Peyton Manning cannot play in the cold, right? When Denver lost at New England, this was the major talking point. It will no doubt be one as we approach Sunday’s game. I’m here to tell you that it’s mostly ridiculous. Do I know whether Peyton Manning lacks some personal fortitude that causes him to play worse in cold weather? No, not for certain, but I am highly skeptical. It seems like there are a confluence of events that lead people to conclude that he plays worse in the cold.
First, let’s get this out of the way– yes, his numbers have been worse in games that were played in the cold. It’s whether those are particularly meaningful now that is the concern, and whether it is an issue in this game. Peyton Manning’s cold weather data comes at the confluence of several factors.
First, most of the games came when he played for a dome team, all on the road. We cannot understate this factor. It is not exactly controversial to say that dome teams have struggled in cold weather conditions, and that is an issue that goes way beyond Peyton Manning. Almost five years ago, when Chase Stuart looked at venue type and time of year, to assess the effect on passing numbers, playing in a dome resulted in a +0.4 adjustment in yards per attempt.
Playing in a cold weather city in December to the end of the playoffs, on the other hand, resulted in a -0.6 adjustment in yards per attempt. EVERYONE tends to play worse in cold weather, often because it is associated with wind conditions that affect passing as well.
Thus, to say that Peyton Manning played worse in the cold is not surprising. [INSERT NAME OF QB WHO PLAYED IN A DOME OR WARM WEATHER] played worse when playing in the cold, almost without fail.
Peyton Manning’s numbers when he played the entire game, when the temperature was below 40, while playing in Indianapolis (according to pro football reference): 16 games, 364 of 594, 4154 yards, 21 td, 24 int, 20.25 points per game.
Of course, those all came with teammates that were also used to playing in domes: kickers who kicked in domes, lineman used to blocking in warmer conditions, receivers used to catching in them. Manning’s results cannot be divorced from those facts.
Quarterbacks are going to perform better in ideal conditions. Sometimes, ideal means playing at home, in conditions to which you are perfectly acclimated. It may mean sunny and 70 degrees. It may mean no wind. For a dome quarterback, going from the dome conditions to January outdoors in the cold (usually against a good defense) is not ideal.
Over the last two seasons, of course, Peyton Manning has played outdoors in Denver. There is little to compare this with historically. Of the all-time leading passers, only Vinny Testaverde moved from an warm weather or dome team to cold outdoor conditions in the second half of his career for any substantial period of time. Dave Krieg played on season in Kansas City as a starter, and also in Chicago, after being in a dome in Seattle. I suppose you could point to a very brief stint for Warner in New York (though he was benched for Eli Manning halfway through the season) or Mark Brunell re-emerging in Washington. Overall, though, examples of how veteran warm weather quarterbacks became acclimated to playing in an outdoor cold weather city are not useful.
In Manning’s case, though, the evidence that this is a continuing problem now that he plays outdoor regularly, and plays with teammates who do so, is thin. Manning’s numbers in the five games where the temperature has been less than 40 degrees, while playing in Denver: 136 of 208, 1430 yards, 14 td, 4 int, 35 points per game.
Manning has talked about getting acclimated this week and practicing outdoors. Smart move. He faces a tough challenge in going against an elite defense, and so it would be a surprise if he torched them. The weather will likely hold down both passing games some, though that will more depend on the wind reports than the temperature. However, I am very skeptical that Manning is lacking some “playing in the cold” gene that has been bestowed upon others.