The Broncos are making a mistake starting Peyton Manning in Super Bowl 50.
Peyton Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. He has an impeccable resume which includes having the most passing yards, touchdowns, and QB wins in NFL history. He has only missed the playoffs twice in 18 years, while boasting three Super Bowl appearances and one Super Bowl title.
Now after wins over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, he has a chance to capture his second Super Bowl title. However, even though he is a legend, I don’t think Manning should be under center for the Broncos in this game.
Yes, I know, Peyton will start this game. Gary Kubiak will likely not even consider benching him because of the enormity of the risk that would accompany the decision, because the Broncos won their first two playoff games with Manning at the helm, and because benching Manning in possibly his final game would be a disservice to a legend. But, nonetheless, I want to argue that in an alternate universe where I am running the Broncos, starting Brock Osweiler gives my team a better chance to beat the Carolina Panthers.
People may have forgotten that during the regular season, Manning was arguably the worst starting quarterback in football. Take a look at his regular season stat line: 2249 yards passing, 59.8 CMP%, 9 TDs 17 INTS, and a 67.9 passer rating. Manning was ranked 28th in passing yards per game (225) behind quarterbacks such as Brian Hoyer and Blaine Gabbert. His passer rating ranked 34th in the league which placed him behind Colin Kaepernick and Nick Foles who were both benched for ineffectiveness this year.
Manning’s 17 interceptions were the second most thrown in the league behind only Blake Bortles who threw 18 interceptions in 606 attempts, 275 more attempts than Manning. Manning also ranked 36th out of 37 qualifying quarterbacks in Football Outsiders’ DVOA rating system, and Pro Football Focus ranked Manning 30th with a grade of 62 out of 100. If any other starter had these numbers not named Peyton Manning, there would be constant conversation this week about who the starter should be for the Broncos.
Backup quarterback Brock Osweiler was more productive and statistically better than Manning this season. Osweiler ranked 21st in passing yards per game (246) and 25th in passer rating (86.4). He threw 10 touchdowns on the season, one more than Manning and Osweiler did so in three fewer games. Meanwhile, PFF had Osweiler as their 21st ranked quarterback with a grade of 71.3 out of 100 and Football Outsiders also had him ranked 21st in DVOA. While these are not the stats of a great quarterback, they also are certainly not the stats of one of the worst quarterbacks in football.
Manning did play a little better in the playoff games against Pittsburgh and New England and managed not to throw any interceptions, while in the regular season he threw 17 in 10 games. However, not throwing any interceptions is the only way that he improved in the playoffs from the regular season. His passer rating went up from 67.9 to 81.7, but passer rating is a metric that’s very dependent on interceptions thrown.
Other than his passer rating, his completion percentage dropped from 59.7 to 55.1 even though he attempted more passes per game in the regular season than in the playoffs. His yards per game dropped from 225 to 199, and he only threw two touchdowns in the two games. Clearly, Denver has decided to play a much more conservative offensive game with Peyton Manning in an effort to avoid game-changing interceptions. This approach makes the offense less potent.
Against Pittsburgh, who was 30th in passing yards allowed during the regular season, Denver’s offense scored only 11 points when its drive did not start in Steelers’ territory. The Broncos were bailed out by their special teams and defensive units, which put them in Steelers territory to start drives on four separate instances. Of course, they ended up only getting four field goals out of it.
Manning and the offense fared a bit better against New England. Other than the second touchdown of the game, which was set up by Tom Brady‘s uncharacteristic interception deep in his own territory, the Broncos scored all 13 of their other points on legitimate drives.
In reality, during those two games, Denver posted dominant defensive performances and never trailed by more than four points. These performances allowed them to stay conservative and not open Manning up to making mistakes.
Because Carolina has done a great job jumping out to big leads all season long, especially in these last two playoff games, Denver could get blown out. With Carolina leading the league in takeaways (39) and Manning ranking second in the league in interceptions (17), the Panthers’ getting a seven-point lead at any point could spell doom for Denver. After pummeling Tom Brady two weeks ago, Denver’s defense will have a harder time against a Carolina offense that leads the league in points per game (31) and has a dominant running game with potential MVP Cam Newton at quarterback.
With all of that being said, Brock Osweiler should be the Broncos quarterback in this game. He would be just as capable as Manning at running a conservative offense. He would also be much more capable of leading a team back from a 10-or-more-point deficit, boasting a better ability to protect the football and throw the ball down the field effectively.
Although benching Manning for the Super Bowl is something that has a near-zero percent chance of happening, it will be talked about and second-guessed frequently on Monday if Denver loses handily.
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