Manning Issues are Problematic, but Don’t Write Him Off Just Yet

Peyton Manning

The naysayers are out in full force, and it seems the NFL obit has already been written for Peyton Manning. It seems like it’s just a matter of time before he pulls the plug on his own career as Father Time has caught up with the third-greatest quarterback of all-time (behind Joe Montana and Johnny Unitas).

Manning certainly has been struggling over the last six weeks of the season. He looked like a tired, old man in the Broncos’ Monday night loss to the Bengals. While he threw for 311 yards and two touchdowns, Manning threw four interceptions and he looked every bit of his 38 years as the game got away from the Broncos.

Manning has a 10-8 TD-interception ratio in his last six games, and he has exceeded the 300-yard mark just twice in that span.

There have been times when the football looks like a bar of soap in Manning’s right hand, and he is trying to throw it across the shower. It looks nothing like the rocket he threw in his heyday with the Indianapolis Colts – or even the way it looked earlier this season when the Broncos were rolling.

But before we write off Manning, give him a rocking chair, and have him join Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter in the wonderful world of retirement, there’s one thing that needs to be taken into account:

The Denver Broncos’ offensive line has taken a big hit and is not blocking the way it did last year or in the first half of the season.

The impact on Manning’s play has been dramatic. He doesn’t throw the ball the way he did in 2004 and he needs to step up in the pocket with some degree of freedom when he is going downfield to Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and tight end Julius Thomas. The line is not giving him that opportunity.

That’s the situation that Manning, head coach John Fox, and offensive coordinator Adam Gase are contending with as the regular season comes to a close. It is a situation that is not doom-and-gloom, even though that’s how it looks right now.

The loss to the Bengals hurt badly, because the Broncos must go all-out in the season finale against the Raiders if they are going to secure a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs. Even with a reduced passing game and recent improvement by the Raiders, the Broncos should be able to put away Oakland and coach Tony Sparano with relative ease.

The Raiders have not won a road game since they beat the Texans 28-24 in Week 11 of the 2013 season. The Broncos defense is not going to allow rookie quarterback Derek Carr the freedom needed to make enough big plays to hurt them.

Assuming the Broncos don’t choke here, Fox and Gase are going to have two weeks to fix their offensive line. They know that Manning is not throwing the ball the way he did earlier in the season, so he must get the protection from the offensive line to help him become an effective quarterback once again.

All Manning needs is just a little bit of help. That means an extra fraction of a second to diagnose which of his receivers are open and which ones are covered. The ability to find the weak spot in the opponent’s defense remains intact for Manning. Give him that extra beat, and he will make the right decision and put the ball in a position where one of his receivers can catch the ball and defensive backs can just wave at it.

Perhaps the Broncos are actually in a decent position. Most of the football world is starting to write them off with the playoffs right around the corner. The assumption is they certainly can’t beat the Patriots, and it’s likely they would have a tough time competing with the Steelers. You just saw what happened when Manning went up against the mighty Bengals.

They are getting written off, but that is a poor conclusion. Beat the Raiders in the season finale and get a week off. Put in a fix for the offensive line and give Manning time to rest and rehab.

That’s all that needs to happen for this team to get back to top form.

Manning may eventually have a difficult time beating the Patriots on the road, but Bill Belichick and New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will take nothing for granted. Belichick has seen exactly what Manning is capable of doing and he will have his top defensive gameplan prepared for him.

The 2015 may not be written in stone, but don’t assume Manning is done just yet.

He could have one more big run to make.

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Steve Silverman
Steve Silverman is a longtime sportswriter who spent 10 years as senior editor at Pro Football Weekly and he has also written for the Wall Street Journal, ESPN Magazine, MSNBC, and Silverman currently covers all sports – including the NFL – for CBS New York and Bleacher Report.