There has been some virtual hand-wringing this week over Peyton Manning's numbers over the past three games. Just today, KC Joyner of ESPN said it was evidence of Manning 'slipping'.
He has been the NFL MVP frontrunner in most people's minds (including mine) for many weeks, but after taking a closer look at the game tapes and metrics it starts to become clear that No. 18 is having one of his worst seasons in recent memory.
Actually, Joyner never used the words 'slipping', but ESPN slapped a suggestive headline on the story and in tweets sold it as much. Joyner's piece argues that Manning has played poorly all season, but uses wide receiver numbers to prove it, a dubious strategy indeed. A lot of the focus has been on Manning's play in the last three games, in which he has posted the lowest YPA of any three games in his career.
Most Colts' fans however, will remember a time in 2007 that is strangely reminiscent of what we are seeing now. Going into the New England game, the Colts were already banged up. In addition to Marvin Harrison being out, the Colts lost Anthony Gonzalez in the first half. In the second half, Dallas Clark and Tony Ugoh got hurt. Manning struggled in the second half the game as guys like Aaron Morehead and Craphonso Thorpe simply couldn't produce. Charlie Johnson struggled at left tackle, and Manning was sacked and fumbled on both of the Colts' final two possessions.
The next two games were brutal. The line was a patchwork quilt, and the receiving corp was a nightmare. The Colts famously rallied in San Diego, only to lose on a missed field goal. They then struggled to beat the Chiefs, and four days later played in Atlanta on Thanksgiving as players started to come back. Manning started slow in that game as well, and the Colts were shut out in the first quarter. Finally, on the last play of the quarter, Manning hit Gonzo (recently returned that very night) for a long pass to set up what would become the first of many Colts' scores that night.
The drought lasted 11 quarters. During that stretch, Indy scored 41 points. These are Manning's numbers from the start of the second half of the New England game (after Gonzo went down) through the end of the first quarter of the Falcons game:
11 quarters (2007)
Now, in fairness, one of the 8 picks was a Hail Mary at the end of the San Diego game. Without that, Manning's rating for the 11 quarters is 71.2. The stretch ended with the return of Anthony Gonzalez to the offense.
Now, let's look at the recent stretch. The Colts offense started off strong against the Texans, with a nice TD drive in the first quarter as Jacob Tamme (replacing Dallas Clark) caught them by surprise. In that quarter, Manning was 5/8 for 48 yards and a score, a rating of 118.8. Since then, the wheels have come off the Indy offense. In the past 11 quarters, they have put up 46 points (plus 14 more on defense). As Austin Collie and Mike Hart also joined the injury list, the Colts' offense has ground to a halt. These are Manning's numbers over that stretch:
11 quarters (2010)
Bear in mind, that in 2007, the Colts had their full compliment of running backs healthy. Addai was playing the best football of his career. His performance in the Kansas City game (21 for 72 and a score), was perhaps the finest day of his career behind an impossibly bad line. This stretch has featured injuries to the runners as well, thus forcing Manning to throw more.
In 2009, we learned that Peyton can take any wideout with whom he has time to work and turn him into a credible player. What 2007 and now 2010 teach us is that when the wideouts are not normal 4th or 6th round picks, but rather players that were literally available to any team in the league just days before, even Peyton Manning will struggle. Last Sunday, the Colts featured three players not on any NFL roster a month ago.
Manning's 'poor play' isn't poor play at all. He's putting up poor stats, but has helped the Colts win two games and lose by 2 on the road to possibly the best team in the NFL in the other. If anything, the drop in interceptions from Manning shows how much he's learned. He's protecting the ball much better than in 2007. This stretch of play is not indicative of anything at all other than how badly banged up the Colts are.
It is certainly not 'unprecedented'.