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Sunday, 25 September 2011

NFL Season 2011 - Two weeks in, Peyton Manning is indispensable.

The new NFL season is only two weeks old, but already a few big story lines are emerging that could shape the season further down the line. Cam Newton has already stated his intent for the year with big yardage games and Tom Brady seems destined for another strong season, but none of these are as big as the Colts potentially playing the whole season without Peyton Manning. This is the first time in 208 regular season and 227 games (including playoffs) that Manning has not started under center for the Colts. It has hit them hard.
The Colts season has started 0-2, with losses on the road to Houston Texans and at home to Cleveland Browns.

The offense has been incredibly stagnant and it barely resembles the offense that Manning has lead for the past 13 seasons. Currently in the 2011 season, the Colts offense ranks at a paltry 29th in total offense so far and also in the points per game category, they rank at a meager 29th as well. Would the Colts really rank this low with Manning as the quarterback after playing the Texans and the Browns? I highly doubt it. To put this into perspective in 2010, in what was seen as year where Manning under-performed the Colts were 4th in yards per game and ranked 4th in points per game. The common attitude towards Manning and the Colts offense among non-Colts fans is that it is the pieces in place and the weapons at #18's disposal that make him and the offense so potent and great which for me could not be further from the truth. Lets investigate that hypothesis. Starting off with Reggie Wayne, Wayne happens to be my favourite receiver currently in the NFL but even I can see his skills as a wide receiver are tailor-made for the Colts offense under Manning and it is highly debatable whether he would have the same impact in other team's attacks.  Is Dallas Clark really an all-pro tight end without Manning. He has not shown anything in the games without Manning to suggest he is. Can a running back like Joseph Addai carry the slack and improve the ground game when it is highly thought that his best skill is in fact pass-blocking for #18. Heck even for every superlative thrown at Marvin Harrison throughout his fantastic career, he did not have any 1000-yard seasons in the two he played before Manning was drafted. Was he elite before Manning showed up? Many anti-Manning fans suggest that the receivers run the routes and are always open to make his job easier but that is because Manning like a surgeon cuts through opposition defenses, analysing everything he sees in the practices in the week building up to the game and puts it together in the games.

Moving onto the offensive line, Jeff Saturday is really the only player of elite status at their respective positions. It is so hit and miss and the fact Manning has rarely been sacked throughout his career is often misleading to monitoring their performance and more to do with the fact Manning gets rid of the ball so quickly before he even has a chance to get sacked. With the offense not firing on all cylinders can the defense step up and become a top defense in the league? ABSOLUTELY NOT! The defense was built to play on leads, usually set up by the offense and use packages to set the likes of Freeney and Mathis free on quarterbacks to bring the pressure. I would never  expect this bend but don't break Colts D to win them games, it just does not have enough start talent on it to warrant such a suggestion. If the defense strugggles to help Manning then surely it cannot help Kerry Collins either.

Kerry Collins has stepped into the breach as the Colts quarterback and it is fair to say he has struggled immensely early on. He is a seasoned campaigner in the NFL and it is evident that even someone that has been in the league as long as him even struggles with the complexity of the Colts offense. It is almost impossible to ask a quarterback that has not had any experience in the system to come in and expect them to be able to make the adjustments and reads at scrimmage that Manning does with every play to put the Colts in the best position. To put in perspective his problems, Manning has fumbled the ball five times in two years and Collins under center for the Colts has done so four times in just two games. I do strongly believe he was the best option out there they could have got but it shows that Bill Polian should have probably brought in a good back up earlier from maybe the NFL draft that could sit behind Manning and learn from him and step in when Manning is not there with confidence to run the offense to at least a competitive level.

The Colts play Pittsburgh in week 3 and with a lose almost looking imminent, you start to wonder whether sitting Manning for the whole year is the right thing to do. The Colts will most likely write this season off at the halfway stage of the season if things are looking bad and if that is the case, there is no reason to rush Manning back and potentially ruin not just his career but his life after football. There is only one Peyton Manning and he is the Indianapolis Colts in a nutshell.