End of an era in Denver does not equal start of a new era

Change happens. New is good. Unless you’re an aging veteran or a once-dominant championship franchise with a crumbling foundation. The NFL still has a place for you. It’s called history. Long live the king. All hail the new king.

This is really happening

Suddenly it’s the Brock Osweiler era. The Denver Broncos have been preparing for this for years, having drafted Osweiler in 2012. And yet, the dawn of the Osweiler era is still a shock. Despite being in his fourth NFL season, the Arizona State alum will get only his first regular season start due to the breakdown of several of Peyton Manning’s body parts.

For 39-year-old Peyton Manning, the decline of age has moved from the inevitable category to the occurring category. There is no longer any pretense in denying it. While the Broncos were in the midst of their hot 7–0 start, Manning was shocked to find that his passing offense was among the lowest in the league through the first part of the season. Currently, the Broncos rank 28th in total offense, but have climbed up the passing rankings to a more respectable 17th according to the NFL’s rankings. Looking at Football Outsiders’ 2015 Offense Efficiency Rankings (revised as of 11/17/2015) and the Broncos’ offense is a grim as it can get — they rank 32nd.

The reasons are clear: Manning’s 2015 statistics are well below his career average and easily the worst of his career; comparable only to his rough rookie season back in the Dark Ages (1998).

Numbers don’t lie

1998 56.7 (Cmp%) 26 (TD) 28 (Int) 71.2 (QB rating)

2015 59.9 (Cmp%) 9 (TD) 17 (Int) 67.6 (QB rating)

Career 65.3 (Cmp%) 539 (TD) 251 (Int) 96.5 (QB rating)*

Manning’s career touchdown percentage stands at 5.8 percent, with an interception percentage of 2.7. His 2015 figures stand at 2.8 percent (his next-worst season was 4.5) for touchdown percentage, and his interception percentage is a career-high 5.3. These are not among the worst statistics he’s produced — they are the worst by significant margins.

Manning has officially been put on the shelf due to plantar fasciitis and sore (cracked?) ribs. If ever there were timely, merciful injuries, these may be it. The Denver Broncos need a more effective quarterback if they hope to successfully leverage their dominating, top-ranked defense on their way to the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning is one of the greats. He has delivered many great victories. But time remains undefeated.

The most popular guy

NFL general managers are wont to call the NFL a game of replacement. While fans clamor for “the next guy” whenever their team or star players come up short, GMs are well aware that change for change’s sake rarely strengthens one’s own job security. The question isn’t “he’s not good enough and he’s got to go” but “who do we have (or can get) that is better?” For the Broncos and general manager John Elway, the question is Manning. The answer may or may not be Osweiler.

The door is wide open for Osweiler. Unfortunately for the Broncos, it is due more to father time than Osweiler’s ability to nurture a top-level passing offense. Manning’s performance has been sub-standard. His reputation and standing, however, are among the highest in league history. Should Osweiler fail to improve the Broncos’ passing game (and keep winning, of course), Manning will be returned to starter status. Manning’s injuries should heal in time for him to resume control of the Broncos’ offense as it makes a playoff run. That Brock Osweiler has in his power the ability to keep Manning on the bench is a circumstance not yet seen in the NFL. Time and two straight losses after starting out 7–0 have more than suggested the end of the Manning era.

For Osweiler, it’s his first chance to start. And as a fourth-year veteran and former second-round draft choice, it may also be his final chance to start the Osweiler era. Coming off the bench last week in relief of Manning, he produced some very late-vintage Manningesque numbers: 14 of 24 (58.33 Cmp%) for one touchdown and one interception.

The Broncos may be giving Osweiler a pass because it’s difficult to come off the bench. Or it may be because he’s all they’ve got. How much can one week of preparation as the starter change Osweiler’s, Manning’s and the Denver Broncos’ fortunes? We’ll soon find out.

* Statistics via www.pro-football-reference.com.

© Julian Rogers | Follow on Twitter (@thejujueye) | Read The Hit Job

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