I got quite the reaction out of people last night when I wrote my Instant Reactions piece and called him an "Elite Game Manager" and that he had an "off" night for his standards. I'm here to explain to everyone why I chose to use those phrases, why I would take one of them back, and why I would absolutely love to see Peyton's "off" night become the new definition of him having an "on" night.
In order to know why I wrote what I wrote, we must first define a few terms. First thing is first: Peyton Manning is not a normal quarterback. He is arguably the best quarterback in the long history of the National Football League. With that being clear, can we all agree that when someone is arguably the best of the best, the expectations for his/her level of "average" play is higher than an average player? Yes? Good, then let's move forward.
Let me define my personal projection and idea of Peyton Manning being "on." Peyton Manning having an "on" day means that he's spectacular. When Peyton is spectacular, you know it. No words have to be said to describe the pure awesomeness of his gameplay. One needs to look no further back for my definition of Peyton being "on" than the season opening game against the Baltimore Ravens when he shattered personal and team records with seven (7) touchdowns, zero (0) interceptions, 462 yards, and a quarterback rating of 140+. To me, that is spectacular. To me, that is the quintessential example of a quarterback of Manning's caliber being "on" or "spectacular."
Ok, we just defined my definition of Peyton Manning being "on", so how about him being "off" (and please note that I use that word in quotations to imply that by a normal QB's standard, an off night by Peyton could possibly be a career night for an ordinary quarterback)? Manning simply being "off" to me would be what we saw against Miami. Yes he completed a high rate of passes, but he missed some money throws down field. We can all argue about Emmanuel Sanders being grabbed or knocked off his route until we are blue in the face, but lets face reality for a second and call a spade a spade. Peyton Manning overthrew Sanders not once, not twice, but four times to my count. I know, four whole times isn't much, and I agree, but we also aren't talking about a Russell Wilson or Joe Flacco. We are talking about one Mr. Peyton freaking Manning.
So when he is slightly off on the intermediate to long throws almost every time he attempts it, I'm calling that an "off" game for him. I do not imply that he played poorly. I do not imply that he is in decline. I am not implying that I'd rather start any other quarterback over him. I'm simply saying that an "off" night for Peyton is simply that, an off night (read: not "on" or "spectacular").
Now for the fun part: Let me define my definition of a game manager. A game manager, to me, is the 2001 version of Tom Brady. A game manager doesn't hurt his football team. A game manager is trusted to complete a good amount of short passes to move the chains. A game manager is stable and efficient even though he's not flashy. If the Broncos didn't have Peyton Manning and instead had the 2001 Tom Brady back there, he'd probably have the same 257 passing yards, but he'd probably have only 2 touchdowns as a game manager hands the ball off a few more times to his running back (C.J. Anderson in this case) for a couple of rushing touchdowns. To me, that is a game manager.
Now allow me to define my term "Elite Game Manager" (what I called Peyton last night). To me, being an elite anything is just that, elite. Bryan Hoyer is a quarterback. Can we all agree? So if I called Peyton Manning a quarterback, I'd get torn apart, correct? Is Hoyer an "elite" quarterback? No. Aaron Rodgers is though. Peyton Manning is too. I said that to prove a point that a single word (elite) can and often does make all the difference in the world. Being an elite game manager is exactly what we saw from Peyton Manning last night. He didn't hit the long balls like the spectacular Peyton does, but he definitely played at a much higher level than an ordinary game manager (think Alex Smith) could ever hope to play.
The best way for me to sum up Peyton's Elite level of play last night is this: Peyton Manning had arguably the quietest four (4) touchdown night of any quarterback in the history of the game. Is that fair? Peyton completed 80% of his throws (higher than game managers), he threw for four touchdowns (higher than game mangers), and the coaching staff trusted his arm and intelligence more than ordinary game managers which is why he was able to toss those touchdowns without having to hit long and intermediate passes (better than game managers). That is why I called him an elite game manager. It's because he did everything you'd want a game manager to do, but at a much, much, much higher level.
Do you know what I saw out of Peyton Manning last night? I saw the evolution of Peyton Manning! Just as there is more than one way to skin a cat, there is more than one way to be an elite quarterback. Is Peyton perfectly capable of throwing up another seven touchdown game and 450 yards? Absolutely, especially with his current receivers. Yes, that would be spectacular, but to me, that isn't the necessary evolution of Peyton that the Broncos, their fans, and the NFL needs. Why? Because that style of play can and often does get beat in the playoffs.
The elite game manager style of quarterback play wins championships. Defensive coordinators for all 31 teams are waking up in a cold sweat at 3am because they saw the next evolution of Peyton Manning, and quite frankly, it's even more unstoppable than him being "on" or "spectacular." Yes, the next evolution is Peyton Manning, Elite Game Manager! It's hard enough to beat a team with a normal game manager, so it is nay impossible to stop an offense like the one that we saw last night.
Do you know what Peyton Manning playing as an elite game manager means? It means that the Broncos will necessarily play Super Bowl winning offense. They won't be one dimensional. They will have an effective running game because the offensive philosophy shifts from "as Peyton goes, so too does the team" to "we are a team and nobody will stop us!" Yes, that is truly petrifying to non-Broncos defensive coordinators. They can no longer gear up to stop only the pass because the philosophy of this offense shifts from Air McPeyton to "balanced offense" which means that the Broncos will destroy them on the ground and score touchdowns on the ground. Because of that, defenses will have to do the unimaginable: They will have to gear up to stop someone other than Peyton Manning!
Yikes! That means that defenses will *gulp* dare Peyton to pass the ball. What has this world come to? Dare the Broncos to run the ball? Well, that might work when Peyton is checking into runs, but not when you have a balanced attack philosophy. So no, teams can't dare a balanced Broncos offense to run any more than they can dare them to pass. Think 1998 Denver Broncos if you will. They were perfectly balanced just as the Broncos were once again against the Dolphins. It has been and always will be a recipe for Super Bowl success. One might even call John Elway an Elite Game Manager in his two Super Bowl winning seasons.
Elway had to evolve into an Elite Game Manager in order to win a Super Bowl (having Terrell Davis sure didn't hurt, and it afforded Elway the chance to evolve). Well, the same is being afforded to Peyton Manning. C.J. Anderson is affording Peyton the necessary chance to evolve. This evolution is a
good great thing. This evolution means that this Broncos team can win in the playoffs when Peyton has a "less than spectacular" night. This evolution is why the 1998 Broncos were so impossible to beat. No longer did they have to rely on Elway's right arm. The same can be said about this 2014 Broncos squad if the coaching staff instills this new found balanced philosophy.
A philosophical shift is completely different than checking into a run at the line of scrimmage. A philosophical shift gives that nasty edge to the offensive line. This shift takes the pressure off of Peyton Mannning so that he can perform up to his new and evolved standard. This shift is why this new look Peyton Manning and Denver Broncos is so terrifying to the rest of the NFL. Stop Peyton? Impossible because he no longer needs to be "spectacular Peyton". So go ahead, stop his 50 yard bombs, cause he's going to surgically carve your heart out at an elite level. Stop those shorter passes? I dare you, because that means C.J. Anderson will rip your spine out like the Preditor! Stop this offense when Peyton Manning is allowed to be an Elite Game Manager? Yeah, in your wildest freaking dreams!
That, ladies and gentlemen, is why I will never apologize for calling Peyton an elite game manager. Would I have changed me calling him "off?" Yes, but only because I didn't explain to anyone why I said he was off. His new "off" should be his new normal. Nothing would make me happier than to see a 51/49 pass/run split with Peyton completing 80% of his passes for 4 touchdowns and our running game taking the life out of opposing defenses. If that is "off", then I feel sorry for any team that has to deal with him from here on out.
For everyone calling me overly critical of Peyton Manning, the truth is that I am not. I am critical of him, as every fan should be, but that's only because of the greatness that he has yet to achieve. With this new evolution of his game, and one that doesn't need him to put up 450 passing yards with 7 touchdowns to win, Peyton Manning will indeed become a much better quarterback by doing less with his right arm. Defensive meltdowns aside, this new version of Broncos offense is more than capable of winning a championship. Defensive meltdowns aside, this new Broncos team WILL win a championship if they stick to this recipe. Now lets not out think ourselves Del Rio and Fox. Lets stop being cute and set the Broncos offense back to 1998!