Starting Brock Osweiler Over Peyton Manning Is the Right Choice for the Broncos
The importance -- or at least perceived importance -- of the quarterback position in the NFL can make decisions tough.
Draft strategies can alter drastically when a sure-bet signal caller is available at the top of the draft, and locking up even competent passers can result in mega deals for good-not-great options such as Joe Flacco.
So when a Peyton Manning comes along, everything is good. Until the inevitable decline happens, of course.
Benching an all-time great with an elite defense behind him for an unproven commodity? That's deplorable if the season falls apart.
Leaving in a struggling passer while letting a potentially capable youngster hold the clipboard? Same situation.
This Denver squad likely has enough firepower (defensively, for sure) to make a run in the playoffs, and the team has announced Osweiler will start again in Week 12 after a 17-15 victory over the Chicago Bears.
Injury or not, that's the right call. Here's why.
Osweiler's First Start
Osweiler threw for 250 yards and 2 scores against the Bears, which tells us a lot but also not much at all.
The important thing in the short-term future isn't that he won -- unless you're a fan of quarterback wins -- but that he played well from an efficiency standpoint. We can examine just how well based on our Net Expected Points (NEP) data.
NEP indicates how well a player performs compared to expectation. Basically, yardage totals don't paint a vivid picture: 10 yards on 3rd-and-5 aren't the same as 10 yards on 3rd-and-25. NEP factors in these types of variables and indicates how a player impacts his team's expected scoring outcome. Check out our glossary for a more detailed description.
So, how did Osweiler fare in terms of NEP?
Osweiler's Passing NEP, according to numberFire Live, was 10.07. For a quick point of comparison, Jay Cutler in the same game (18 of 32 for 265 yards and an interception) owned a Passing NEP of -3.42. Basically, Osweiler was about 13 or 14 points better than Cutler was even though the final score (17-15) was rather close.
Now, the Bears owned the 21st-ranked pass defense, per our schedule-adjusted Defensive Passing NEP metric, entering Week 11. They allowed 55.39 points above expectation this year, after factoring in opponent. Denver, on the other hand, denied opponents 40.28 points, the best mark in the league by a large margin (Carolina at -16.90 ranked second).
So he bested Cutler, which says a lot about the matchup, but how did he stack up relative to Manning's season?
Get Your Popcorn Ready
If you're an Osweiler fan, that is.
By every measure, Manning has struggled this season. That's especially true in terms of NEP.
Entering Week 11, Manning owned a Passing NEP of -8.60, which ranked 29th among 32 passers with at least 150 drop backs. He was "better" than only Colin Kaepernick (-9.49), Ryan Mallett (-12.74), and Nick Foles (-38.55), none of whom were starting NFL quarterbacks entering the week.
On a per-drop back basis, Manning (-0.03) also ranked 29th, so it wasn't a volume concern that dropped him down.
The biggest issue may actually be consistency. Manning's Passing Success Rate (42.73 percent) ranked 28th in that group, and it means that he wasn't contributing positively to Denver's NEP frequently. So, neither the big plays nor the consistency have been there for Manning.
Impacting the Targets
Even without Emmanuel Sanders in the lineup, Osweiler managed to complete passes to eight different receivers in Week 11.
Of course, Thomas didn't do much after his 48-yard touchdown grab and finished the day with 59 yards and just 3 catches (on 8 targets).
His Reception NEP (5.27) on 8 targets amounts to roughly 0.66 per target. Entering the week, his mark was just 0.64.
Not that we should cling to an eight-target sample, but -- overall -- Thomas was about as efficient as he was with Manning even though he had five wasted opportunities. His Reception NEP per target ranked him just 17th among 22 receivers with at least 75 targets entering the week. That big play will do that.
A 17th-ranked Reception Success Rate (again, of 22) suggests that Thomas has been reliant on big plays all season, so even going with the, "Yeah, but Thomas' production was inflated with that one play" route doesn't bode well for the "Manning is still better" crowd (does that exist?).
Before the team's Week 11 game, they ranked 30th in passing efficiency when adjusting for schedule and controlling for volume (i.e. they were better than only the Jaguars and Rams in Adjusted Passing NEP per play with Manning as the primary option).
Keeping the Keys
It's hard to justify giving the offense back to Peyton if and when he is healthy, and it's not just because of one game against a bad defense in Chicago.
Manning has been one of the league's worst quarterbacks this season, and Osweiler has shown he can at least be a positive addition to the offense (even before the Chicago game he had a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.20 on 27 drop backs and a Success Rate higher than 50 percent -- a small sample, yes, but very positive results, too).
Unless the coaching staff is terrified of letting Osweiler play quarterback for a playoff squad, his first NFL start should certainly solidify his role under center for Denver as they head to the postseason -- regardless of Manning's status.