So…What was wrong with Peyton Manning?

Yesterday, Don Banks came out with a comprehensive piece attempting to answer the question:  What was wrong with Peyton Manning?

The answers ranged from throwing too much to the offensive line to age to even the possibility of a mystery injury.

All I can do is show you this:

Comp Att % Yards YPA TD INT Rating
2008 371 555 66.8 4002 7.2 27 12 95.0
2009 393 571 68.8 4500 7.8 33 16 99.9
2010 378 569 66.4 4028 7.1 26 15 91.2

2010

Comp Att % Yards YPA TD INT Rating
Games 1-6 171 254 67.3 1916 7.5 13 2 103.4
Games 6-13 207 315 65.7 2112 6.7 13 13 81.3

It’s pretty amazing the lengths people went to try and explain what is a pretty obvious problem.  Through 6 weeks, Peyton Manning was virtually perfect, having one of the best seasons of his career. During the Washington game, Collie, Clark, and Addai all got hurt.  He lost three of his four most reliable weapons on offense (not to mention injuries to Hart, Eldrige, and even Blair White). 

Through 13 games, Manning has thrown just about as much as he did through 16 games last year (given that he threw about half as often over the final two games as he normally did).  His numbers on the whole of the season are basically the same.  His interceptions are actually a little down by percentage from last season.  Given the massive upheaval in the offense, it’s remarkable that he’s as close to last year’s MVP pace as he is. 

As rough as recent weeks were, Manning’s overall numbers the last four games still had him at 7.5 yards an attempt with a 71% completion percentage.  The truth is that the only aspect of his game that was going sideways was the interceptions.

It was argued this week that perhaps some of Manning’s pick-fest was just due to the law of diminishing returns or regression to the mean.  There’s something to that. 

More to the point, the similarity between Manning’s 2009 and 2010 season shows that there is nothing wrong with him that wouldn’t be fixed by putting Collie, Clark, and Addai back in the lineup.  Manning hit a patch where he tried to do too much.  He made some high risk throws, and they cost the team. 

The biggest difference between 2009 and 2010 is that in 2009, Indy won EVERY close game.  In 2009, they were 8-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less. In 2010, they are 3-4.  In 2009, Manning won the MVP award in part because he made every clutch play imaginable down the stretch.  In 2010, he failed to come through in a couple of spots (notably Dallas and New England).  

Given where Manning’s stats were through 6 games, and even where they are now, I think there are much better explanations for the up and down season than macro kinds of problems like age or injury. In fact, if Manning was hurt, any injury would have to have occurred AFTER week 6.  Given some of the laser throws he’s made in recent weeks, it’s simply not reasonable to think he might be any more hurt than normal at this time of the year. Considering the fact that his offensive cast isn’t quite as good as it was last year, there really isn’t any mystery to it.

I’m not sure why simple answers like injured teammates, a little luck evening out, and the fact that Manning was admittedly pressing aren’t enough.  Whenever we deal with extremely small sample sizes, we are bound to make mistakes if we draw too many conclusions.  Given the context, Manning’s numbers ‘drop’ barely register as a blip on the radar screen.

Over the final three weeks, the Colts play the 30th pass defense, the 18th pass defense and the Titans again.  It’s highly likely that Manning will finish the year on a tear.  30 years from now, when people are looking over his career numbers, they most likely won’t point to the 2010 season as anything but a vintage Manning year.  Those of us who lived through it will remember that it started hot, went sideways as injuries and pressure mounted, before righting itself again.

Last night’s performance was a good sign that everything is fine with 18. 

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