Peyton Manning's Arm Strength Downfield an Issue? He's Thrown Three Interceptions on Nine Deep Throws This Year

By Jason Lisk

Peyton Manning got off to a great start in Pittsburgh, taking advantage of the absence of James Harrison and Ryan Clark, and leading some clinical drives. He also only threw two passes that are classified as deep by the official NFL play by play. He got into a rhythm throwing the shorter routes, and the touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas that went for a big play was behind the line of scrimmage.

With Atlanta having some injuries in the secondary, the Broncos appeared to come out with a game plan to attack the Falcons with deeper seam passes after having not thrown downfield the week before. All three were intercepted. Those interceptions came on similar routes against different defensive coverages. They did not look like sharp passes, and on at least one, he was fooled by the outside corner. Then again, we’ve seen similar “all-verticals” throws from Manning where the outside corner tried to get to that position and could not.

After that, Manning and Denver changed again, and for most of the rest of the first half, he again worked the shorter passes. The next pass downfield was the 17 yard touchdown pass to Thomas along the sideline at the end of the first half that wasn’t exactly a tight hard spiral, but Thomas made a great toe tap catch. Here’s Manning’s breakdown for the year through two games.

SHORT THROWS: 39 of 54 (72.2%), 423 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT

DEEP THROWS: 4 of 9 (44.4%), 71 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs*

*I’ll note that Paul Pabst says Manning is 0 for 5 on throws of more than 20 yards this year, with the three interceptions. Play-by-play records can be inconsistent but usually treat 15+ yards in air as deep throws, so it’s possible that all four completions came just short of 20 yards.

Manning has said that he’s not back yet, and it’s a work in progress. Elway, earlier this week, said his arm strength is “probably not where he wants it to be. I don’t know if it’ll ever be where he wants it to be, but to me, it’s plenty adequate right now.”

Plenty adequate turned into a potential problem on the deep seam routes that he likes to hit as a counter to the crosses and curls (Chris Brown of Smart Football detailed the various Manning pass concepts). We’ll see if those were just some interceptions that will balance out, or if teams will notice that Manning has thrown only 14% of his throws deep and not with as much success, and adjust.

To put that in some perspective, Manning’s last five years featured the following deep throw percentages: 21.0%, 20.3%, 19.6%, 21.3%, 21.8%. Using Advanced NFL Stats percentages, the only quarterbacks with a lower deep throw percentage last year than Manning’s current one were Colt McCoy, Josh Freeman, and Dan Orlovsky.

It’s early, and these things tend to balance out, though like I said, it looked like Denver wanted to come out and attack a certain way, and that was changed by the early interceptions. If he can’t hit that route, it will have an effect. Manning is still a maestro, but the cat-and-mouse game becomes a little tougher until he gets the rust–or the lingering weakness-shaken off.

[photo via US Presswire]