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Peyton Manning: Physical v. Mental

If the Broncos are win the Super Bowl in 2013, Peyton Manning has to overcome two things.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Physical

Last season, Peyton Manning held up well and seemed to get stronger as the season progressed. Though bone chilling temperatures no doubt impacted Peyton against the Ravens in the playoffs, he still found the strength and dexterity to deliver a couple of beautifully, well placed TD passes to both Brandon Stokley and Knowshon Moreno. People remember the last overtime INT, but that was more mental than physical and I'll get to that in a bit.

Neck injuries and anything having to do with nerve regeneration is such an unknown. I'm confident in saying that Peyton Manning will never be the same. I'm also confident in saying that he doesn't need to be. Peyton Manning with a tangible handicap last year absolutely shredded the opposing defense. If Manning's career rested upon the physical gifts of a rocket arm, much like Bo Jackson's physical gifts rested upon that hip, he would be done.

Peyton has and always will dominate the game because he's the smart guy on the field. He knows how to attack defenses, he knows where to look for and exploit mismatches. I don't know if I've ever watched anybody control the field of play as thoroughly as Peyton.

So if he relies less on his arm than his mind, why am I talking about the physical? Because he's stronger than he was last year. He's probably feeling the ball better in his fingers and hands because he has better velocity which is directly related to getting a better spin on the ball, which is directly related to having the ability to snap with the fingertips. I also bring it up because we don't know what to expect throughout the course of the year.

Humor me for a moment while I speculate a bit. MLB pitchers throughout the year are closely monitored and kept on pitch counts why? Because they have to be effective start to start over the course of a long period of time. You can't ride someone's arm so hard from April to August that by the time the chase for the playoffs begins in September and the postseason begins in October they are completely dead and ineffective. I think a similar philosophy applies to Peyton Manning. I think he should be kept on a pitch count in practice, I don't want to see him slinging it up 35-40 times per game during the regular season. Will there be games where the offense will have to rely on him more? Sure, but the running game in 2013 has to be more effective to take some wear and tear off of that arm.

I want to see Manning enter that last stretch of the regular season strong as ever.We should see the same velocity in January that we do now in training camp. When February comes around, he should be ready to sling the rock in adverse conditions as necessary.

The training staff and Luke Richesson have earned major kudos over the last year because their slightly different approach to training and conditioning has resulted in far less stupid and routine muscle pulls and annoying injuries that have plagued the Broncos in years past. They probably have a program in place for Manning in conjunction with his doctors and specialists. I wouldn't be surprised if part of this regimen includes a certain amount of throws per week as well as a better overall emphasis on a more balanced offense.

The Mental

I watch as a fan and shake my head in disbelief. How much variance can one man endure on the biggest stages in the NFL playoffs? Scott Kacsmar spells it out brilliantly in this article about Manning's 9-11 playoff record. Here's an excerpt:

As you now see, Manning has experienced just about everything in the playoffs, and it usually is something bad for his team. The combination of rare events is the reason for a 9-11 record despite the fact they are not getting 9-11 quarterback play.

In the eight one-and-done games in particular, Manning has completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 2,075 yards (6.87 YPA), 10 TD, 6 INT and a 82.0 passer rating. The staggering number of drops (over 30 in the equivalent of half a season) and tipped-ball interceptions do those numbers little justice. One loss was by 41 points, and the other seven by 26 points combined.

While the stats may not be world-class numbers, they are clearly not the mark of a 0-8 quarterback. Yet for Manning, that has been the result.

Manning has high-quality playoff stats, but they have not led to wins.

  • In the regular season Manning wins 82.6 percent of his games when he has a passer rating of at least 85.0 (it is 77.8 percent in the 85.0-110.0 range).
  • In the playoffs Manning is 5-6 (.455) with a passer rating of at least 85.0. He has been at least 88.3 in each of his last five playoff losses.

The six losses are as many as Joe Montana (12-3), Tom Brady (10-2) and Brett Favre (11-1) have combined. The only other quarterbacks with a losing record (min. four games) are Warren Moon (2-4) and Ken Anderson (2-3).

If that is not bizarre enough, there is the fact that even when Manning and his entire offense avoids turnovers, he still loses at a most historic rate.

  • In the regular season Manning's teams are 40-2 (.952) when they have zero giveaways on offense. That is the best record in the league since 1998.
  • In the playoffs Manning's Colts were 1-5 (.167) when they had zero giveaways on offense. The rest of the league is 50-5 (.909), and that even includes two games where neither team had a giveaway.

When your defense allows a fourth-quarter comeback 60 percent of the time (6-4), you have a real problem. It is one thing to let Drew Brees do it, but when it's Jay Fiedler, Billy Volek, Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco? That is completely unacceptable.

Manning's had a lead in the final 0:40 of the fourth quarter and lost four playoff games.

The only four times Manning's teams have held off comeback attempts, they led to three straight wins and a Super Bowl in 2006, and a Super Bowl appearance in 2009 after holding off the Jets.

I suggest you give Kacsmar's articles a good and thorough read. When I did, a lightbulb went off in my head:

The ridiculous scenarios in which Manning's teams have been defeated in the playoffs have led to a block in the mental side of his game.

Call it the jinx, the curse, the whatever you want to. Have you ever in your life been so beaten down in one particular scenario that whenever you face that scenario you psych yourself out? I think in large part that is what has happened with Manning. You get there and you just expect something bad to happen. You know your capabilities and you know your understanding of the game is not even approached by your contemporaries. You know you have elite playmakers and a top notch defense, but instead of relaxing and letting the battle come to you, you scramble out of the pocket on 2nd and 6 and throw a ball you KNOW you don't have the physical capabilities to throw--down the middle across your body as your momentum us carrying you the opposite direction, and it is intercepted. Yet another in a long line of playoff disappointments.

Peyton Manning has to quit trying so damn hard to do everything himself. That's it. That's the best way I can put it. Football is the ultimate team game. John Elway succeeded once he stopped trying so damn hard to pull that rabbit out of his hat. Go back and look at Super Bowl 32. Elway has one nasty statline, but it was less about his numbers and more about a gameplan and yielding control and knowing that the game could be won if he didn't make mistakes. When the chips were in the middle and everything was on the line, you saw Elway make a play that cannot be quantified in the stat line. That helicopter dive for a first down near the goalline gave his teammates the energy and faith they needed to carry out the job. That was his contribution, a 300-yard game with 3 or 4 TD's was unnecessary.

While many will say 2013 rests on the arm of Peyton Manning. I say it rests more on his surrounding cast or rather his trust in it. Manning will be brilliant 90% of the time. We can expect that from him. But that other 10%, it will have to be his teammates that take up the slack, they will have to shoulder the load. And perhaps most importantly, HE HAS TO LET THEM.

"As your faith is strengthened you will find that there is no longer the need to have a sense of control, that things will flow as they will, and that you will flow with them, to your great delight and benefit."