Playbook mailbag: Peyton Manning, MVP?

Peyton Manning, league MVP.

Those words sound great pinned together. But when John Moore asked us, via Facebook, if we thought Manning could be the NFL MVP …  in 2011 …  without playing a single snap … our automatic reaction was to classify this as a facetious comment.

Nevertheless, we actually gave this a chance to marinate.

“I know he hasn’t played a down this year,” John said, “but hasn’t he showed just how valuable he is to his team?”

For the 0-11 Colts, he absolutely has.

John, you might have an argument.

If you look at any number of Indy’s problems this season, Peyton is a big solution. Not only do your passing numbers go up (he’d probably double the Colts’ eight passing TDs in two or three games), but he’d help the team’s protection and running game.

Manning is unique in how he commands the Colts offense. Based on numbers in the box, he’d be able to pick a run play or a pass. Then, if it was a pass, he’d diagnose the coverage with alien-like speed and get the ball out with pinpoint accuracy before a pass rusher could sniff him.

That’s as valuable as it gets.

Simply put, he would make a rookie left tackle like Anthony Castonzo look better. He’d get yards for his running backs without laying a single block. Inside, “H” receiver Austin Collie, who thrived with Manning at the helm, or Dallas Clark, would have the benefit of a quarterback who can recognize two-high safeties (Cover 2) and knows that if he runs a stretch run fake he can make curl defender bite and hit Collie or Clark down the seam.

And while losing Gary Brackett to injury hurt the Colts’ defense, Manning would help them in a way, too. Indy, with its abundance of smaller pass rushers, was built to play with a lead and attack opposing quarterbacks. Without Manning, teams are grinding on the Colts’ one-gap defensive tackles.

So while we’ll leave it to the voters to pick an MVP who has actually played most valuably, we definitely look at the coaching tape and see the glaring hole the Colts have under center.

Coaching comment

We also received an interesting scheme question from Jae Gibson which we felt we had to acknowledge:

I understand the zone run scheme to be a proverbial 4-3 killer, does the wide 9 trend affect this or does it simply put more pressure on the back to watch for the cutback lane which seems to always be there against wide 9 teams?

Very interesting question, Jae. Actually, the Wide-9 technique was built to stop the zone stretch run. By setting hard edges with a wide defensive end, it seals the edge and forces runners to look inside.

If you are watching from home, you probably see, from time to time, defenses using the Wide-9s and those ends being undisciplined -– getting too far upfield and allowing the cutback lane -– or linebackers failing to maintain their appropriate gap and going laterally with the offensive flow.

What you have to remember is, in any defense, there is always a player responsible for any gap. While  defensive ends are aligned wide outside of the tight end and the defensive tackle might be in a “3” or “5” technique, there still is a safety or linebacker responsible for the “1s” and “7s”. Regardless of scheme, defense is always just a question of discipline.

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show — airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET (AFC) and 9 p.m. ET (NFC) on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

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