Peyton Manning Measures Up In Broncos Debut

There was an unfamiliar air of uncertainty surrounding Peyton Manning's debut as a Denver Bronco on Sunday night. From 1999 through 2010, Manning defined the quarterback position, throwing for over 50,000 yards with an adjusted net yards per passing attempt (per Pro-Football-Reference) of 7.24. Only Philip Rivers's 7.26 mark bests Manning, and Rivers did it in 112 fewer starts and with a higher percentage of his play coming in the recent League of the Quarterback.

For the first time since Manning opened 2010 with the Colts, we really just didn't know what to expect. Sure, "he's Peyton Manning," but multiple neck surgeries have the potential to derail any sports career, uch less one as fragile as NFL quarterback. There was talk he had become a reverse Zoolander -- instead of losing his ability to turn left, rumors mounted that Manning had lost the ability to throw to his right.

In that case, Sunday night's performance against the Steelers was Manning's Magnum.

Manning completed 19 of his 26 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns. His performance was the driving force behind the Broncos' victory -- each of his touchdowns gave the Broncos a lead, once in the third quarter and once in the fourth. Overall, Manning ended up with a 0.80 WPA, a 16.4 EPA and an 8.6 AYPA -- first, fourth and fifth respectively among quarterbacks in the opening week.

Manning produced a multitude of incredible performances throughout his career, and Sunday night's measures up well against his body of work from Indianapolis:

Orange denotes Sunday's game; each blue mark denotes a game with the Colts dating back to 2000; black denotes average. Includes games with at least 20 passing attempts.

Manning was above his own lofty career average in every notable passing statistic outside of raw passing yardage; out of 188 total games, Sunday's ranked fifth in WPA, fourth in success rate, 40th in AYPA, 31st in EPA/P, 44th in EPA and 53rd in completion percentage -- at least in the top 28% of Manning's best games (note: Advanced NFL Stats's numbers don't go back far enough to include Manning's first two seasons).

Even though Manning was the driving force behind the Broncos' offense, there wasn't undue pressure on the 36-year-old. The Broncos ran the ball 27 times against 26 passing attempts, a pittance for Manning's Colts:

Only 20 times since 2000 has Manning been given a lighter load as a quarterback. Given Manning's age and physical condition, this could be a new norm for Manning. If so, don't be surprised if he's able to carve up defenses much like he did Sunday night with the pressure of handling the entire offensive burden off his shoulders (and neck).

And for good measure, this performance even comes against an ostensibly good defense. Pittsburgh ranked sixth in EPA/P against the pass last year and fourth two years ago. Of course, things change and players age, but the Steelers have been one of the league's constants in this area and it will take more than one bad week before we declare them dead.

The question of whether or not Peyton Manning can hold up to a full NFL season after the trials surrounding the past year remains. But at least the Broncos can be confident that as long as Manning stays on the field, he should be the productive force they brought him in to be.

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2 Responses to “Peyton Manning Measures Up In Broncos Debut”

  1. Chase Stuart says:

    These charts were HOT. I'm a fan.

    I suspect Manning's attempts will rise and resemble his Indianapolis days, though, and would avoid reading too much into the numbers from the Denver game.

    IIRC, the Broncos only had 7 drives, an incredibly low number. They will average at least 10 drives per game, and perhaps as many as 12.

    Additionally, it seemed like there was a transition from John Fox running the offense to Peyton Manning running the offense. The less Fox touches the offense -- which is what I expect the rest of the year -- the more passes for Manning.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Chase, its interesting to look at your comment at the end of the season. Manning threw for 583 attempts this season - the third most in his career. The only game I saw him play was against the Pats and neither he nor the Broncos in general looked very good. On the other hand, its arguably his third best season ever and he put up numbers that put him in contention for the MVP. Also, he put up a surprisingly large amount of WPA despite the fact that Denver has a stellar defense.


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