Tag Archives: Tony Dungy

Of Jim Irsay, Peyton Manning and playoff football

Kevin Vaughan is an investigative reporter for Fox Sports and a former colleague at the Rocky Mountain News. He’s also a lifelong Broncos fan who has done some number-crunching on the subject of Peyton Manning and the playoffs. We’ll get to that in a minute.

First, though, let’s stop and gawk at the roadside wreck that resulted when Colts owner Jim Irsay tried to pat himself on the back while pointing to his Super Bowl ring while giving an interview to USA Today while driving his team toward Sunday night’s game against Manning and the Broncos.

The son of one of the most reviled owners in the history of American sport, Irsay is perhaps best known for tweeting random song lyrics and his endearing, adolescent way of substituting numerals for like-sounding words.

Last night he tweeted this indignant response to those who thought the effort to pat himself on the back for newfound wisdom in that USA Today interview had the effect of throwing other, more accomplished people under the bus:

Those expressing negatIvity about the concept of building well rounded teams around great QBs 2 achieve Championships have negative agendas

Those expressing negativity would include John Fox, coach of the Broncos, who responded to Irsay’s comments yesterday. Fox is not normally thought of as a nabob of negativity. To see him and other critics of Irsay’s remarks that way, you must put yourself in Jim Irsay’s world, where Jim Irsay is the North Star.

This is the guy who mused during the NFL lockout that his old pal Gene Upshaw wouldn’t have approved of NFL Players Association president DeMaurice Smith’s handling of the dispute. Upshaw was Smith’s predecessor at the NFLPA. He was also dead. So that was classy.

Here’s a passage from the USA Today interview:

“We’ve changed our model a little bit, because we wanted more than one of these,” Irsay says, flicking up his right hand to show his Super Bowl XLI championship ring.

“(Tom) Brady never had consistent numbers, but he has three of these,” Irsay adds. “Pittsburgh had two, the Giants had two, Baltimore had two and we had one. That leaves you frustrated.

“You make the playoffs 11 times, and you’re out in the first round seven out of 11 times. You love to have the Star Wars numbers from Peyton and Marvin (Harrison) and Reggie (Wayne). Mostly, you love this.”

Then Irsay flicks up his right hand again.

Here’s how Fox responded on SiriusXM NFL radio:

“I saw the comments. And to be honest with you, I thought it was a bit of a cheap shot. To me, in my opinion, they were disappointing and inappropriate. Peyton would never say anything. He’s too classy to do that. They sounded a little ungrateful and unappreciative to me. For a guy who has set a standard, won a Super Bowl, won four MVP awards … be thankful of that one Super Bowl ring, because a lot of people don’t have one.”

Irsay’s apologists in the Indianapolis media insist he was actually throwing former general manager Bill Polian under the bus. Everybody seems to agree he left tire tracks on somebody.

Former Colts coach Tony Dungy, formerly considered a paragon of positivity,  apparently has a negative agenda, too, because he not only thinks Irsay’s remarks were directed at Manning, he thinks they were part of an effort to make him angry and distract him from the task at hand.

“Jim is making this personal,” Dungy said in a text message to ESPN. “I’m surprised . . . Without Peyton, there would be no Lucas Oil Stadium. This team would be playing in L.A. right now. I don’t understand Jim saying this.”

Dungy’s attempt to cast Irsay as Machiavelli relies on a rather higher opinion of Irsay’s intellect than is commonly held, but it seems to be the only one he can think of.

“I think that’s what he’s trying to do,” Dungy said. “Have him make it such a big game he doesn’t perform well. I can’t figure any other reason to go this way.”

I am inclined to believe that Irsay was so busy extolling his current, sublime level of football understanding that he was oblivious to other implications. In any case, by this morning, he was in full Twitter back-pedal:

My comments meant if we gave Peyton better SP Teams n Def,we would have won more than 1 Sup/Bowl,instead of asking Peyton 2do too much

Give him this: There is no 54-year-old on Earth who tweets more like a teenager.

So the Colts winning one Super Bowl during Manning’s 14 seasons and 11 playoff appearances was somebody’s fault, he’s not saying whose, but Irsay and his new pals, GM Ryan Grigson and quarterback Andrew Luck, won’t make the same mistake. So good for them, Godspeed, whatever.

As I mentioned, Vaughan did some research on Manning’s postseason numbers, how they came about, and what they could still be by the time he’s finished:

A few random thoughts that I thought you might find interesting.

First, John Elway’s playoff record was 14-7. I’m guessing most people would say that a quarterback who wins twice as many as he loses in the playoffs is pretty special. And yet . . . how many people remember that following the Jacksonville loss at the end of the ’96 season that record was 7-7? It took those two playoff runs to put it where it ended up.

Manning is 9-11 right now, I believe. Let’s say he puts together two Super Bowl wins the next couple years (not a given, certainly, but not out of the realm of possibility, either). That would give him at least 6 postseason wins and as many as 8. So let’s say it’s 7 (he said dreamily), and he retires with a playoff record of 16-11; I’m guessing that, like Elway, no one really remembers the early struggles.

In ’99 (a year in which Manning took the Colts to 13-3 following two seasons of 3-13 and two playoff wins in the previous 28 years), the Colts got beat by the Titans, who, if memory serves, came within a yard of tying the Super Bowl and sending it into overtime.

In ’03, ’04 and ’05, the Colts got beat by the eventual Super Bowl champs (New England, New England, Pittsburgh).

In 2009, he lost in the Super Bowl.

In 2012, the Broncos got beat by the eventual Super Bowl champs (Baltimore).

That means 6 of his 11 playoff losses were to the team that eventually represented his conference in the Super Bowl or won the Super Bowl. Maybe the truth is that in those six years he lost to better teams.

While it is critical to have a very good or great quarterback to win a Super Bowl, it’s equally true that you need a lot more than that. How did John Elway do in the playoffs before Terrell Davis arrived? (Answer: .500.)

So, some “ifs” that could have changed everything for Manning.

What if Mike Vanderjagt doesn’t miss a 46-yard field goal by about 30 yards that would have tied the game at the end against the Steelers in 2005?

What if the Broncos defense doesn’t give up a conversion to Baltimore last year on a third-and-13 from its own 3-yard line in overtime?

What if the Colts had been a more balanced team all those years (rushing yardage in Manning’s 11 losses — 78, 99, 52, 98, 46, 58, 44, 64, 99, 93, 152; rushing yardage in Manning’s 9 wins — 85, 142, 76, 188, 100, 125, 191, 101, 42)?

What if Tony Dungy’s son hadn’t taken his own life near the end of the 2005 season? I can’t imagine how that affected Dungy, and how that, in turn, affected the team.

What if the Colts’ special teams aren’t asleep when the Saints open the second half of the Super Bowl with an onside kick — and recover, and go on to score a touchdown (swinging the momentum, in my humble opinion)?

And, finally, I looked at some stats from those 11 losses. Did Manning have some bad games? Yes — three stinkers where his completion percentage was in the mid- and high-40s. But also eight games in which the lowest completion percentage was 53 percent — and the others were 69, 69, 60, 69, 58, 64 and 65. I’d take those numbers all day long.

Overall in the playoffs, in games he lost — 257 of 436 (59 percent) for 2,833 yards, 12 TDs and 12 interceptions. If there’s a knock there, I’d say it’s the TD-to-INT ratio, though 10 of his 12 interceptions came in four of the games.

Total playoff numbers: 481 of 761 (63 percent) for 5,679 yards, 32 touchdowns, 21 picks.

John Elway’s total playoff numbers (22 games, including mop-up in Seattle in 1983): 355 of 651 (55 percent) for 4,964 yards, 27 touchdowns, 21 picks.

OK, that’s lots of stats, and, in the end, there’s only one stat that matters — the numbers up on the scoreboard. The current debate seems to me lacking in nuance and understanding of the fact that the quarterback is just one player and little things that have nothing to do with him change games.

Even without Vaughan’s research, Broncos fans old enough to use words rather than numbers to express words remember the long-time indictment of Elway: Can’t win the big one. Years later, Elway would grin and reflect on the fact that after the back-to-back championships to close his career, memories were seemingly wiped clean of the earlier stuff, as if zapped by Will Smith’s Neuralizer.

Manning has the same opportunity. In the end, it will depend upon the Broncos’ ability to do a better job than the Colts did building a team around him. But give Irsay credit: He may have given Manning more motivation as a Bronco than he ever did as a Colt.

Tony Dungy: Peyton Manning only getting better from here

The Broncos are 2-0. Peyton Manning has nine touchdown passes and no interceptions. His former coach, Tony Dungy, was watching his latest performance in an NBC studio, preparing for Sunday Night Football.

“You said, ‘Uh-oh, Peyton’s only going to get better,'” NBC’s Dan Patrick recounted. “The difference between last year’s Peyton and the start of this year?”

“Last year, I talked to him before the season started and he thought he was going to be fine,” Dungy said. “He thought he was going to be able to throw, he thought his neck would hold up. But he really didn’t know.

“He’s been through a year, he knew he could take a hit, more comfortable with the receivers being there a year, and he got the best slot receiver in football (Wes Welker) that he’s still only getting used to. Look out in another month. These guys are really going to be good on offense.”

It’s not clear what 90 points against the two most recent Super Bowl champions counts for on Dungy’s scale, but this gaudy number was achieved in spite of uninspired first halves in both games. The Broncos were outscored by the Ravens and Giants 26-24 before intermission. They blew them away after halftime by a collective score of 66-24.

“I thought we made good second-half adjustments,” Manning said of Sunday’s 41-23 victory at the Meadowlands. “Two weeks in a row, we’ve come out in the second half and really sort of changed the tempo of the game and came out of the locker room and put up consecutive touchdown drives. Just like to find a way to fix it in the first half a little bit.

“Of course, the first drive was really good, just didn’t finish the way we needed to. And then we had some more self-inflicted errors in that first half, things that we were doing that were kind of stopping ourselves. Those are things we have to correct. Fortunately, our defense kind of kept us in it, but we need to do a better job in the first half and not wait till the second half two weeks in a row.”

In the NFL opener, the Ravens led 17-14 at halftime. The Broncos regrouped and scored three consecutive touchdowns in the third quarter while stuffing the Ravens offense on the alternating possessions, then cruised to a 49-27 triumph.

This week, the pattern changed only a little. The Broncos led 10-9 at halftime, thanks to a defense that held the Giants to field goals on three scoring drives and then intercepted Manning’s younger brother, Eli, on New York’s final possession before intermission.

“The red zone, the scoring zone, whatever you want to call it, is a huge area because it’s a four-point swing,” Broncos coach John Fox said. “If you let a team go down there three times, it can be 21 or it can be nine.

“So it’s a huge deal to get better. We were not very good in that area defensively a year ago. It’s something we worked very hard on this off-season, in OTAs and training camp. I think our guys are figuring that out a little bit better. So far in a short season, we’re two games into it, we’ve responded a little better in those situations.”

Coming out for the second half, the Broncos stuffed the Giants offense with a three-and-out, then drove 53 yards in nine plays, capped by Welker’s third touchdown catch of the season, stretching the lead to 17-9.

Unlike the Ravens the week before, the Giants responded. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that referee Gene Steratore’s crew responded. Of the 81 yards on New York’s ensuing touchdown drive, 36 were awarded on penalties, and that allows only one yard for consecutive flags at the goal line that all but announced the Giants were getting in, one way or another.

All told, Steratore’s crew threw four flags on the Broncos defense during the drive, including a doubtful pass interference call on cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on New York’s failed third-and-goal play and an even more dubious taunting call on defensive tackle Terrance Knighton on the subsequent first-and-goal.

In any case, the Broncos replied with another touchdown drive that put them back up by eight. They got the ball back almost immediately on one of their four interceptions — this one by cornerback Chris Harris, his second in as many games — and drove for yet another score. When Trindon Holliday returned the Giants’ next punt 81 yards for a touchdown, the score was 38-16 and another close game had been blown open in the second half.

“We make adjustments,” Fox said. “Sometimes this early in the season there’s unscouted looks, there’s a couple things that maybe cause some confusion. You settle guys down, put it on the board, show them what to do, how to react next time. That’s what football is. I mean, it’s adjusting. So our guys respond to it well and our coaches do a good job of getting it across.”

Dungy had another theory for Manning’s relatively slow starts so far.

“He wants to be so perfect, and sometimes he’s out-thinking himself — ‘They may do this, so we better change this.’ And then they get back to running the things that they’ve run, and just in-sync, and the second halves the last two weeks have been beautiful,” he said.

This is the most intriguing aspect of the Broncos’ first two victories: Manning has managed to look out of sorts about half the time while putting up enormous numbers, both on the stat sheet and the scoreboard.

“It’s funny because you look at Peyton and it seems like he’s struggling and before you know it, it’s 21, 28 points, and you’re like, ‘Where the heck did all this come from?'” former All-Pro defensive back Rodney Harrison said on NBC. “That’s the power of Peyton Manning.”

Throughout the week leading up to the “Manning Bowl,” the third meeting between Peyton and Eli, Peyton made it clear he didn’t relish the fraternal matchup. When it was over, his feelings hadn’t changed.

“It’s a strange feeling,” he said. “It’s not like beating another team. It’s not probably quite as enjoyable as it would be if you were beating somebody else.”

Indeed, Eli, who has now lost all three matchups with his older brother, seemed to be pressing to keep up, throwing four interceptions. With the Broncos not scheduled to play the Giants in the regular season again until 2017, 37-year-old Peyton predicted happily that he would not be around for the next one, barring a Broncos-Giants Super Bowl in the meantime.

Manning’s glossy numbers are far from the Broncos’ only good news through two weeks. Without sack specialist Von Miller, suspended for the first six weeks, the defense has been opportunistic and sometimes sensational. Without 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, sidelined by a foot injury, the defensive backfield has six interceptions. The special teams have a blocked punt and a punt return for a touchdown.

Running back Knowshon Moreno had touchdown runs of 20 and 25 yards against the Giants and 93 yards on only 13 carries overall. Compared to rookie Montee Ball’s 16 yards on 12 carries, along with a fumble that wasted the Broncos’ first drive, Moreno looks like the featured back for now.

If there is any cause for concern, it would be that the Broncos are struggling to run the ball out of the three wide-receiver set that allows them to put their main receiving weapons — Welker, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and tight end Julius Thomas — on the field at the same time.

“We went a little more two tight ends in the second half,” Manning said. “We were mostly one tight end, three wides in the first half. I thought the two tight ends was a good change for us and we ran the ball better out of that personnel grouping. For whatever reason, that helped our running game. And then we were able to get a couple of big plays in the passing game, a couple of crossing routes to Demaryius and to Decker. That was a good change by the coaches.”

Although heavier personnel are traditionally used for running plays, Manning said he’s not sure the single substitution between the two groups explains the change in the running dynamic.

“It’s not a major, drastic change,” he said. “It’s just one guy for one guy. It’s kind of Virgil Green for Wes Welker. But for whatever reason, our execution got better. We’ll see the film as to what was the real reason for it, but it did give us a little more rhythm, and then when you can go to three wides after that — Wes’s touchdown was in three wides — it can maybe keep them a little bit more off-balance.”

All things considered, it’s a pretty minor issue for a team averaging 45 points a game. But it’s something to work on, as is starting faster. After all, as Manning said, you don’t want to peak too early.

“He’s still learning these guys,” Dungy said, “but another month and they get Von Miller and Champ Bailey back, this is going to be an outstanding team.”