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Numbers Game: Broncos bring in Peyton Manning

Scott Cullen
3/19/2012 5:12:12 PM
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The Denver Broncos won the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, a move that will drastically alter the outlook for last season's playoff team.

Numbers Game addresses the addition of Manning and the possibility of Tim Tebow finding a new home.

The Broncos Get: QB Peyton Manning.

Manning, who will turn 36 Saturday, missed the entire 2011 season after four neck surgeries but, when he's healthy, he's one of the most prolific passing quarterbacks in football.

In 13 NFL seasons, Manning has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in 11 of those seasons, completing 64.9% of his passes over his career. In the last season that he played, 2010, Manning threw for a career-high 4,700 yards.

For the five-year span leading up to 2011, Manning was one of seven quarterbacks (Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Schaub were the others) to average more than 7.50 yards per passing attempt while starting at least 50 games. Manning ranked second, behind Brees, with an average of 270.5 yards passing per game in the five seasons from 2006 through 2010.

The assumption has to be that Manning is healthy now. He's worked out for teams and had medical reports reviewed and it's inconceivable that any team would line up to pay $90-million over five seasons if they weren't comfortable with his ability to play the position.

Thus, with Manning in the fold, what will that mean for the Broncos?

The first thing that Manning does is improve the offensive line, not by any ability to block, but by his quick reads and ability to get rid of the ball. According to www.pro-football-reference.com, Manning was the most effective quarterback when it came to sack percentage between 2006 and 2010, as he was sacked 75 times in 2877 passing attempts (or 2.6% of the time).

That's helpful because even though the Broncos could return all five starters on their line, the Broncos struggled in pass protection. While some of that is certainly attributable to Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton before him, the point is that Manning's decision-making alone will help the Broncos' pass blocking. Now, if the Broncos parlay a Manning signing into adding veteran Pro Bowl centre Jeff Saturday, well, that could make the line even better.

The Broncos' running game will serve as a fine complement to Manning, but there is no way that Denver will run as much as they did last season, when they modified the offence to fit Tebow's skill set. That means fewer carries for Willis McGahee, but last season's 249 carries and 1,199 yards were his most in a season since 2007.

Of course, the vast improvement will come in the Broncos' passing attack. Wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker become infinitely more valuable.

Thomas is a big receiver (6-foot-3, 229 pounds) who has the speed to get deep and should be in line for his first 1,000-yard season, provided he can stay healthy.

Decker is another 6-foot-3 target who was the Broncos' leading receiver with 44 catches for 612 yards, scoring eight touchdowns. Those reception and yardage numbers could conceivably double next season.

It should also be considered that Dallas Clark, Manning's longtime target at tight end in Indianapolis, is currently a free agent. As a familiar face/security blanket for Manning, Clark could have a few more productive seasons left in him.

The Broncos also had a good defence last season, but they operated on a very thin line, with little offensive support, so having an offence that can control the pace of the game and put up points should make Denver's defence even more effective. If history with the Colts is any indication, Broncos' pass rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil ought to thrive with a team that should have the lead more often.

And what of Tim Tebow?

For all the hoopla generated by Tebow resurrecting the Broncos' playoff hopes last season, he did it in such a manner that it is hard to believe it could be sustained long-term. While there is no denying Tebow's running ability (he rushed for 660 yards and six touchdowns last season), there is logically some skepticism that Tebow can be successful over the long haul without dramatically improving his accuracy.

Since 1990, there are 22 quarterbacks that have attempted at least 100 passes and completed fewer than 50.0%, like Tebow. The list contains first-round picks like Akili Smith, Heath Shuler and Ryan Leaf, none of would be considered a successful NFL quarterback.

Where Tebow holds an advantage on the competition in the low accuracy brigade is that he actually has a serviceable touchdown-to-interception ratio (17-9) in his career, making Tebow and Scott Zolak the only ones with more touchdowns than interceptions from that cast of 22.

By virtue of the names that are being linked to Tebow, it's not the most promising venture for a team to bank on him as their starting quarterback, yet it's not easy to fit Tebow in as the backup either. If the playbook is designed for a typical dropback passer, inserting Tebow can require a radical transformation and there aren't a lot of teams that are going to sign up for that.

Tebowmania created such a buzz last season that there may be teams that are interested in the potential marketing benefits of having Tebow on their roster, but it needs to be remembered that the reason Tebowmania took off is that his team won. If Tebow can't continue his winning ways in a new location, then the furor will die down rather quickly.

The Broncos, looking ahead for the next five seasons, decided that they would be better off paying the price to have a future Hall of Famer coming off a missed season than going ahead with Tebow as their starter. It says something about how NFL teams appreciate certainty and predictability and it says something more when Manning, who could barely throw a football a couple of months ago, is deemed the safe option.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.



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