September 14, 2006
You the Manning
by Ric Sweeney
Something struck me the other night watching the Manning Bowl, and no, I don’t mean the sharp object I jammed into my brain to spare me from having to endure another millisecond of the Manning onslaught. I was talking about a thought.
Do you realize that when all is said and done, Peyton Manning may very well be the greatest quarterback in the history of professional football? It sounds ridiculous, I know; but give it some time to sit with you, at least until it causes violent spasms and vomiting. It’s not exactly blowing the outer rim of reality, is it?
Consider that he already passes the Truck Test: meaning if he were hit by a truck tomorrow (perish the thought….. OK, back to the column), his cremated remains would undoubtedly still take a road trip to Canton five years from tomorrow. He already owns a few impressive single-season records (most touchdown passes; highest QB rating; most hackneyed audible calls at the line of scrimmage). Now mix in five more Manning-like years (not a completely unrealistic idea – he’s never missed a start in eight NFL seasons and isn’t exactly regressing, performance-wise); that would vault him into the top five of every major statistical category for a quarterback. Now add a Lombardi Trophy or two (his biggest hurdle, but not completely out of the question, either, given his team’s success), and…
Given those lofty standards, it would be ridiculous to use Manning as a measuring stick for any quarterback, let alone our own beleaguered, expansion-bred signal caller. And yet, I look at Manning and wonder why he wasn’t the measuring stick for David Carr. The Colts’ organization did (and have continued to do) so many things right by Peyton Manning that it’s no wonder I’m spending my morning writing about him possibly being the greatest quarterback ever.
Manning’s offensive coordinator his rookie year, Tom Moore, will be his offensive coordinator Sunday. His top wide receiver then is the same guy, too (Marvin Harrison). And his blind-side has been protected for nine consecutive years by not only left tackle Tarik Glenn but also offensive line coach Howard Mudd, who, like Moore, has held his current position since 1998. That’s stability, ladies and gentlemen, and if you don’t think it’s been a positive factor in Manning’s ascension, you’re crazier than Joe Cullen. But wait – it gets more… uhm, stabler.
Between the 2001 and 2005 seasons (the Tony Dungy era), Manning’s offensive coordinator (Moore), quarterbacks coach (Jim Caldwell), running back (Edgerrin James), top two receivers (Harrison and Reggie Wayne), left tackle (Glenn), center (Pro Bowler Jeff Saturday), and right tackle (Ryan Diem) never changed (give or take various injuries). That encompasses 80 of Manning’s 129 regular season starts. In 2003, they added tight end Dallas Clark and third wide receiver Brandon Stokley.
The only change you’ll notice this Sunday among that group is the absence of James, who fled to Arizona this winter. But rather than arrogantly assuming the best offense in football could just stick any ol’ Tom, Dick or Wali into their system, the Colts used a first round pick on running back Joseph Addai. Once he gets on the same page as the rest of his teammates (they have, after all, been playing together since 2003), he’ll be the fourth 1st round pick the team has added to its offensive starters since Manning arrived. That’s right – the hands down best offense in football the past seven years (they’ve finished among the top 4 in total offense every year since 1999 except 2002) has used four of their last seven 1st round picks on offense.
Which is not to take anything away from Manning. You could’ve dropped Ryan Leaf into the middle of the 1978 Steelers and it wouldn’t have made a hill of difference for him. Manning’s a great quarterback, period, and would have excelled with virtually any team. But what the Colts did was commit to their great quarterback. He inherited a solid foundation (Harrison, Glenn and Marshall Faulk were all teammates his rookie year). Since then, the organization has continued to build around Manning, creating stability (nearly the same cast of characters for five consecutive seasons both on the field and the sidelines) while also aggressively continuing to acquire top-flight weapons for him. As such, is it really any wonder we’re on the precipice of anointing Manning the greatest quarterback ever?
What’s interesting is that Manning’s heir apparent, Carson Palmer, went to an organization doing the exact same thing, and wouldn’t you know it – generating similar success. In place when Palmer was selected in 2003 were six players who’ve been to a combined 11 Pro Bowls: WRs Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, RBs Corey Dillon (since traded) and Rudi Johnson, and tackles Willie Anderson and Levi Jones. Plus, like Manning, he’s only had one offensive coordinator (Bob Bratkowski) and one offensive line coach (Paul Alexander) in his career. And we should be surprised that Palmer was one of only two quarterbacks last year with a rating of 100+? (Care to guess who the other one was?)
No, not surprised – angry. We could argue until the Texan logos come home about Carr’s physical and mental abilities, but you look at the foundation the Texans have provided Carr in his first four-plus years, especially relative to Manning and Palmer, and it makes you wonder how a team could screw a player over any more. They’ve taken one offensive player among their last five first round picks and have stuck him with three different offensive coordinators; four different opening day left tackles; and a bunch of ladders. Then, you consider that the team’s best RB was James Allen; its best WR was Corey Bradford and its starting LT had two years of college experience… at guard when Carr was a rookie and you go, "Oh yeah – that’s how."
For all the talk of new coach Gary Kubiak installing the "Bronco" way, he could do himself, his quarterback, and his franchise a favor by taking a moment to consider the "Colt" way this weekend.
Ric Sweeney will now inject AIDS into system as punishment for spending the last four hours writing a piece that glorifies Peyton Manning.
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