Despite all of the kneejerk reactions to Peyton Manning's performance during the Denver Broncos 16-10 defensive victory over the Oakland Raiders, there are plenty of reasons to remain hopeful that this offense is finally beginning to form an identity. People are just too freaked out to notice, apparently.
First off, Broncos fans have been utterly spoiled by Manning since he arrived in Denver. I am not sure how to verify this, but I am fairly certain no quarterback in NFL history (or maybe very few) has ever had a three-year span of football as incredible as Manning from 2012-2014. The stats are unbelievable. Almost Madden-like.
I'd like to thank Brett Favre for ruining whatever patience fans might have had for future 39+ quarterbacks. Jerk. #Broncos— Tim Lynch (@TimLynch1978) October 12, 2015
And now, Manning is reaping the rewards of that success. He still needs time to form this offensive identity and it cannot happen overnight. Let's go over the timeline of events that Gary Kubiak and the offensive coaching staff has worked on since the preseason to try and fix the offensive woes the Broncos are experiencing.
Preseason: Ignoring those early warning signs.
First, we ignored the warning signs in the preseason that something was amiss. Manning and the first team offense struggled in every single series they played over the two games they actually played in. Against the Houston Texans, it was "Manning is rusty" and then against the San Francisco 49ers, it was "a defensive struggle".
In hindsight, that was a sign of big trouble with this offense. Then you have Brock Osweiler making an incredible touchdown pass against the backups in one of those games to get fans of his all riled up and Osweiler finished the preseason with two good games, one mediocre and one bad game. As a Broncos fan, I'm excited to see him start someday.
The fact is, Manning and the first team offense played the first team defenses and struggled. The under center thing was a bad idea, the run game wasn't there and Manning never looked comfortable throwing the football.
Weeks 1-2: Making the square peg fit round hole.
Peyton Manning is under center more than at any time in his career. Has two horrendous games, along with two pick sixes. Manning ditches the seven step drop for the shotgun during two critical drives against the Kansas City Chiefs, which ultimately are must-haves to win that game.
That revolt against Gary Kubiak was something that could have broken this team under a different coach, but not Kubes. Kubiak wants to win football games and will do whatever it takes to get it done.
Week 3: Switching to the Pistol Formation.
Kubiak was smart enough to realize his scheme would not fit with Manning under center and his ego not large enough to find a workable solution. The pistol formation appears to be the perfect middle ground. But guess what, this change negated months of preparation and practice reps from offseason, through preseason and two games of the regular season. Yeah, that's going to change the offense overnight.
The change worked just well enough in Week 3 against the Detroit Lions that it gave both Manning and Kubiak just enough confidence that maybe this could work out. Manning had his best game of the year, surpassing 300 yards passing and finished with a 101.7 quarterback rating.
#Broncos fans so spoiled by offense they can't even enjoy a double digit win on road from all points scored by offense.— Tim Lynch (@TimLynch1978) September 28, 2015
However, one game does not a team make in the NFL.
Weeks 4-5: Woe to offensive players not named Manning.
Since the switch to the pistol, there has been a concerted effort to fix the protection issues and run blocking problems. It's been a mixed bag so far.
The protection issues have improved immensely since the first two weeks. Some of that is due to Manning being able to survey the pre-snap defense better and some of that is just the offensive line becoming a single unit finally. Sacked seven times in the first two games, Manning has been sacked just five times over the last three games and never more than twice in a game.
Running the ball, the Broncos have had four terrible games and just that one good one against the Minnesota Vikings. With the pass protection getting much better, it should afford the Broncos more time to figure out how to run the football.
Running the ball is the only way this season works out well for the Broncos offense, because any quarterback will struggle without that run game.
Weeks 6 and beyond: Offensive identity forming slowly, but surely.
Believe it or not, but the Broncos offense is just three weeks into their offseason program of learning a new scheme. As I said earlier, all of those reps in practice leading up to the regular season have been flushed down the toilet. The Broncos are now pass protecting within the pistol formation. They are now run blocking from the pistol formation. It's amazing to me that this team is still 5-0, in spite of this disastrous start on offense.
Brock be sitting on the bench thinking, "I could throw for 300 yards and 2 INT for 1/5th the cost!" :P #Broncos— Tim Lynch (@TimLynch1978) October 11, 2015
Since I am seeing positive progress from the offensive line in pass protection, I'm hopeful that will eventually lead to positive progress from the offensive line in run blocking. These things take time. You cannot fix something in a week or two. Manning can be efficient enough to guide the Broncos to victory on most weeks, so it makes no sense to scrap all of the progress made to go with an unproven quarterback.
So why is it a terrible idea to bench Manning?
I have so many reasons its going to be hard not miss one. Let's just list them out, with my own personal reasoning for why it matters.
- The Broncos have started over enough this season. Learning to play with Osweiler is an offseason thing, not a Week 6 of the regular season thing. Unless your goal is to ruin any chance of Brock being successful in the NFL upon Manning's retirement, it would be wise to stick with Manning as long as he is healthy and able to quarterback this offense.
- Manning isn't as terrible as people think. Sure the stats are bad in some areas and he has at least 3-4 "wtf" throws each game, but my eye's are telling me he is actually getting better and more accurate each week. He still doesn't trust his offensive line much, which makes him make ill-advised no read throws like that red zone interception to Charles Woodson against the Oakland Raiders, but when he feels the protection is holding up he is still finding the open receivers.
- We have yet to realize the full potential of the offense. As I pointed out above, the offense is just now starting to progress in a positive direction. The protection is improving. Manning is hitting receivers on the mid to deep ranges and, frankly, the Broncos were two dropped touchdown passes away from Manning finishing with a 2-1 TD to INT ratio. Let this team continue working on building their identity and hopefully they start to find it by the Bye week.
- Veteran leadership and football acumen. This is something you cannot put a price on. Manning's mind is as sharp as ever and having him taking the snaps always puts you in a good position to make good plays. He's just got to figure out what his arm can and cannot do. The other aspect is that players on this team will rally around Manning when the chips are down. Would they be so willing to lay it out on the line for Osweiler?
I never thought I'd see the day when #Broncos fans would start comparing Peyton freaking Manning to Tim Tebow ... Yes, it's happening.— Tim Lynch (@TimLynch1978) October 12, 2015
For all you who passionately advocated for Manning's benching, please think about what you are asking for. It's a huge risk, one where if it didn't work out would cost the Broncos two quarterbacks at the end of 2015, instead of one. Besides, I don't really think Manning is all that bad and we just have to weather this storm a little while longer as the offensive unit forms that identity.
Or we could just keep being kneejerks. That's always fun too.