Friday, November 19, 2010

Questions and Answers about the Peyton Manning article

I have received a lot of feedback on the Peyton Manning article What Peyton Manning is doing (and how to beat him).  Some of this feedback indicated I was an idiot.  Some said I was a genius.  Some had questions, and some said I had it all wrong.  

One guy in Illinois actually went through the trouble of finding my phone number so he could personally leave me a message telling me that it was the best article he had ever read.  

I don't actually encourage people to do things like that, but to save you the trouble of searching the Internet, you can contact me at (508) 543-8200.

Anyway, I wanted to do an article on the feedback and questions themselves.  A few questions were posted under the article, but I sort of screwed up at first and it was not easy to leave comments for the first few days it was up.  Many hundreds of comments were posted at the various site that linked to mine, in some cases I conversed with readers there.

So, without further ado I am posting some of that back and forth below:

Q: vg22inc said...
I understand that teams try to reveal as little as possible to just win that weeks games so they could have something to save for the playoffs, but could you give an example of a common difference between a belichick 'regular season' scheme versus a 'playoff' scheme? 

I remember in the 2003 AFC Championship game, that belichick had safties playing corner and corners playing safety effectively confusing the heck outta Manning. Was that all it was?

And two does plays such as the infamous 4th and 2 attempted by the Pats last season a confirmation that Belichick has been figured out by Mannig and he really has nothing else to throw at him to stop him consistently?

A: Sure.  Now bear in mind that this may no longer apply, I don't think that Belichick represents any real problems for Manning anymore, for whatever reason.

We are really talking about the 2003 and the 2004 seasons.  Back then what would happen is that during the regular season game the Patriots would have a good plan against the Colts.

Usually they would double Harrison and whoever else Manning had been using a lot that year (Wayne or Clark).  They would mix things up.  Did not work magic or anything, the Colts scored fairly well.  The Colts averaged 29 points in the two regular season losses against the Pats.

What changed in the playoffs was that the Patriots played in such a way that it disrupted the scheme the Colts run.  

They basically decontructed how the Colts ran certain routes and they were able to either bump the receiver at a critical point in the route that would disrupt the timing or cause Manning to adjust his vision with pressure at certain points in a given play.  

They also reverse-engineered Manning audible process.  Basically they figured out what looks would cause him to audible and also what spefic plays he would audible into given a specific look.

This is similar to what the blitzing teams did to deconstruct and circumvent the Colts offensive line scheme.

During the playoff game, they would show a certain look and then know what play Manning was switching to, within a certain degree of accuracy.

Basically they took Manning's machine-like reactions and used it against him.

Belichick is like Manning in this way, the more you are trying to do on offense, the more you show him how to defeat you.  

The process of the Patriots figuring out Manning in this way probably was a year long process.  I can guarantee you that each week they have people analyzing film from every game a potential playoff opponent is playing and cataloging this information.  I doubt anyone else does this.

I may be that most of the staff don't even have access to this information, in case they leave for another job.  There is a guy in their organization named Ernie Adams and I think he is the savant that works out a lot of this stuff.

As for the 4th and two play call in 2009 - it was absolutely caused by Belichick being unnerved by how easily Manning was slicing up his defense.  He made a good gamble but he lost.

The play was a bit predictable - I can guarantee you that the Colts were keying on Faulk.

Q: mionendy said . . .
I enjoyed the analysis, so let me ask you, considering you feel he is perhaps the greatest QB ever to play the game, why does he generally have less playoff success than other greats, or even Tom Brady (or lol Roth-burger)? Those Colts teams have all been quite good so it's not like he's been on bad teams. How does say a Montana (who I and many others consider the best of all time) compare? Or an Aikman? Or a Favre? Elway?

A: All the QBs you mentioned had great defenses to smooth out the occasional bad game. The one year that the Colts defense stepped up for the playoffs, they won a SB.

ALL of the QBs you mentioned played before the salary cap. It was a lot easier to build a truly great team then. Nowadays the best teams bleed players every year.

I believe that Brady and Montana are system QBs. Both would be good in a different offensive system, but not all time greats.

A lot of who is great is about luck. Most people do not know who Dan Pastorini is because he was unlucky enough to be in the same division with the 4 ring steelers. Greg Cook might have been an all time great under Walsh with the Bengals, but he destroyed his shoulder after his rookie year.

I think you could switch out Marino for Jeff George and maybe George (starting out in the NFL as a 2nd stringer with a strong team and coach) could have put up those kind of numbers. 

If Trent Green had not gotten drafted by the Chargers and was able to play enough as a young player to earn some PT - he might be heading to the HoF right now. He got a really late start.

Q: iusuallypostwhileipo . . .
Correct me if I'm wrong but for years Manning had the reputation of choking in big games whereas Montana built his reputation winning the big ones.
Montana was a winner, again and again and again and again. 4 Superbowl wins and many post-season records that still stand to this day. Look at Peytons' post-season stats. Montanas success cannot be attributed to anything other than his desire to win, his leadership, and his amazing talent. He had ice in his veins and he single handedly won many, many games on his road to greatness.

A: Manning does have a reputation in some circles as choking in some big games. But those circles do not include the coaches who scheme against him. Fans are too easily manipulated by a media that always has to attach an easy handle to explain things.

It is the Colts archaic scheme which is at fault.  

Anything I said about Montana was speaking to his physical talent only. There is no need for you to go through his resume for me. The guy was a winner at every level he played at and was nothing short of amazing in those Super Bowls.

I just don't think he would have been as successful in the time he was drafted with anyone else but Walsh. This is because of his lack of raw arm strength.

Montana lasted until the third round before the 49ers snapped him up. That means 27 other teams passed on him twice or more.

And we don't know where he would have been drafted had the 49ers not got him when they did.

Scouts at the time had no issue with him whatsoever, excepting his arm strength.  It is easy to forget ones own perceptions from long ago, but I have never had that problem.

Check out this article from 1999, it pretty much says everything that needs said:
The Ultimate Winner

Quote: Montana has reflected on that many times himself. "There's no coach I could have played for who would have been better for my career," he says. "Absolutely none."

Quote: "What if a Tampa Bay or a New Orleans would have taken him?" says Chuck Abramski, who was Montana's coach at Ringgold High in Monongahela, Pa. "What if, instead of having Bill Walsh to work with all those years in San Francisco, he had been in a system where he had to drop back seven steps and throw 50 yards downfield?"

Q: eyeseeyoo . . .
Legit question here. How did Tracy Porter read him so easily on his pick-6 in the Super Bowl? If Manning's doing all this analysis in his head and making all these adjustments, how did Porter manage to spot the play, jump the route, and haul it in?

A: Lots of people spot that route - several times a game at least. 99% of the time Manning does not still try to jam it in there. Wayne stopped on the route because he assumed Manning saw that he wasn't open.

Q: re45623 . . .
It's interesting that you discount the quality of QBs who excelled in a certain system. I'm not sure why this makes them 'less than' Peyton Manning. I agree that Manning is great and that what he does at the line is incredible... but where I disconnect is your assertion that what he does in terms of playcalling and recognition of defenses qualifies him as a better QB. Aaron Rodgers was a system QB at Cal (every Tedford QB is labeled that way) and is a system QB now in GB... but he executed the $hit out of that system at Cal and executes the 4ell out of the system in Green Bay. I suppose what I'm asking is how you can translate sophistication at the line of scrimmage into a quantifiable factor of a QBs greatness relative to another's ability to win under a specific system. Personally I'd rather have 4 SB wins and a QB who executes someone else's system than a guy who got the Rex Grossman led Bears the one time he made the Super Bowl (sorry I had to point that out).

A: I don't think Aaron Rodgers is a system QB at ALL. He is a dominating force. He reminds me of a mobile Drew Bledsoe without the horrible leadership skills and lack of toughness.
He is going to be really good for a long time and could do so in any NFL system.
Grossman is a system QB that has never played in the system he needs to. He is a west coast offense QB. Sanchez is in the same boat. He will never be what he should be in Schottenheimer's offense.
To me, McNabb has been screwed by getting drafted by a west coast team and now going to another one. He is not a fit for that offense at all. In say Scott Linehan's offense he would be a LOT better.

Q: re45623 . . .
So you're agreeing with me that just because a player executes a system particularly well doesn't make him a lesser QB than Manning? 

A: Mostly. By any standard, Montana had a better career than Manning has to this point.
The point of my article was not so much that Manning is the best QB ever; but that what he is doing is so unique and difficult that he is the only one who can do it.
The fact that my Colts run such a system is distressing to me in the extreme. If I was in charge the first thing I would do is fire the entire coaching staff and then bring in a very powerful head coach and a offensive coordinator with an establish system.
Then I would tell Manning that he has to run the system by the book for a year before he is allowed to start free-lancing.
I fear Manning will never get another SB win because of how they do things there. But they will always be good.

Q: re45623 . . .
Wow that is not the answer I was expecting. As a Skins fan I'd kill for the offensive system and QB you've been blessed with for the last decade+. I'm interested in what type of system you'd prefer? You mentioned Scott Linehan but I can't imagine he would be choice #1. Personally I think the only thing between the Colts and more SBs is a legitimately good D (your run D has been a joke for as long as I can remember). 

A: With Manning and the receivers we have, I'd probably want Norv Turner as coordinator. The ENTIRE offensive line would have to go.
I'd want a power running game in the NY Giants mode. I'd want 55-45 run pass mix - with most of the passes being play-action medium to deep.
You don't see Manning hitting long passes like he used to - this is because they don't scare anyone running the ball. Most of that is the line. They can only seem to block for the run when it is a surprise to the defense.  The Colts may have the worst OL in football but no one can tell because Manning always puts them in the best position to succeed.

Q: yourgiftsfree . . .
It says not to blitz because its "DEATH", Eagles blitz, Eagles win.

A: The Eagles had a great gameplan: Hope that when the Colts show up that all of their recievers are injured. Hope they have practice squad rookies and free agents who were not with the team the week before playing against your starters when the game is on the line.
The Eagles barely scrapped out a win at HOME against a team that has arguably had the most devastating run of injuries in the history of Pro Football.
The Colts were missing the following players for all or most of the game, all of whom have started at least one game this year:
Joesph Addai Dallas Clark Anthony Gonzalez Mike Hart Brody Eldridge Austin Colle Mike Pollock
That was just the offense.
Defense: Bob Sanders Clint Session Jerraud Powers Gary Brackett Antonio Johnson Melvin Bullitt

Still feel like the Eagles "beat" Manning? They should be embarrassed that they did not dominate.

Q: psychometry . . .
Too bad it's hard to know whether the blogger is full of shit. There is almost no evidence presented for any of his claims and his bias is obvious.

A: Actually it is really easy. Don't fully believe anything you read unless you can at least partially check it out yourself.
The next Colts game you see on TV, watch what is going on and see if you think it matches what I wrote.
Oh, and turn off the sound too. The oral flatulence coming from the highly paid media guide reciters is distracting at best.

Q: fargosucks . . .
The difference between what Manning is doing and what Unitas, et al, were doing by "drawing up plays in the dirt" is pretty slim. Instead of drawing up routes for his receivers in the dirt, Manning is checking the defense, then telling them what to run as a response to the defense.
My point (which was poorly articulated) is that what Peyton is doing is an evolution of what those old QBs were doing. A highly intricate evolution, to be sure.

A: Your point has merits; it could be said that what Manning does is an evolution of what Unitas regularly did.
Consider these points though:
  • All QBs with the exception of Otto Graham called their own plays back then. Unitas just did it better than the rest of them.
  • Manning calling his own plays full time makes him the only QB to do that since 1980 or so. Why is this? Because offenses and defenses have become so complex that until Manning came along it was considered impossible for a single man in the heat of the action to make better informed decisions than a brain-trust of coaches on the field and in the press box.
Note that I did not say it would have been considered difficult. It would have been considered impossible.
It is very important to note that despite Manning doing this full-time and having astounding success - that no other NFL team has applied this themselves. This is because they cannot. That means Bress, Brady, whoever.
What you are seeing in the field is not just a smarter version of Unitas. You are seeing someone with the towering intellect of a Bill Walsh or Bill Belichick as well as their incredible work-ethic - in the body of a professional athlete.
Add to this that he is not some kind of nose-in-a-book nerd; he is a leader of men.
There is a reason that no one else is doing this. Because they can't.
Manning's combination of incredibly rare talents even go beyond the overused phrase "once in a generation".
I doubt his like will be seen again in my lifetime. I feel he is a "once in a history of the league talent".
BTW, I am a huge Unitas fan. I was very sad when he died. I had a correspondence with one of his former teammates, Bill Curry. I asked that he be part of an effort to mend the wounds between the former Baltimore Colts greats and the current organization in Indy.
I want those men recognized again before their time is up.

Q: Dorien-G . . .
I did like what the author wrote about coach Belichick and how the author broke down what Manning does pre-snap and during the play.

A: Thanks. Belichick is the genius coach of our generation - taking over for Bill Walsh. Maybe if they had just left him alone in Cleveland he would have done the same things there.
If Manning had him for a coach, they would have six superbowl rings before the NFL broke up the team to say the league.

Thats all for now.  I always appreciate feedback.


  1. I'm curious to hear what the author has to say about Caldwell and what his role is on the team. It's a strange phenomenon, but one I've noticed since his first year as HC, that the media do not speak of him. At all, ever. Instead, Manning is talked about as if he were the QB and the coach and the OC; fair enough since he is, effectively. So, in your estimation, is Caldwell just a figurehead? Why not bring in someone with an ounce of defensive coaching (Caldwell was a DB back in the day, but I don't think that qualifies given his O-heavy leanings since picking up a clipboard) pedigree to help the team with their one Death-Star-sized flaw?

  2. Caldwell is firmly control of the team. He role with the team was as the QB coach - so you have to figure that they are on the same page.

    As for the media not talking to him - first of all he makes Belichick look verbose. He gives you nothing at all. So, unless you are watching the press conferences uncut, you are not going to see him make the Colts sound byte on ESPN.

  3. Odd strategy. I don't see how elevating your QB coach avails the Colts of anything measurably beneficial. There was nothing wrong with their QB or their offense in general, yet the D has gotten progressively worse since Dungy left (10th in DVOA in 2008, 15th in 2009, on-pace for 12th this year).

  4. You might misunderstand how they pick head coaches. It is about picking the best leader for your team. Caldwell was probably brought in originally to be groomed as Dungy's replacement.

  5. Great article and responses to some questions. I do agree that most of what you say is going on is, and I truly believe Manning and Belichick are the greatest football minds we have ever witnessed in this game.

    However, I was disappointed at this response:

    "If I was in charge the first thing I would do is fire the entire coaching staff and then bring in a very powerful head coach and a offensive coordinator with an establish system."

    What's funny, even though you have tremendous insight, you fail to realize this is an "established system" and it works with regards to that side of the ball. It's built around a genius offensive mind and physical ability with the capability to constantly evolve. Which, as Belichick can attest to, is required to win in the current NFL.

    From 1998 - 2009 they averaged 26.05 points per game. The only thing this team needs for more Superbowl wins with Manning at the helm is a legitimate defense. I wouldn't touch what Peyton is doing.

    Anyways, great stuff, look forward to reading more.

  6. The reason the OL would have to go if I were to change the offense is that they all would be the wrong type of blockers. No one on our OL could start for the Miami Dolphins or Giants.

  7. Scott, This is a very good blog. The problem w/ Manning's making 90%+ of the play calling is that his play selection and situation tendencies would be predictable. ... Whenever some of his physical skills diminished, he will be quite predictable. /// In an information economy, there is too much data on Manning's play-calling and choices. In my option, a good strategist w/ a good statistical and data analysis background can scout out the tendencies for certain situations within two to three days. /// I have seen enough of Manning's games that I can predict his play-calling and tendencies atleast 50% of the time. /// It is not that hard. Unconsciously we are all predictable. ...
    /// The people who can stop a near-ultra class player (like Manning) are not going to reveal their secrets. They know when to play the information game. /// Those who know, are not going to say. ...

    /// I will be visiting your blog often for your unique analysis. This is a very good blog. ... Thanks!

  8. So, as the greatest football player ever, has Payton underachieved?

  9. Are you saying that I said he was the greatest football player ever?

    It seems like you think it is important to attach some sort of career negating label on Manning, why is that?

  10. I just want to congratulate you for this outstanding and insightful article. We finally get why Peyton belongs in the top 10 ever NFL list. He truly is one of a kind.