There’s a problem with Peyton Manning. It’s not tied to his arm, or his neck, or his physical condition after his first two competitive football games following a season of surgery and rehab. No, the problem is with the expectations for his 2012 season, and the buyer’s remorse they may already be creating.
Through two games Manning’s completed only two passes for 20 yards or more. After handing those figures to our staff calculator monkeys and asking them to prorate his pace over a full season, they’ve determined that Manning’s on pace to throw only 16 passes for 20 yards or more. He’s averaged 50.8 passes of that variety throughout his 13 seasons prior to this year, and his lowest single-season total was 40.
So there’s one rather unfavorable measure of both Manning’s arm, and Denver’s willingness to make said arm throw a ball deep down the field. Another is his 247.0 yards per game thus far, which is significantly lower than his career average of 263.4, although his yards per attempt have hovered right around his career average (7.8 this year, and 7.6 in his career).
What we’ve learned then is through two games against two very good defenses with very good secondaries is that there are more numbers which favor a decline in Manning’s arm strength, and more reason to believe that he won’t ever truly return to being the dominant quarterback he was two years ago. And that leaves me with one question.
How is any of this remotely surprising? And how does what we know now — or at least think we know now — differ at all from what we assumed to be true a month ago?
OK, that was two questions. Drew Rosenhaus is displeased.
One answer to the first question is this.:
Last week Manning was BACKKKKKKK BABY. This week he’s old, and he’s worse than Chad Pennington. Last week he threw for 253 yards with two touchdowns and no INTs while finishing with a passer rating of 129.2. This week he threw three picks in just his first eight pass attempts.
Last week he won, and this week he lost. Therefore since we still archaically divide quarterbacks into black/white, good/evil, win/loss, he was the awesomest last week, and the worst this week, even though he led an offense that scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, and brought the game to within a touchdown after Denver had trailed by nearly three scores.
Right now Manning is exactly who we thought he would be, and who you thought he would be if you decided that despite four neck surgeries over the past two years and well over a season-long absence, he was still a top 10 fantasy quarterback. That’s how he was widely drafted, coming off the board early in the fifth round on average in ESPN leagues (41.9 ADP), and a little later in NFL.com leagues (49.6).
You did that knowing the presence of a risk, and not necessarily a risk of a re-injury to Manning’s neck, which is a common misconception fueled by the fear surrounding the former Colt. As Jene Bramel told me two weeks ago, it’s certainly possible for Manning to suffer another neck injury if he sustains a hit directly to or even near the area where he had his neck fusion. But that risk is still low, as instead the risk indeed lies within his arm, and the nerve regeneration process.
The primary concern for Manning is whether the strength in his arm will continue to improve or whether he’ll have to compensate for some residual weakness in the arm. The process of nerve regeneration is still ongoing. Spinal surgeons generally expect much of that regeneration to occur in the first six months after the fusion procedure, but allow for two years of gradual improvement.
Since he’s a finely-tuned athletic machine, Manning was throwing a football as early as last February, and yet for mortals this procedure is one that can require up to two years of recovery.
Knowing this, you made that Manning gamble, selecting him with a chunk of draft real estate which dictates that he’s your starter. How’s that working out for you so far? Welp, last night he had nine fantasy points, and a week ago he had 24.
Those two numbers are the only digits that matter to you, and the only ones that ever have, always. While there are some scary early statistical trends through an eighth of the season, they’re part of the recovery process, and Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has compensated by catering to Manning with the inclusion of shorter passes to his speedy, shifty outlets.
It’s an approach which led to the 71-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas last week on a ball that maybe advanced five yards forward through the air. That massaging and care with Manning’s arm will continue, and maybe it will even linger throughout the season to give us a very different Manning who tests a secondary deep less, and leans on his support more.
Either way you’ll get what you purchased. Inconsistencies early, an arm that at times may struggle, and a legend who may be fading.
That’s what Peyton Manning is, and that’s how he’ll produce. At the end of the year his numbers will reflect those of a second tier quarterback, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There will be great games, poor games, struggles, wobbly throws, and plenty of Manningface.
Nothing has changed since August. Nothing.