Peyton Manning: the Struggles, the Injuries, the Records

Posted on November 19, 2015 at 8:25 PM

On the same day that Peyton Manning broke the NFL's all-time mark for passing yardage (Favre: 71,838), he also recorded career-low marks in completion percentage (25.0), passing yardage (35), passing Y/A (1.75), passer rating (0.0) and total QBR (0.1). To call it the worst game of Manning's career would be a gross understatement. The game stood in stark contrast to Week 7 of the 2014 season, when Manning completed 84.6 percent of his passes for 318 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions, recording a 157.2 passer rating, 98.7 total QBR, in-route to breaking Favre's all-time NFL record for career touchdown passes (508). People ran on the field carrying flags featuring the number 509, the game paused and the only thing Manning was criticized for was choreographing a touchdown celebration with his teammates.

The scene are very different vs. the Chiefs on November 15th, 2015. No horses, no flags—no real excitement. Manning appeared to be more interested in converting the upcoming third down than he did in taking in the moment to recognize the fact that he had just broken, arguably, the second most significant record in NFL history.

The Broncos, the NFL, had one shot to properly recognize the historic moment and they botched it. Manning's recluctance to celebrate the milestone aside, that moment was more important than the game. People may be afraid to state the obvious in that regard, but there are 14 games played every week and thousands more may come and go before another quarterback surpasses it. Drew Brees (age 36) is currently 12,866 yards behind Manning, Tom Brady (age 38) is currently 15,293 yards behind.

Eric Dickerson's 2,105 rushing yards in 1984 remains the single-season NFL record. Six other running backs have eclipsed 2,000 rushing yards—and there have been 20 others who have eclipsed 1,800. While some have come close, there is a reason why certain records prove to be so difficult to break. Once a certain threshold is reached, it becomes much tougher to gain additional yardage. It's akin to holding your breath for 60 seconds vs. 70 seconds. That final stretch is the most difficult.

There's been a clear correlation between Manning's steep regression and his health. His detractors will label such recognition of reality as "excuses", overlooking the fact that it's difficult to play with no feeling in your fingertips, an injured shoulder, an injured rib-cage and inflamation of of the tissue that connects your heel-bone to your toes.

Taking that same quarterback and having him stand behind an offensive line wearing t-shirts that say "come right through" does not usually yield great results. Toss in the support of the NFL's 27th ranked rushing attack in YPC (through Week 10) and you have the perfect recipe to allow opposing defenses to load up on DBs and have their pass rushers tee off on a quarterback whose line won't protect him. Must be Manning's fault though—not the injuries, scheme, pass protection or rushing support. It can't be because of the same "Kubiak System" that, at it's peak, produced Matt Schaub's prime and Joe Flacco's 16th ranked passer rating in 2014. That's the system to role with. It can't be because of the ingenious idea to take away practice reps from a rhythm passer. The narrative has ensured that the blame reside with Peyton Manning.

Below is a list of Peyton Manning's injuries/illnesses since 2010:

Most know that Manning has struggled with injuries but few are familiar with the depth of his adversity. He overcame multilpe neck surgeries, a season of rust, relocation, loss of feeling in his fingertips and two high ankle sprains to reclaim his spot as the NFL's top quarterback for two and a half seasons. Tom Brady called Manning's 2013-14 run the "greatest season-and-a-half stretch in the history of the NFL." Via QBR, Manning was the NFL's No. 1 quarterback in 2012, 2013 and was on-pace to produce the highest rated season in the history of the metric through Week 8 of the 2014 season.

What changed? Flashes of greatness aside, Manning has not been the same quarterback since. Greg Bedard of MMQB traced the beginning of Manning's decline to the Broncos Thursday Night Football matchup vs. the Chargers.

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)

Manning wasn't just good up to that point, he was on-pace to throw 52 touchdown passes to only 7 interceptions.

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).


Manning is not immune to criticism. He's made plenty of mistakes, especially in 2015. Bad reads, awful foot placement, forced throws. The issue is, it may be impossible to quantify the degree of his decline given the putrid caliber of his offensive support, within a system that was not structured around his skill-set. Within the wrong offensive system, O.J. Simpson, known for having "hands of stone", looked like a draft-bust while being forced to catch passes from 1969-1971. Then in 1972, Lou Saban took over the Bills and structured the offense around the team's most talented player. Simpson went on to earn five consecutive Pro Bowl selections, five consecutive First Team All-Pro nods, and NFL MVP honors in 1973. Unlike Simpson, Manning is 39 years old with a body that has taken blow after blow, sustaining injury after injury. But the system was a problem from day one and the results should not have been shocking. When you spend an entire offseason teaching your offense to play mostly under center, only to attempt to rectify the mistake by running a hybrid (pistol-heavy) system after two weeks, you get what you get. Manning's 2015 has been the worst season of his career, but to understand exactly what's being criticized, you need to take a deep look into the context of Manning's performance.

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