Revisiting “Old Manning’

There will probably never be a ‘closing of the book’ on Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, but given that the Andrew Luck era will officially begin on Thursday night, now is as good a time as any for one more look at the decision to let Manning walk.

A reader recently requested that I go back and reexamine the predictions I made in the ‘Old Manning‘ piece I wrote before the 2009 season. In that piece, I tried to predict the end of Manning’s career by looking at the quarterbacks who scored highly on the ‘similarity score’ metric on Profootballreference.com.

With three full seasons of ‘Old Manning’ gone, here’s what I got right, wrong, and what we still don’t know.

What I Got Right

  • Manning appeared in another Super Bowl (2009). I said, “Should Manning’s career continue to follow a similar path that of the 10 QBs he’s most like, the odds are good that he will make at least one more Super Bowl appearance before he’s done.”
  • Injuries could be an issue. I said:  “The stunning thing about all the quarterbacks on the list, is that other than Unitas and Moon, the end came quickly.  Eight of them posted a season of at least 430 attempts one year before retiring.  Staubach, Montana, and Favre all posted at least 460 attempts in their final season…So, what can we take from this?  We know that injuries can hit any player at any time.  We also know that Manning has a suspect offensive line.”
  • He can return from an injury. I said, “Even if he does get hurt, he can still come back to have fine seasons.  Many QBs in the modern era have done so.”
  • His touchdowns would stay high. “It’s safe to assume that by volume, we won’t see much decrease from Peyton Manning in the touchdown department.  It’s reasonable to assume that barring injury he’ll still throw between 20-30 TDs a year.  He’s similar in many ways to Favre and Marino, so the ‘Soft Landing’ label fits nicely.”
  • His interception totals will climb. “Unfortunately, the odds are high that he’ll fall into the trap of the ‘Old Gunslingers’ as well.  It is possible that as his arm deteriorates, he’ll change his game and protect the ball better.  This list has shown that Elway certainly elevated his game and became a better QB at 35-38 than at 25-28.  More likely, his pick rate will rise with time.  In fact, if the Colts have a down season, I would expect it to rise dramatically as he’ll have to throw more to keep his team in the game.  The good news for 18 is that because his INT levels are so low now that even a modest increase will keep his numbers at respectable levels.  We might see a few more seasons like 2003 (19 ints) late in his career, but are unlikely to see a Favrian number of picks.”
  • His YPA would dip (I was a year off):  With uncertainty surrounding the Colts line this year as well, no one should be surprised to see Manning’s YPA dip below 7 (where it stood for a good portion of last season).  Having said that, he still should be able to post some strong seasons before he retires.
  • This piece of eerie:  A best case scenario would be a John Elway set up.  Manning gets paired up with a strong run game and a stifling defense and the Colts don’t need him to throw as much.  In such a selective situation, Manning could see his YPA move back up toward 8 or 8.5, though his overall yardage would still fall, perhaps even lower than the 3500 yard plateau.
  • Passer rating:  That makes it difficult to draw any firm conclusions, but it’s a good bet that Manning will have several more years over 90 and even one or two over 100 before he retires.  Toward the very end, he’ll likely settle into seasons in the high 80s.  Of all the categories, this should remain Manning’s strongest until the end.
  • The windows closes because of Peyton.  What does this mean for Peyton Manning?  It certainly should reassure Colts fans that ‘the window’ isn’t closing.  There is no “window” for victory by older QBs. Now, the Colts’ window could close because Freeney or Wayne got old, certainly.  It will not close because of Manning’s age. There is every reason to expect the Colts to continue to be a playoff caliber team as long as Manning is under center.

What I Got Wrong:

  • I flipped 2009 and 2010. I thought that 2009 would be rough for the Colts, but they would respond with a huge 2010 season. That was exactly the opposite of reality.
  • I didn’t forsee anything like the crazy high volume of 2010. That year was so out of line with anything rational, that I don’t blame myself.
  • The whole, “He got cut and is playing for Denver thing“.

What We Still Don’t Know:

  • How he’ll respond to a more run heavy offense in Denver.
  • If he can physically recover from a whole year off.
  • If his YPA can recover. I saw a more gradual decline, but thanks in part to his cast of characters in 2010, it dropped of more suddenly.
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