Manning out-thinks everybody

Here is my Friday column.

Peyton Manning has a tragic flaw. Out of respect for greatness, let’s not deal with that now, not until we discuss what makes him great.

Jim Harbaugh, you’re first. How is Manning different from other great quarterbacks? What is his best quality?

“All qualities,” Harbaugh said with a smile Wednesday afternoon in the 49ers’ auditorium. “Great competitor, great player. He’s done it and done it and done it and keeps doing it at the highest level. Tremendous player.”

Notice Harbaugh was not specific or expansive. Is there a subtext?

Absolutely. Manning could have signed with the 49ers in 2012 but chose to join the Broncos instead. Manning rejected Harbaugh and his offense.

Harbaugh is married to his offense. He is what you call a system coach. His personality and reputation and success are tied into his system – a run-first offense. He installed his offense at the University of San Diego. He installed it at Stanford. He installed it at the 49ers.

Manning has his own offense and it’s pass-first. Manning’s and Harbaugh’s offenses are night and day. Harbaugh wanted Manning to make the accommodations, to learn to play Harbaugh’s way.

The Broncos accommodated Manning. Head coach John Fox happily gave him control of Denver’s offense. Fox has a defensive background and is not married to an offensive system or playbook, so he was less threatened, less intimidated by Manning than Harbaugh was. That’s why Harbaugh was vague about Manning this week.

Let’s leave Harbaugh in the auditorium to talk to Kaepernick in the locker room.

Colin, what is Manning’s best quality?

“The mental side of the game,” Kaepernick said during his group interview. “He puts his offense in position to be successful.”

Notice Kaepernick was specific – Manning’s best quality is his smarts. Credit where credit is due. But Kaepernick also was brief. It is not Kaepernick’s job to extol Manning. It’s his job to beat Manning.

Now, look around the locker room. Notice Blaine Gabbert sitting by himself getting dressed. Backup quarterbacks are removed from the competition and tend have a wide perspective.

Blaine, what is Manning’s best quality?

“So much of their offense is driven by him at the line of scrimmage,” said Gabbert. “He trusts what he sees and makes the correct calls and gets those guys on the offensive side of the ball in the right position to make plays. I think every great quarterback has a unique characteristic that sets them apart. Definitely that is one of his strongest assets, knowing the coverage that the defense is in or the blitz that they’re trying to bring. He’s going to not only try to beat that, but exploit the weakness of that defense.”

Finally, a tribute to Manning. Thank you, Blaine. I’ll take it from here.

Manning is a rolodex of visual recognition. He has seen more looks and disguises from defenses than any other quarterback. He recognizes what the opponent is going to do before they do it.

Manning is a throwback. He calls his own plays, controls his own offense, is in charge of the snap count, the audibles, the formations, the personnel groupings, the protections, everything. A quarterback hasn’t had that power since the early ’90s. Jim Kelly comes to mind.

A player has to be a coach on the field to get that power. Manning studies and prepares more than coaches do. According to a well-placed source with knowledge of the Broncos, Manning has his own study staff within the Broncos’ coaching staff. Manning tells the study staff what videos to cut up and what statistics to assemble. Manning studies that stuff as well as the stuff the coaches give the rest of the team.

“I got him when he first came here, coming off a pretty serious neck injury,” said Fox on a conference call. “That took a lot of rehab, and he’s a veteran player, so there’s the conditioning element as well as the game prep. He might be as good of a time-management-skill guy – not even just as a player. Coaches, anybody. He probably does it as well as anybody I’ve ever been around.”

Manning relies on time management and experience because he has to. His physical ability is diminishing. He is 38 years old, can hardly move and cannot throw hard. Force him to run or throw long and you can beat him.

But that is not Manning’s tragic flaw. Every quarterback’s physical ability diminishes when he gets old.

What’s tragic for Manning is simply this. He tightens up on the big stage. His record in the playoffs is 11-12 and his passer rating in the Super Bowl is 81. He’s like a super computer that crashes on deadline. Manning thinks too much in crucial games, and his best quality becomes his worst.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at

This article has 115 Comments

  1. I agree with you on PM biggest flaw. When the Niners were so bad I used to love to watch PM and here him yelling the OMAH sign. But PM other biggest flaw is he can game change from what he normally does. He has only done it once and he won a Superbowl Ring for it. When he played Chicago nothing was working.

    As far a JH is concerned. He is not intimidated I do not believe that he likes him. Peyton could never work for Jim. He needs a FOX or a Lovie who really do not care about the next game.

    God Bless

    1. Here’s Jed York on Giants going to World Series. A slight against Harbaugh? Sure seems so.

      Jed York ✔ @JedYork
      Does Bochy make mistakes in the playoffs? #GiantsWinDaPennant

      8:48 PM – 16 Oct 2014

      119 Retweets 211 favorites

  2. Peyton would love to have a great back who can help take the pressure off him. It has zilch to do with Peyton’s offensive philosophy. It has everything to do with the Colts’ poor drafting in general and management of RBs in particular. The Colts had a parade of mediocre linemen who focused on protecting their valuable stationary QB rather than run block with ferocity.

    The last time Broncos had a hall-of-fame QB, they didn’t get their Lombardis in his first three tries until Terrell Davis came along. After last Super Bowl debacle, that HoF-QB-turned-GM surely recognizes the symptoms.

    1. Mood sez:
      ..”The last time Broncos had a hall-of-fame QB, they didn’t get their Lombardis in his first three tries until Terrell Davis came along…”

      I may be wrong .. but .. I think ..
      the Horse-face didn’t get his ring ’till after
      Montana retired … but then ..

      If my memory is faulty ..
      I trust those of you who actually know better ..
      will set me straight

    2. I don’t know Mood. Edgerrin James was a pretty dominant back who put up numbers similar to Terrell Davis.

  3. You compared Peyton Manning to Jim Kelly, Jim had complete control went to 4 SB straight and couldn’t win it. Peyton has had the same problem except he go a SB. Based off of those two examples, I’m not sure I’d want my QB to have complete control.

    Also if you watched one of the Broncos games last year the commentators discussed Manning having his own staff. It’s not top secret knowledge. They are with him on the sidelines. No one needed “insider” knowledge to know that.

    Peyton Manning is good because of the work he put in, but as I said with Andrew Luck, he’s been taught his entire life how to be a QB.

    1. Yes. Maiocco had predicted this move when Ventrone was released. Just a way to get Johnson into the practices. That opportunity is supposed to run out soon.

      1. Its not just about practices. This way they pay both guys a full salary (as Johnson practices the full week, he earns the full week salary, and I believe as Ventrone suits up he earns his full salary for the week too). So both guys feel they are being looked after by the team, and the team gets to effectively have 54 guys on the roster.

        1. This is the sort of sneaky stuff that Paraag thinks up when he takes a break from doing contracts!

  4. Grant i think you missed Mannings greatest flaw, hes predictable. if you put in the film time studying him you can learn his tendencies that last pic that he threw in the Superbowl the linebacker said he knew exactly where Manny was going to throw it and just went to that spot.

    1. Superbowl against the Saints is the intersection I refer to. I think the reason you saw Seattle shut him down is because Seattle is a good defense and they had extra preparation time for Manning and so they knew his tendencies they had more time to learn his predictable patterns.

  5. Manning has to study and study and force his way into out smarting defenses. That’s because he is not a very athletic type player.
    Only one true way to beat him and the Patriots did it to him all those years in the playoffs, hit him everytime you can. After throws they would push him to the ground, sack him, get their hands on him any time they could.
    Not sure why more teams don’t do it to him more often. He does have a quick release which means our DBs just need to disrupt the route long enough so DL and LB’s can get in his face.
    Like any QB, take time and space away and knock them around and it makes for a long day.

        1. Defensively, every member has to execute their assignment if they want to limit quick chunks of yardage against the Broncos Vertical Switch Release route concepts. Take away the outside numbers and make Manning take the underneath stuff. Offensively, no secret to dominating time of possession and limit Manning’s snaps. How about a fly sweep to Ellington? Finish with as many touchdowns as possible….

  6. Manning chose Denver over SF because he was rejecting Harbaugh’s offense? Really? Any source for that claim? Of course not. That is pure speculation, presented as fact. That’s the sort of thing I expect to see from a random troll on a message board, not from a journalist.

    1. I think Peyton wanted more money and control..that’s why he chose Denver..They could pay him his $15-18million dollars a yr..let him run his offense..So Grant is half rite..Our front office aint gonna pay him that..I still say Manning chose wrong..but its work out..For both teams so it’s all water under the bridge now..

      1. Not really. If he comes here the extra cap hit forces the team to cut more vets and it is not the same team. The line was built for the run and was never that good at pass protection. Payton needs a good pass protection line to function. It wasn’t just not being able to adjust to Harbaugh but also to a team that was built for the run. You can not change that overnight. I get a kick out of some posters on other sites who believe that with Payton the Niner’s would have had 2 or 3 Superbowl victories. The team was not suited to him nor he to the team.

  7. I wonder just how much time Denver is spending game-planning against the 49ers when they have a very short week before playing the Chargers? A loss to the 49ers won’t be that big of a deal compared to winning the game against a first-place division opponent. Especially when they have the Rams and Raiders coming up on the schedule where they can gain ground again if they lose to the 49ers. This could be the best time for the 49ers to be playing Denver this season as a road game.

  8. Percy Harvin to the Jets! Heck he was the only guy that scared me on that team. Good news for us.

  9. Grant, for several weeks now when I access your blog via Firefox the last entries are from mid-KC Chiefs game, nothing since. Why is that?

    1. Clear your browsing histor . I have to do this during game day and the day after once. Works all week until game day for me

  10. Harvin to the Jets is extremely helpful to our cause. They have lost 2 of thier best recievers when including last years number one reciever. Sadly he was on my fantasy team and went to the land where offense goes to die.

    1. According to some reports, Harvin was a locker room cancer and may be one of the reasons behind Seattle’s struggle so far this year.

      1. Remember all the money we spent on him and picks we gave up and he played about 6.5 weeks. SMH.

    2. I don’t think it affects Seattle very much to be honest. They have Paul Richardson to plug in as the speed receiver to take the top off and this will also force them to use Lynch more than they have been.

      1. I don’t know Rocket. Harvin was and is a game breaker. Headache or not (no pun intended) guys like him can break open a game at any point. I only wish the 49ers had a guy where you just hand him the ball behind the line of scrimmage and he takes it 10, 20, 30, 50, 60 yards for a touchdown. He can do that.

        1. FDM,

          He’s explosive, no question, but he’s limited as a position player and even with all this immense talent, he’s never put up a 1000 yard season or scored a lot of TD’s. He’s really a RB who can make big plays and return Kicks. Nice to have but not for that kind of money and not for the problems he can cause.

          The headache comment made me laugh, pun or not.

          1. Good point Rocket and I did not realize how much he was making. I think this makes Seattle less dangerous on offense and puts more pressure on Wilson.
            These big game breakers make big money for a reason in the NFL and just made me think of when was the last time the 49ers had this kind of player?

            Jerry Rice?

            1. I’d say Owens was the last guy we had that could truly take over a game, but you are right about how valuable game breakers can be. In this case I just think the Seahawks have enough to overcome his loss and in some ways it will be addition by subtraction.

      2. Plus Richardson returns punts and kickoffs. And now Seattle can pay Wilson next season — which may be the biggest reason for this move besides Harvin’s lack of production.

      3. Rocket,
        I feel the same way. They tried to work in Harvin which took them away from the their core philosophy.
        It’s a long season, and their issues are on the defensive side. They are not as suffocating as they were last year, and there is this so called “book” on how to beat them.

    3. I’m shocked. Did not see that coming at all. Gave up a 2013 1st and 7th and a 2014 3rd for him. Now they trade him away for only a single conditional 2015 pick (2nd – 4th), if reports are accurate.

      The upside for us, Seattle loses a dangerous playmaker. The downside, he’ll no longer be eating massive amounts of cap space while sitting on the bench with a migraine. Seattle’s cap situation and ability to resign other key players just got much better.

      Honestly, I keep looking at the calendar to make sure it’s not April 1st. All I can figure is that there must have been something wrong in that locker room for them to trade him like that.

      Oh, and cue Seahawk fans (who have been hyping this guy to the high heavens the last couple seasons) to now start telling us how he was never that good, and this is good for their team.

    1. I wouldn’t go quite that far; he was injured most of the year and only made very limited contributions in their Super Bowl season. They’re still dangerous.

      I supposed this will mean Paul Richardson gets more opportunities; he’s got the speed to be dangerous, although I have a hard time imagining him as a Harvin-level game changer.

      1. Harvin’s presence was enough to make teams nervous. Teams no longer have to worry about trying to stop Harvin, Wilson, and Lynch. Richardson might be fast, he’s no Harvin. Teams will stack the box and force Wilson to throw. Kind of like Dallas did.

    2. That’s what I think. That’s okay, I’m thinking ahead already. We’ll see what happens. I guess Lynch is tweeting he lost a good friend. . .

      1. @ Mary: I hear Wilson complained Harvin was pressuring
        him to get more touches and was a distraction, because Wilson felt Harvins poor route running was the problem?

        1. that’s what I’m hearing on the radio. The Jets said we’ve got enough ants; we can deal with some cockroaches.

  11. F Peyton and that crap cardboard pizza-monger he rode in on.

    That’s all I have to say. Can’t wait for the Sunday night beatdown.

  12. Harvin’s a cupcake anyways.
    They’re better off, if you ask me.
    And the Jets all kinds of help on offense.
    Win-win, I guess.

    1. Jets will have an entirely new staff next season, if not before. Who knows if they will know how to use him. Who knows if Harvin will stand for the circus that is the NYJ.

  13. This Percy Harvin trade is somewhat good news for us. If he was a locker room cancer, then they should start to turn the corner. If he just wasn’t producing, then their passing game is about to TANK. Teams were basing their defensive game plan around Harvin. Some teams were even committing extra players to him, now they don’t have to. They can either stack the box against Lynch or double their “best receiver.”

    The NFC West is ours to lose. The biggest threats to our team right now is health. If we stay (or get completely) healthy and keep playing strong, this could be it. Right now the perfect storm is brewing for us, whether or not it’s to our advantage is probably going to be up to the players.

    1. Remember when we went to Seattle with Boldin and VD as our only WR/TE and they doubled and bracketed them – we’re about to see how good Wilson is. As someone said earlier, they dumped their two best WR

  14. Harvin’s production was no proportionate to his 10 mil/year salary. Russ willson salary is up next year and they needed to dump excess baggage..

      1. Exactly. To make this move during the season, there almost has to be more to it than creating salary cap space.

      2. THey are probably looking to wheel and deal before the trade deadline and pick up a new wr. jags have a bunch of wrs and need draft picks.

    1. oh, I dunno, Mary …
      I’ve been wishing for a SeaChicken Sweep this season..

      If that happens ..I see only
      good things happening

  15. The first smart move I think Ive seen out of Seattle outside of drafting Wilson. Took advantage of Idzik’s desperation to keep his job while fleeceing the team for a high draft pick for the grossly overrated bit-player Harvin who’s also softer than Miley’s foam finger.

  16. Something is going to come out here soon. Pete the cheat is always one step ahead of getting caught. (USC?)
    I’m willing to bet he gets suspended soon for some violation or something.

    As for us. We haven’t played againts him, so nothing is going to change defensively. It doesn’t help us if they never played against him.

    I’m also wondering of they’re making a push for a Gordon trade. Something fishy is going on.

    Without Golden Taint they will suffer big time with the trade. Hmmmm

      1. Whispers out of Seattle are starting to happen. If you listen closely you may hear he’s a cancer to the lockeroom.

  17. I can’t take credit for this one, but here it is anyway…

    Russell Wilson is going to miss Percy Harvin. But not nearly as much as Geno Smith will.

  18. There is discontent far up North. One comment I especially enjoyed went something like this.

    Percy Harvin would have been more productive if Russell actually threw the ball down field in rhythm and on time.

    Does that sound familiar to anyone but me?

  19. Rest of the games this week predictions:

    Falcons over Ravens
    Skins over Titans
    Lambs over SeaChickens
    Browns over Jags
    Colts over Bengals
    (upset) Vikes over Bills
    Bears over Fins
    Lions over Saints
    Packers over Panthers
    Chiefs over Chargers
    Cards over DuhRay-duhs
    G-Men over the Girls
    Niners over Broncos
    Steelers (barely) over Texans

  20. Harvin cost SeAdderal first, third and seventh round picks… and $14 Million dead cap money over the next three years. It will be sweet if all the SeaRoids get is a mid round pick.

    1. Harvin trade details emerging. SeAdderal’s getting the Jets 6th round selection, that could become a 4th. Love it!

  21. “Jim Kelly comes to mind?”

    Really? I know you weren’t near the age of reason when he played, so that’s pulled right out of your backside. Don’t try to sell that you’ve watched his game film, also. You made that up. Hack.

  22. these two are mutually exclusive;
    translation: if you think, you won’t dip.

    reason? … chemo and radiation are no picnic.

  23. What the Niners need to do beat the Broncos.
    1. Pressure Manning
    2. Run the football = controlling the clock = keeping Manning off the field.
    3. Offense needs touchdowns not field goals.
    4. Manage the game Harbuagh/CK – being stupid will lose this game.
    5. re-read 1-4.

      1. I don’t know Oregon, I got 24 for the Niners and 17 for Denver. Defense arises to the occasion regardless of injuries.

  24. Too many regulars out of the lineup, a monumental night for Manning at home, a head scratcher for the Niners:

    DEN: 31

  25. Looks like a 4th is the best Seattle will get. Talent wise its a nobrainer move for the Jets. Overall its a train wreck coming, a bad attitude going to a major media market and a bad team thats going nowhere. Hell be cut in the off season.

    1. And then the section of the room that thinks Baalke needs to sign big name, big money FAs or the team will be irrelevant will be clamouring for the 49ers to sign him.

      1. I wonder how many articles I can find in the archives that discuss how Harvin is the difference Seattle was needing or how Harvin is going to make Seattle’s offense so hard to defend. Weren’t there at least a couple-three articles on how the 49ers were toast because they were going to have to “find a way” of stopping Harvin.

        1. Yep. And the 49ers were never going to be able to stop the quick, slot WRs in the NFC West.

  26. At the end of this season, Rex will be shown the door..
    shortly thereafter… Harvin will follow, because the Jets
    won’t be able to find any takers on him ..

    He’ll sit out the 2015 season.. and just before the 2016 season
    begins .. we’ll see videos of Percy Harvin doin’ push-ups
    in his driveway … ala Terrell Owens …

    Of all the guys Harvin chooses to emulate, huh ?

  27. Word from Starbucksville is that Harvin assaulted a couple of teammates so off he went. And Golden Tate was boinking Wilson’s wife, he divorced her and Tate is now in Detroit. Sounds like big fun in the Rainy City…

      1. MW, Google it, and you’ll find a lot of links. Some are sleazy, some have a feel of validity. Having gone through it myself when I was young, I feel for any man whose wife cheats with a friend. And I’m not much for gossip. But there may very well be something ugly about the whole mess…

  28. very interesting take Grant, and I kinda buy it. in fact, i think it points to the development in many young qbs, who come into their first few games acting on instinct and then hit a period where they’re trying to meld the instinct with the thinking-approach that they’re being taught (NFL offenses being pretty complicated). Steve Young came thru this period to develop into an MVP/SB quarterback. I think Kaep is right smack in the middle of it now. Clearly he has the talent to come thru, and I’d bet he also has the smarts. But he can’t underestimate the amount of work in front of him. Good coaching is a key too.

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