Through six games Peyton Manning has an NFL quarterback rating of 72.5 (the theoretical best number you can get is 144). The only QB with a worse QB rating right now is Ryan Mallett (63.6) - minimum 20 passes per game.
How many other QBs in the past 16 seasons have played this poorly in their first six games and still kept their starting job? 65. How many of those were rookie QBs? 13 (Carson Palmer, Sam Bradford, Andrew Walter, Kyle Orton, Kyle Boller, Mark Sanchez, Tim Couch, Andrew Luck, Joe Flacco, Joey Harrington, Cade McNown, Geno Smith and David Carr). Orton and Walter were not highly drafted, but the rest were.
It is still a sad statement that right now Manning is playing as well as some of these QBs did in their first six starts in the NFL.
That leaves us with 52 veteran QBs who have performed as poorly in their first six starts as Manning has played this year - by NFL quarterback rating - and still kept their jobs. If you use the ESPN QB rating, then there are many QBs who have played worse than Manning this year.
Excluding the rookies, let's look at the worst and the best of that list.
The Worst of the Worst - by NFL Passer Rating with 6 starts since 1998
Keep in mind that this list does not include guys who lost their starting jobs at some point during games one through five or who missed a game (or games) because of injury (min. 20 passing attempts per game)
In 1999 Jake Plummer was in his third NFL season. JaMarcus the Hutt was in his third NFL season in 2009. 2000 was Akili Smith's second NFL season. 2003 was Joey Harrington's second NFL season. The rest of the opening six-game performances were by veterans much later in their careers.
The most interesting name on this list is one that surprised me, not because he showed up twice, but because of the year that it happened - 2006. 2006 was Jake Plummer's final year in the NFL. Plummer started that season for us playing poorly, but we had a great defense and the team was 5-1. That 5-1 start would eventually turn into 7-4 after which Shanahan pulled the plug on Plummer for Jay Cutler. You know how that story ended, but before we re-crucify Shanny, look at Plummer's numbers after 11 games.
Jake had only improved his QB rating to 70.5, and he had 11 TDs and 12 INTs while completing 55.6% of his throws. Among full-time starting QBs in the NFL (8 or more starts) that year he was ranked 24th in QB rating at the time he was benched. Additionally we had just been held to 10 points by the Chiefs in KC, and we had lost two straight divisional games (the week before we lost at home to the Chargers, 27-35).
It should also be noted that our defense in 2006 started the season on a record-breaking pace. Through 7 games we had given up 44 total points (6.2 per game). We were all geeked about the D. Then something happened (can't remember what), but the rest of the league figured our defense out. In the final 9 games we allowed 261 points (29 points per game). 83 of that came in our two games with the Chargers that year.
While I am not using this as a way of advocating for Brock Osweiler, I find it interesting that there is a very appropriate historical comparison in our recent past. We should also note that the only team with a winning record after six games and a QB playing this poorly was the 2006 Broncos. Only Donovan McNabb leading the 2003 Eagles and Derek Anderson leading the 2010 Cardinals were an even .500 after six games. The other seven QBs were on teams that were losing more than they won in their first six games with QB play at this level of suckitude.
I should also point out that only McNabb and Harrington started all 16 games during the season listed above. The other seasons found the QB being benched or getting injured (if they weren't already) at some point in the final 10 games. In 2003, McNabb rebounded from this horrible start to make the Pro Bowl on an Eagles team that won nine of its final 10 games. After throwing 2 TDs and 6 INTs in the first six games, McNabb would go on to throw 14 TDs and only 5 INTs in the final 10 games.
The Best of the Worst
Here are the 10 best of those 53 veteran QBs who had a QB Rating of 73 or less in the first six games of the season (all starts). What should jump out at you from this chart is the team records. Seven out of the ten season starts on this list (Fiedler shows up twice like Plummer did on the other list), had teams with winning records. So there is a precedent of teams winning despite the poor play of their QB. In fact if you look at the rest of the season for these QBs, we see some interesting (and possibly encouraging) things.
Kerry Collins led the 2000 Giants to a 12-4 record and the Super Bowl (where they were demolished by the Ravens). Collins finished year with 22 TDs and 13 INTs. Kordell Stewart led the 2001 Steelers to a 13-3 record and a loss in the AFC Championship. Stewart finished the season with 14 TDs and 11 INTs. T*m Brady led to the 2003 P*triots to a 14-2 record and a Super Bowl victory over the Panthers. Brady finished that season with 23 TDs and 12 INTs.
Based upon passing yardage alone, it would appear that Manning is not being a "game manager" whereas many of the guys on the "best" list were during the listed season. I left off passing attempts from the table, but Manning has 42 more than any other QB on the "best" list at 237 attempts through six games. For comparison, Kordell Stewart threw the ball 146 times in 6 games for the 2001 Steelers.
One thing that the 2000 Giants, 2001 Steelers and the 2003 P*ts had in common, besides a QB that started the season playing poorly, was an elite defense. The 2000 Giants finished the season fifth in points allowed. The 2001 Steelers finished the season third in points allowed. The 2003 P*ts finished the season first in points allowed. Unless our defense completely falls apart, we will finish the season at or near the top of the league in points allowed (we will not see a repeat of what happened to our defense in 2006 and 2009 or my head will explode).
Can Peyton Manning rebound in the same way that McNabb, Brady and Collins did? Sure, but Father Time is not on his side in this battle. Will Manning rebound? That's the question that has us all talking/blogging/texting/skyping/sending smoke signals.
One thing is certain, it would take a string of losses and a collapse from our defense for 2015 to play out in a similar manner to 2006 or 2009.