“At this stage, I’d say that the O-line is more important to him than the receivers,” says Mike Tanier, a contributor to The New York Times Fifth Down blog and a staff writer at FootballOutsiders.com. “You can make the receivers better. That’s what he was doing the last three years in Indianapolis. But he knows that to make the receivers look good he’s got to be upright.”
True, Manning was working behind a terrible offensive line in his last year with the Colts, and a line that was perhaps only average before that (as with the receivers, Peyton made them look better than they were). Furthermore, he gets rid of the ball so quickly that he’s rarely in danger of being sacked.
But essential to his success is a smart center, since centers are generally responsible for calling out protection schemes at the line. Unusually, Manning often changes the protection schemes himself, meaning he will need a center who can keep up with his football mind.
And, quick release or not, he’s likely to be more aware of the potential for injury after a year on the sidelines. But which Manning suitor can offer him the best protection?
According to Mr. Tanier, the clear winner is the Houston Texans. “They’re a dark horse contender for him, but they can point to an impact dominant O-line to protect him. They made it to the second round of the playoffs with a third-string quarterback.”
The Texans, he says, specialize in cut blocking, a barely legal tactic that involves blocking people at the knees. Texans head coach Gary Kubiak knows a thing or two about scary offensive lines: as the offensive coordinator for the Broncos, he helmed the intimidating Denver front that sheltered an aging John Elway to two Super Bowl victories.