To say future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning has struggled during the 2015 season would be a vast understatement.
So far in his 4th season with the Denver Broncos, Manning has completed 62.8% of his passes (167/266) for 1,864 yards, 7 TD, a league leading 11 interceptions, and a 75.1 passer rating. He has thrown an interception in each of the Broncos’ 7 wins (yes, WINS), as the ballclub remains undefeated at 7-0.
The reasons for Manning’s struggles despite an incredible run with Denver from 2012-2014 is apparent. The arm strength has been an issue for a while, but Manning’s intelligence had masked that up to this point. For the most part, his mistakes are less about accuracy and more about mentality. It doesn’t help that the Bronco’s offensive line ranks as one of the NFL’s worst, but this used to be a QB that could cover up these holes.
It’s clear that Manning is in decline and is no longer in the prime of his legendary career.
With that being said, his performance against the Packers on Sunday was his best since the 2nd half of the 2014 season, where it was noted he experienced a sudden decline (RE: old).
In his December 2014 stretch, Manning threw 3 touchdowns to 6 interceptions, which appeared to foreshadow his struggling play in the 2014 Divisional game against the Colts and onward. 6 games later, Manning had thrown 10 picks despite a 6-0 record.
Against the Packers, Peyton had 1 interception (his final pass of the night when DEN was already up 29-10) and didn’t throw a touchdown, but he completed 21 of his 29 passes for 340 yards, finishing with 11.7 yards per attempt, as the Broncos beat the Packers 29-10.
In regards to what side of the field he threw the ball to, he was accurate all across the board, but spent more time throwing over the middle and left than he did to the right.
Despite a smaller sample size, Manning was more efficient on the right side of the field, but found the middle of it to be his money ball, as he threw for 14.4 yards per attempt there.
It wasn’t the jaw dropping spectacular effort that we’ve come to know The Sheriff for, but he still played really well against the Packers, staying on target and never missing a beat on the intermediate throws. Manning made his offensive line look better at times by side stepping pressure and throwing the ball quickly before a defender could tackle him.
ESPN’s Total QBR stat seems to agree, as he scored a 93.6/100 for Sunday’s performance, his best mark of 2015. Pro Football Focus gave Manning a +2.8 grade, another season high.
Peyton’s 2015 season has been very poor in contrast to previous seasons, but he has a few tricks left up his sleeve, as he seems to put the Broncos in the right spots at the right moments (his go ahead TD pass to Emmanuel Sanders after throwing a pick six against the Browns for example). His deep ball has been heinously bad in his first 6 games, but as his receivers gained separation, he was able to throw on target downfield against Green Bay.
Manning went 4/6 for 119 yards on the deep ball on Sunday Night. That’s 19.8 Yards Per Attempt and a completion percentage of 66.7%.
See the chart below for further details. (The deep ball stats used for this chart were calculated using the play-by-play data from ESPN.com and pro-football-reference.com.)
While this may be a smaller sample size in comparison to the previous six games, it’s certainly a step in the right direction for the 39-year-old signal caller.
Sadly, many people will only look at the interception Manning threw and write off this performance. Sure, it wasn’t a good throw, but it was also when Denver was up 29-10 with 10:02 left in the game. In addition, Manning was vultured of touchdown opportunities when Andre Caldwell committed offensive pass interference on the play, as well as the 3 rushing touchdowns from CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman (including 2 in the red zone from Hillman).
All in all, if Peyton Manning plays like he did on Sunday Night, this Broncos team should be the favorites to make it to the Super Bowl in the AFC. The defense has proven itself as the best in the league, and the Patriots, a fellow undefeated team, travel to Denver later in the season, with AFC homefield advantage implications for the playoffs likely on the line.
Whether Manning can build off his strong performance is unknown, but it’s refreshing to talk about an all-time great in a positive light once again.