All the talk this week about Peyton Manning’s declining arm strength didn’t come as news to the Ravens. They were practically daring Manning to try to beat them deep on Sunday. And he couldn’t do it.
As noted by Mike Mayock on NFL Network, the vast majority of Manning’s passes in Sunday’s win over the Ravens were thrown less than 10 yards downfield. Manning only threw four passes more than 20 yards downfield, and all four were incomplete.
Mayock showed film of one play in particular on which Manning had a wide open receiver in the end zone but didn’t even try to throw it to him, as the Ravens seemed content to let the Broncos’ receivers go long on the theory that Manning wouldn’t be able to connect anyway.
“The safety’s gonna cheat, and I think the reason the safety cheats is because he doesn’t think Peyton is gonna make the throw,” Mayock said. “He’s wide open, and I don’t think the safety believes Peyton can make the throw.”
Ron Jaworski of ESPN offered a similar observation on Mike & Mike, saying Manning is likely to struggle tonight against the Chiefs.
“The velocity just isn’t there,” Jaworski said of Manning’s throws. “I’m going to watch this game very closely tonight because of the way Bob Sutton coaches defense in Kansas City — he is their defensive coordinator. He doesn’t play this soft zone defense where you can check it down and give you all those easy throws and rally to the football. He’s going to play press man to man, he’s going to play brackets, he’s not going to give you those easy throws. So Peyton Manning tonight is going to have to make those tough stick throws into tight coverage. He didn’t make those last week. In fact, he was baited on a trap defense for an interception. So clearly we have to look at the end of last season, Week One of this year, and say, ‘We’ve got to watch Peyton Manning very closely.’ It’s obvious to me we’re seeing a decline.”
If safeties keep letting the Broncos’ receivers get open deep, perhaps Manning can make them pay for it. But it’s also possible that Manning simply isn’t capable of making those throws anymore. In which case the Broncos are going to have to win with defense, the running game and a short passing attack. That’s not impossible, but it’s not the way Peyton Manning’s teams have won in the past.