ProFootballFocus: Analysis Notebook: Week 2 (Manning vs Falcons)
Analysis Notebook: Week 2
by Sam Monson of ProFootballFocus
Quote:We now have two weeks of NFL action in the books, and once again Senior Analyst Sam Monson takes a look a little deeper inside with the Analysis Notebook.
There was plenty of impressive action this week, but it was too tough to look beyond the struggles of Peyton Manning on Monday Night Football.
Three picks in successive drives on almost identical throws in the first quarter was just too perfect to pass up, so this week’s Analysis Notebook will take you inside the throws Manning made, deciding what the biggest issue Manning had was and whether it spells bad news going forward.
Peyton Manning Interception No.1 @ Atlanta | 1st Q, 14:24
On 3rd-and-12 Manning threw a pick down the seam to FS William Moore, returned for 33 yards.
This was the first hint that all might not be right with Peyton Manning in this game. With the Broncos facing 3rd-and-12 Manning tried to hit his old Colts teammate, TE Jacob Tamme, down the seam to pick up the first down. The great debate with all of these interceptions will be ‘is it arm strength, or bad decisions?’, and in truth, I think it’s a little of both. His arm looked somewhat suspect to me all game long. Throws were dying on him, the perfect spiral was gone, and even some completions had to be dug off the ground by his receivers rather than hitting them in stride out in front. Our own resident throwing mechanics guru, Steve Palazzolo, noted that he didn’t seem to be getting his hips through on his throws, and that could account for the lack of zip. If I was guessing, I’d say his arm looked about 80-85% of what I was used to seeing from him before his injury.
Manning has said himself that there is still rust to be worked out, and I think that rust is both mental and physical, but this throw is the one that raises the most questions in my eyes about his arm strength, because I think he reads this correctly. On the broadcast Jon Gruden believed that Manning had been fooled by the Falcons disguising their coverage, but I’m not sure I buy that. Gruden showed from the All-22 camera that the Falcons were still mostly in close to the line of scrimmage before the snap, and Moore in particular was very close to the line before he bolted back into his zone in quarters (four deep coverage zones, dividing the field into quarters). He said Manning didn’t believe there would be anybody in that part of the field and that he just never saw Moore drop into the throwing lane–never expected him to get to that landmark. I think he’s off for a couple of reasons, and the best view is from this image taken from behind Manning’s eye view.
After the snap Manning tried to look off the safeties to his left a couple of times before he shuffled up into a clean pocket. By the time he decided to throw he had a clear look at the four deep zones he was throwing into. I think it’s very unlikely that at that point someone of his experience was still confused by what he was looking at. The second reason I’m not buying the mis-read explanation is his ball location on the throw. We’ve illustrated the area that he needed to hit with zip in order to complete the pass, but he actually tried to put the ball to Tamme’s outside shoulder, which caused him to turn around to try and make the grab. He did this specifically to keep the ball away from William Moore, but he just didn’t get enough on it. I think the old Peyton Manning would have had the zip and velocity on his throw to fit the ball into this window, but the guy playing on Monday Night didn’t, and hasn’t yet learned to adjust for the throws he can’t make right now.
Gruden’s booth mate Mike Tirico said it best live on the play by play when he said, “Manning…floats it…intercepted!”
On throws over the middle of the field that is all the explanation you need, floating the ball without velocity is trouble.
Peyton Manning Interception No.2 @ Atlanta | 1st Q, 11:56
On 2nd-and-11 Manning again tried to hit the seam route, this time to Brandon Stokley but was intercepted by Thomas DeCoud who returned it for 15 yards.
This time I’m buying the mis-read argument, as this was a throw that never really looked on regardless of arm strength. Before the snap the Falcons showed two deep safeties in the middle of the field, something they run a lot. The corners are eight yards off the line and could have been running a cover 2 or quarters look in Manning’s eyes. The Broncos were in shotgun but ran a play-action fake to the running back flanking Manning. William Moore came forward quickly on this, but then settled into a short zone underneath because the Falcons were actually running cover 3, where both corners took a deep third and FS Thomas DeCoud rolled over the top to take the deep middle.
Unfortunately, Manning read Moore’s aggressive step forward and thought he’d bitten on the play fake and was simply out of position for a throw to the seam in behind him. Moore actually did a pretty good job of affecting Stokley’s route down the seam from the slot and, given the air on the ball, he may have done enough to have caused the incompletion anyway, but that wasn’t Manning’s biggest problem on the play. He never accounted for DeCoud coming to the deep middle from his place on the far side of the field, and the safety was able to catch the ball in stride as he cut across the route and then headed off in the other direction.
I think if you watch this pass it’s clear it is also suffering from a lack of zip, and it’s possible it was never going to be caught anyway because of that, but this is only a pick because of Manning’s misread and the Falcons disguising their coverage.
Peyton Manning Interception No. 3 @ Atlanta | 1st Q, 7:09
On 1st-and-10 Manning went to the seam one more time, picked off this time by a bottom of the depth chart corner, Robert McClain who played just two snaps in the game.
This was a play that I think the Manning of old makes every time, but it is defeated by an excellent play from the LCB, who earned an interception in one of the two snaps he played in this game filling in for Asante Samuel who had left hurt. The Falcons were again going to play cover 3 on the back end, and with William Moore way down at the bottom of the screen before the snap, veteran slot receiver Brandon Stokley immediately recognized the space in behind the defense and signaled to Manning. The two former Colts were obviously on the same page because that’s the area that Manning tried to hit with the throw, but it just didn’t get there fast enough.
This was a throw that looks a little easier from film than it is on the field, but there was definitely space to complete this pass if it came in with enough velocity and with the right location. As it happened though the ball sailed a little and didn’t come in low and fast, which allowed LCB McClain to come off his outside receiver in his drop and break in toward the seam, where he beat Stokley to the football and picked Manning off for the third time in the first quarter of the game. It’s not an easy throw to make, but it’s one that Manning has made hundreds of times in his career, and one that the LCB shouldn’t have been able to affect.
It’s clear to me from watching not only these three throws but also the remainder of the game that Manning’s arm is not 100%, but his decision making process is also showing signs of rust from his long layoff. The question for Manning now becomes whether he will ever regain the remaining 15-20% of his arm strength, or whether he will have to adjust how he reads the game to take account of throws he can no longer make.
His arm may be well below what it used to be, but it is certainly not prohibitive in its current capacity if Manning learns his limitations and adjusts the throws he attempts to account for that, rather than still trying to make throws he was once able to but can’t fit in any longer. If his arm strength is destined to return to full power then we may see a few more rocky performances from Manning before it gets there, but once it does some of these passes that were sound reads but undermined by a fundamental lack of zip in his throws will no longer be a problem.