For all of the coverage of the National Football League, there has not been a ton of hype for this week’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos. It has been talked about a lot, sure, but not like it would have been if it was a hypothetical game between the 8-1 Dallas Cowboys and 9-0 New York Giants.
Bill Barnwell wrote about this issue on Grantland this week:
Strangely, this isn’t getting the amount of hype your typical best-game-in-years contest would normally get. One of the six games ahead of this one on Stuart’s list is the Patriots-Colts game from 2007, which got so much attention during the week that it stopped traffic in most states for four hours when the game actually happened. You don’t feel that around this Broncos-Chiefs game, and I think I know why: People don’t really believe in the Chiefs. Vegas backs that up, as Kansas City is an eight-point underdog heading into this game, which is unheard of for a team with the Chiefs’ 9-0 record.”
Perhaps that does go to explain this relative lack of hype. It is also consistent with the fact that the only talking point that had legs (pun not intended, but welcome) this week was largely independent of the Chiefs.
Peyton Manning‘s ankle.
Did he practice? Why didn’t he practice? Was he limited? How limited was he? Will he play? How much will he be affected? Are the Denver Broncos in trouble here?
Mostly people are concerned that Manning’s high-ankle sprain on his right foot will create three problems: he won’t be able to get to his second reads, he won’t be able to throw deep, and he won’t be able to evade the Chiefs’ outstanding pass rushers. Of those three issues, the first one could be a problem: Manning has so many plays where he gets the ball out really quickly. When that quick read isn’t there, he has to reset, chop his feet like only he can, and find somebody else. If that area of his game is hampered, it will be a problem and it could put the Broncos in some crooked down-and-distance situations.
As for the other two points, which have more frequently been fodder for talking heads this past week, they really won’t matter. Here’s why: when Manning is 100% healthy, he does not throw the deep ball well and he does not move well. Hurt ankle or not, those are his limitations, and he knows how to make it work for him.
It would be a disservice to call his style “dinking and dunking,” but he undeniably relies on short and immediate throws to carve up opposing defenses. Here is a snippet from ESPN Stats and Info:
Letting Broncos’ receivers run after the catch is a recipe for disaster. The Broncos have had 51 pass plays with at least 10 yards after the catch this season, most of any team in the league.
Peyton Manning’s average throw this season is 7.8 yards downfield, his lowest in the last eight seasons. Almost half of his passing yards have come after the catch (49 percent) this season, as opposed to 38 percent from 2006-12.
It makes sense that Manning lets his uber-athletic receivers get the ball quickly and go to work. Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker, and Julius Thomas are all threats to beat defenders and run for big chunks of yards. So if you tell me that the Broncos will be “forced” to rely on quick, short passes because Manning’s ankle is gimpy, I’ll tell you that they probably would have done that anyway.
Look at it another way: the Chiefs pass rush is athletic and nasty. Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, and Dontari Poe are going to be a huge challenge for the Broncos tonight. Those three would have been a problem for Manning and his lack of mobility no matter what. I just don’t think that his injury is really forcing the Broncos to make any radical changes to the game plan they would have pieced together anyway.
There is one way, of course, that Manning’s ankle could be a major problem: the risk of re-injury and a world where Brock Osweiler is forced into action against the best defense in the NFL on national TV. Yes, that would be a problem. So let’s just say, in terms of game plan and style of play, Manning’s high ankle sprain probably won’t be a big deal.