Kansas City entered the Sunday night contest against Denver with 36 sacks on the season, leading the league. They left with zero against Peyton Manning.
How do we allocate responsibility for this? Did the rushing duo of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston (20 sacks combined) have an off night, did the Denver tackles play well, or was it mostly Peyton Manning?
After watching through the game, I am going with a heavy dose of Manning, with an emphasis (even moreso than normal for him) on getting the ball out of his hand quickly because of the sore ankle, with an assist to the receivers winning the one-on-one matchups with the secondary. You can also throw in Manning dominating the pre-snap read battle, so that he was often able to throw to his initial or secondary read very quickly after the ball hit his hands.
The tackles, Chris Clark and Orlando Franklin, got a lot of praise for their work. There were a handful of plays where they did hold up and provide a clean pocket for more than 2.5 seconds, but by and large, all they needed to do was provide some resistance for a second.
Toward the end of the first half, Chris Collinsworth said, “we put the clock on Peyton Manning, on average, 2.5 seconds he’s getting rid of the football.”
At the time he said that (or at least at the same point in the game on review), I actually had it at 1.97 seconds from snap of the ball (often in shotgun) to release from Manning’s hand on average. I am not sure if that was a more general statement for all season, because while timing error is certainly present, I am confident we should not be a half second off.
In the first half, including plays nullified by penalties, I counted only 4 out of 24 passes that took over 2.5 seconds. That included each of the first three passes in the game, when Manning had to throw it short and intentionally away at the feet of the running back under pressure, then checked down after stepping up in pocket, and then threw incomplete (on a play where defensive holding was called).
The only other one I measured in the first half, at 2.6 seconds, elicited a “great protection” comment from Al Michaels, which was probably a natural gut reaction to actually seeing Manning hold the ball in the pocket.
The longest time from snap to release in the game was on a near sack where Michaels noted “Pressure was put on, had to throw it away” and Orlando Franklin got pushed into Manning, forcing the incompletion. It took 3.2 seconds for the ball to come out of Manning’s hand, and here’s what the Denver pocket looked like at 3 seconds.
Of course, we rarely got to see what the Denver pocket looked like at 3 seconds. The only other throw that got to 3 seconds was on one where Manning slid outside to avoid pressure, then hit Decker coming across on a pick play.
Contrast that with the opponent. I’ve got Alex Smith at 3.1 seconds on average from snap to release (or sack, or breaking into a run). Whereas only 3 of 44 plays from Manning took 3 seconds or more, nearly half of Smith’s did.
How much does that make an offensive line look good to the casual observer? If you watched the game, you probably remember Derek Wolfe beating rookie #1 overall pick Eric Fisher for a sack in the second half.
That picture is 2.8 seconds after the snap. Yes, Fisher got off balance and looked bad; you might not have ever noticed if the quarterback got the ball out. On all but three of his throws, Manning would have either already had it gone by that point or have his arm in motion. Alex Smith was sacked three times, and it took an average of 3.3 seconds–longer than any Manning throw all night.
Compare that to this throw from Manning. The right tackle actually missed badly, and pressure was coming. This one was actually above average in terms of time it took for the play to develop and the ball to get released. Manning still managed to get rid of it just in time to avoid a hit. Swap the quarterbacks, and Franklin looks as bad as Fisher there.
Manning did a lot of his work pre-snap, and rarely got to the third read. The Chiefs would have perhaps been better served making the hobbled Manning do more of his work once the ball was live. If we exclude penalty plays, there were 40 passes. Exactly have came with less than 2 seconds elapsing from snap to release.
Manning was 13 of 20 for 10.1 yards per attempt on throws that took less than 2 seconds. When plays took more time to develop or Manning was forced to go away from his primary or secondary, the Chiefs were better off. Manning was 11 of 20 for 6.05 yards per attempt on plays that took 2 seconds or more to the pass.
The Chiefs defenders rarely got close to the ball when Manning released it so quickly. The one time they did-here-they did not capitalize like they have for much of the year.
Round one went to the Broncos because Manning, on a sore ankle, used his cerebral cortex and his timing, training, preparation and quick release to offset. Hali and Houston did not have an off night; they just did not have the opportunities against Peyton. We’ll see what adjustments the Chiefs make in round two, because the rematch in Arrowhead (and likely for the #1 seed) will depend on either getting to Manning, or if he gets rid of it as quickly again, making some big plays on those quick routes.