Will Manning Be Back? – Robert Volpe

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Since Peyton Manning went down with a foot injury against the Chiefs 4 weeks ago, Brock Osweiler has stepped in and led the Broncos to three consecutive wins. Two of those wins were on the road and the third was against the undefeated and long time nemesis New England Patriots.

Manning is now well on his way to recovery. He may be ready to reclaim his position as the Bronco’s starting quarterback within the next two weeks.

Everyone, from fans, to ESPN analysts, to NFL Channel talking heads are asking the same question about Peyton’s return. “Should he?”

Peyton Manning is unquestionably a future first round Hall of Fame quarterback. He owns more records than most people know exist. Manning is a legend. A tough competitor to the core and, regardless of stats, probably the smartest in terms of knowledge of the game, to ever play the quarterback position.

The unfortunate reality is that time catches up with everyone. Manning is 39 years old, pushing 40. His body is succumbing to the invisible hand of time and the punishment of 18 years in the NFL.

According to an article by ESPN staff writer, Kevin Van Vaulkenburg, it takes Manning fifteen minutes with the help of an equipment staffer to get out of his uniform after a game.

Vaulkenburg wrote this after the first Kansas City Chiefs game in September, “He begins with his cleats, which he can barely untie without assistance. A Broncos equipment staffer helps peel them off his feet while he does a radio interview, because after nearly 25 years of football dating back to high school, it’s a relief to not have to bend over that far. Next come his shoulder pads, which, when yanked over his head, generate a groan that is a mixture of suffering and sweet relief. Manning’s pale arms and torso are covered in fresh scrapes and old bruises, some the color of strawberries, others a shade of eggplant.”

Enter the young gun. Brock Osweiler is in his fourth year as a pro and as a Bronco. He’s a 6’ 8” tall 25 years old kid from Montana. He hasn’t always sat patiently waiting for his turn to start. Last year when the Broncos had a comfortable lead against Oakland in the fourth quarter he threw his helmet in disgust because Peyton wouldn’t take himself out of the game.

The kid wants to play. He’s hungry and his teammates know it. His performance in his three starts thus far has been decent statistically, but his grit and calm demeanor in the face of adversity has won him the respect of everyone in the locker room. It’s not every bench warmer who can face an unbeaten New England Patriots team with the calmness he showed. He was cool hand Oz in that game and when it was put up or shut up time in OT, his confidence rubbed off on the whole offense and they got it done.

So here is the dilemma facing General Manager and Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway. Do you keep going with Brock or do you put Peyton back in charge when he gets healthy?

There are cases to be made for and against both options, but as I sit here I can’t seem to think of more than one in favor of Peyton. I think the choice would be clear.

On the plus side, Peyton has experience and can read a defense better than anyone, EVER. He is the consummate pro. That’s it.

1. Osweiler has proven he can manage Kubiak’s offense under center far better than Peyton has been able to. The run game is key to longevity in the Playoffs. The “pistol” formation, a hybrid shotgun that Kubiak and Manning came to a compromise on, has not worked at all with the run game.
2. While Brock has some issues to work out, like going through his progressions and getting rid of the ball quicker, he has a stronger arm and is moving the ball down the field with a good balance of run and pass. He ran two short yardage quarterback sneaks for first downs against the Chargers last Sunday. Peyton would never do that.
3. Peyton can not seem to execute Kubiak’s offense. Brock is doing everything that the coach asks him to do and it is successful.
4. Osweiler can take a hit. He’s been sacked hard a few times and has so far been able to shake it off. Manning would crumble under the weight.
5. Osweiler can extend plays using his legs. We all know all we need to about Peyton’s legs.

If there is a knock on Brock, it is that he needs to put more points on the scoreboard. He can do that with a little more experience and if the need arises. The Bronco defense is still number one in most categories. The Broncos can likely beat any team by scoring 21 points. The D will do the rest.

Perhaps the best reason to keep Osweiler is he is in his contract year. Elway has to make up his mind if he wants to keep Brock or start next year from scratch either with Trevor Siemian or go for a rookie in the draft. Peyton will not be back with the Broncos next year despite his insistence that he will be playing for someone in 2016.

Elway has a great deal of respect for Peyton Manning, and rightly so, but his decision will come down to what he thinks is best for the team now AND in the future. I know John was hoping to set up Manning to win a Super Bowl and walk off into the sunset a winner like he did. It’s a sad thing that not every story ends well, but in the words of Harry Callahan, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”