Even the great quarterbacks of the game eventually find that they simply no longer have the ability to produce at or near their career average. That doesn’t mean they can’t play in the league, but eventually Father Time also wins that battle.
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will probably be able to play for a long time because of his brain, but he could be headed for one of the worst seasons of his career. Maybe for the first time, Manning isn’t passing the preseason eyeball test.
Age may have finally sapped Manning of the athletic ability to maintain his greatness at age 39. The Broncos may also be limiting Manning’s best trait. Considering the talent the Broncos have, these facts shouldn’t be too worrisome because it’s possible Manning has one of the worst seasons of his career and the Broncos still win a lot of games.
Just don’t ignore the fact that there were warning signs if the Broncos struggle. If the Broncos become overly reliant on Manning as they have over the past three years, it could lead to struggles later in the season and the playoffs. If they limit him too much, they may find that they are losing close games they’ve won in the past.
If the Broncos aren’t careful, the delicate balance they are trying to establish could lead to a few trips and falls. It’ll be up to head coach Gary Kubiak to find that balance early in the season, but there’s no manual for such an undertaking—only faith.
For all we know, Kubiak and general manager John Elway could be playing a dangerous game. Elway had his best season at age 38, so he thinks if the Broncos can do the same thing the team did for him then it will do the same for Manning at 39. Except they are completely different types of quarterbacks. Manning has never been a low volume passer, so the run-heavy approach that worked for Elway back in 1998 isn’t necessarily a miracle cure.
Manning’s career average is 566 attempts per season. Elway only surpassed 566 attempts once in his career—in 1985. Manning has been a far more efficient passer than Elway ever was and replacing those passes with more runs isn’t necessarily a smart move.
There are many possible outcomes and not all of them are a positive for the Broncos or Manning. Should Manning’s play decline, the Broncos may not be using the running game simply to keep Manning fresh, but to actually make up for his weaknesses. If Manning’s play doesn’t decline, they could be artificially limiting the offense.
Expectations are still high for the Broncos and a few preseason bumps aren’t going to change that. The Broncos are still a very good team with a quarterback that shouldn’t be bet against. The question is, how much will Manning be allowed to adjust to his decline and how much of that will fall upon his head coach and his teammates.