The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Superbowl comes down to QB

In a season that has seen 12 teams throw for over 4,000 yards, it should be apparent to everybody who watches that the NFL is smack-dab in the middle of a passing revolution. It seems only fitting that the two most explosive offenses in the league will square off in this year’s title tilt. Both offenses are loaded with high-octane players like Reggie Bush, Reggie Wayne, Jeremy Shockey and former Hawkeye great Dallas Clark. Make no mistake, though—these offenses only ignite because of their quarterbacks. Apologies to Brett Favre, Phillip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers, but Drew Brees of New Orleans and Peyton Manning of Indianapolis are clearly the two best quarterbacks in the business.
So let’s break ‘em down. I’ll start with “Drew-Orleans, La-Brees-iana,” as some have hailed him. On an emotional level, the guy has a chunk of state of Louisiana ready to believe that they’ve completely rounded the Katrina corner. He posted an NFL-leading 109. 6 quarterback rating with a jaw-dropping 70 percent completion percentage. This isn’t a situation in which Brees is playing in a cute, little west-coast offense with dink-and-dunk passing. Brees was third in the league with an average of 8.5 yards per completion and second in the league with 292.5 passing yards per game during the regular season. Most importantly, he was first in the league with 34 TD passes, while only tossing 11 interceptions. Brees has been putting up these kinds of gaudy numbers ever since he strapped on a fleur-de-lis helmet, but he did it in San Diego on a less consistent basis before that. Upon looking at his statistics over the last six seasons, it’s hard to believe that Brees has not won a single MVP, but it’s not without reason.
This is largely because Colts Quarterback Peyton Manning has been playing at an astronomical level over that exact same period of time. In fact, in an astounding coincidence, Manning has won three of his four MVPs in the last six years, and those three MVPs came in Brees’ three best statistical seasons as a pro. In two of these three seasons, Brees’ numbers were better than Peyton’s. Why has Peyton been granted deity status by pre-game hosts over the last six seasons while Drew Brees has yet to attain that same type of name recognition and respect? The short answer is this:  Peyton Manning brings more than just his stats to the game. Statistically, he’s not much better than Drew Brees, but his x-factor is rooted in something much more concrete than an ability to take advantage of the raw emotion of a region, as is the case of Brees. It is rooted in Peyton’s destiny to win a second championship and forever put to bed the argument that he is not the best quarterback of his generation.
While his regular season record may not seem like it, Manning has had to overcome much adversity in his career. Heartbreaking playoff losses, the loss of several all-pro skill players around him, and injuries have all conspired to taint the Peyton Manning story with tragedy and disappointment. Peyton just didn’t let it happen. After strong seasons ending with painful playoff losses to the Jets, the Patriots (twice) and the Steelers from 2002-2005, the Colts finally won a Super Bowl in 2006, with Manning taking home MVP honors. Manning and the Colts won that year without 3-time All-Pro running back Edgerrin James, deemed one of those “integral” players of the Colts’ offense, who was traded to Arizona before the season. In fact over the years, Peyton won without a number of players previously thought to be invaluable to the Colts’ offensive scheme. After that 2006 Super Bowl victory, Pro-Bowl Left Tackle Tarik Glenn retired. A man Manning once called “the best slot receiver in NFL history,” Brandon Stokley left the team in 2007. This offseason, the Colts waived future Hall-of-Famer Marvin Harrison. In the first game of the season, the Colts lost Stokley’s successor, Anthony Gonzalez, to a season-ending knee injury. None of it matters—Manning routinely makes mid-to-late round draft talent into superstars. Point-in-case, Austin Collie (fourth round) and Pierre Garcon (sixth round), the two receivers who have played in the slot since Gonzalez was injured, combined 1,464 yards receiving and 11 TDs this year.
The dude is basically an offensive coordinator with all the physical tools needed to play quarterback in this league. The proof of Peyton’s prowess is in the pudding, as they say. Just look at the Colts’ offensive scheme. The team essentially runs a constant hurry-up offense, occasionally skipping the huddle altogether, and Manning makes multiple audibles at the line of scrimmage based on the defensive formation. How are you supposed to stop the man when he knows what you’re going to do, and is going to change the play to exploit your weak spots? I know Saints fans are talking about their big, bad pass rush right now, and how the book on Manning has always been to apply pressure and shoot the gaps. However, they are underestimating the characteristic that transformed Peyton Manning from a talented quarterback to the best player in the league—his experience. Manning has now played 12 seasons in the NFL and the playoffs in 10 of those seasons. He has seen everything, and he has grown out of that small phase of his career where the pressure rattled him. Nobody can pick up the blitz as effectively as Peyton Manning and nobody can get the ball out faster as proven this season. Keep in mind, the Colts had the worst rushing attack in the league this year—Peyton has been playing against teams that know he’s going to pass and pass often. Peyton still threw for 4,500 yards, and the Colts still went 14-2.
The reason I haven’t mentioned defense is because neither of these defenses are going to be able to shut down the opposing team’s offense. Like I said, this is a passing revolution and the offense holds all the cards. In addition, it appears star defensive end for the Colts, Dwight Freeney, will not play because of an ankle injury. While a key defensive stop or a forced turnover could very well be the defining moment of Super Bowl XLIV, I think this game boils down to which team can score 30 points first and that means it boils down to Manning vs. Brees. The Saints are a talented team and had a charmed season, but as much as people want to see them win, might beats right. Peyton Manning is just slightly better than Drew Brees and the Colts are just slightly better than the Saints.

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