Five Takeaways From This NFL Weekend – Including One From a Peyton Manning Fan That Might Surprise You

This past weekend in the NFL featured some exciting, if not well-played games that won’t easily be forgotten.

Here are my five takes from the weekend that was in the NFL, including one about Peyton Manning and Tom Brady that you probably would not expect an avowed Manning fan and supporter to make.

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The biggest difference between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady crystallized in Jon’s mind this weekend. (Image credit: Dustin Bradford, Getty Images via USAToday.com)

The Fallacy of a Football “MVP”

Awarding an NFL MVP is inane, impossible, and completely disingenuous to a sport as varied and complex as football.

Depending on what part of the country you are from, you probably chose your MVP from a list that included Adrian Peterson, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and JJ Watt.

Of course, each of those players submitted fantastic seasons and all could make semi-legitimate arguments for winning the award. The problem is that football shouldn’t even have an award determining individual value – when no single player can ever affect more than 45% of a football game.

Peyton Manning supporters were quick to point out that Adrian Peterson had almost no effect on his team’s playoff loss in Green Bay – as if Minnesota had anywhere near the talent level against the Packers.

Besides the fact that the “MVP” is a regular season award and that playoff game shouldn’t affect the voting at all, AP haters are ignoring the fact that he still had over 100 yards from scrimmage while playing with a backup QB against a defense that’s sole goal was to stop him. Peterson’s biggest problem was that he doesn’t play defense, and while Aaron Rodgers was driving up and down the field all he could do was sit and watch.

The same thing happened to Aaron Rodgers this weekend as Colin Kaepernick ran wild in San Francisco. Rodgers may not have played up to his usual A+ standard – which we should have expected against the 49ers defense – but he could do little about the 42 points that his defense gave up to a rested, well-coached offensive unit.

No matter how many balls JJ Watt knocks down, he can’t make simple catches in the red zone for his team.

Peyton Manning supporters can easily rattle off a list of choke jobs that his teammates have submitted in the playoffs … and are probably sending that poor Broncos safety hate mail today.

Even Tom Brady fans will admit that if not for a helmet catch and ridiculous grab by Mario Manningham – two plays that occurred while Tom Brady watched helplessly from the sidelines – Brady is probably 5-0 in Super Bowls.

Football is just so much bigger than ONE GUY.

Coaching matters tremendously. Offense, defense, and special teams are all important in different ways, and no football player since Charles Woodson was a Wolverine ever plays more than 45% of a given game.

Feel free to hand out offensive, defensive, and special teams awards. Adrian Peterson submitted one of the five best individual seasons a running back has ever had and deserves to receive some credit for that.

But pretending like one player can be as important in football as other sports like basketball, where a player can literally affect the entire game (see James, LeBron), is outdated and insulting to the sport that so many Americans love.

Tweet of the Weekend

John Fox and Jack Del Rio on the same team?  I’m surprised the Broncos don’t punt on 3rd Down.  -Jerod Morris

The fact that John Fox isn’t receiving more blame for Saturday’s debacle of a game in Denver just shows how dumb the media can really be sometimes.

Fans of Carolina and Denver will be the first to tell you that Fox’s conservatism has long drove them crazy. Last season, Tim Tebow fans often wondered if Fox was actively trying to coach the Broncos into losses, just to show that Tebow couldn’t play QB.

Saturday was a disgrace – even for him.

Nobody could necessarily blame him in years past if his argument was that he didn’t trust Tim Tebow and Jake DelHomme to make certain throws. Maybe DelHomme’s famous six-turnover playoff gaffe rendered Fox to be perpetually scared.

But when Peyton Manning is your quarterback? You simply have to play for the win.

The game should have been over numerous times. But with less than two minutes left, the Broncos had the ball with a chance to ice the game. Baltimore had no timeouts, and Denver was facing a convertible third down. At that point, Manning was completing 70% of his passes – nearly all of which were short throws (we will get to this in a little while).

Is there any doubt that Bill Belichick would have gone for the win in that situation?

A first down wins the game. A punt still gives Baltimore a chance. In fact, Belichick may in fact have gone for it on 4th down as well, as he so famously did against Indy several years back.

Instead, Fox made the easy decision: run it into the line so I can blame my defense if Baltimore comes back.

Still, he had a chance to make up for it less than a minute later. The Broncos and Peyton Manning, one of the greatest two-minute drill QBs in history, had 31 seconds and two timeouts to gain about 45 yards in the thin Mile High air to win the game.

You all know what happened.

I would be more angry, but Fox’s hyper-conservatism was balanced out by Atlanta’s furious 30-second comeback at the end of regulation yesterday, setting up the game-winning field goal to end one of the greatest playoff games I’ve ever seen. I guess Fox’s fear gave us a net-win this weekend.

Have Limited Offensive Weapons? Get A Dual Threat QB

Quick, what do Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, and Colin Kaepernick all have in common?

Well, besides being young, super athletic, and exciting to watch?

All three of those players have below average (at best) skill players surrounding them.

Now of course, each player is blessed with a stellar running game, but you would be hard-pressed to call many of their WRs anything more than average to above-average NFL players. Vernon Davis is probably the best receiver that any of them have, and his 41 receptions this year weren’t exactly blowing anyone away.

And yet, fans of the Seahawks, Redskins, and 49ers have seen just as many open receivers this season as fans of Calvin Johnson, AJ Green, and the Falcons. Why? Because true dual threat QBs put so much pressure on the defense.

Last season, in the midst of all of the Tebow mania, analysts were hyperventilating one way or the other on the former Heisman winner. Football purists hated him and said he could never last in the NFL. Skip Bayless loved him – just to be different and to make us hate him (Skip) more (I am convinced of this).

Trent Dilfer was the one voice of reason among the bunch. Dilfer was quite slow at the beginning to admit that Tebow could succeed in the NFL, and he repeatedly said that the former Gator just wasn’t accurate enough to play QB in the pros. But late in the season, Dilfer made a great point:

Because of the amount of conflict that Tebow constantly put opposing defenses under, he simply didn’t have to make throws into as small of windows as other QBs. Last year, Broncos fans saw WRs that were much more open than they were this season with Peyton Manning carving up opposing DBs.

Of course, the problem with Tebow is that he’s probably TOO inaccurate even to make those easier throws, and I would argue that he isn’t really a true dual-threat QB. But Wilson, Griffin, and Kaepernick are, and they are proving to be very difficult to stop.

Analysts have long said that if you want to draft a running QB, then you have to commit to building your team entirely around him, risking the possibility that it might fail and then you are left with a team that can’t play in the pro game. I disagree.

The Redskins, Seahawks, and 49ers didn’t drastically alter their teams this year. On the contrary, they simply added in a few zone reads, sprinkled in some pistol sets, and threw a couple more screens. The result was that opposing defenses simply didn’t know who to stop.

Add to this the fact that most of the read plays are completely different, and defensive coordinators have to figure out how to completely alter their defense for just one game.

If you have Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, or Aaron Rodgers, your WRs don’t need to be open – those guys will consistently “throw them open.” But this point, I might actually argue that if you are lacking at WR, TE, and possibly RB, a team might be wise to consider a dual threat QB.

Dual threat QBs bring the added bonus that if the play breaks down, all hope is not lost.

Brady and Manning aficionados are well-acquainted with the famous “duck-sack”…the play where the line breaks down for their favorite QB and he practically falls into the fetal position in submission. Dual threat QBs can actually be a remedy for a poor offensive line and create something out of nothing on occasion.

Ironically, the Jets may have been the best example of a team with no skill players this season.  t’s a really good thing that they stuck by a guy completing 54% of his passes because the backup was allegedly too inaccurate.

Icing the Kicker is Idiotic

Can we all just finally agree on this?

Let’s move on.

In This Manning Fan’s Mind, #12 is Officially Greater than #18

In the cruelest of fates, Manning’s 9-11 playoff record came juxtaposed this weekend with Brady’s all-time NFL record 17th postseason win.

As a Colts/Manning fan, every fiber of my being wanted to begin The Argument again.

After all, if Mike Vanderjagt doesn’t miss game-winning field goals against Miami and Pittsburgh … if the San Diego punter doesn’t submit the greatest performance in punting history … if Manning’s idiot safety doesn’t misplay a pop fly worse than Nelson Cruz in the 2011 World Series … that record easily flips to 13-7 and maybe better. Add in Manning’s comparable lack of coaching and defense, and again, Manning is every bit as good, if not better.

Right?

Perhaps it was watching him with a new-found objectivity in a Broncos uniform, but two things happened in Saturday’s game that brought a wave of unwanted flashbacks (nightmares) to my memory.

First, and maybe less significant, was the docility with which Manning accepted John Fox’s curious end-game decision to play for overtime. As he kneelt on the football, the only thing that made me angrier than Fox’s incompetence was the submissive spirit that Manning accepted his fate with.

Maybe it’s dumb, and maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think Brady would have gone out that way.

I’m 99% sure that he would have punched his offensive coordinator, or at the very least ripped off his helmet in disgust to show the world his displeasure if he was forced into the same situation. (Cue Colts/Manning fans screaming, “See!!!! Once again, it’s a matter of coaching!  Belichick wouldn’t do that!  Brady is blessed!  Manning is cursed!  It’s not fair!  WAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!)

Maybe Colts fans are actually right on this one. But to me, it was a symptom of a bigger problem: Manning’s unwillingness to go for the throat himself.

In basketball, one of the most overrated stats is turnovers. A quick look at the league’s turnover leaders would have you believe that Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving are bad players. On the contrary, these are the guys that always have the ball in their hands, and are constantly trying to create things for their team.

In Rondo’s case, he’s the Celtics’ only creator and is forced to run his entire team’s offense from start to finish. If Rondo didn’t have a lot of turnovers, it would probably come about from him being lazy, too passive, or injured. Celtics fans, and basketball fans in general, understand that his turnovers are actually an indicator of good play.

Manning connected on one of two deep balls on Saturday. TWO. And he didn’t throw a single deep ball after halftime. Overall, he only completed three passes of more than fifteen yards. As a Colts fan, I started having awful Foxboro flashbacks where Manning would complete 6-yard passes on third and 8.

You see, if your QB never throws it deep, it makes things infinitely easier for the defense. On Saturday, Manning seemed scared. He didn’t want to mess things up. Joe Flacco, on the other hand, was more than willing to throw the ball up for grabs and give his WRs a chance.

Big plays change games. A 70-yard TD pass can render past incompletions meaningless and make your next series much more difficult to defend.

Not ironically, Manning’s two crippling interceptions came on short passes that wouldn’t have resulted in first downs anyway.

The reality was this: the Broncos benefited from two return TDs, an average Joe Flacco performance (he barely completed 50% of his passes), and had a much healthier team. The Broncos were hands down better than the Ravens, and had Manning made even one big play, the game would have been out of reach no matter how incompetent the Broncos’ safeties ended up being.

The problem wasn’t as much that Manning didn’t make a big play; it was that he never even attempted one.

Fast forward to last night when the Patriots were also the best team on the field. With a 31-13 lead in the 4th quarter, Tom Brady went for the jugular and threw a 33 yard TD to a backup RB. Overall, Brady completed six passes of more than 15 yards and threw five deep balls, three of which came in the second half when the game was seemingly out of reach already.

As I said before, MVPs in football are stupid. In the same vein, it is incredibly foolish to blame or credit wins and losses on simply one player. Brady is not better than Manning because of their respective playoff records. But this weekend, it all crystallized for me.

As great of a career as Manning has had, he’s always lacked that killer instinct – the quality that Brady just slammed home this weekend.

I’m giving it up.  Manning is still a legend.  Sitting at #2 isn’t bad.

But he’s no Brady.

I will now go read some more Bill Simmons and light myself on fire.



About Jon Washburn

Jon Washburn grew up in Indianapolis, IN and as such, is a diehard Pacers, Colts, and Cubs fans. When it comes to college, he cheers for Notre Dame football fan and Purdue basketball. Yes, this sounds shady, but since he grew up without cable, he learned to love Notre Dame - the only team on TV. Glenn "The Big Dog" Robinson was at Purdue when Jon was in his formative years, so he latched onto them as well. Did that make him a fair-weather fan at the time? Sure. Give him a break...he was 8...and he has stayed with those teams ever since. Currently, he lives in Charleston, SC with his wife who grew up in Cleveland. Although he is no longer physically in the Midwest, his heart will always be there. Jon goes by the name "Twitch" because he has Tourette's Syndrome. Hit him up on his twitter @jwtwitch.

Comments

  1. I agree with almost everything you say here Jon, especially the difference in apparent killer instincts between Brady and Manning. However, one question I have about Manning circa 2012 is that I’m not sure he CAN attack down the field, even if he wants to do. He made one pass in particular to Brandon Stokley, about a 10-yard out to the right side, that looked like a wounded duck without being tipped. Stokley had to frantically come back to make a diving catch. Are the nerves in Manning’s neck and arm even back to the point yet where he can do more than make the short throws? I didn’t watch him play much this year, so I don’t know. But it seems like that is the biggest difference between Brady and Manning today. Brady can still air it out. Manning is having to win by executing long drives picking up short chunks.

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