NFL: Is Colts Peyton Manning Any Worse at 35?

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Peyton Manning turned 35 yesterday, a fact which I will continue to pretend didn't happen.

Now seems like as good a time as any to revisit my 2009 article which attempted to forecast the final years of Manning's career based on how other similar QBs fared as they got older.

Let's compare Manning's 2009 and 2010 seasons to my projections:

Age Year Comp Att % TD INT Yards YPA Rating
33 2009 projected 363 550 66% 30 13 4015 7.3 95.8
33 2009 real 393 571 68.8% 33 16 4500 7.9 99.9
34 2010 projected 335 515 68% 33 11 4200 8.0 104.3
34 2010 real 450 679 66.3% 33 17 4700 6.8 91.9
35 2011 projected 335 515 65% 29 16 3914 7.6 93.8

The real Manning threw significantly more than I projected in both 2009 and 2010.  The 2009 number is especially troubling, since Manning didn't even play much over the final two games of the season.  I wrote this article coming off the 2008 season when I was convinced the Colts weren't very good, especially on the Oline.  I was surprised the 2009 Colts fared as well as they did, and I had expected 2010 to be the breakthrough year.  Again, the biggest place my estimate was off in the number of attempts. 

What worries me is that Manning's interception totals (though not his INT rate) have been high.  This is what I wrote at the time:

Unfortunately, the odds are high that he'll fall into the trap of the 'Old Gunslingers' as well.  It is possible that as his arm deteriorates, he'll change his game and protect the ball better.  This list has shown that Elway certainly elevated his game and became a better QB at 35-38 than at 25-28.  More likely, his pick rate will rise with time.  In fact, if the Colts have a down season, I would expect it to rise dramatically as he'll have to throw more to keep his team in the game.

The good news for 18 is that because his INT levels are so low now that even a modest increase will keep his numbers at respectable levels.  We might see a few more seasons like 2003 (19 ints) late in his career, but are unlikely to see a Favrian number of picks.

I think we are definitely on that path.  I will grant you that 2010 was an unusual year because of the upheaval in the receiving corp and at running back, but Manning's interception rate was actually even higher in 2009.  I fear that without Dungy's controlling presence that Manning won't be as careful with the ball as he should be as he gets older.  It's possible that it was Tony Dungy's insistence that Manning play it safe and stay away from interceptions that helped keep him in check.

There's no reason the Colts can't continue to ask Manning to throw a lot, however.  At the time I wrote "Old Manning" there were two analogs I hadn't fully considered. The first was Kurt Warner, who threw for 4,583 yards in 2008 and another 3753 (in 15 games in 2009).  My Favre comparison was incomplete as well. At age 40, Favre threw for 4,202 yards as part of his last amazing season.  While it's true that yards typically drop off for older quarterbacks as they are asked to throw less, it's reasonable that we won't see that decline from Manning for several more seasons.

Looking back at the Old Manning article, there's one passage that gives me comfort, and I'll leave you with it today:

Teams with these older QBs tended to be good or very good.  There are only 5 losing seasons out of the 54.  Conversely, there are 30 double digit win seasons.

What does this mean for Peyton Manning?  It certainly should reassure Colts fans that 'the window' isn't closing.  There is no "window" for victory by older QBs. Now, the Colts' window could close because Freeney or Wayne got old, certainly.  It will not close because of Manning's age. There is every reason to expect the Colts to continue to be a playoff caliber team as long as Manning is under center.