It isn’t arm strength that’s causing Peyton Manning’s issues

Sam Monson explains the real issue causing a drop-off in Broncos QB Peyton Manning's play.

| 2 years ago
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

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?

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

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  • xmikstick

    “losing in double overtime to the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens in the AFC title game”

    I think this was in the divisional round Ravens played the Patriots in the AFC title game

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  • ElwayIsGod7

    Good read; Thanks!

  • shayaan

    he is 39 years old. as weak as his arm has been since his surgery, it’s illogical to imply it has not become a bigger issue as of late.

    the arm strength and pressure issues are also related – he was still connecting on occasional off balance throws the last few seasons, but i see him struggling with those more and more this year, particularly with kubiak’s offense forcing him to move more often.

    • Dez Caught It

      He just seems completely off as of late, it’s hart to pinpoint the blame on one aspect of his game. He missed Sanders on a few deep balls by overthrowing him, which would not be an issue of arm strength, but perhaps more of an issue of him losing his ability to throw accurate passes and make the right read. It just seems as if he is forcing things and not picking up on defenses as quick as we are used to.

      • bobrulz

        That absolutely can be an issue of arm strength. It means he knows that his arm is weaker, so to compensate, he just throws it harder.

        • shayaan

          yep, weaker arm also means he has to throw it earlier. timing is clearly not there.

  • Jaguars28

    He’ll bounce back and get them into the playoffs

    • DangaDave

      Solid burn! That was a burn, right?

    • Malachi

      they’re a playoff team with anyone at QB, even RG3nOut, best D in 2015

  • Four Touchdowns

    Does this theory jibe with his poor play toward the end of 2014, though? Were the Bengals, Rams, Colts, etc. all confusing him with exotic blitzes?

    I think arm strength gets pointed out because of some of his misses with open receivers — he’s thrown several short passes straight into the dirt and has overthrown wide open receivers on deep routes. It looks like he’s losing his touch.

    • rodrigp

      No,what jibe with his poor play was a quad injury.
      And if you didnt read the article,the opinion of the author is not that the “exotic blitzes” forced his throws,but that in this new offense,he is still understanding where everyone is and cant read and throw as fast as he did in the last scheme.
      It certainly looks like he is losing his touch,but i think he will acquire it back in a week or two.

      • Four Touchdowns

        Man, I really, really hope so. Rooting for the guy.

      • Taylor Christian Vance

        His touch does seem different.But last year I’d blame it on the quad injuries as well.

  • AJ

    I have no doubts that Manning will find form as the season goes on. This game could actually be looked at as a net positive because the Broncos were able to win a game in which Manning wasn’t on point. In years past, especially in his Colts years, if he wasn’t on point, the team had no chance of winning.

    It’s only a matter of time until he figures it out. When he does, this already dangerous team will only be that much better. To be fair, a good amount of that pressure was from unorthodox plays such as corner blitzes with guys running at him unblocked. I could be wrong about how frequently that happened, but that’s just how it seemed to me. If given reasonable time to throw, he’ll eventually look similar to the guy we’ve seen the past couple years.

  • Clay Dreslough

    The real problem if you watched the game is that the refs weren’t calling pass interference. It’s tough to complete passes if the defense is tackling your receivers before they catch the ball.

    The “interception” he threw should have been a first down.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Peyton doesn’t have the arm strength at 39 but can play another decade if he takes a page from the George Blanda playbook and becomes a kicker.

  • Sad Max

    Peyton’s decision-making has become one of his greatest liabilities. He seems to panic more often and frequently makes inaccurate throws that he almost never used to make.

    • Four Touchdowns

      I wonder if his reaction time has slowed, ever so slightly.

      • PJM1108

        I think this is the issue more than anything. The man is now 39 years old. He doesn’t do things as quickly as he used to, and arguably his greatest strength throughout his career was his ability to get rid of the ball quickly. He’s taking time to process things a split second longer, and in the NFL, a split second is a big big difference.

    • Taylor Christian Vance

      I was thinking this is due to being in a new offense.

  • GreenReaper

    IMO…the combination of poor OL play and a new offense is a big contributer to Manning’s problems. Opening up holes for the run game and pass protection must improve. Too many 3rd down and long situations. Then the pass rush is quickly right on top of him due to porous protection. Resulting in Peyton having little chance of making quick throws and avoiding sacks. No comfort zone for him to make quick reads, plant his feet and release the ball. It makes his arm look weaker then it is. Manning is simply not mobile enough to overcome consistently poor pass protection.

    The performance of the offensive line needs to significantly improve. Or Manning is in for a long season. A season in which he may have to be more of a game manager rather then the aggressive attacking QB that we are used to seeing. A season in which the Denver defense may have to carry the team more then any team it ever had to in this Peyton Manning Era.

  • lanceeee

    Looking at it with rose colored glasses, he overthrew 2 passes to a wide open Sanders, who did not play in the pre season. He hits those, then no discussion.
    Without the glasses, he does not look different than last season. But with a better defense, and the ability to complete a 10 minute plus 4th qtr drive, they win instead of lose.

  • Choke artist

    He is playing in playoffs form already so Broncos can prepare for his choke this year.

  • Four Touchdowns

    I did my own little amateur film study today and have to agree with Sam’s premise. I break down every negative Manning play from last Sunday here —

  • Taylor Christian Vance

    Yup. His arm strength hasn’t significantly decreased. Manning needs to set his feet and drive with his legs to throw the ball with decent strength. More pressure makes it more difficult.

  • sidekick

    Manning’s quad plus losing Julius Thomas, because of injury or because he quit playing due to contract issues according to Shannon Sharpe, towards the end of the year also was a contributing factor to his decreased performance. Broncos have some decent tight ends this year but nothing as big and talented as Julius.