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Keidel: Manning The Pocket

By Jason Keidel

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As if he didn't look the part already.

Not since Y.A. Tittle's kneeling, bloody visage has a man come from more central casting. The flat face, middleweight's nose, thin lips, hairline shoved up the scalp from peeling a thousand helmets from his face.

There's a photo of Peyton Manning in repose, one of the endless frowns from New England, head bowed, his solemn face staring at the ground. It is the quintessence of the competitor. And all these years, and neck fusion surgeries later, he's still throwing with historic accuracy and potency.

It's not uncommon to see some mummified NFL player talk about the old days. And while he gestures you see the scars, the gnarled knuckles, the fingers pointing in appalling directions, like the tines of a mangled fork.

But Peyton is still here. He's still active. Boy, is he active. And last night was more than dropping a double-nickel, like Jordan did against the Knicks on his comeback trail.

Sure he put up Playstation numbers, seven touchdowns, enough fantasy points to feed a family of six, the first since Joe Kapp, of all people, to toss seven TDs. But accidentally or indirectly or implicitly, Peyton Manning served notice that throwing the ball from that mutating cage called a pocket still works.

Yet, this is the man you want us to believe is extinct. Or even endangered.

Some see last year as a precursor to the nu skool sensation: the hybrid freak QB who can do anything but serve beer during a play. It sounds great and looks even better. And while it will take more than a menacing gesture to tackle someone of Colin Kaepernick's bulk, a rib-tenderizing blast from James Harrison could change the hard-charging attitude of a mobile quarterback.

Yes, Kaepernick is rather impressive. He's built like a free safety, runs like Alydar, and throws like Bob Gibson. His 49ers came within a whisker of a championship last year. But it will take more than a few games to change the orbit of NFL offenses.

San Francisco is indeed the de facto laboratory of Bill Walsh, the mad scientist nonpareil. But it took a few years before we branded him a genius and gave his style a handle: West Coast Offense. So it shall be with this mustang-style passer who can bolt like Flash Gordon down the sideline.

All theories are great on paper. But success is commensurate to a team's ability to stuff a stud under center. And, at any team's core, a quarterback is a passer first, a runner/greyhound second. Just ask Tim Tebow, who could have his mail forwarded to Calgary or some other frozen Canadian outpost before he returns to the NFL.

The idea of a running quarterback is hardly new. What's different about the new breed of QB is the line between a running threat and running reality. Teams now put their most prized specimen on the chopping block.

Michael Vick, the progenitor of the bionic quarterback, was supposed to change the face of football. How's that going? His prison sentence aside, he's had an injury-addled career that has included brittle joints and rattled brains, mostly due to his long gallops from scrimmage. And RG3 has already shredded his knee playing his brand of hopscotch on the swampy surface in Washington.

So perhaps once Russell Wilson or Robert Griffin III walks to the wrong sideline after a hit they might find a gelded offensive coordinator calling the next play. Forgive the adult-natured cliche, but size matters. And Wilson and RG3 are decidedly smaller than the men running them down.

Whereas Andrew Luck rolls out of bed at 240 pounds. He's not only a great passer, but he will be more able to survive when his forest of linemen collapse on him. Surely it makes sense to avoid five rushers than to tease all eleven defenders on some elaborate option play. Would it surprise anyone to see Luck finish that fertile draft class with the most ribbons on his lapel?

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning aren't ready to cede the throne just yet. Nor is kid brother Eli. Neither is Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, or Joe Flacco. The aforementioned have won the last eleven Lombardi Trophies. From the pocket.

We all want to sound clever, reinvent the sporting wheel. So despite the fact that Billy Beane still hasn't won a World Series, the Moneyball zombies aren't ready to embrace the ancient ethos of the three-run homer. It's all about on-base percentage, you see.

And it's all about the read option now. But the pistol could backfire with one snapped limb or one bell rung. Football is violent enough without inviting more violence.

It will take more than last year to convince some of us that a glorified wishbone quarterback will bogart the NFL for the next decade. Give us the safer sensibilities of the pocket passer, who stands among the chaos of rabid behemoths trying to behead him, muses over the secondary, and makes the right throw just before some slobbering nose tackle engraves him into the turf.

A running quarterback yet to win the Super Bowl. Some would rather pass on running, and pass to the title. Just ask a Manning.

Feel free to email me:
Twitter: @JasonKeidel

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