Can Peyton Manning bounce back this season?
We have seen new depths to Peyton Manning’s struggles this season. Entering the game against Kansas City (the Chiefs won, 29-13) apparently carrying a couple of injuries (ESPN reported Monday morning that he has torn plantar fascia in his right foot), Manning put forward the worst performance of his career and one of the worst in NFL quarterback history.
To quote Scott Hanson from NFL RedZone: “Manning arrived at the stadium on the struggle bus.” He then proceeded to drive it off a cliff.
Manning attempted 20 passes. He completed five of them. He was one short of completing as many passes to Kansas City players as he was to his own receivers, and finished the day with 35 passing yards, a passer rating of 0.0, and being benched for Brock Osweiler (who set about showing why Denver benching Manning long-term is not a viable solution).
Let’s put that passer rating in perspective first, shall we? It’s really hard to score a 0 in the system. If you take the ball and throw it into the turf every play you have a passer rating of 39.6. Manning was nearly 40 points worse than that, which is roughly the difference between Tom Brady and Matt Cassel over this season. In order to lose the 40 points between just spiking the ball every play and Manning, you have to be actively hurting your team by throwing interceptions.
Manning was 0 for 5 on deep shots in the game — other than the two he completed to Kansas City defenders. He completed just one pass on a ball that traveled more than 9 yards from the line of scrimmage compared to three interceptions on those. Two of his five completed passes were thrown behind the line of scrimmage.
Subject to Manning’s grade being finalized during our All-22 review process, this was the single worst grade PFF has ever given a quarterback in one game, and was significantly worse than even total trainwreck performances. We’re talking about a negative-11.7 — a grade worse than Jamarcus Russell ever posted. Worse than John Skelton ever managed. Remember that disastrous game Josh Freeman once had for the Vikings that was so bad it effectively got him banned from the league? Manning was worse yesterday.
Coming into this week the worst grade we have ever seen from Manning was a -4.2 in the playoffs a year ago. His worst days have threatened that mark, but this was nearly three times lower and represents a new standard for quarterback ineptitude — from one of the greatest passers to ever play the game.
Injury certainly explains some of the struggles. Manning’s arm had been looking a little more lively the past week or two, but there were plays in this game where the ball floated like it was thrown by a grade-schooler. He is at a point in his career where his arm velocity is so marginal to begin with that he can’t afford to lose the 10-15 percent off the top that any other quarterback can when he enters a game hurt. Gary Kubiak has since said that he shouldn’t have put Manning out there with the injuries, but they don’t explain many of the worst passes.
Manning continues to bewilder with some of his decision-making this season, and we saw repeated examples of it against the Chiefs, throwing the ball in places that it never belonged and making decisions that would make a rookie quarterback start pointing and laughing in a meeting room.
Take this interception as an example:
Manning is throwing the ball to a spot where a linebacker was sitting the entire play. He is throwing to a crossing pattern running right into him, and never sees him. There are many things wrong with Manning’s game at the moment, but the thing that might terrify Denver the most is that even if they wrap him in cotton wool for the remainder of the season and he enters the playoffs 100 percent healthy, he is making several terrible decisions each game that are costing his team possessions and points.
They might be able to protect Manning physically, but can they get him to stop making so many mental mistakes?
As we’ve written previously, this Broncos defense is the best in the NFL this season (they faced the Chiefs with two key pieces missing in cornerback Aqib Talib and pass-rusher Demarcus Ware). But they’re going to need better play out of Manning to have any shot at making a Super Bowl run.