Peyton Manning's Historic Pace Prior to Injuries Sustained in 2013 and 2014

Posted on July 30, 2015 at 1:10 PM
With the 2015 season approaching, questions regarding Peyton Manning's health, age (39), and ability to play in Gary Kubiak's system have continued to make headlines.

What the future may hold is uncertain, but what's undeniable is what's already happened—even if the public's collective recollection of history is a bit cloudy.

Most are familiar with Manning's 2014 quad injury. But what many have been quick to forget is the fact that Manning played over 73% of his 2013 MVP season injured. On October 13th, 2013 vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars, Manning suffered two ankle sprains, which impacted his health for the remainder of the season. His performance dipped between Week's 6-12 as his ankles were further injured after being lit up by Robert Mathis on October 20th and after taking a low hit by Corey Liuget on November 10th.

It's easy to forget now considering how dominant Manning's MVP campaign was in totality, but there was a point when the Broncos weren't sure if he'd be able to play vs. the Kansas City Chiefs on November 17th. Rick Peters, a specialist with 30 years of experience designing and developing ankle braces, sent the Denver Broncos one of his newest inventions: the Ultra CTS. "I know that injury...I don't think he could have played without that brace." Peters said. Manning wore it for the rest of the season.

The correlation between his performance and injury is clearly apparent when you break down the timeline of his 2013 season: (1) Healthy, (2) Post-Injury, (3) Recovering

Weeks 1-5: Healthy

  • 150 of 198 (75.8) for 1,884 yards, 20 touchdowns and 1 interception. 136.4 passer rating.

Weeks 6-12: Post-Injury

  • 155 of 247 (62.8) for 1,838 yards, 16 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. 96.9 passer rating.

Weeks 13-17: Recovering

  • 145 of 214 (67.8) for 1,755 yards, 19 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. 116.5 passer rating.

Manning crusied through the postseason, recording QBR marks of 91.1 vs. the San Diego Chargers and 88.8 vs. the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game. By the time Manning reached Super Bowl XLVIII, ankle still braced, backed with the support of a botched-snap-safety on the first play, an offensive-line missing their starting center and starting left tackle, a defensive unit with seven of its eleven starters being either backups or Champ Bailey (playing injured), a starting halfback in Knowshon Moreno (playing injured)—leading a ground-game that sans garbage-time, averaged only 1.6—yes, 1.6—rushing Y/A, a special teams unit that surrendered a kickoff return of a touchdown on the first play of the second half, a wide receiver in Demariyus Thomas who had the football punched out for a forced fumble just as the offense was gaining momentum—he wasn't exactly put in a spot to have any realistic opportunity of winning. Historically speaking, 0% of quarterbacks have won Super Bowls when facing any one of the following circumstances—Manning faced three simultaneously.

(0) quarterbacks in history, sans Manning in 2006, have ever won a Super Bowl with a defense ranked below 20th in scoring, below 10th in forced turnovers.

  • 2013 Denver Broncos: 22nd in scoring defense—16th in forced turnovers.

(0) teams in history have ever won a Super Bowl while giving up more than 31 points.

  • 2013 Denver Broncos: Surrendered 43 points in Super Bowl XLVIII—36 points if you exclude the pick-six.

(0) teams in history have ever won a Super Bowl when averaging less than 2.2 rushing Y/A.

  • 2013 Denver Broncos: Averaged 1.9 rushing Y/A in Super Bowl XLVIII—1.6 rushing Y/A if you exclude garbage-time.

Manning didn't play well in Super Bowl XLVIII, but it won't matter that he completed 69.4% of his passes vs. the NFL's No. 1 ranked pass defense. It won't matter that Manning completed a then-record 34 passes. It won't matter that Manning recorded a 97.6 passer rating in the second half—throwing a touchdown pass to Demariyus Thomas despite a non-call for pass interference on Maxwell, then completing a two-point conversion to Welker. Doesn't matter if he played the game on one healthy leg.

Peyton Manning "Excuse" Check-List:

  • Playing injured = excuse
  • Offensive line not blocking = excuse
  • Ground-game averaging 1.6 Y/A = excuse
  • Having a football snapped over your head for a safety = excuse
  • Having the first kickoff of the second half returned for a touchdown = excuse
  • Having 7 out of 11 defensive players be of the backup and/or injured variety = excuse
  • Having your 22nd ranked scoring defense surrender touchdown after touchdown = excuse

Again, Manning didn't play well—but I implore any of his critics to find a single quarterback in NFL history to have performed better under circumstances that even come close to mirroring the Broncos' shameful output on the ground, on defense and on special teams. There is 49 years of history to comb through, so dig for it and see what you can come up with. Even with Super Bowl XLVIII taken into account, Manning still ranked No. 1 in 2013 postseason QBR amongst quarterbacks with multiple starts.

After Super Bowl XLVIII, Manning began the 2014 season on a productive-pace that could only be rivaled by his own performance in 2013. The Broncos started off the season 6-1, with their only loss coming vs. the Seattle Seahawks where Manning completed the only 8-point/one-minute drill in NFL history and forced overtime only to see his defense surrender an immediate touchdown to lose the game. Manning never touched the ball in overtime—as the rules place a premium on the coin-toss result.

Manning's performance dipped after Week 8, when his health began to decline.

From what I saw, there is a clear line of demarcation between Manning’s play before and after that first matchup with the Chargers. He played exceedingly well up to that game...I think it’s absurd to believe that Manning aged, suddenly, in the middle of the season and the game has passed him by. To me, the more logical explanation for the sharp contrast between his play before and after Oct. 23 is that Manning played through the second half of the season with serious leg problems that he couldn’t shake. -Greg A. Bedard (MMQB: January 14th, 2015)

The statistics bear this out as well. Up through Week 8 of the 2014 season, Manning was on-pace to have the second most productive touchdown season in NFL history.

Through Week 8, 2014:

  • 174 of 252 (69.0) for 2,134 yards, 22 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. 119.0 passer rating.
  • 412 of 597 (69.0) for 5,058 yards, 52 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. 119.0 passer rating (projected).

It was a historic pace that however impressive, was actually blown away by the pace he set when healthy in 2013.

Through Week 5, 2013:

  • 150 of 198 (75.8) for 1,884 yards, 20 touchdowns and 1 interception. 136.4 passer rating.
  • 480 of 634 (75.8) for 6,029 yards, 64 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. 136.4 passer rating (projected).

Even after slumping due to injury in 2013—Manning ranked No. 1 in touchdown passes with 55 (an NFL record)
Even after slumping due to injury in 2014—Manning ranked No. 2 in touchdown passes with 39 (one shy of 1st place).

The support of Manning's Broncos, sans the passing game, has been unremarkable over the past two seasons. In totality, they have not been good at running the football and they surrender too many points on defense. In Super Bowl XXXII, John Elway completed 54.5% of his passes for 123 yards, 0 touchdown passes and 1 interception (51.9 passer rating)—but the Broncos will won the Super Bowl after Terrell Davis rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns. That's not happening for Peyton Manning.

2015 may be different. And while it may be impossible not to look back at 2013 and 2014 and wonder "What would have happened if Manning was healthy, and if other areas of the team weren't below-average?", it's important not to lose sight of context and recognize the historic output that occured under less than ideal circumstances.

"Disappointment" is defined as "the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one's hopes or expectations." For a quarterback playing on teams with lackluster support on the ground and on the defensive side of the ball, what would have been a realistic expecation? Zero teams in NFL history have ever won a Super Bowl ranking as low as the 2013 Broncos did on defense, so winning an AFC Championship is the furthest a team of that caliber has ever gone. Facing the NFL's second most difficult schedule in 2014, the Broncos really had no business sporting an NFL-best record of 12-4. Manning was awful against the Colts in the divisional round of the postseason—although people are quick to forget that he tore apart that same exact team, when he was healthy in the season-opener. Who cares right?

Better luck Next year—with a new head coach who was 2-11 last time he led a team, with a defensive coordinator whose defense ranked 24th in points surrendered last time he coached and a left tackle who is already done for the year. If the Broncos fall short of a Super Bowl in 2015, I'm confident it will be Peyton Manning's fault.

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