It isn't arm strength that's causing Peyton Manning's issues
Following the disappointing end to Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning’s 2014 season, and his lackluster performance in Denver’s close win over Baltimore on Sunday, it seems as though everybody wants to focus on Manning’s arm.
The truth is, he probably does have the weakest arm of any starting QB in the league, and if he was a prospect coming out in this year’s draft you’d dismiss it as completely non-viable. Some of the lame-duck passes that wobble their way out of his grip are comical, and it’s causing people to begin to write the Manning NFL obituary.
The only issue is that none of that is any different than the beginning of the 2014 season, or 2013, or 2012. In Manning’s second game as a Bronco, he threw three first-quarter interceptions against the Falcons, throwing passes he had made a career of in Indianapolis but just couldn’t make happen anymore with his post-injury arm. In one of the greatest sporting achievements in decades, he completely re-worked his game to account for the fact that there were throws he simply couldn’t make anymore, and he then took the Broncos to the playoffs, losing in double overtime to the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens in the AFC title game.
The following year he went a step better, losing in the Super Bowl to the Seahawks. Last season, despite being injured down the stretch, he again made the playoffs before flaming out in the divisional round against the Colts.
The point I’m making? Manning having a noodle-arm is nothing new, and he’s been an All-Pro with it multiple times before.
What is new is the rate at which he hit the turf against the Ravens. It looked like he was under constant duress from the Baltimore pass-rush, but he was actually only pressured on 29.5 percent of his passing plays (13 QBs were pressured at a greater rate in Week 1, through Sunday’s games), and while that represents a significant jump from his league-best mark of 21 percent a year ago, the more interesting number is the percentage of that pressure that resulted in Manning getting sacked.
Manning is typically the best quarterback in football at mitigating the pressure from his offensive line and avoiding sacks. Linemen get beat, but Manning feels the pressure coming and knows exactly where to go with the ball, turning sacks for most quarterbacks into just pressure on him.
He has led the league in that percentage in three of the past five seasons, and has never allowed more than 17.4 percent of his pressure to result in sacks — and that came in the first season in Denver in a new offense. Against Baltimore he was sacked on 30.8 percent of his pressured plays. Manning seemed confused and surprised by the pressure he was facing, unusually unable to adjust to it and find his outlet.
This would be concerning for a young quarterback, but for Manning, arguably the most cerebral quarterback in the league or of all time, it seems unlikely to be a fatal flaw uncovered 18 seasons into his career.
Maybe it was a bad day at the office. The Ravens have talented defensive players and a good defensive scheme, but it’s also possible that it will take Manning time to have the kind of instinctive knowledge and feel for his new offense as he had for the old one. Thinking time when it comes to adjusting to pressure is time the pass-rush can get closer to home, and right now Manning is taking too long to process it all.
Yes, his arm strength is terrible, but that’s nothing new. The new flaw to Manning’s game was how much pressure he let actually get to him. Can he adjust to that going forward or are we seeing something else at work?