After a disappointing Week 1 in which Peyton Manning only threw for 175 yards, no touchdowns, and was sacked four times and intercepted once, the NFL world started to believe Manning was finally showing signs that he’s done.
Dating back to last season, Manning has been playing far below his normal standard, and the sample size was getting harder to ignore.
But in the Broncos’ Thursday night comeback win over the Kansas City Chiefs, Manning, who had an up-and-down night, showed some positive signs that he may not be finished yet.
There’s still plenty to be concerned about with Peyton, and one solid performance doesn’t change that. He’s 39 years old, has a history of neck injuries, and is adjusting to a new offence under a new head coach. The latter point, however, is why there’s also reason to be optimistic that this is just a steep learning curve for Peyton.
As AP’s Arnie Stapleton noted during preseason, the Broncos’ new offence is unlike anything Manning has played in before. The new offence is supposed to be run-heavy, with Peyton lining up in the pistol, as opposed to the shotgun formation, with more roll-outs and play-action possibilities.
Thus far, the Broncos have been anything but run-heavy. In two games, Manning has already thrown 85 passes, completing 59% of them, while the Broncos have run the ball 47 times total. Against the Chiefs, Peyton threw 45 times — nearly the total amount of runs the Broncos have this season.
Part of that has been their opponents, particularly in Week 1 against a strong Baltimore Ravens defence. As Denver Post’s Troy E. Renck noted, the Ravens haven’t given up a 100-yard rushing game to an opponent in 27 games, including against the Broncos.
Furthermore, the Broncos’ running backs aren’t in great shape. 2014 breakout running back C.J. Anderson is dealing with a toe injury, and after leading the NFL in rushing yards over the final six weeks of last season, has struggled early this season. The Broncos are slowly giving Ronnie Hillman more carries, but he’ll still be a secondary rusher to Anderson for the time-being.
Thus, the pressure has been on Peyton in the first two games to lead the offence. There have been many concerning throws, like this, where Manning lobs a slow pass that opponents have no trouble stealing:
There were plenty of other passes that hit receivers at their feet, sailed by them, or wobbled through the air and miraculously escaped Chiefs players’ hands. The Chiefs dropped what should have been two other interceptions during the game, too.
What was encouraging to see was Manning, with the game on the line, suddenly perk up and snap some long passes to receivers with ease for the game-tying touchdown drive:
Renck also wrote that the new offence is still a work in progress:
What is this system? That is the bigger question right now. The Broncos are marrying two concepts — Manning’s expertise in the no-huddle with Kubiak’s ground-heavy zone blocking scheme — and trying to figure out the blend. … We probably won’t know the offence’s identity until after Week 3. The Broncos aren’t going back to the old offence. They will remain committed to the run. As the Broncos run better, Manning should improve because it will open up play action.
While Renck said the Broncos aren’t going back to John Fox’s offence from Peyton’s first three years in Denver, Kubiak said he is still finding ways to make Peyton comfortable. If that means putting more shotgun in the offence, as they did on their final drive, that may be what they need to do while they wait for the run game to come around.
“We’re trying to help him, run the football better, do some things,” Kubiak said. “We also know what he’s very comfortable doing. We’re also trying to somehow find a meeting between the two; we think that would be good for our team. He took control, we got him in that environment, we struggled to run the ball but he continued to make plays … if we can continue to get better around him he’s going to be just fine; we’ve got to continue to get better around him.”
While there are still reasons to be concerned about Peyton, there are reasons to be optimistic. The Broncos have talented receiving corps, talented running backs, and a fierce defence. Peyton may not be the player to lead them to wins anymore, but when the offence takes a clearer shape, he may be able to hold off the “washed up” talk for one more season.
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