First off, apologies for my lack of content over the past couple of weeks, I've been extremely busy. Anyway. I've decided to continue the Five Plays series in the current period, with a switch in focus towards potential cap casualties. The players under scrutiny at this point in time for salary related reasons are some of the most crucial players in our recent period of success - namely, Peyton Manning; Dallas Clark and Dwight Freeney. I've decided to do Peyton first, because he's more significant to the team and the decision will impact the franchise for several years.
The facts with Peyton are as follows:
- The Colts owe Peyton a $28m option bonus, due on March 8th. His potential base salary for next year is $7.4m.
- We in the public domain still have little other than hearsay in terms of knowledge about his current injury status, which confuses the waters.
- Manning and Jim Irsay have been engaged in a very public battle for the hearts and minds of Colts fans, leading to questions about whether he'd want to return or potentially negotiate a new contract for a more favourable cap scenario.
My plays today will be little more than a reminiscent whistlestop tour of Manning's greatness. We're all well aware of his strengths and weaknesses, and so while I'll point out my observations, don't expect anything groundbreaking. And on that note, we begin..
Play #1 - Jets @ Colts - Week 20, 2009.
There's nothing particularly remarkable about the following play, though I've decided to go in the head of Peyton Manning for an entire drive for the first three plays.
The Colts line up in the 3WR 1TE 1RB set, with 2 minutes on the clock. The Jets are as usual taking the jazzy approach to defense, with a mixture of DBs and LBs sitting in the centre of the field to try and confuse Manning.
As Peyton takes the snap, his eyes are on Austin Collie and noone else. That isn't counting his peripheral vision, which is second to none and one of his great attributes in terms of sensing pressure.
He shuffles around in the pocket to ensure a clean release, and given good coverage downfield, he's waiting to throw a man open.
With a relatively clean pocket, Collie finally springs back past the marker and Peyton releases the ball from the usual high point.
It hits Collie straight in the numbers, and he makes the easy catch for a first down.
Collie gets to the sideline, and the clock stops at 1:59 at a crucial point in the game. So far, so Peyton.
Play #2 - Jets @ Colts - Week 20, 2009.
After a brief break for the 2-minute warning, Peyton and the Colts get back out there to press their advantage - and here's where the magic starts.
The Colts again line up in the 3-1-1, and in this case Dallas Clark and Joseph Addai are both in close to aid in pass protection. Failing that, Addai will run a little wheel route to provide a quick outlet if nothing is open downfield.
The OL does a very good job in condensing the Jets' blitzers into a small area. Combined with Peyton's pocket awareness, it bodes very well for the play.
With a clean pocket, Peyton can release the ball with no fear of pressure. On such a nuanced throw, this is very important.
I've circled the ball amongst the clutter, along with the Jets CB and safety. It's regular man coverage with safety help over the top, though the safety in this case has shaded to Garcon given his deep threat potential. Notice the minuscule separation from Collie against Dwight Lowery.
Lowery jumps to try and make a play on the ball, but the placement is exactly where it has to be. Anywhere else and it's a likely pick.
It lands right in the bread basket, and Collie is able to continue in-stride down the field.
He's eventually brought down at the 16 yard line for an absolutely huge gain. 64 yards in two plays, all to Austin Collie. One of the best throws I think i've ever seen. And yet, there's more!
Play #3 - Jets @ Colts - Week 20, 2009.
Immediately following the play, the Colts line up downfield and Peyton diagnoses the defense. He notices Eric Smith (#33, S) lined up across from Austin Collie, and judges it as a mismatch. I've capped him audibling at the line to focus on Smith.
From the moment of the snap, he's focused only on Collie.
With another clean pocket, he's free to release to Collie on the in-breaking route. The Jets play a shallow form of zone on the back end, which allows Collie to get over the top.
It's a perfectly placed ball, and Collie is given enough room by the throw to comfortably make the grab in-bounds.
He takes the ball at the highest point and goes safely to ground.
And this drive is probably the most important in the game, and allows the Colts to proceed to the Super Bowl.
The drive as a whole encompasses many of Manning's strengths - mentally, in audibling the play at the line to facilitate a touchdown, along with his pocket awareness. Physically in the arm strength required to throw down the field, along with the ridiculous accuracy which accompanies his throws.
Play #4 - Giants @ Colts - Week 2, 2010.
However, some elements of his game haven't been shown, and another great talent is evident in the following play.
The Colts line up in the standard 3-1-1, and the background to the play is a vibrant Colts running game taking advantage of DB-heavy defense courtesy of Perry Fewell. Dallas Clark is lined up in the slot.
The indistinguishable play-fake doesn't fool the entire Giants defense, but the room it gives Peyton to look downfield is key.
With a clean pocket, he's able to see Dallas Clark downfield with the bare minimum of separation. The ball is released on time and from a high point.
Again I've separated the ball from the clutter, though I feel that on this play it's difficult for me to truly show the touch and feel on the pass, which is remarkable.
The ball lands exactly where it must do, and it again exhibits Manning's flawless accuracy at times.
Dallas takes it to the house, and the Colts are in control.
One element of the play which isn't as immediately clear from that camera angle is the importance of the play-action. The S on the play, Michael Johnson, eats the great fake and opens up his half of the field.
As Peyton fakes, Johnson acts on his read and tries to get down to the LOS to make an impact play.
Even when he can see the rest of his team playing pass, he plays run due to the aforementioned indistinguishable fake. He's staring at Brown as he emerges around the right side of the offensive line, only for him to realise his mistake.
As Peyton releases the ball, Clark is behind his man - but only just. The ball has to be thrown with finesse and touch, and fortunately it is.
The ball ends up where it has to be, and the Colts take the momentum in the game, going 14-0 up.
Play #5 - Jets @ Colts - Week 18, 2010.
Qualifying assessments of Peyton's skill in audibling and reading the defense isn't the easiest job. Fortunately, a play that has stuck with me illustrates it perfectly.
The play is from the 2010 Wildcard game against the Jets, in which a severely depleted Colts offense tried to outmanoeuvre Rex Ryan and his morphing defense. The play in question is a 3rd and 9, and the Colts have called pass, as you'd imagine. As Peyton surveys the defense, he notices CB Kyle Wilson at DE on the play, along with a prowling unit comprised of a DL, LB and S lurking in the center of the field.
He heads to the line and audibles.
In the event, he audibles to a shotgun run to the right of the formation, where only Wilson and a deep safety are realistically going to stop the play. Wilson immediately goes into off coverage with his back to the play, allowing for easy run blocking.
Wilson is still in off-man here, and it's almost like he's partly responsible for Pierre Garcon as well. By this time, Addai has the ball and is running hard downhill.
Wilson eventually gets blocked by his opposite number Tamme, and the rest of the play holds up as you'd hope.
He's eventually brought down for a 14 yard gain on a crucial 3rd and 9.
The gap present is deceptive, in that the roaming units in the middle of the field periodically occupy and exit the area in question. Peyton ignores it, and diagnoses correctly that the gap will remain open.
He completes the audible and makes sure Addai is comfortable, before going back into his stance for the snap.
The Jets eventually settle into their appropriate stances in position, and by this time Manning must know the play is golden.
He hands the ball off to Joseph Addai and probably congratulates himself on a job well done.
Ultimately, I could've chosen hundreds of plays to display the brilliance of Peyton Manning. I chose these examples because I wanted to highlight specific skill sets, but one thing that remains painfully clear from the evidence is that Peyton Manning at his height is absolutely unstoppable. The blend of pocket awareness, skill in reading the defense and audibling, fantastic accuracy and above average arm strength results in one of the greatest QBs to ever play the game, and there's an argument that he may well be the greatest of all time.
I can never openly advocate the release of Peyton Manning from the Colts, I absolutely cannot. Countenancing the idea of him playing elsewhere isn't something I really want to do. The numbers would justify a potential release alongside the injury concerns, given that the inevitable selection of Andrew Luck would take our QB spending next year up to the unfathomable heights of $51m. If Peyton is however healthy and able to play at 80% of his previous level, I would absolutely consider trading the #1 pick and bringing Peyton back. I've watched Andrew Luck all year and I'll be watching him at the combine - and without ruining an upcoming profile on him - I know his strengths and weaknesses, and yet I'd advocate (if 3 or 4 years at the position from Peyton can be considered a very good chance) retaining Manning. He's a unique blend of attributes, he knows the team and is the de facto leader of the franchise, and retaining him would send the message that we're going on a glorious run for the Super Bowl. Having spent his entire career at the Colts, I think he deserves it and we as fans deserve it. Another Super Bowl (or lord knows, even greater treasures) and he'll be the consensus greatest of all time in the eyes of many. I don't think our journey with Manning has come to its conclusion, and I hope it doesn't for the foreseeable future.
That said, the injury worries are hard to surmount, and taking Luck as a guarantee of good play at the position for the foreseeable future isn't necessarily a bad idea. Peyton's evident rapport with Austin Collie would undoubtedly be replicated by Andrew Luck, given the easy comparison between Austin Collie and Luck's favourite receiver last year, Griff Whalen - the only caveat being that Collie is far superior to Whalen.
An option not raised particularly frequent is the option for Manning and Tom Condon to come to an agreement regarding a softer contract for the next couple of years, when the injury concerns are taken into account. I sincerely hope this is an option. Let me know your thoughts.
Play #3, Collie TD. "He notices Eric Smith (#33, S) lined up across from Austin Collie, and judges it as a mismatch."
THIS is one of #18's strengths we overlook - his knowledge of personnel. The top tier of QBs can look at the defensive formation and diagnose the best play for the situation, but how many other QBs would trump what should be the best play call bc of what they judge a mismatch? Or know that, bc of this mismatch, this will turn out to be the best play call.
If I'm not mistaken, Eric Smith isn't known as a weak DB. Manning just knew that his guy could beat their guy on this play.
And I bet he knows more about other teams guys than some of them know about their own.
Ben so glad you used the throw to Collie from the 09 post season Jets game. I remember thinking after watching that play, "That's simply the greatest throw I've ever seen." and well it is. I'm so glad you highlighted it! Real pleasure to read!
@Nathan Haza That was the most perfectly throw deep ball I have ever seen.
Manning's throw to Wayne for the TD right before half time in the 2010 game against the Pats was also one of the bests throws I have ever seen.
Regarding your last paragraph, you have to think that if it's a money issue, every team would negotiate the same type of contract the Colts would: loaded with incentives based on playing time. I doubt any team truly ignores all of the health concerns and offers him a normal contract for a healthy Manning. It may be naive, but I don't think Peyton's willing to move on to another team at this stage of his career, especially with two new twins to take care of. Of course, it's up to Irsay, but if Irsay kicks him out and Peyton's terms were relatively reasonable, it's going to taint my image of him (Irsay) forever.
@TheGreatMisdirect I do think he wants to win more than anything, and he probably knows there is no way the Colts are not drafting a QB at this point, which is not the best use of Indy's resources if Peyton is staying.
There are better opportunities in places that are nice to live in outside of Indy, with Miami and Arizona being two obvious ones.
I want Arizona if I could pick a place for Manning to go. They have a good nucleus of talent on offense. Their defense was surprisingly good in 2011. The line run-blocks well (pass blocking of the line is basically irrelevant as we've seen with what Manning did in 2009-2010). They have a great wide receiver. Baltimore is probably the perfect fit, but I wouldn't want him in the AFC or in Washington. Arizona is a nice safe place.
@dmstorm22 Yeah, but... but... Manning can't leave :(. All that aside, I agree that Arizona would be the best fit. Whisenhunt would give Manning the room to run the entire offense, and with a receiver like Fitzgerald, my personal pick for the best WR in the game, they could be downright terrifying to face. You gotta think Fitz is dying for a top tier QB again, like Warner was a few years ago. Of course, being the pro that he is, he wouldn't say that... but come on.
@TheGreatMisdirect I think I remember hearing Manning and Fitz having dinner Super Bowl week.
I think I have to slow down on this Zona thing, because when he lands in Miami or Washington I don't want to be too disappointed.
Great stuff as always, Ben.
I don't think we can 'undoubtedly' say that Collie and Luck will develop a rapport. I won't be at all surprised if it happens, but some WRs just click better with different QBs (and it seems that Manning could develop a rapport with anyone... Jacome Tamme?!?).
@LovinBlue I've got full confidence in Luck potentially doing the same thing, given his lack of talent and similar read of the game across the middle.
That said, perhaps I should avoid superlatives as a general rule.
"Ya make a mistake against this guy and he burns your ass."
Great breakdown. I'm wonder if we'll ever see another passer like Peyton.
@RyanCrinnigan Rex is definitely in the "Manning > Brady" club. He has always had an almost funny personal grudge against the brilliance of Manning ever since the 2006 divisional game in Baltimore.
The $28 million is spread out over the 4 remaining years of his contract. Manning's cap hit in 2012 would be something like this:
7.4 mil. base salary
4 mil. (20 million signing bonus over 5 years)
7 mil. (28 mil over 4 remaining years)
Total: 18.4 million.
If the Colts cut Manning, he will be a 16 million cap hit in 2012 (the 16 million left from the signing bonus is accelerated onto the 2012 cap).
If they sign Manning and cut him after one year, than his cap hit would be 18.4 for 2012, but then 33 mil for 2013 (remaining 12 mil from signing bonus, remaining 21 mil from option both accelerated onto the 2013 cap).
That's the way I understand it anyway. Feel free to correct me if that's wrong.
@Kyle Rodriguez I'm relying on Andrew Brandt for now, but i'll take a closer look soon.
Brandt's numbers about the cap hit are correct; The 28m option bonus is prorated over all 5 years at 5.6 per, though, Kyle. So it's a 16-17-18-19-20 structure overall if the full $90 is paid, and if he's cut they get a 5.6 credit back so it's effectively $10.4 next year, not 16.
"Ultimately, I could've chosen hundreds of plays to display the brilliance of Peyton Manning."
Yep. The fact that he has at least five brilliant plays PER GAME is making me very sad to go through this and see some of the memorable games of the past...
(Oh, btw - in #3, 33 is Eric Smith. Leonhard wears 36 and started that play high over Wayne. Smith on Collie is even more of a mismatch. Smith sucks.)
That previous throw to Collie is one of the best I've ever seen.
Great stuff. That drive in the AFC Title Game was a thing of beauty. Three plays. All to Collie. All great throws.
@dmstorm22 That's the drive that's stuck with me the most from Manning. The diagnosis of the coverage on the bomb to Collie is absolutely astounding, not to mention the perfect throw. Complete and utter dominance.
@TheGreatMisdirect I think one of his best drives ever was a drive in the 2nd quarter (the one that ended on the failed QB sneak) where every play Peyton just called out Jets' players and blitzes, changed plays and they were all seemingly right. He was on fire that day. That truly was the best I have ever seen Peyton play (I mean, there is the first two games of the 2003 playoffs, but that was, to me, more about athletic brilliance than football smarts as well).
Peyton threw a ton of balls into small windows that were just ungodly. I believe that 2009 Jets defense was the #2 all-time DVOA pass defense (they were behind the 2002 Bucs, who had honestly a ridiculous pass defense in 2002, so good that Gannon's Super Bowl performance I believe comes out mediocre and not horrible when adjusted). Manning shredded them with ease. I think all three field goal drives ended inside the 10, so it easily could have been a lot more than just 30 points.