I love Peyton Manning.
(readers stop. too shocked by what they've just read to continue. they pause, rereading each of the four words again, slowly, in disbelief)
I think he's playing great this year.
(confusion and wonder spread through Colts nation. what bold and grandiose statement will DZ make next?)
Some people have said that Manning is better than ever.
(now I have your attention).
In fact, not only has Manning not 'never played better', the argument can very safely be made that he's played exactly the same before.
Flash back to 2005:
The Colts are rolling at 10-0. Coming off two MVP awards, Peyton's numbers read like this after 10 weeks:
Now check out his 2009 numbers:
The Colts are rolling at 10-0. Manning is coming of an MVP award.
Manning is playing outstanding football, but it's hard to argue that he's playing better than he did in 2005. I'm leaving 2004 off the table because it was a different kind of animal all together. Most of us who have seen every season by Manning rank 2004 below some of his other seasons because of the renewed enforcement of illegal contact that year coupled with a spate of games against the then woeful NFC North. 2005 was one of Manning's sneaky great seasons. He was considered a lock for MVP as the Colts won their first 13 games. Indy suffered a tough loss against the Chargers in week 14, and then Manning played sparingly in the final two games as the team tried to rest players while simultaneously dealing with the tragedy suffered by the Dungy family. Combined with a massive final push from Shaun Alexander, the Seattle running back took the MVP award from Manning.
So which season is the better one through 10 games?
In favor of 2005 is a higher passer rating, and the significant factor of Manning adjusting to an entirely new style of defense against him. After 2004, teams decided that no matter what, they weren't going to let Manning throw deep. The routinely played their safeties extremely deep so as prevent the long ball. Manning instantly adjusted and became Captain Check-down. Clark, Wayne and Stokely all saw massive drops in their YPR and Manning's YPA was cut by more than a yard. Manning did a brilliant job solving the problems posed, and had the Colts rolling in dominating fashion until unfortunate circumstances derailed the season.
Of course 2009 isn't bad either. 2005 Manning was throwing to Harrison, Wayne, Stokely, and a young Clark. 2009 Manning has Wayne, Clark, Garcon and Collie. Obviously, putting up the same numbers with lesser receivers is impressive. The 2009 Manning doesn't have the same level of run support either. He's had to throw the ball far more often, and has posted much bigger yardage totals. He's also played incredible late in games, bringing the Colts' back 5 times in 10 games. The 2005 Colts didn't need any comebacks as they spent much of the first part of the season crushing people. Manning also has been startlingly accurate this season and is threatening the all time single season completion % mark.
Even the advanced stats don't help us settle the question. 2009 Manning has posted a DVOA of 40.6%. While I don't have 10 game DVOA of Manning from 2005, his final total for 2005 was 40.5%. Eerie.
So, 2005 or 2009? Right now, it's splitting hairs. Ultimately, we'll remember and judge the season based more on what happens after the season ends than what happens in the next six weeks. One thing is for sure: saying, "He's never been better!" probably isn't true. It's more accurate to say, "He's been exactly the same!"
All this just serves to remind us how great this guy's career has been. For almost any other QB in football, Manning's 2009 season would be a career year. For Peyton, it's old hat.