I was going to leave Jason Whitlock's latest missive alone. Now isn't a prime time to delve into Brady Manning, anyway. It's obvious that the media just looks at whichever has the best team at any given moment and declares that guy the winner for all time, or until next week. I've been saying for years that there's no way to gauge this debate until their careers are done. Brady's in the middle of his finest season, one far more impressive to me than his Randy Moss aided 2007. There's no way to know what will become of it yet, however. Let's just wait until it all settles out.
Still a reader asked me to take Whitlock down, and since his column was particularly devoid not only of facts but of sentences that can even be scrutinized in any rational way, I've decided to give it a go.
For those of us who have long been skeptical of the national media’s premature and unjustified anointment of Peyton Manning as the greatest quarterback of all time, our day is here.
Great, so Whitlock admits off the bat, that he's been waiting for Manning to have a bad stretch. It's been an 8 year wait, but he's prepped and loaded for bear.
If the media didn’t overhype Manning, he might be one of my all-time favorite players. He’s a stand-up guy and a marvelous player. He’s just not the best QB of all time. He’s not the best QB of this era.
Tom Brady is.
Monday night, when the Jets and Patriots square off in a blockbuster matchup, Brady has a chance to take control of the MVP race and demonstrate the intangible that makes him a better quarterback than Manning.
Whitlock makes it clear that it's the media that has created Manning. OF course that is patently absurd. The media didn't throw 49 touchdowns. The media didn't lead 34 fourth quarter comebacks. The media didn't put him on pace to shatter every passing record in the books. What's hilarious is that Whitlock comes right out and shows his hand: there is an intangible that makes Brady better than Manning.
Ah, intangible. It can't be touched, measured, or evaluated. It's just a thing. There's no way to prove or disprove it. It requires no research to say it exists. Let's see what Whitlock's intangible quality of Tom Brady is.
Brady is fearless. Two years after the knee injury I thought would undermine his pocket toughness, Brady is back to being Brady, a courageous, unflappable pocket passer.
He’s thrown 23 touchdown passes and just four interceptions. He’s leading the league in passer rating. A victory Monday night, and the Patriots will tie the Falcons for the league’s best record (10-2).
When it comes to evaluating Brady, it’s always about more than statistics. There are no stats for courage and leadership. They’re like obscenity. You know them when you see them. Look at the smooth way Brady and Bill Belichick ushered locker-room cancer Randy Moss out of New England. That’s leadership.
I see a few in there. The chief one seems to be 'pocket toughness'. He's 'couragous' and 'a leader'. I honestly have no idea how to judge such claims. Whitlock might as well have said, "His lifeforce emanates winning protons." or "His Chi is bathed in the eternal essence of bravery". Surely he has more than this, right?
Standing in the pocket and taking a hit rather than nervously throwing into coverage is leadership, too. Manning has always thrown more interceptions (and a higher percentage of INTs) than Brady because Manning has always gone to greater lengths to avoid contact.
Playoff teams are adept at hitting the opposing quarterback. That explains the dramatic difference between Brady’s and Manning’s playoff records and performances (Brady three Super Bowls and Manning one). Three-four, exotic zone-blitz defenses get inside Manning’s head. They make him think and panic.
Hurray! Something we can test. Brady's incalculable 'pocket presence' means that he throws fewer picks than Manning. He claims that Manning has always thrown more and a higher percentage of picks than Brady.
Since 2001, Brady has had a better interception percentage than Manning five times. Four times Manning has had a better interception percentage than Brady. Compare that with other stats. Manning has a better completion percentage in 6 of 9 seasons. He has a better yards per attempt in seven of nine seasons (Brady beat him in 2007 and this year). So pocket courage doesn't help Manning complete a better percentage of passes for more yards per attempt, but it does help Brady throw fewer interceptions. Interesting. It's especially interesting since apparently Brady's pocket courage only showed up in five of the last nine seasons.
I would mention that Manning has a better sack rate in 8 of 9 seasons, but I'm sure that Whitlock would say that's because he's afraid of contact and wants to give up and not take a sack. In Whitlock's world, taking sacks is a sign of bravery.
None of these numbers would impress Big Sexy of course. It's in the playoffs where you really see the difference, according to him.
In the playoffs, Manning has a higher rating, a higher completion percentage, and a dramatically higher yards per attempt. But Brady has 15 interceptions in 632 attempts (2.4%). Manning has 19 picks in 692 attempts (2.7%).
So that proves it. Tom Brady has so much more pocket courage in the playoffs that Peyton Manning will throw an extra interception every fourth or fifth playoff game. Of course, that could have something to do with the fact that he throws for a full yard per attempt MORE than Brady in the playoffs. But no, Whitlock doesn't want stats...
In five years, Big Ben Roethlisberger might move ahead of Manning on my list. Regardless of what Roger Goodell does to NFL rules, football is always going to be a game defined by toughness. Did you watch Big Ben Sunday night?
The Ravens broke his nose in the first quarter and Big Ben never blinked. He never thought about coming out of the game. And down the stretch, against the meanest defense in football, Big Ben fought off Terrell Suggs and avoided a sack on one play and threw the game-winning TD pass two plays later.
There is no stat for playing with a broken nose. There is no stat for fighting off Suggs and throwing the ball away. If the league kept those stats, we know Roethlisberger and Brady would rank higher on the chart than Manning.
Ah. We know that Brady and Roethlisberger would rank higher in broken noses. Manning once had his jaw broke and missed one play. But that's the jaw category, not the nose category. Break Manning's nose, and he'd crumple like a school girl.
Come to think of it, Whitlock's right. I've never seen Manning play a season on one leg, or come off the field with a giant bruise on his equally giant forehead. I've never seen him get blitzed relentlessly and try to bring his team back in the playoffs.
This is the problem with columns like this: there's nothing you can say to them.
Sure the stats say that he's completely wrong. Sure there's no evidence for any of the claims he's making. Obviously when you call a guy who has played in every game of his career and missed one play due to injury in 12 years soft, you are simply not doing your job. It's fine to pick Brady over Manning. I wouldn't, but the argument can be made, I suppose. In making it, you should have more for your gun than a bandolier of nonsense about broken noses and bravery.
The reason I almost left this alone was the final line of the column:
In terms of best QB of this era, it’s Brady, followed by Manning and Roethlisberger. I’m not open to changing my mind about that.
So why try?
Today's post is brought to you by Blue Blood. Blue Blood is a history of the Indianapolis Colts and makes the perfect Christmas gift for all Colts fans. Get your copy today! You can buy the book online, in book stores, at our family store on 7055 Coffman Road, or you can order autographed copies directly from me.
After a break-through 13-3 season in 1999, the 2000 Colts started the year strong. Six wins in their first eight games had them looking forward to a top playoff seed in the AFC. They were far from a balanced team. In fact, the 'triplets' of Harrison, James and Manning basically lugged the team through the schedule. Just when it looked like the Colts might be breaking through, the wheels inexplicably fell off.
They lost a heartbreaking and frustrating game to the Bears in Chicago that started a slide. The Colts fell behind early, thanks in part to a fake field goal by the Bears which was defended perfectly. The Chicago holder, Louie Agiar threw a ball straight up in the air as he was being tackled. The ball dropped right into the arms of Mike Wells who picked up 13 yards and a Bears first down. The Colts trailed 27-0 in the third quarter before roaring back with 24 unanswered points. They got the ball with a chance to win the game in the end, but Manning was sacked as he threw and fumbled.
Things only got worse from there. Two weeks later they trailed 19-0 in Green Bay before rallying. Again, they came up just short, losing 26-24. More losses would follow, all frustrating. They blew a fourth quarter lead at home against the Dolphins. Finally, the once 7-3 Colts saw their record drop to 7-6 with a third straight loss (and fourth in five games) to the Jets. The Colts trailed 20-0 (stop me if you've heard this story). They roared back to cut the lead to 20-17, but two botched snaps in the fourth quarter did in the Colts. They dropped to 7-6. Bob Kravitz, then in his first year in Indianapolis, proclaimed the team done. Not only did they suddenly have to right the ship with 3 wins to close the season, but they needed a lot of help. They trailed the Jets by two games with three to play.
Strangely, all the breaks started to go their way. It started with a blowout win at home over the Bills. The next week, the Colts won in Miami, jumping out to a 20-3 lead and cruising to a victory. Later that afternoon, the Jets headed west to Oakland to play the Raiders. They got spanked 31-7, their second consecutive loss.
The once dead Colts needed only to win their final game of the season to make the playoffs.
They had a home game against an excellent Vikings team, who had clinched everything they could clinch. Manning, Harrison and James all shined in a late afternoon game on Christmas Eve. The Colts had rallied back for a 10-6 record and a playoff berth.
The playoff game in Miami was one of the worst coached games in Indianapolis history. Indy had a big early lead despite a bevy of mistakes (Jerome Pathon dropped a touchdown pass, Mora called for a terrible fake field goal). In the fourth quarter, Manning set the Colts up for a field goal for a 7 point lead with about four minutes to play. The defense blew the lead, but the Colts won the toss in overtime. Manning moved the Colts into Dolphins territory. Jim Mora elected to decline a penalty that would have given the Colts (edit: a chance at) an extra first down, instead choosing to let Mike Vanderjagt try a 49 yard field goal to win the game. Vandy shanked the ball badly to the right, and the Dolphins marched downfield with ease, winning 23-17.
Still, the 2000 Colts serve to remind us of some important truths:
1. As long as you have games you can win, you have a chance.
2. Some years, the playoffs start early
3. Teams can change their momentum on a dime.
4. Jim Mora was a terrible playoff coach.
And finally: making the playoffs is hard. It is an accomplishment. Never, ever take it for granted, and never treat it with contempt.
It's pretty simple for the Colts:
4 wins and they are in.
At a 10-6 tie with the Jags, Indianapolis wins the South based on victory verses common opponents.
The first tiebreaker (head to head) would be split. The second tiebreaker (division record) would be split 4-2.
The Colts and Jags play 12 games in common.
4 are AFC South games. In those games, both teams would be 3-1. (Indy lost to Houston, Jax lost to Tennessee). Their other division loss would come at the hands of one another.
The other eight common games are:
NFC East games (4): Jags would be 2-2 (losses to Philly and NYG) Colts are 2-2 (losses to Philly and Dallas)
NFC West games (4): Jags would be 2-2 (losses to KC, SD). Colts would be 3-1 (losing only to San Diego)
That would make Indy 8-4 and Jacksonville 7-5
IF the two teams finished tied at 9-7...
The Colts must win the 3 division games. If they do so, but drop the Oakland game AND the Jags lose to Houston or Oakland in addition to Indianapolis, the Colts still win the tiebreaker for common opponents. This is because all the Jags remaining games are against 'common opponents'. A loss by the Jags to any of the teams they play other than Indy ensures they lose either the division or the common opponent tiebreaker.
Why is Peyton Manning struggling? I don't think you have to look much further than his 534 attempts through 12 games. 4 of Peyton's previous 12 seasons had less attempts than that. That's on pace for 712 attempts! A mark that would smash Drew Bledsoe's record of 691. That pace isn't skewed by one high attempts game either, the biggest outlier from the 44.5 attempt per game average is week 2 against the Giants (26 attempts), the only game this season in which Peyton has thrown less than 36 passes.
All these attempts extra attempts come at a price. Diminishing returns is a central concept in economics and it's easy to see the application to football. Unbalanced playcalling lets the defense focus in on what the offense tends to do. If you are throwing 40+ times a game, opposing defenses will spend the week scheming against the pass and run lots of pass packages on Sunday. Obviously this will reduce the effectiveness of your passing offense.
In the 4 games with the least attempts this season Peyton has 0 picks, while the 5 highest attempt games includes all 4 of his multi-pick games. The only game among those 5 that would be considered up to Peyton Manning's standard was the opener against the Texans where the unbalanced nature of the offense wasn't yet evident and the opposing pass D was horrendously bad.
The recent rough patch for Manning has come when it's clear the Colts plan to throw the ball 35-40 times in anything but a Colts blowout, and with Peyton following through on that plan to the tune of 148 attempts the last 3 weeks. It seems the Colts have managed to find a place where they need to put the ball in Peyton's hands less.
Some of you aren't going to like what I have to say.
Peyton Manning is playing terrible football.
We need to stop with the false narratives like "he's getting hit more than ever". That's demonstrably false. The offensive line isn't any worse at pass blocking this year than it was last year.
While the New England Patriots game required 421 yards and 5 touchdowns to win it, neither the Chargers game nor the game last night did. The truth is that had Manning completed 60% of his passes for some mediocre yardage total and a touchdown, the Colts probably beat the Cowboys at home. Peyton Manning isn't the only quarterback alive who could have beaten the Cowboys last night, even with that offense. About 15 other guys could have done it. The Dallas offense scored 18 points points yesterday that weren't aided by turnovers. That's hardly an insurmountable total.
Peyton isn't hurt. He's not old. He's firing rifle shots. In the last few weeks, he's thrown some of the most beautiful passes he's ever thrown. His first interception of the game to Reggie Wayne was not a bad throw. It was not a rushed throw. He set it right on Wayne's hands 40 yards down field. The problem was that is that it was a ball that should not have been thrown at all.
Whatever is going on with Manning is going on between his ears.
The only difference between last year's 12-0 season and this year's 6-6 season is a few injuries (we had lots last year too), a little luck, and the play of Peyton Manning. Last year he lead the Colts to 7 fourth quarter comebacks. That's living on the razor's edge. This year, he's had comebacks fall short four times.
There are no windows in the NFL. Reloading in the NFL takes a year or two at the most. Last year, the Patriots window was closed. Now it's wide open. The Steelers bounce in and out of the playoffs every year. The Colts entered this year with as talented a roster as they've ever had. This weird kind of fatalism from fans and the press, not just about this season but about the future is inexplicable. I suppose we like 'big picture stories' because no one wants to believe that events are random. No one wants to hear about injuries and the bounce of the football. No one wants to hear that a blown call one week and an obscure one the next turned two different games completely around. We aren't comfortable with that level of ambiguity about life and football.
The Colts aren't getting wiped off the field. They are repeatedly getting beat at the end of the games. That's the fourth loss by a total of 11 points. It's the third time that Manning had a real opportunity to win the game and didn't. For a magical two year stretch in which he won two MVP awards, he never failed in that position. Every single time he had the chance to win a game, he did. Now, he's failed at it three times in 5 weeks.
I don't know why Manning is throwing so many interceptions right now. What I do know is that he's to blame for the majority of them. If Peyton Manning were playing good football, this team would be 8-4. If he was playing MVP football, this team would be 10-2.
I am not "blaming" this season on Peyton Manning. I don't play that game. I'm not "ripping him". I'm stating cold detached truth as honestly as I can. He's playing poorly. He has thrown crippling interceptions the last few games that are on no one but him.
- These have been some of the worst losses I've ever experienced this year. I feel broken.
- I don't know what happened to Don Brown, but Mike Hart wasn't any better. The line isn't to blame for the interceptions, but this unit can't run block at all. Not at all.
- Reggie Wayne. Man. This is the second time he had a monster game, giving us everything he had, only to have a huge mistake hanging around his neck at the end.
- I'm not a fan of Coyer's scheme or his blitzes, but the defense for the most part played well enough.
- I see no reason at all why Caldwell would be on the hot seat. The last coach I would ever want would be Gruden. The Colts lost this game because Peyton Manning threw four interceptions. None of them were Caldwell's fault. Not much about this season is. He called the good timeout on defense to preserve time before the two minute warning. I didn't find much to fault with him yesterday, other than the fact that the team seem to come out flat. I suppose that's offset by the fact that they didn't quit.
- Leaping. Just...wow.
- Tryon has been a great pickup. Lacey isn't having nearly the year he was last year. Losing Powers is heartbreaking.
The rest of the game is a blur. I don't know how we'll go through this all over again in three days.
No running game, little defense through the first 3 quarters, a pressured Peyton throwing multiple bad picks, stop me if this sounds familiar.
The Cowboys scored two touchdowns off Peyton Manning interceptions, were given second life on the goal line by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Eric Foster and got the ball on the edge of FG range in overtime after the 1st Colts drive stalled on a Reggie Wayne drop and a tipped pass was intercepted on Indy's 2nd OT drive.
Indy doesn't have the margin for error to overcome mistakes like this. While, as always, getting players back healthy will widen that margin and the Colts coming back from another big hole is encouraging, without better play they can't do much more than limp to a 1st round exit, even healthy.
Maybe a healthy roster will relieve the pressure, stopping the mistakes, but right now they are going to have trouble keeping their heads above water long enough for key players to return.
Cowboys 38 Colts 35 (OT)no comments
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