It was a question after he underwent four neck surgeries and missed all of the 2011 season. It was a question when the Colts cut him. It was a question during the ensuing rush to sign him, and when he landed in Denver. It was a question when the Broncos opened training camp. It was a question when preseason games started. And even now that we’ve seen him operate over a third of the season, it’s still a commonly-asked question now:
How’s Peyton Manning’s arm doing?
And it’s still a question because, according to some in the know, his arm strength is still well short of where it was pre-missed-season. CBS’ Mike Freeman asked a few people in the know, and kept hearing similar things:
One source on a team the Broncos recently played estimated Manning’s arm strength at 70-80 percent. Another source on a different team said 80 percent. Another source said 75.
So no matter whom you ask, it seems you’ll hear something similar. His deep ball is inconsistent. His passes flutter more often than they used to. What’s more, Freeman was told, is that not only is Peyton’s arm currently weaker than it used to be, but it seems to be staying that way. Just because it’s 75 percent or so now, don’t expect it to be back to 100 by the end of the year – for Peyton, what you’re seeing out there now is the new normal (not that this should be a shock, since Peyton’s more or less said that himself).
Fine, then. Peyton’s arm is weaker than it used to be. With that settled, allow us to raise another question:
Does it even matter?
Through five games as a Bronco, Manning’s completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,507 yards, 11 touchdowns, and three interceptions. Over a 16-game season, that works out to about 4,822 yards, 35 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. That yardage total would be the highest of his entire surefire Hall of Fame career. The touchdown total would be the second-highest. If he’s throwing the ball well enough to put up some of the best numbers of one of the NFL’s best-ever careers, what does it matter that he’s doing it with mostly shorter passes (Freeman noted only four of his 31 completions against the Patriots last weekend went for over 20 yards)?
What’s more, superior arm strength was never critical to Peyton’s dominance. Sure, it was strong enough to throw the deep ball every now and again, but it wasn’t a Favre- or Stafford-esque arm. Peyton (sorry, random mustachioed guy in Colts jersey) might have bragged about his laser rocket arm in that commercial that one time, but his game’s always been based on precision – in throws, reads, pre-snap adjustments – much more than slinging it all over the field.
Of course, the reduced arm strength affects that precision on longer throws. And how Peyton’s arm – really, his entire body – hold up over the entire season will be in question until the Broncos have played their last game. Maybe going forward, teams will be able to more effectively plan for Manning, knowing there’s less chance of him throwing deep than there might have once been. But we’re working with a pretty solid sample size now. Peyton’s thrown almost 200 passes. He’s taken hard hits. He’s well into the grind of the season. And he’s shredded three of the five defenses he’s faced. Oh, and those people who sounded unsure about his arm to Freeman? They also said this:
The same people who wonder about Manning’s arm strength also said Elway deserves executive of the year for signing him away from teams that tried after Manning went on his tour this summer
Peyton’s arm might not be what it used to, but aside from that, he looks like his usual self. He’s given us no reason to think that won’t be more than enough.
Getty photo, by Justin Edmonds