Fifty Shades of Pey(ton): Should Peyton Manning Return to the NFL?

Happy early Valentine’s Day, everyone!

And, apparently, the hot ticket for Valentine’s Day, at least for women who don’t have significant others, or don’t have significant others that they like, is the new “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie.  Clearly, I have less than no interest in seeing this movie, but it does serve as an interesting analogy to this whole Peyton Manning “will he or won’t he” saga.

USA Today Photo

USA Today Photo

I know nothing about the movie, but I’m assuming that there’s a lot of back and forth regarding whether Ana Steele and Christian Grey (and yes, I had to look that up) are going to ultimately find love and get together.  Well, at least after all the sadomasochism and sexual deviancy, of course.  OK, I think that’s enough of that.


Universal Pictures Photo

So minus the BDSM part, there’s a lot of the same trepidation concerning Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.  Will he ultimately return to Denver next year?  Will they be a happy couple and win the Super Bowl?  Before losing to the Colts in the AFC divisional playoffs, Manning was fairly adamant on a return, while after the loss, he was quite neutral on the thought.

Turns out, the Peyton Manning watch is almost over as reports are starting to stream out indicating he will be back in Denver.  According to The Times-Picayune:

Peyton Manning is back home in New Orleans and training with the intent to play the 2015 NFL season, a source close to Manning said Monday.

Whether this is accurate or not, it almost reminds me of the entire Brett Favre “retirement” saga, or perhaps I should say “retirements” saga.  Who could forget the Sears commercial that Brett did highlighting his decision making ability.

Classic.  Though I hope he decided not to buy that TV and waited for a 4K TV.  And when Brett Favre actually did come back, time and time again, we all wondered if that was actually the right decision.  So perhaps the big question for Manning isn’t WILL he return, but rather, SHOULD he return?

Manning, who will turn 39 on March 24, is the oldest starting quarterback in the NFL.  Of course, age doesn’t matter as much at quarterback, but with Manning’s history of recent injuries, it’s certainly a concern.  The Broncos want Manning to decide by March 9, since they will have to make a number of decisions on contract rights on March 10, but we’re likely to see confirmation before that.

There was significant fanfare when Manning passed Brett Favre’s NFL record of 508 career touchdown passes in Week 7 of the 2014 season (heck, I think 90% of ESPN’s SportsCenter shows the week before were inundated with interviews with each of the Broncos’ receivers and running backs about how much they each wanted to catch that touchdown), and there certainly would be interest in seeing if Manning could put up 2,148 yards to pass Favre’s record for career passing yards.  That is, there would be interest everywhere except for, I assume, the Favre household.

Brett Favre

Manning struggled mightily in the second half of the regular season and in the playoff loss to Indianapolis in the AFC divisional playoffs.  Some speculated he had simply lost his confidence, but there was also speculation that Manning’s thigh injury suffered in a December 14th win at San Diego was the cause (although no one knew about that injury until after Denver was booted from the playoffs, so there was some suspicion that this was merely an after-the-fact excuse being circulated).

There’s been much made of the Manning’s decline in 2014.  Was it the injury?  Was it a declining skill set?  Is he too old?  Was he just focusing too much on poorly made Papa John’s commercials?  Seriously, those guys need better writers.

Papa Johns Manning

Many NFL pundits believed that perhaps Manning’s decline was due to John Fox’s focus on strengthening the ground game.  And at the end of the season, it did appear that C.J. Anderson was getting significantly more carries than Manning was getting pass attempts.  But let’s take a look at the stats over the 2014 and 2013 seasons as a whole, and maybe we can figure this out.  First, let’s look at passing:

Broncos 607 399 65.7 4661 7.9 291.3 40 15            
Broncos 675 461 68.3 5444 8.3 340.3 55 10            

Yards per game and touchdowns were way down in 2014.  In fact, in 2014, Denver was down to 4th in passing yards with 291.3 per game, as compared to being 1st in 2013 with 340.3 per game.  But more interesting than that are the attempts and completions.  Passing attempts were only down 10% between 2013 and 2014, and completion percentages remained essentially the same.  So it’s not like Denver abandoned the passing game during the season.  Well, if the Broncos weren’t passing significantly less, were they running more?  Let’s take a look at the rushing stats:

Broncos 443 1785 4.0 15 111.6 2        
Broncos 461 1873 4.1 16 117.1 6        

In 2014, they were 15th in rushing yards with 111.6 per game.  And lo and behold, they were exactly 15th in rushing yards in 2013 as well with 117.1 per game.  And in fact, there were LESS rushing attempts in 2014 as compared to 2013.  And to make things even murkier, Denver’s time of possession per game in 2014 was almost identical to their time of possession in 2013 (30:29 vs. 30:30), meaning it’s not like they tried to chew up more clock and keep opposing offenses off the field either.

So what was the difference?  Defense.

Denver Defense

USA Today Photo

In 2013, Denver was 19th in effectiveness regarding total yards allowed on defense.  In 2014, Denver was 3rd in effectiveness regarding total yards allowed on defense.  Now THAT is a significant upgrade.  The honest truth is that Denver’s defense was so much more effective in 2014 that Denver’s offense, including Manning, just didn’t have to do as much to win games.  Unlike the Denver team that got blown out by the Seahawks in Super Bowl 48, this Denver team actually played solid defense.

Perhaps the rise of Ronnie Hillman and C. J. Anderson did contribute to slightly increased usage of the ground game later in the season.  And maybe Manning’s thigh injury was much worse than we had thought.  But at the end of the day, it’s clear that the Broncos are an evolving team that doesn’t have to rely solely on Manning to win games.

And that’s the best reason for Manning to come back.  He no longer has to shoulder all the responsibility for winning games.  And we know how tough it is for a quarterback to have to carry all that responsibility.  Well, everyone knows except for maybe Tim Tebow.  But we all knew he had a lot of “outside” help.


By Ha Kung Wong

Twitter: @Rhihan


  • Papa John’s is awesome!

  • I agree Manning should return for another year, he is getting older but he still has it in him to continue to be great. Every year the Broncos appear to become stronger as a team, even though they didn’t make it to Superbowl this year i have no doubt they will be even stronger next year and unstoppable. So to all those critics who think Peyton lost his confidence and is too old, get ready to eat your words. Although, this has nothing to do with football the same goes for Tiger critics who by the way also said he lost his confidence.

    • I have nothing against Tigers. It’s Lions I have a problem with. They have too much “pride.” 😉

      OK, enough of the stupid puns…

      I totally agree. I think what the stats demonstrate is that Peyton just doesn’t need to be super man and throw 50 TDs every year to be effective. Getting balance on the Broncos between the defense, special teams, passing offense and rushing offense is the key to success, and the key to making sure Peyton makes it through entire season without another serious injury. Of course, the big question is whether Denver will continue making progress getting balance without John Fox coaching the team, and will Peyton want to learn a new offense now that offensive coordinator Adam Gase is no longer there.

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