Thursday, December 20, 2012

Manning is ordinary against Browns

There is absolutely no question that five years after he throws his final pass in the National Football League, Peyton Manning will be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

No one can dispute what this marvelous football player has accomplished over his stellar career. He has taken the quarterback position and given it dimensions only a few have.

When it comes to understanding the game with its many nuances, no one has elevated it better than Manning, who will face the Browns Sunday in Denver. (More on that later.) He has, in some ways,  revolutionized the way his position is now played.

Others may have had stronger arms, been better throwers or fortunate enough to have extraordinary wide receivers. But no one has had such an important impact on the way successful quarterbacks play the game as Manning.

His secret is simple. He plays the game well from the neck down, but from the neck up, no one does it better. As well, maybe, just not better.

In essence, Manning is his own coordinator. He calls his own plays. He’s like a conductor on the field. He’s a two-legged mobile playbook with a baton.

For 13 seasons, fans of the Indianapolis Colts enjoyed winning football primarily because of the 6-5 Manning, who guided his club to 11 postseason appearances, missing only his rookie season in 1998 and 2001.

The only blemish on his otherwise superb résumé is his inability to win the so-called big games. The Colts made the Super Bowl just twice with Manning, knocking off the Chicago Bears, 29-17, in the 2007 game, and dropping a 31-17 decision to the New Orleans Saints in 2010.

When quarterback discussions are launched, his name always will be mentioned with other preeminent passers, not only of modern day, but of yesteryear as well. That is how good he is.

He accumulated statistics far beyond those predicted for him when he entered the NFL as the top pick in the 1998 college football draft. With the Colts, he completed 65% of his passes for nearly 55,000 yards and 399 touchdowns.

Several neck operations idled him for the 2011 season and the Colts, to the dismay of many of their fans, took no chances on his health and allowed Manning, who had never missed a game with the Colts, to become a free agent, knowing they would draft Andrew Luck with the first pick of the 2012 draft.

Many skeptics believed Manning’s career was over and couldn’t understand why Denver Broncos Vice President of Football Operations John Elway would swoop in and sign him to a five-year deal.

Well, after 14 games this season, the answer has become obvious. In those 14 games, Manning has completed 67.9% of his passes, thrown for 4.016 yards (he’s on pace for 4,560, which would be the second-highest season total of his career), 31 touchdowns and led the Broncos to an 11-3 record, an AFC West championship and another trip to the postseason.

And Sunday, he has a chance to pad those stats against a Browns team that lost two defensive starters, T. J. Ward and James-Michael Johnson to injured reserve. Advantage Manning? Not really if past performances are any indication.

This will be Manning’s sixth career start against the Browns and he has won the first five by margins of 1, 5, 3, 7 and 4 points. That’s right, the mighty Manning barely scraped by when he played the Browns.

In those five victories, he completed 65.9% of his passes for 1,117 yards, an average of 223.4 a game. Now comes the interesting set of stats. In those five games, Manning threw just two touchdown passes (both in the same game) and six interceptions. But the Browns sacked him only twice.

That’s right, the Browns over the years have been able reduce the great Peyton Manning to ordinary status. In those five games, he directed the Colts to only nine touchdowns and just 89 points, 57 of them in the first two meetings. But luck also was on his side.

He had absolutely nothing to do with the 10-6 victory in 2008. The Browns owned a 6-3 lead midway through the fourth quarter of that game when Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney strip-sacked Cleveland quarterback Derek Anderson and Robert Mathis romped 37 yards with the recovery for the only touchdown of the day.

Yes, the Colts never lost to the Browns with Manning under center (but they did lose last season with Kerry Collins at quarterback). And yes, the most important stat is, and always will be, the final score.

But Manning’s new team plays a much better brand of defense than the Colts, allowing the fewest points in the AFC this season. Led by All-Pro linebacker Von Miller and pass rush specialist Elvis Dumervil, they have permitted opposing teams to convert just 31% of their third downs.

Miller, who has 16 of the team’s 42 sacks, has chipped in with six forced fumbles and turned his only interception into a pick six. Dumervil adds nine to the sack total for the Broncos, whose defense has been impressive under new coordinator Jack Del Rio.

The only way to attack that defense successfully is through the air. Doing it on the ground, where the Broncos limit the opposition to just 91 yards a game, has proved fruitless. Even then, the Denver defense has picked off 16 enemy passes.

Offensively, the Browns have to hope Manning has another typical Peyton Manning day against them. If not, this one could get out of hand quickly. In Eric Decker and Demaryius Moore, he has two extremely reliable receivers. And running back Knowshon Moreno has been hot lately.

There’s no question the Browns will have to battle more than the mile-high altitude Sunday. On paper, this looks very much like a runaway for the Broncos, still playing for a first-round bye.

After losing two of their first three games this season and three of their first five, the Broncos have rattled off a nine-game winning streak and are 6-1 at home. Look for those figures to improve.

In a game that won’t be close after the first 15 minutes, the Broncos send the 5-9 Browns reeling into double-digit loss territory for the fifth straight season – and ninth in the last 10 – in humiliating fashion. Manning throws for three touchdowns, Moreno runs for two more and the Denver defense sparkles. Make it:

Broncos 45, Browns 14


  1. Colts made the Super Bowl twice under
    Manning, losing the second time to the


  2. I stand corrected. They did, indeed, appear in another Super Bowl with Manning in 2010. Missed that one entirely. Will fix it.

    Thanx Richard. You keep me on my toes.