MichaelMartin2

In an unrelated poll, 45% of people polled think that 95% of all percentages are 87% made up.  We also polled a very select 42.783% of the populace of a corner in Manhattan where a homeless guy may have pissed himself.

Also: for the "the only thing that matters is your postseason resume" argument that SCREAMS "I am a Tom Brady fan, and I watch too much First Take on ESPN", I present: Trent Dilfer vs. Dan Marino.


*Drops the mic*

AaronBateman
AaronBateman

@GaloofvonDorkmeister Wind.  Manning relies on anticipation and finesse.  The wind screws hard with a guy like that... the cold and stadium itself mean absolutely nothing if there is no wind.

Also, it is often overlooked that one of the losses he is credited for in the oft regurgitated cold weather record, is that 1 loss came in a game where he played exactly 1 snap because they had locked up home field advantage through the playoffs.  2 more of those losses came in his third year in the league when his team was simply not very good.  

Barring those, he has been a winning QB in cold weather.  

MichaelMartin2
MichaelMartin2

I love it.  "Damnit, Peyton answered another non-criticism, let's make up a new non-criticism."


anon76
anon76

@SweetLightCrude


All evidence points to Mr. Farrar having a better grasp of statistics than you do.  The "body of evidence" on Peyton's performance in cold weather is drawn from a very small sample size (11 games, out of over 250 played), overemphasizes the QB's role in whether the team wins or loses, doesn't take into account the strength of the opposing defense, and finally, doesn't tell us anything about whether Peyton's perceived drop off in cold weather is different than what happens to every other QB in cold weather.


However, what this past Sunday's game tells us is that Peyton is capable of playing better in bitter cold (by the end of the game the temp was in single digits) than any other QB has played in cold weather in at least the last 15 years.

amilian
amilian

Stop talking about it, when Peyton lost in cold weather in the playoffs by definition he played as a lower seed on the road so the other team had a better record then the Colts, so the other teams was a better team to begin with, had better defense or special teams or a good quarterback, Steelers, Patriots or Jets he lost that's it, football is a team sport if he loses the team loses if he wins the team wins not Peyton Manning, the Colts were not good enough to win those games..... Any game he played in freezing temp he played on the road look at the stats for all the other QBs on the road and look at their record, just because Brady plays Foxboro that's his home, he has an edge at home, as far as I'm concerned he is 1-2 in his Denver tenure in below freezing conditions

MichaelMartin2
MichaelMartin2

You do realize that Tom experiences almost the exact same drop in productivity/consistency as Peyton does when defenses key in on them in the postseason, right?  In fact, Peyton has a better passer rating, higher completion percentage, more yards per attempt/game....

He's playing QB better, yet his team loses.  It's almost like Tom got more support from his teammates/coaches...

tsmith7777
tsmith7777

@Cool @ltjones12 Agreed, it is getting old watching him have another winning season. I'll be tired of watching him possibly win an 18th, 19th and maybe 20th playoff game.  I'm also tired of him besting Manning when they face each other...that's old news too. 

lenkimster
lenkimster

@MichaelMartin2 So you are suggesting that the regular season carries more weight than the postseason? Hmmmm, your argument SREAMS "I am a Peyton Manning fan". 

MichaelMartin2
MichaelMartin2

And Peyton is a proven winner; look back at two of those rings that Tom has; he was not the reason they got those rings.

You're also mixing your narratives up now; the argument was postseason results equates greatness for a QB, then you throw in "winning with a depleted offense", the narrative for the Patriots' current regular season.  You claim that Peyton has one the best supporting casts in the NFL, but before he came along they were all mediocre.  After receivers stopped having him throw to them, they stopped mattering (Brandon Stokely, Pierre Garcon, etc...).  Perhaps its him that makes them great?

The truth is, I wouldn't mind having either "if I had to bet my house".  They're both great, almost equally so.  You can argue one way or another, but honestly?  They're both equally great, why do we need to establish a "winner"?

Also: Tom has never made a throw that I can't point to Peyton also making.  And vice versa.  You're cherry picking again.  (And nice wrap up there; I never said they handed out trophies for passer rating, I simply stated that the body of work shows that Peyton played the position better across his postseason career yet Tom had more wins, demonstrating his better supporting cast).


You Patriots fans never cease to amaze me with your rose-colored glasses.

tsmith7777
tsmith7777

@MichaelMartin2 Tom is winning with a depleted offense with inexperienced and less than desirable receivers. Peyton has one of the best supporting casts in the NFL on offense. What Tom is doing this with what he has is incredible. He's a proven winner. It's not how many great throws he makes, but when he makes them that counts. If you had to bet your house on one high stakes game against the best defense in football, would you really take Manning over Brady?  Let me know when they start handing out Lombardi trophies for passer rating, completion percentage and more yards per attempt. 

MichaelMartin2
MichaelMartin2

You had me up until you reached the highly subjective criteria at then end.  "Performs better in the clutch" and "is a proven winner' are incredibly subjective and, I believe, have no actual backing other than the fact, again, I believe, you've watched Tom much more than you've watched Peyton (and have an emotional connection to when Tom plays "clutch" but when Peyton does, it doesn't really register).

I get that Peyton has more attempts, but he still has more yards per attempt, a higher completion percentage, and more yards, so it's not like you can say Tom was more efficient but had less attempts.  Peyton simply played better quarterback (albeit at a VERY slight margin).  Saying that Peyton threw his INTs at more "critical" times is another highly subjective measurement, one that would be left up to the observer.


BarrySoetoro
BarrySoetoro

Sorry,but you are too logical fo de average Peyton hater--you gots to be mo illogical.

tsmith7777
tsmith7777

@MichaelMartin2 Your argument has to work both ways. If Tom's winning more games is indicative of his coaching and teammates, then how is it that Peyton's statistically superior performances are indicative of his teammates and play calling? Also, Peyton has a higher number of pass attempts per game than Brady, so that lends to better paper stats. 


You did hit the nail on the head when you brought up the TD:INT ratio. Now we are at the heart of the matter as this stat becomes much more important in an elimination (playoff) situation. We both know that one player cannot be solely blamed for a win or a loss, but the QB position is arguably the single most impactful position in the NFL, and he is the nucleus of the offense. 


Brady has played four more playoff games than Manning, yet only has 22 ints to Manning's 21. It's not only how many, it's when. Manning has thrown plenty of critical INTs in playoff games that cost the game. Brady has the highest winning percentage of any QB in NFL history, and the best playoff record ever. Being that he has been the only constant on the field since 2001, he's gotta get most of the credit for that. The last 3 Pats games (all 2nd half comebacks) really defines who he is. He performs better in the clutch and he is a proven winner. After all, stats are nice, but it's about winning. 

JimPrice
JimPrice

@MichaelMartin2 Just have to say ~ excellent analysis and comments. Best I have seen in a comment section. 

MichaelMartin2
MichaelMartin2

Also, if you're claiming Tom's great because of how great he is in the postseason, his passer rating is a mere 87... It's almost like defenses keyed in on him and his defense and teammates helped him out when he wasn't able to shred defenses...


MichaelMartin2
MichaelMartin2

Eh... I'm actually a lifelong Panthers fan with no dog in the fight whatsoever other than finding hilarity in the cherry-picking of stats to state "my favorite player is better than yours".

And yes, to an extent, the regular season carries more weight because of the simple fact that it provides a bigger body of work to analyze.  The NFL season is already a very small sample size, one that's incapable of truly measuring a player or a team.  There are always teams worse than their record indicates (last year's Houston team, for example) that get a couple of lucky breaks and teams that are better than their record indicates who just get some bad breaks.  Remember that the only difference between 6-10 and 10-6 is 4 games, and I can probably find 4 games in every schedule that "could have gone either way" based on a couple of variance factors.


That's the thing; the NFL season is terrible at determining the true "best team" for that very reason.  There just isn't enough time/games to actually get past how much impact variance can have.  You can have a lucky break as a terrible team every other game and get to 10-6; over 100, 1000 games, you'll see how good a team really is.


So yes, the regular season matters when determining how good a player is.  The postseason matters when it comes to preparation, coaching, and the team coming together.  When you have an all-world quarterback, of course the opposition is going to try to stop them.  If your coaches/teammates can't rally to get past that, I'd say that's indicative of their issues.

Also, if your comparison really is "Peyton vs. Tom", Peyton's QB rating is actually higher in the postseason, Peyton has a higher completion%, higher yards per game and attempt... the only thing that Tom has better is TD:INT ratio (1.9:1 vs. 1.58:1).  Wins are gotten by teams, with the need for team support even more important in postseasons (where teams key in on important players even more, like Peyton, the only offensive threat of the colts for all those years; don't give me Edgerrin James...).  The fact that Tom's won more games is indicative of his coaching and teammates, given Peyton's statistically superior performances.  (in other words, Peyton was better passing, yet they lost; how do you blame the disparity in wins solely on Peyton?)

(I know, I know, you're going to completely ignore stats and logic in favor of your purely subjective viewpoint.)

AaronBateman
AaronBateman

@lenkimster @MichaelMartin2 The post season is obviously more important in determining the success of a career, but not in determining the quality of a player.  Is Berry Sanders no where near the best RB of all time? Megatron may never win a SB, but he will probably be the greatest receiver of his generation.  

We need to just wait and see how Manning's career plays out anyway. Lets be honest, he could win the SB this year easily and maybe even next year.  If he does that, his post season record will be WAY better and he will match TB in Superbowl victories, the biggest difference being that he carries his SB winning teams while Tom Brady, for at least 2 of his rings, was carried by his defense.

If the argument that post season success determines the quality of a player, I have to assume that Tom Brady between the years of 200-2004 was a MUCH better QB than he is from 2005-present.