Another week, more speculation on “The State of Peyton Manning.”
Are the Broncos being foolish to install a new offense and not let Peyton Manning do what he does best? Is Manning too stubborn to realize that a more deliberate, all-weather offense would suit this team better in the playoffs? Have his skills diminished too much to be as effective as he was even in the early going of 2014? Or do his struggles have everything to do with trying to execute an offense for which he is poorly suited and with an offensive line around him that is ill prepared to handle the onslaught of current NFL defenses?
While I attempted to answer some of those questions last week, one larger question is being assumed in the ongoing discussions about Manning across the league and within the state of Colorado: Is Manning happy running Gary Kubiak’s offense?
To media everywhere, the resounding answer to this question has been “no.” To hear people talk, Manning is fighting Kubiak every step of the way and was only happy at the end of the game against Kansas City because he had finally convinced Kubiak that his shotgun-based attack was the one that would lead the Broncos to victory in the end.
Former Ravens head coach Brian Billick tweeted during that same game, criticizing Manning’s body language and commenting that it was not the “engaged” version of Manning that we are used to seeing on game days.
Since Manning’s body language has been the subject of scrutiny across Broncos Country as of late, it’s easy to take Billick at his word on such a claim. And Manning very well could be unhappy about his situation. After all, he’s 39 years old, being asked to play a new system for the first time in probably at least the last 10 seasons, and nothing about the new offense, from its physical toll to its under-center demands to its relative lack of freedom in calling plays from the line, particularly suit what he’s done so well throughout his career.
But even if we take Billick’s account at face value, it still remains one of the very few pieces of evidence that Peyton Manning is actually upset about what’s happening with the Denver Broncos’ offense. Sure, the guy doesn’t want to spend (one of) his final season(s) getting sacked 40-plus times, but when did we decide that Manning is just this rigid dictator who will pout and check out mentally the second a little bit of adversity strikes?
Why do we think that Manning – the guy who waited to declare he would return for the 2015 season and knew who the Broncos were bringing in as coach and knew what kind of system they planned to run and knew what the drill was going to be this season – is now upset two games in when it hasn’t gone perfectly?
In short, what hard evidence is there that Peyton Manning isn’t up for this challenge?
“… he likes them,” Kubiak said of Manning’s opportunities off play action earlier this week. “We’ve had a couple of opportunities. We’ll get him some more and get it worked out. Let’s face it, that’s not something that he’s been doing a lot of. We do work on it in practice, he enjoys doing it and I think that if we just stay with it, we’ll make some plays off of it.”
Manning’s own coach is claiming he’s enjoying the challenge of learning this offense. And why wouldn’t he? This is the guy who is famous for his preparation and dedication to the game of football. Why wouldn’t he enjoy the challenge of mastering a new offense?
Maybe I’m crazy, but that interview at the end of the game against the Chiefs and the subsequent postgame locker room speech seem to be the most genuinely happy that Manning has looked during his entire tenure in Denver. Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking, but I don’t believe that his visceral reaction was simply the relief of “getting his way” for a brief moment in an organizational power struggle.
No one is denying that Peyton Manning looks uncomfortable in Gary Kubiak’s offense. That much has been readily apparent in the first few games of the regular season. But just because a player isn’t comfortable in a system early on doesn’t mean that he automatically turns into an egregious malcontent bent on getting “his way” at all costs. In this case, we’re dealing with a consummate professional and one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever suit up. I should hope he’s above all that. Maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt.