Damian Strohmeyer and Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB
Damian Strohmeyer and Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB

Brady and Manning: Making Extraordinary Plays Look Routine

What makes Tom Brady and Peyton Manning among the best quarterbacks ever? As you’ll see in this weekend's divisional round, it's their shared ability to make the difficult look ridiculously easy

By
Andy Benoit
· More from Andy·

This will be the seventh divisional playoff weekend that has featured Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. At 36 and 37, respectively, both men rank among the best ever at their position and are amazingly still improving. Elite is an overused word to describe quarterbacks, and it really doesn’t do either Brady or Manning justice. They are future Hall of Famers because they’ve mastered the little things that often go unnoticed. To best understand this, let’s examine two plays (out of endless possibilities) that appear to be routine but are in fact extraordinary.

Let’s start with Brady. He’s one of the shrewdest field readers in NFL history not because of how quickly he recognizes who’s open, but rather, how quickly he recognizes who’s not open. Unrefined quarterbacks stare at a receiver to learn he’s covered. Average quarterbacks glance at a receiver to learn that he’s covered. Good quarterbacks read primary defenders to learn who is covered. Brady reads multiple defenders at the same time, analyzing not only their coverage assignment but also their body angles. This enables him to rapidly work into later progressions.

Consider this example from Brady’s last divisional round appearance, in 2012.

GraphicA (1)

GraphicB (2)

GraphicC (1)

Manning has similar cunning in his progression reads, which are often set up by his extensive work at the line of scrimmage. The trending narrative is that this cunning has allowed Manning to overcome his weakening arm. That’s fair, but it shouldn’t be hyperbolized. Yes, Manning has lost some power, but he’s not Chad Pennington. Manning can still pinpoint difficult throws from unconventional angles. Perfect ball placement has long been his most under-appreciated trait. When coupled with his field awareness, special things happen. Here’s an example from early this season when Manning all but pulled the ninth of his record 55 touchdowns out of a hat.

GraphicD (1)

GraphicE (1)

GraphicF (1)

GraphicG

The subtle but significant attributes of Manning and Brady create unique advantages for their teams. Whether this leads to another AFC Championship Game appearance remains to be seen, but this much is guaranteed: We’ll see quarterbacking at its most brilliant in this weekend’s AFC divisional games. 

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20 comments
Racyman57
Racyman57

Whether you are fans of the Pats or the Broncos, or not, I think us football fans need to really enjoy watching Brady and Manning play.  I'm a Chiefs fan, so I hate it that Manning went to Denver, but my team is done, so it gives me an opportunity to watch him perform his magic, with no effects on my team of choice.  It's the same with Tom Brady, although, I've never been fond of the Patriots, either.  I think it's important, unless your team is playing one of them, of course, to just marvel in their mastery of the game and the position that they both play as well, or better, than it has ever been played before.  Both of these guys are gonna be gone, within 2 -3 years, if they can stay healthy and sustain their level of play and I'm sure I will regret taking them for granted, for so many years. Both exemplify how their total dedication to their craft, their not being satisfied with anything less that perfection, the willingness to sacrifice precious time with their families, or live a semblance of normal lives and to do the extra things that ultimately seperate them from others who play the position, spurned by that burning desire to win.  They both know that their legacies are intertwined, which only drives them harder.  I suggest that if you don't have a horse left in the race and even if you do, that you take time to appreciate the best QB"s of a generation and arguably to ever play the position.  There will be debates for years to come, over who is/was the best, but they share more qualities than they don't and are, in many ways, the same person, when on a football field, or when preparing so hard to not deny themselves of perfection.  We may never see the likes of these two again and I, for one, am going to put biases aside this weekend and focus on these two legends of the best game ever invented.

Canakz
Canakz

Great article, Mr. Benoit. I'm starting to like this site more and more after reading all these awesome articles. 
Might even make it the home page.

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

The first thought I had with the first pic of the Brady play was it is clear this is going to Ridley and as this is set up it appears that is actually the primary target.  The other two routes are to run the defenders out of the way.  Two routes with 7 in to block?  Yeah, it is meant to go to Ridley.  This isn't a "check down" as you are describing it.  Brady is just selling the play and you are buying it just as the defense did.  Since you didn't see it.   Look again and take note that Ridley is looking for the ball as he is leaving on his route.  He is NOT going to a spot and turning around there as a check down would be. 


Very disappointed that you didn't choose a better play than this to exhibit Brady's greatness.

It definitely did not do Brady justice as your breakdown of Peyton's play did and that was a great breakdown. 


There is no doubt Brady and Manning use their body language, eyes, and pump fakes to move defenders where they want them to be so they can make a play successful.  And they make very very quick decisions.

irfan aziz
irfan aziz

i like Brady but praying for Payton as he deserve More ..  he never gave up and a true example of a Good man 

Jazzaloha
Jazzaloha

Cool article. 


Just a couple of points of contention. You said they're both improving but Brady's throws seemed to have gotten worse over time. Now, maybe that relates to timing with new receivers, but this seems to be going on for a while now. 


Also, while Manning isn't Chad Pennington, I think he can go throw certain periods where his throws look like Pennington's. He can still throw very well, but the Pennington throws creep in there. 


My point is that the "they're still improving" remark might be a bit much. 

MicahThoughtlife
MicahThoughtlife

Great analysis. These kinds of in-depth treatments on the subtle nuances that make the special players special is why I enjoy visiting this site.

ScottHill
ScottHill

@Racyman57 Very well said. Although you wrote that Brady will only be around for 2 to 3 more years. He is signed up until 2017. That will put him at 40 years old. And he has talked about playing past that. You are so right. As a Patriots fan. I have to keep reminding myself of the Patriots in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Because this amazing streak that they are on. Will not last forever. So enjoy it while it lasts.

HelmetHead
HelmetHead

@randomdeletion While you might be right in terms of play design, I have no doubt that Brady throws it to Lloyd if he gets any separation (a consistent problem last season IIRC).  And check-down isn't the dirty word you seem to be assigning to it.  It's just the 3rd/last read on that play.

UnishowponyWherebeef
UnishowponyWherebeef

@irfan aziz He never gave up what exactly???


Manning appears to be a genuinely nice guy - which is exceptional for a multi-gazillionaire. But when did this guy ever have to fight for anything? 


He grew up in wealth, he got a free ticket to Tenn, got the trophy wife, you name it. 


I'm not criticizing him at all. Take what you're given. 


But to hold him up as a "true example of a good man" is an insult to the millions of people who are "good" despite their miserable condition.

LAfootballTeamOwner
LAfootballTeamOwner

@psychsports Brady and Manning just compensate for what they lack in athletic abilities. If you cant run fast you must think fast and etc  Survival of the fittest 101!!!!

Jazzaloha
Jazzaloha

@LAfootballTeamOwner @Jazzaloha


Perhaps, but whatever improvement we're talking about may not be significant. In any case, by making this point, he seemed to think the improvement has been significant. In some areas, this may be true, but both QBs have declined in significant ways as well. 

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