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Manning At His Best
PETER KING
November 16, 2009
With a new coach, new targets and no running game, Peyton Manning is more productive than ever—and the Colts are undefeated. Here's how the league's hardest-working, most cerebral QB is getting it done
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November 16, 2009

Manning At His Best

With a new coach, new targets and no running game, Peyton Manning is more productive than ever—and the Colts are undefeated. Here's how the league's hardest-working, most cerebral QB is getting it done

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Now, Ismail could have said, "Are you seriously challenging Peyton Manning?" Instead he told the cornerback he didn't know what he was talking about, then told Manning and offensive coordinator Tom Moore on the sideline, "He's bragging like he knows what we're doing. He's going to jump that route!" Manning filed the information and talked with Moore about using it later in the game. Sure enough, with the ball at the Jaguars' 12 in the third quarter, Manning told Ismail that "Crane!" would be a dummy call, and instead of the dig he should run a hitch-and-go (basically a dig, stop and sprint back upfield into the end zone).

"I made a living off double moves," says Ismail, "and that was the easiest one I ever ran. Peyton gave me the crane sign at the line. I pushed upfield five yards and stuck my foot in the ground as hard as I could. The DB made a beeline to that five-yard spot and looked for the ball, but I just ran into the end zone, all alone. What a simple TD."

The lesson: Manning trusts his receivers when they've proved they've earned that trust. Against Arizona this season, Garçon told Manning in the first half that he thought the cornerback covering him was cheating, trying to guess and jump the route. Late in the half Manning pump-faked to Garçon's side, drew the corner in and led Garçon perfectly for a 53-yard touchdown. "He always asks for information, and he puts it in his brain," Garçon says. "Sometimes he goes to it, sometimes he doesn't."

Says Ismail, "When I was there, he told me, 'Hey, I'm just a gym rat. This is what I'm about. I love the game.' He wants to squeeze out every ounce of talent he has and pour it into the art of quarterbacking, being the absolute best quarterback who has ever played."

Ismail retired after that 2002 season because of a neck injury. Want to get him morose fast? Ask him if he regrets having had only one year with Manning. "You have no idea," he says.

In our system," Polian says, "a receiver has to have speed but doesn't need to be a burner. Has to have good hands. An instinctive feel to get open—very important. Size we'd like, but it's not critical. Work ethic, because he has to fit with Peyton's demands. Maturity."

And intelligence, which should go without saying because there are no simple routes in the Colts' system. Everything depends on what the receiver sees from coverage. Take a simple 12-yard out, a staple of every passing game in football. Against a Cover Two look, with a safety over the top of the receiver and the immediate cover man on the inside shoulder, the 12-yard out might be just what it says—12 yards, then a straight cut to the sideline. With a linebacker in coverage the 12-yard out might be a 12-yard corner route, diagonally away from the slower 'backer. A 12-yard out against tight man coverage might mean the receiver cuts and comes back at a 45-degree angle. "It's overwhelming to learn," says Brandon Stokley, a slot receiver for Indianapolis from 2003 to '06.

So overwhelming that Manning speeds the learning process for Collie by spending 75 to 90 minutes every Thursday after practice watching tape alone with the rookie. "You can't be a robot," Manning says. "That's what's good about Austin—he's not a robot."

Collie was a late-round prospect at best when the Colts began scouting BYU in 2008. But juniors, particularly standout ones, are always in the back of the minds of scouts as they watch college games, and Collie (a mature junior last year after having spent two years on a Mormon mission in Argentina) certainly emerged as a standout, surpassing 100 receiving yards in each of his final 11 college games. During the course of the season, Indianapolis sent director of player personnel Tom Telesco, special assistant Bob Ferguson and area scout John Becker to watch the Cougars, and even Ferguson, a tough grader on wideouts, came away thinking Collie might fit the Colts well. As a solidly built kid with a quick first step and a willingness to be coached hard, he reminded a few in the organization of Stokley, whom Manning once called the best slot receiver of all time.

But even after Collie declared for the draft last January, the secretive Colts had no contact with him. They didn't bring him in for an interview or a workout, didn't speak to him at the combine. Not until a few weeks before the draft did they finally reach out, having a team psychologist interview him. "The one thing I did touch on [during the interview] is that I'm a perfectionist," says Collie. "Everything has to be right. Everything has to feel perfect. Maybe they thought that would be a good match for Peyton."

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