Editor’s Note: I started to work on this before the Broncos made their announcement. Still does not change how I feel about the situation.
Peyton Manning or Brock Oswieler? This seems like a very simple question. It does not have a clear answer though. Over the past two months, the Denver Broncos accidentally created one of the biggest quarterback controversies we have seen in the quite some time in the NFL.
Flashback to November 15, when Manning lead the Broncos against the rival Chiefs at home. Manning broke Brett Farve’s record for most career passing yards early in the game, but as the afternoon wore on, it became clear that he no longer looked like a future Hall of Famer. He looked a lot like Tim Tebow, if Tebow couldn’t run. Manning completed just 5 of his 20 passes and threw four of them to the wrong team. Peyton’s 17 interceptions are the second most by any quarterback this season, even though he only played 10 games. In the second half, Manning found himself on the bench and Denver gave Brock Osweiler his chance.
The Broncos drafted Osweiler in the second round of the 2012 draft; the same one that produced Luck, RG3, Wilson and Cousins. Osweiler had waited a long three and a half years to get his shot at the starting gig. He made the most of it. He didn’t have the greatest second half against Kansas City, but the 25-year old showed poise as he helped Denver win four of their next six games. It seemed like Osweiler had the Broncos headed in the right direction. No one was looking to have Manning step back into the picture. It seemed like it was Osweiler’s team going forward.
Then Osweiler fell apart against San Diego. He had three turnovers in the first half. That led to Gary Kubiak pulling Osweiler in favor of Manning. The 39-year old played decently well in his first game action since November, but not enough to put the conversation to bed.
Now, Denver faces a very difficult situation. Do you play the young quarterback who carried you to the playoffs or do you return to the legendary five time MVP? It is not an easy question to answer.
Osweiler seemed to play well over his six starts before his benching. Manning struggled all season. However, Manning had a serious foot injury that he spent the last six weeks recovering from. Rumor is that he is completely healthy now.
Comparing their stats side by side makes it seem like Osweiler is the better option. On the season Peyton has 225 yards per game, 9 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in ten games played, with a completion percentage of just 59.8. Brock has 245.8 yards per game, 10 touchdowns and 6 interceptions in eight games played, with a completion percentage of 61.8. That is pretty easy to see on paper; Osweiler has outplayed Manning this season.
However, you have to take into account that Osweiler has never played in a playoff game before. Manning has played more than a full regular season worth of playoff games during his long career. Having playoff experience is priceless. The atmosphere is different. That is something Peyton is used to and Brock is not.
That being said, Manning’s career playoff record is far from stellar. He is 11-13 lifetime in the postseason. Those 11 wins are invaluable, especially when compared to Osweiler’s zero, but a losing playoff record does not inspire confidence.
While he is not in his best form heading into the playoffs, I think the Broncos should go with Osweiler at quarterback. I love Peyton. I love watching him play. I would love for him to get a second ring and retire on top like his current team president John Elway did all those years ago in a Broncos uniform himself. I also don’t see Manning returning to his pre-2015 form. All season he has struggled. For more than a year now, people have placed the cause of his declining play on injuries. Those injuries have been to his thigh and foot, never to his arm. He no longer has the same arm strength he once did. He constantly under throws receivers and often puts the target of the pass in a tough spot when he tries to compensate for the lack of arm strength.
I think Denver is trying too much to have a storybook narrative here. Yes, Peyton was one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever touch a football. That’s a general fact. It is also a fact that his prime is behind him and by delaying his assent to the throne, the Broncos are holding Osweiler back from entering his prime. Osweiler has shown he has all of the tools to be a great NFL quarterback and more playing time is the only way he is going to develop. He has already spent three plus years on the bench. There is not a whole lot more he can learn as a backup.
Denver has not had a strong running game for much of this season either and the offensive line has allowed for a ton of pressure to reach the quarterback over the course of the season. Peyton will not hold up under the constant siege. Osweiler, being 14 years younger and much more mobile, is better suited to run the Bronco offense right now.
The Broncos playing Manning should not discount their chances of winning the Super Bowl though. This is still the league’s best defense and Manning can make enough plays for Denver to win, especially when throwing to Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. However, I think Osweiler gives them a much better chance to win, and less of the pressure then falls on the defense to be great.
Kubiak will start with Manning. If he struggles though, it will be interesting to see how long it takes before the Denver crowd forces him to change to the heir apparent.