There are two things missing from Peyton Manning’s game right now – a strong arm and the ability to run. The arm strength issue is something that came about only after his nearly career ending neck surgery in 2011. The ability to scramble has never been a skill that Manning possessed. Luckily for Peyton, you don’t need a hand cannon or sprinter speed to be a successful quarterback. This is especially true when you possess every other trait a quarterback needs.
Manning is the absolute best in the game at several things. Among them, accuracy, anticipation, coverage recognition, processing of information, reacting to information, the pre-snap phase, the post-snap phase, etc…There is really no debate in any of these areas. The proof is in the performance, not just during his record-setting season a year ago, but also throughout his entire career.
The only criticisms of Manning are not actually based on him. This is one way you know he’s the best. The most prevalent of these criticisms are that he can’t win the big one (even though he has); he can’t win in the playoffs (despite winning 11 career playoff games); or he can’t beat Tom Brady (even though he is 2-1 in the biggest game that the two quarterbacks can possibly play against each other). The first two of these are more team reflections than individual ones. The last criticism is a media-based measurement. Seriously, why are two quarterbacks’ head-to-head records even relevant? They’re never on the field at the same time!
There are plenty of other ridiculous media-talking-point criticisms, like the one about Manning being unable to perform in inclimate weather (even though he’s the only quarterback to win a Super Bowl in the rain – he was also the MVP of that game). You’ve probably heard plenty about Manning not being good in big games and moments (Even though he’s 3-1 in AFC Championships, is a Super Bowl MVP as mentioned above, has a 4th-quarter game winning 2-minute drive in the AFC Championship under his belt, and also has the biggest comeback win in AFC Championship history). It’s easy to tell that the detractors have been on a fishing expedition for Manning criticisms throughout most of his career. Because they can’t find anything of substance, they either focus on team shortcomings as if they were Manning’s, or unmeasurable factors (which really mean unchallengeable).
The other regular criticisms of Manning center around the fact that he has always been surrounded by great talent at the receiver positions. We’re not going to dispute this entirely. Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne were and are very talented receivers. Demaryius Thomas is also a physical specimen. Yet, if you’ve watched Manning on film throughout his career, you’ve probably seen that his receivers aren’t always wide open. You also probably haven’t seen Manning just throw the ball up blindly to his receivers in hopes that they’ll make a play. Instead, he regularly puts the ball in tight windows where there isn’t much or any separation between his receivers and defenders. There is a reason for every single pass he attempts, and this is what makes Manning so special. He is going to complete passes and score points whether he’s throwing to Marvin Harrison or Jacob Tamme. He’s been doing it for 16 seasons. That’s too long for it to simply be a function of the talent surrounding him.
No, Peyton Manning is not propped up by the receivers or players around him. Instead, he makes his teammates better through his own performance. Look no further than a year ago to find a perfect example of this. Aside from the record-setting numbers, Manning had his hands all over the offense. The Broncos gained yards on the ground because Manning called running plays at the line against advantageous defensive fronts. It certainly wasn’t because of the physicality (or lack thereof) of the offensive line, nor was it because of Knowshon Moreno’s talent.
Manning also used his quick release and decision-making to compensate for mediocre pass protection last season. The Broncos lost their starting center in the preseason as well as their star left tackle in Week 2. Yet Manning still managed to be the least-sacked quarterback in the NFL despite throwing the most passes. We can promise you that he didn’t luck out and just happen to have the best backup left tackle and center in the game waiting in the wings. He made his offensive line better. He made his running game better. He made his receivers better. This is why he’s the number-1 quarterback in the NFL.