2010 may have proved to be Peyton Manning's most challenging season yet. The quarterback known for being a perfectionist and relying on route precision and timing was, thanks to a maelstrom of injuries, at times forced to rely on a receiving corps that featured undrafted rookies Brandon James and Blair White, reserve tight end Jacob Tamme, an inconsistent Pierre Garcon and an injured Reggie Wayne. Throw in an offensive line that only seemed to pass block in spurts and a largely nonexistent running game, and you can certainly understand why Robo-Manning's circuitry was a bit shorted.
Despite those obstacles, though, Manning did still earn a spot in the Pro Bowl and prove himself a legitimate MVP candidate for a healthy stretch of the season. He did still throw for the second-most yards in the league, tie for the second-most passing touchdowns and claim the 10th-best quarterback rating despite throwing 85 more passes than his nearest top-10 QB rating competitor (Matt Schaub, incidentally, who threw 365 passes to Manning's 450.) In terms of passes thrown, the only quarterback anywhere near Manning in that statistic was Drew Brees, who launched 448 passes and notched the 12th-best QB rating.
Manning was forced to go to the air often and despite troubling circumstances, and yet I think most would agree that he had a very good year. It could have been an all-time great year, though, and certainly the most efficient of Manning's career had it not been for a stretch of error-filled, frustrating games. We'll take a look at those, and how much they affected Manning's season, after the jump.
Prior to Week 9, the Colts were sitting at 5-2, having just earned revenge on the division rival Texans after enjoying a bye week. They seemed primed to roll down the remainder of the season and, at that point, early season losses to the Texans and Jaguars seemed more like anomalies, unusual sputters in the machine. I have no doubt that, after beating the Texans, most Colts fans felt confident about the team's chances of entering the postseason field and potentially vying for a conference title, if not another Super Bowl berth.
And then the Colts went to Philadelphia.
Prior to playing the Eagles, Manning had thrown 15 touchdowns against only 2 interceptions and tallied a total of 2,184 yards through the air. Unbelievable numbers. Incredible numbers. The kind of aerial efficiency Manning has been known for, sure, but never quite at that clip. Prior to playing the Eagles, Manning was a lock for MVP. Simply put, no one was going to catch up to those numbers, and no defense was going to stop Manning and his receivers from torching their secondary. As such, the Colts were assured to continue collecting wins operating with such dynamism.
And then the Colts went to Philadelphia.
Manning's five game skid, in which he threw only nine touchdowns to 13 interceptions, was absolutely brutal. And it was no coincidence that this skid came after losing Austin Collie to a concussion in the Eagles game, an injury few can be confident that Collie ever fully, completely recovered from. The most brutal span of that stretch, of course, were games against San Diego and Dallas -- home games nonetheless -- where Manning threw eight picks (four in each) and looked to have about as much of a chance of completing a pass to his own team at times as the Stampede Blue editorial staff has of being invited over to Bill Polian's house for dinner. If it could go wrong in that stretch, it did. Receivers ran wrong routes, defenders were allowed to throw receivers to the ground and collect interceptions without the consequence of penalties, the running game under Donald Brown and Javarris James (with Joseph Addai and Mike Hart injured) produced absolutely nothing, Jeff Linkenbach played so bad at guard he forced yet another personnel change along the offensive line and, let's be honest, Manning just made some horrendous decisions and threw some brutally-awful passes in this stretch.
In truth, once Manning lost Collie and Dallas Clark, his season really never looked the same. Sure, he had a remarkably effective outing at Tennessee without either, but ultimately the loss of both prevented Manning from perhaps enjoying the best season he's ever had in terms of efficiency. I'm not trying to be too easy on Manning here and say that all mistakes simply stemmed from losing these players, but then it's hardly a coincidence that his numbers plummeted when both left the lineup. Manning certainly made some regrettable throws this year that neither receiver would have been able to change, but ultimately I would say injuries to key offensive players derailed Manning's season much moreso than any ridiculous notions of being "over the hill" or his career showing signs of "slowing down."
I have a feeling Manning need not worry about the Colts taking Ryan Mallett in the 2011 NFL Draft and neglecting to re-sign the face of their franchise. He'll be around in 2011, and should Polian choose to actually make good on his promise to improve the offensive line for a change, there's no reason that, with the considerable talent built into this offense, Manning shouldn't enjoy one of the best years of his Hall-of-Fame career in 2011. If the Colts can improve even one of the tackle spots, I like Manning's chances of surveying the field and having a chance of launching deep passes even more, and he'll still be targeting a receiving corps featuring Wayne, Clark, Collie, Garcon and Anthony Gonzalez. Collie and Gonzo, of course, are big question marks, but if both can play and defy the odds to stay healthy, Manning will be spoiled for choices in 2011.