Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL [Print without images]

Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Beginner's luck

By Scott T. Miller
ESPN The Magazine

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Nov. 25 QB Issue. Subscribe today!

AFTER 16 YEARS, Peyton Manning finally seems to be getting the hang of playing quarterback. Here's how he's pulling off his best year ever, which may just be the best year ever.


Total yards per completion

Manning's 12.5 yards per completion is his best mark since 2004, but his passes are covering only 6.3 yards in the air, his second-shortest average since ESPN Stats & Info began tracking in 2006. Peyton's receivers are picking up the difference; the Broncos' 6.2 yards after catch average is over a full yard more than any other Manning receiving corps has averaged since '06.

Blitz-proof

According to Pro Football Focus, Manning gets rid of the ball in an average of 2.30 seconds, which is 0.16 faster than last season and second in the league. As a result, D-coordinators have essentially stopped trying to blitz him. Opposing defenses are sending five or more pass rushers on only 22.7 percent of Manning's dropbacks this season, the lowest rate he's faced since 2006.

Stats vs. pressure

Conventional wisdom says that to disrupt Manning, you have to pressure him. Last season his 1.2 Total QBR when facing pressure (defined as any time a QB is sacked, forced to scramble, hit while throwing or put under duress) was indicative of a man coming off four neck surgeries. But in 2013, he's been one of the NFL's best when pressured, with a 61.5 percent completion rate (first in league) and 21.1 Total QBR (second, minimum 20 attempts vs. pressure).

Manning's red zone numbers

Manning has thrown 538 passes in the red zone since 2006; 158 have resulted in touchdowns and only nine have been intercepted. This season he's on pace for 37 red zone TDs, which would be the most since the stat has been tracked (Tom Brady threw 34 during his historic 2007 season), and his 98.4 Total QBR in the red zone is nearly 40 points higher than the NFL average (58.6).

Follow The Mag on Twitter (@ESPNmag) and like us on Facebook.