Peyton Manning is in decline. We all know that very well by now, but the reason that I’m already sick of this topic isn’t just because it’s been discussed a ton for the past 4 days. It’s because people aren’t talking about the issue with the specificity that they should be, which you would expect when it’s been a top story 4 days in a row.
The Denver Broncos offensive line is in shambles. Their guards, Evan Mathis and 2013 Pro Bowler Louis Vasquez are very good, but their left tackle, center, and right tackle is 2nd round rookie Ty Sambrailo, 2014 6th rounder Matt Paradis, and Ryan Harris, who was a part of a pretty dismal offensive line in Kansas City last year.
And tonight, those guys get Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. That’s gonna be fun to watch in the same way that it’s fun to watch a car crash in a movie — utter chaos.
And talking heads and fans are gonna blame Peyton Manning for not dealing with his offensive line woes like he could back in Indianapolis, when he got around whatever weak links or injuries that affected the offensive line by getting the ball out of his hands in .00000089 seconds with tons of zip on the ball.
But we already know that he can’t do that anymore. He couldn’t do it last year, either, but he still managed to put up great numbers in the first half of the season. And we need to realize that that’s where Peyton Manning is now. He’s a great quarterback when he has a situation that suits him well — great receivers, good offensive line, and a running game that at least keeps defenses honest. (And I think CJ Anderson and co. are better than “keeping the defense honest.”) But Manning isn’t the Manning of old when he can cover up for those mistakes.
So why are we holding him to that standard? Why is it all or nothing with Manning? Either he’s the 2009 Peyton Manning who can be the best player by FAR on a team that could’ve gone undefeated if they hadn’t rested their starters late in the season, or he’s now a joke.
Nope, he’s actually somewhere in the middle. Whether he’s a B+ quarterback or a C+ quarterback remains to be seen, and that’s what we’re all trying to determine tonight. But he’s not an A or F QB, contrary to what talking heads and fans are saying. He can’t make up for the offensive line woes, so we need to stop expecting him to do that and instead judge him primarily on how he can maneuver his way around the O-line woes, such as screen passes to Thomas or Sanders. He won’t be able to react quickly to a 7 man rush and fire the ball downfield without having a ton of time to prepare, so we can’t expect him to. But he can still time his passes perfectly, so we need to judge him on how well he can do that and how well that strategy can lead his team to victory.
None of us know exactly what kind of grade that Peyton Manning deserves for his current level of play, and that’s what hte 2015 season will tell us as he gets older. But tonight, remember to grade him on a curve when you account for his offensive line. Watch how much time he has to throw and react, and then come to a decision about whether or not he’s done.