The standings say the Broncos are unbeaten, but the football public perceives problems for coach Gary Kubiak’s crew. Is Peyton Manning really done? Tackling that, plus mailbag questions on the Jets’ success without Rex Ryan, Seattle’s struggles and the fallacy of full-time refs
With Peyton Manning these days, it’s not a matter of the sky falling. It has fallen. America has decided he’s done, kaput, washed up at 39. He should retire now and let Brock Osweiler take the reins, so the new guy will have to chance to learn the ropes before the playoffs begin.
A few things:
1. It’s not going to happen.
2. Denver is 6-0.
3. Sane people run the Broncos.
It’s a bit of a sad thing going on right now with Manning, his arm declining rapidly before our eyes, and the NFL being such a public business that everyone has an opinion on a pass-by-pass basis of how far Manning has fallen. It’s a Twitter world, and we’re all living in the instant reaction. When Manning stepped to the podium after a 26-23, three-interception overtime victory in Cleveland on Sunday, you almost thought he was going to apologize for his performance. That’s how down he seemed.
It’s understandable, too, that the reaction is so strident, for a couple of reasons: Manning, 39, is falling off a cliff at the same time Tom Brady, 38, is playing the best football of his life; the comparison is unavoidable. And though I poke fun at the radical reaction, it’s stunning to see and judge the struggles of Manning. Two seasons ago, his touchdown-to-interception differential was 55-to-10. Today it’s 7-to-10. You don’t need to know the ugly stats, all of them, if you’ve watched even a quarter of Manning’s throws this year. He’s significantly diminished, and we all can see it.
I think coach Gary Kubiak—with a nudge from GM John Elway—would be tempted to do something radical at quarterback if he didn’t see a few of the throws Manning makes every game … certainly a few that Manning made near the end of the Cleveland game. On his 75-yard go route down the right sideline to Emmanuel Sanders in the fourth quarter, Manning pushed his pass 33 yards in the air, thrown perfectly in stride to Sanders. Twice he hit Demaryius Thomas in stride late in the game, once for what would have been a long gain; both were dropped. He threw a 10-yard sideline strike to Thomas from the opposite hash in overtime, on the winning drive.
That doesn’t erase the terribly short throw in overtime that Barkevious Mingo intercepted. Or the other throws against the Browns and in other games this fall that were strangely wayward—as though Manning were aiming two or three yards off. The interception returned for touchdown by Karlos Dansby (the third Manning pick-six in six games) came off running back Ronnie Hillman’s hands, and so you could say Hillman should have caught it. But the throw was a good two feet behind Hillman, so Manning was as much to blame for the gaffe, to be sure.
“We’re 6-0, but we’re very humble,” Kubiak says. “Our whole mission is clear: We can get this thing headed in the right direction. I know we can, and Peyton knows we can.”
Denver will go forward, it seems, trying to minimize Manning’s faults by improving around him after this current bye week. The first two games after the bye are Green Bay at home and Indianapolis on the road, so the Broncos will need to get more tight end production—Owen Daniels has been hampered by a shoulder injury, which will certainly be helped by the week off—and a better running game going. Last year C.J. Anderson averaged 4.5 yards per rush. This year: 2.7. Some of that is the switch from man to zone blocking under Kubiak, but more is probably the new bodies on the line.
“I’m challenged by this,” Kubiak told me. “We’re 6-0, but we’re very humble. We know we have improvements to make. Obviously, I’m coming from a two-back background, and we’ve gone away from that here. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to Peyton, and we both realize we have a lot of things to do to improve. I have to do some things to help him, and he knows he can do things better too. When I’ve talked to him, I basically have said, ‘How can I help you?’ We’ve gone through everything, and I can tell you we’ll both continue to work at it.
“Our whole mission is clear: We can get this thing headed in the right direction. I know we can, and Peyton knows we can.”
No specifics there. In fact, the cavalry is not on the way. There’s not much the team can do to change. They’re going to deal with Manning’s significantly reduced velocity, and his oft-times faulty aim, and they’re going to, as Kubiak says, try to improve around him. But around Week 7, most teams are what they are. Maybe Denver uses the Nov. 3 trading deadline to deal for a tackle (Eugene Monroe of Baltimore?) or a tight end (Jared Cook of St. Louis?). But nothing wholesale is happening.
The Denver Broncos have two significant obstacles in front of them as they try to win a Super Bowl in what could well be Manning’s last season: Cincinnati and New England. (They play both teams down the stretch, New England at home Nov. 29 and Cincinnati at home Dec. 28.) And for the first time in his career, Manning will enter the last two months of a season needing more help than ever to win a championship. It’s the Denver defense that’s the star of the show now. This sounds so odd, but if the D stays healthy enough, it might be enough to carry the Broncos to one last Brady-Manning AFC title game showdown.
Now on to your email:
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SEATTLE MISSES DAN QUINN
Could it be that the Seahawks miss Dan Quinn more than a little? I firmly believe the late-game meltdowns wouldn’t have happened with Dan Quinn running things.
— A.J., Seattle
The reason I think you are on to something is that we have now seen two major instances of miscommunication on the defense that I never remember happening under Quinn. Against Cincinnati, Kam Chancellor twice passed Tyler Eifert back to other cover guys in the secondary, and both times Andy Dalton was able to hit Eifert for a TD because of questionable coverage. Same with the Greg Olsen play at the end of Sunday’s loss to Carolina. Both Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman talked about a communication problem that had different players in the secondary playing different assignments on the same play. That is what I would be concerned about if I were Pete Carroll. He needs to get to the bottom of why so many mental errors are being made on a defense that made so few of them in the past. Or, should I say, so few of them at such crucial moments.
Jim Harbaugh is a non-starter, so what other head coaching candidates are there for Indy, assuming there's a desire for mid-season change?
—Ed, Dayton, Ohio
Barring a shocking decline by the Colts, which I don't see, they aren’t making a mid-season change. And that doesn’t really matter in this case. The Colts are going to examine their coaching situation at the end of the year when Chuck Pagano’s contract has expired. And they should. He didn’t accept an extension in the off-season because it wasn’t an extension that felt like the team was saying Pagano was doing a good job. So now the ownership simply has to watch the team likely win another division title and try to make what obviously appears to be an unlikely deep run into the playoffs. I don’t see this team looking at coaches until the last loss of the season. So it's too early to speculate on names.
CHARGERS O-LINE STRUGGLES
The Chargers have played more offensive linemen over the past few years than other team, mostly because of injuries. Are all those injuries random luck or when you seemingly have a pattern should we assign blame to the team’s style of play, training staff or something the team is doing?
—Peter F., San Diego
I don’t think there is anything deep and dark about this. I don’t believe the Chargers’ training staff has much to do with the injuries. We've seen offensive line injuries increase with several other teams as well. I understand your frustration, but I believe it's more a coincidence than anything else.
THE JETS WITHOUT REX
Does anyone else think it’s interesting that the Jets are way better this year after getting rid of Rex Ryan? Shouldn’t be a big surprise to the Bills—when you hire a .500-record coach, you get a .500 record.
I’m not one of those who is going to climb on the bandwagon that says Rex is a lousy coach because the Jets are playing well. The Jets would be great on defense this year if Rex Ryan were coaching them. There’s a pretty simple reason why. The Jets added major help in the secondary, including the best corner in football, and then picked the best defensive tackle in the draft. That probably has more to do with the Jets looking great on defense than the change from Ryan to Todd Bowles. Having said that, I like the move to a quieter week around the Jets this season, but I’m still not sure if that translates into how a team plays on Sunday.
QUIT YOUR DAY JOB, REFS
It seems that every week there are fairly obvious officiating errors in the NFL. Why doesn’t this multi-billion dollar industry employ full-time officials?
—Pat M., Parksville, BC, Canada
I have a question for you. Look at the Golden Tate touchdown/interception Sunday. Let’s say that a back judge has spent the entire week looking at tape instead of being a high school principal or a PE teacher or a lawyer. Let’s say instead of spending 20 hours during the week reviewing his calls and studying the game and exercising and staying sharp for the next game, he spends 50 hours doing that. Is that going to make him any more qualified to judge in a nanosecond whether Golden Tate had two feet on the ground and was making an effort to turn upfield into the end zone when the ball was stripped? I think the fallacy of the concept of full-time officials is that no matter how much time they spend studying the game, it won't make them better in diagnosing right and wrong on bang-bang plays. Now, would an official have messed up the illegal-bat call in Seattle the way that the back judge there did a couple of weeks ago? Would more studying of rules result in fewer judgment mistakes such as that one? Possibly. But that particular play was an error in judgment by an official. I think those are going to happen too. For me, the bottom line is that for years those who favor full-time officials have advanced the argument that it would make the officials far better. I’m not sure it would make them any better.