As you’re reading this you’ve probably watched Sunday’s NFL games and have screamed “What are you doing?!?” at various quarterbacks, or demanded that your particular team’s quarterback be replaced. Some of that might be the fault of the quarterback; some of it might be the fault of the team he has surrounding him; some of that might be due to coaching.
Regardless, what the struggles of other quarterbacks show is the true greatness of Peyton Manning. It’s not simply because of his superlative performance on Thursday night in which he threw seven touchdown passes. It’s because when there’s a poor performance or a mistake there’s a reason for it other than the player, his coach or the rest of the club’s personnel. Having a quarterback the level of Manning – who essentially calls his own game and can be an offensive coordinator or head coach right now – gives such a freedom to the coaching staff and front office to address other issues that it’s similar to having an immovable object that the opposing team doesn’t even bother trying to stop. Instead, they try to limit the amount of damage it does to their plans.
Other quarterbacks in the league have the say-so to scream at their teammates, but not the bona fides to do it continuously without it creating cumulative fissures that could lead to dissension. Other quarterbacks can come up with reasons as to why they threw X interception due to a mistake in formation or a mistimed route. Other quarterbacks can call an audible and change the play from a run to a pass. And other quarterbacks can give explanations to the media as to what happened and make it sound reasonable.
The difference between these “other quarterbacks” and Manning is that Manning won’t be ridiculed for it because he has the history and knowledge to make the reasons (not excuses) meaningful. He may have seen a defensive scheme that required him changing the play that was sent in from a draw play to a deep post and that play might have resulted in an interception. He gets away with it because of who he is and what he’s proven to be able to do. Some coaches would feel uncomfortable with a quarterback having such power, but if the coach is secure and, to be blunt, knows what’s good for him, he’ll accept it and cherish it because it’s a once-a-generation thing to have.
Even other luminaries at the position like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are having their own issues that would not happen with Manning. Rodgers has been enduring after-the-fact criticism from players no longer on the Packers that he can be selfish and isn’t a great leader. Brady wanted Wes Welker back with the Patriots, was livid that Welker was allowed to leave (to the Broncos and Manning) and had to have his wrist slapped publicly by Patriots owner Bob Kraft that it’s not Brady who makes the decisions on personnel. Rest assured that if it were the Broncos and Manning had a receiver that he wanted back, that receiver would be back.
Even at his advanced age and slightly diminished arm strength due to injury, Manning is able to carve up defenses because of the quickness of his mind and innate understanding of how to run a football offense.