Can Peyton Manning bounce back this season?

Sam Monson explains the depth of Peyton Manning's struggles in Denver's loss to Kansas City.

| 11 months ago
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

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.

| Senior Analyst

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

  • JS7

    Peyton Manning, no doubt you’re going to be in the HOF. You’ll always be known as one of the greatest to play in this league, but I hate to say it, he needs to retire. I hate seeing him throwing all these floaters and them being intercepted. This isn’t a way a great QB should end his career.

    At least he got the record.

  • Backinmd

    Said a few weeks ago that Peyton should retire at end of season .. He’ll never do it but Peyton should retire now …His arm fell off a few weeks ago .. He’s a 1st ballot, walk-in to the HOF .. The greatest NFL QB I’ve ever seen .. By the way, never have seen a QB who could read defenses as well as Peyton ..He was better reading defenses than 1/2 the offensive coordinators in the NFL …. I was a kid then but remember Johnny Unitas’ last year with the Chargers ..It was sad to say the least ..Know Peyton doesn’t need the $ …

    • Dale Hammers


      • Fact prophet

        Montana>>>>Brady>>>>bradford, bridgwater, newton, and James Winston>>>>> Eil>>>>>peyton.

    • anon76returns

      He was actually making throws in the 2nd half vs. Indy last week that he hadn’t been able to make earlier in the year (boot left & throw deep right, etc), and his completion %, yards per attempt, air yards, and deep completion % were all up in week 3-9 after some truly terrible play in his first 2 games. But yesterday’s game was terrible, and hard to find a redeemable aspect in it. “Hopefully” it can be blamed on injury, but I’m not even sure how hopeful that can be- it it’s the plantar fascia tear, that isn’t going to heal much by playoffs.

      • Backinmd

        Even without the foot injury. Peyton should still retire ..He’s had an illustrious 18 year career ..Why not go out on top ? …Realize he CAN still make most of the throws but his arm strength is waning …Same thing with Montana – and why the 49ners. traded him to KC his last year ..If Montana had more in his tank left, they would have kept him .Same thing with the great John Riggin’s & Eddie George for example ..There speed fell off the cliff their last year playing …You notice it more with RB , WR , QB more so than OL and DL ..Think George Blanda played 20 years but sat on the bench the last few years …

        • anon76returns

          It’s definitely beginning to look like it’s time to retire at the end of the season. I just think that if the foot heals up (and I’m not even sure if that is possible this late in the season) he can still be effective enough. I keep hearing his arm is shot, but he’s making throws in games (other than yesterday obviously) that he couldn’t make earlier, and gradually getting more comfortable with the new scheme. We’ll see, but I don’t think anybody wants to see another game like yesterday, not even fans of his opponents.

  • Brandon

    KC fan here. Poeple are demoralizing Manning when its more so the great job Kansas city done. Manning is at a point where he can’t man the workload. We started the game stopping the run game forcing them to throw. Manning will get back on track against Chicago. Don’t underestimate the chiefs secondary were on fire. Led by Marcus Peters who should get the Defensive rookie of the year award and Eric Berry who should win the come back player of the year award. Add Houston and Hali on a good day bringing the pressure the game can get out of hand real quick. Even Brock struggled was sacked a couple of times & thrown an interception.

    • JT

      C’mon man….Manning made horrible throws. It had little to do with pressure on him at all he just simply threw the ball nowhere near the receiver on 3 of his interceptions.

      • Butch Davis

        I dont know. I’d say three sacks and two horribly timed INTs spells effective pressure. Hell even if you dont follow football you know who Justin Houston is more than likely, Manning’s mind is still very sharp (replay that Colts games from a few weeks ago, he was turning back the clock going into the 2nd half) but he was seeing ghosts out there on Sunday.

    • Tim Edell

      Marcus Peters has given up 7 TDs I believe.. He is boom or bust. He is one of the most targeted CBs in the league thus the high number of passes defensed.

      • Brandon

        Trust me as a chiefs fan the kid is a future island GUARANTEED. Look at his match UPS from week one. He WAS targeted a lot at the beginning of the season but as time goes on its becoming less and less. The reason he is.being targeted is because he’s covering the number one receivers. Check out his match ups since week one. Deandre Hopkins, Thomas(Denver) Cobb, AJ green, Calvin Johnson, Antonio Brown. To ask a rookie to cover these players is a tough task and he’s took it in on stride. He shows such great awareness 2 of his interceptions have been in man to man coverage where he actually pulls off his player and gets the pick.

      • Tony

        PFF is notorious for releasing coverage grades without any real idea about players’ responsibilities on a given play. Regardless, it’s ridiculous to judge a corner solely by the amount of TDs they allow. Especially when you apparently haven’t bothered to actually watch him play for any significant period of time.

        I know for certain that Peters has been blamed for TDs by PFF on plays where it would be very difficult to establish that he was actually responsible for covering the player who scored. Stafford’s TD to Lance Moore (which, by the way, occured deep in garbage time) come to mind, as it looks like Peters tried to jump the play because of safety help.

        Peters was also blamed for at least one of Cobb’s TDs in the GB game. On one of these plays the Packers called a screen on the 5 yard line. The play was perfectly blocked and Peters still made the tackle, though Cobb extended for the TD. Peters wasn’t beat in coverage- the Packers just called a play that was virtually impossible to defend given the way the Chiefs defense lined up.

        Another one of his TDs happened because the safeties didn’t make a tackle. Another happened when Deandre Hopkins made a great play in perfect coverage.

  • Rick

    It’s still too early to completely write him off. Let’s see how this injury is dealt with and if it can heal in time for the playoffs. If he can heal, he can possibly play the way he did the previous couple weeks (when he earned good positive grades). I’v seen more than enough games and seasons in my lifetime to know that there is still way to much football left this season to write anybody off.

    • The Mysteries of Bob

      This isn’t a bad stretch like Brady one year ago, it’s plain poor and it has lasted nearly a year, the more Peyton plays, the more he looks like 2010 Favre or 1999 Marino.

      He is taking sacks he didn’t take in the past because he is creating pressure on his own, the Chiefs pressured him in over 50% of the dropbacks, for a guy whose pressure rate has been in the low 20s and is known for denying it, you know it isn’t all on the OL. Also the picks were rookie mistakes, the third onem pictured by Samcwas unbelievable, I couldn’t watch that without immediately folowing it with a facepalm.

      • anon76returns

        Yesterday was an abysmal day on a number of levels. You say he’s taking too many sacks and giving too much pressure on his own, but entering the game he had been sacked once in the last three games, and that came when Louis Vasquez passed off his man too nobody in order to pick up a delayed A Gap blitz (a problem with the line all year). After a rough first two weeks where Manning was sacked 7 times in two games, he was only sacked 5 times in weeks 3-9. Without PFF stats I can no longer say for sure, but I’d be willing to bet that Manning was the least-sacked QB in the league over that stretch. His problem isn’t the pressure (though the line still needs to improve on the edges and vs. the delayed blitz). The problem is the decisions to throw where he shouldn’t (I think half of his INTs now are from LBs catching balls that he tries to throw over them), and now probably injury issues. If those get cleared up (and that’s looking like a much bigger “if” today than it was last week) then he’d be an effective enough QB combined with his skill players on offense and extraordinary defense.

        • Butch Davis

          I would agree with the latter part of this post if the run game was anywhere close to effective. Right now I think they’re averaging less than 80 yds/gm on the ground. That just atint gonna cut it especially if they have to face a team like Cinci or New England on the road

          • anon76returns

            Depends which run game shows up- the one that put up 104 yards on 30 carries the last two weeks and put up 131 yards on 46 carries in weeks 1-2, or the run game which put up 543 yards on 125 carries in weeks 3-8. I imagine the more effective running game is also correlated with a more efficient passing game as well, though as I said there’s no guarantees that Manning can be an efficient passer again considering his current injury situation.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Maybe it’s time Peyton followed the example of George Blanda and began his second career as a kicker.

  • Scott West

    Peyton is done. Injuries have vanquished him.