Colts' Manning in midst of arguably worst slump - NFL - Yahoo! Sports
As Peyton Manning(notes) wallows in the worst slump of his Hall of Fame career, there is a fair question to be asked about the greatest thrower of this era:
Does this put a chink in the armor of talk leading up to Super Bowl XLIV that he is the greatest quarterback of his time? Is he clearly behind Tom Brady(notes) and about to get passed by the likes of Philip Rivers(notes)
Manning is in a major slump by his lofty standards. Qualifying this slump is important because even at his worst, most coaches would trade some body parts to have the Indianapolis Colts quarterback under center.
“Yeah, you better point that out,” said a head coach from another AFC team, who said he would deal his quarterback and three first-round picks for Manning right now. “And the Colts would still turn me down.”
Fair enough, but what’s going wrong right now?
“There’s no question he’s forcing things right now and he’s not comfortable. Their running game is so bad – way worse than it has been even the last couple of years – that he can’t lean on that and he’s just not comfortable throwing to some of the guys they have. He just looks really out of sync. The first two picks he threw against New England were totally out of character.”
Over his past four games, Manning has thrown nine interceptions. That marks one of five times in his career he has done that (12 is his most in a five-game span). This stretch, with the 6-5 Colts losing all three games in which Manning has been picked, stands out as the worst for a couple of reasons.
Unlike in 2007, which is the last time this happened, Manning has been truly been bad in more than one game. The 2007 stretch happened to be marked by a career-worst six-interception game against San Diego. In the other three games, Manning threw only one interception in each game, making that more of a blip on the radar than a prolonged run of poor play.
The other three times this has happened came in the first five games of his rookie season in 1998 and twice in 2001. In ’01, Manning was without running back Edgerrin James(notes) for most of the season and wide receiver Reggie Wayne(notes) was a rookie in the midst of catching just 27 passes as a complement to leading receiver Marvin Harrison(notes). In short, both Manning and the entire Colts offense were still in the development stage.
[Read more: Another Colts star in a serious slump]
This season is different. Manning, who had a four-year stretch from 2003-06 in which he didn’t throw more than 10 interceptions in a season, is in his 13th year. He has seen every situation and studied every defense. There is nothing he hasn’t seen.
Of course, many would argue that Manning is dealing with a ridiculous injury situation. Not only is tight end Dallas Clark(notes) out for the year, but wide receivers Pierre Garcon(notes), Austin Collie(notes) and Anthony Gonzalez(notes) have been in and out of the lineup all season and Wayne is banged up. At running back, the Colts have gone through Joseph Addai(notes), Donald Brown(notes), Mike Hart(notes) and even Javarris James(notes) (Edgerrin’s little cousin). The Colts’ running game is so bad that the team is passing nearly two-thirds of the time (256 rushing attempts vs. 486 passes and 13 sacks).
“They got away with that running game last season because everything else was perfect,” the aforementioned head coach said. “Now, if a couple things go wrong with the receivers, they can’t lean on the running game at all.”
Those are fair points. At the same time, both Tom Brady in New England and Philip Rivers in San Diego have endured plenty of changeover at those positions.
Brady, whose 9-2 Patriots are tied for the league’s best mark, is working with two rookie tight ends (Aaron Hernandez(notes) and Rob Gronkowski(notes)), a new deep threat after the Patriots sent Randy Moss(notes) packing and traded for Deion Branch(notes) after four games, a second-year receiver who didn’t play last season (Brandon Tate(notes)) and another wide receiver (Wes Welker(notes)) who is still coming back from a significant knee injury. In the backfield, the mainstays from last year (Kevin Faulk(notes) and Laurence Maroney(notes)) have been injured and traded, respectively, and replaced by BenJarvus Green-Ellis(notes) and a guy who opened this season on the Jets practice squad (Danny Woodhead(notes)).
In San Diego, Rivers basically has had his best deep threat from 2009 (Vincent Jackson(notes)) unavailable all season. Antonio Gates(notes), Malcom Floyd(notes), Legedu Naanee(notes) and Patrick Crayton(notes) have all missed significant time with injuries and rookie running back Ryan Mathews(notes) has been hobbled almost all season for the 6-5 Chargers.
Despite those revolving doors, both Brady and Rivers are among the top contenders for the MVP award. Rivers is having a stunning season, averaging an incredible 8.9 yards per pass attempt.
That kind of evidence can change the view of Manning.
“All that stuff makes you think twice,” the head coach said. “Can Peyton adjust when things aren’t perfect? Most years, things have been perfect. This year is different. But, like I said, I’ll take him. If he walked in my office door this minute, he’d be starting for me on Sunday.
“[Expletive], who am I kidding, if he walked in five minutes before the game, he’d be starting.”