All-time great QBs careers on different trajectories in 2015

AUSTIN HAMM Sports Editor

Tom Brady is a vampire! Peyton Manning belongs in a nursing home! Okay, maybe that’s a bit excessive, but when’s the last time you saw a professional athlete have what looks like the best season of his career at age 38? No one comes to mind recently for me, and the simultaneous decline of Peyton Manning (don’t overstate one underthrown 45-yarder to Demaryus Thomas) shines an even brighter light on the resurgence of Touchdown Tom. It’s kind of crazy to think that at this point last year we were all calling Brady washed up and over the hill while multitudes of Patriots’ fans called for freaking Jimmy Garropolo.

As the top quarterbacks of a generation, Brady and Manning will always have comparisons drawn about them and I think their 2015 campaigns, where they both have their teams off to 3-0 starts, have looked very different. Manning is in his first year in Gary Kubiak’s run-heavy system while Brady is in his umpteenth year in the same Patriots’ system that has been built around and evolved with him for almost a decade and a half, and their comfort levels in their respective situations have been apparent.

While the Pats have been focusing on efficiency, allowing Brady to work his short game with Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman and decimate opponents in the red zone with Rob Gronkowski, Peyton has been struggling to adapt to a new system that seems to be asking him to do some things he hasn’t been able to for a few years.

The biggest thing here that I’m referring to is the play-action rollouts. A big part of the offense that Kubiak operates is predicated on running the ball and using that to set up play-action passes. If you’ve seen Peyton rolling out at any point in the last three weeks, you likely saw the same thing I did – a quarterback who knew exactly how the rollout was supposed to work but just couldn’t physically execute it. He looks like he’s running through water sometimes, and it kind of hurts me to watch.

Manning was also being asked to start most plays under center early on, to help set up those all-important run plays, but it looked uncomfortable and unnatural. But when he sat back in his more natural habitat in the shotgun, the offense seemed disjointed and unbalanced. So what we’ve seen is a compromise as the Broncos lined up in the pistol formation for a good portion of their Sunday night game this weekend against Detroit. The pistol is a bit of a hybrid formation, often seen in read-option type offenses, where the quarterback is about half as deep in the backfield as a normal shotgun set. This is allowing Manning to begin plays in a position he is more comfortable with while giving the running backs a chance to get their downhill momentum.

This is the type of adjustment that the Broncos will have to make to combine the known commodity that is Peyton Manning and proven system that Kubiak prefers. To see an example of this, they need only look to their AFC rival in the Northeast, where another aging quarterback whose arm strength has been questioned at times in the last year has had his system slowly revamped to emphasize the throws he is still tremendous at. Brady may have started this year better, and I’m willing to bet that he’ll finish it better, but as long as the Broncos continue to make the slight adjustments, Manning could still have a very productive and efficient season.