WEST LONG BRANCH, NJ– Last season, Peyton Manning arguably had perhaps the greatest statistical season by a quarterback in the history of the NFL. After undergoing off-season neck surgery, many questioned whether Manning could survive the sixteen game grind. Not only did Manning play all 16 games, but he led the Broncos to a 13-3 record while setting an NFL record for touchdown passes at 55, points scored totaling at 606, and passing yards in a season at 5,477. However, a dream season for Manning and the Denver Broncos ended in an eerily similar fashion to the 2007 New England Patriots team, led by Tom Brady. Brady and the Pats were the previous record holders for touchdown passes and points scored in a season. Both Manning and Brady cruised through the playoffs before eventually coming up short in the Super Bowl. The reason behind Manning’s Super Bowl failure will not only resurface in 2014, but Manning is certainly due for a regression this season.
Let’s take a look at why Manning struggled in the Super Bowl. Similar to Brady, the perennial Hall of Fame quarterback faced a ton of pressure. Although he faced tremendous pressure to live up to expectations, it was defensive pressure that led to the Broncos demise. Heading into the Super Bowl, Manning had not been sacked and had only taken one hit. This came after a regular season in which he was sacked a league 18 times. These statistics lend to Manning’s ability to pick apart opposing defenses nearly all season until the showdown with Seattle. The Seahawks pressured Peyton throughout, leading to four Broncos turnovers. Two of these turnovers were interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. It was made clear that the pressure got to Peyton Manning, leading him to make uncharacteristic mistakes. Increased defensive pressure in 2014 provides a nice segue into why Manning will regress this season.
In 2013, Denver only faced two teams who were in top ten in sacks. In 2014, he will face seven. In fact, a case can be made that Manning will face nine of the top sack leaders due to the fact that Miami and Indianapolis, who are on Denver’s schedule, were both one sack away from cracking the top 10. This will inevitably lead to more sacks, hits, and quarterback pressures that should affect Peyton’s accuracy; and also put him at risk for injury.
According to ESPN analyst KC Joyner, Manning is in for a challenge. Joyner put together a defensive coverage schedule ranking system that measures how adept a team’s upcoming opponents are at stopping the pass. According to this system, Denver had the most favorable passing matchups in the NFL in 2013. After adding the NFC West teams to the Broncos’ schedule, Joyner said Denver will face the third toughest passing matchups in 2014. Joyner also pointed out that Manning attempted the most passes in the NFL, including penalties, last season. It would be wise to utilize the running game more often considering Denver will face tough pass rushing teams.
Adding to the Broncos’ list of problems, the Broncos lost Manning’s top slot-receiver Wes Welker to his third concussion in nine months. He has also recently been suspended four games by the NFL for using performance enhancing drugs. Welker caught a healthy 73 passes last season proving his value to Peyton who tends to get rid of the ball early. Welker’s precise route running and ability to get open in the middle of the field served as an asset all season. Now that he is out at least four weeks, or perhaps the season if he were to take another hit to the head, Manning will need to rely on less experienced options in Emmanuel Sanders and Andre Caldwell.
Overall, the Broncos will need to significantly improve their level of play if they expect Manning to replicate his numbers from last season. Increased pressure, health concerns, and strength of schedule are three areas the Broncos already have to deal with before they take on one of the tougher schedules in the NFL this season.