By Caleb Hanie
“Keep it stupid simple” …Or is it, “Keep it simple, stupid”? Either way, this is the most important lesson I learned from Peyton Manning when I played behind him for a year in Denver, and I learned in week 1 of the season. I grew up watching Peyton play, and I viewed him as one of the best to ever do it. He was fun to watch too, as it always looked like he was directing a symphony out there on the field; yelling random words, moving his arms all around, signaling to just about everyone on the field. He looked, at times, like a mad scientist out there running the clock down to darn near zero beforefrantically backpedaling back to the shotgun position right before the snap. Once the ball was snapped, everything always seemed to magically fall into place and run with incredible efficiency.
It wasn’t until I was in Peyton’s offensive system in Denver that I realized that all the motions and yelling and codenames that looked complicated, were used to simplify things and communicate job changes to everyone on the field (and sometimes just fake signals to throw everyone off). It was all about eliminating the thinking for everyone else on the field so that everyone could play fast.
This philosophy was best displayed in our Monday Quarterback meeting before our week 1 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Monday meetings were typically spent covering exotic blitzes and planning our adjustments versus those blitzes. During my previous 4 seasons with the Chicago Bears, we might spend an hour discussing the opposing team’s main blitz, debating different ways to handle it and throwing around ideas. I was looking forward to hearing all of the creative ways that Peyton would handle these blitzes and hearing all of the “tricks of the trade”. This first meeting seemed to be more of the same as we were getting into this same discussion/debate. We were hung up for about 5-10 minutes on the problems that this blitz would cause for this one-pass protection. After a few different solutions were debunked, Peyton got a little frustrated and said, “Do we HAVE to run this protection this week”? Our QB coach, Adam Gase said, “What do you mean?” Then Peyton said, “Is this protection a massive part of our game plan?” And Coach Gase said, “Well, no. I guess not.” Then Peyton said, “Well good, let’s scrap it and move on then.” Everyone was kind of stunned and from there the entire meeting actually wrapped up within an hour or so.
I have always been amazed by how Peyton handled this (and also kind of pissed that I wasted so much time those 4 previous years in Chicago debating blitz adjustments). To me, this was the ultimate example of keeping it simple.