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How Bad can Curtis Painter Be?

Is Peyton Manning the best quarterback in the league? Debatable. Is he the most important quarterback to his team in the league? Absolutely. Manning might be the first player in the history of the NFL to win the MVP without playing a single down. With him, the Colts are an offensive juggernaut. With him, Reggie Wayne is a top-ten wideout. With him, Jacob Tamme is a scary tight-end. Peyton’s passing is so outstanding that defenses will let Joe Addai run at will, focusing all their attention on trying to somehow stop Manning.


Without Manning? The Colts are the kind of team that loses to the Browns in their home opener.


The System the Colts run — not an offense, a System — relies on the now-indisputable fact that Manning is the smartest dude in football. For a long time I thought the wild gesticulations and nonsensical code words he barked at the line of scrimmage was a bunch of jabberwocky. Turns out all that stuff did mean something, that he actually did run the offense that way, and it’s a job that no other person in the world can do.


But there is one person who has at least seen how the job is done up-close and personal for the last two years. And it isn’t Kerry Collins


Curtis Painter was drafted by the Colts in the 6th round in 2009 after cutting loose six-year veteran backup Jim Sorgi. At Purdue, Painter was, at best, a fairly decent quarterback and at worst a pretty lousy one. His junior season (62.6% completion, 29 TD, 11INT) was quite strong, but the other three years left much to be desired. As a pro, Painter has attempted just 28 passes in two regular season games (both in 2009, weeks 16 and 17, after the Colts had locked up the #1 seed in the AFC). To say the least the kid hasn’t had a chance to prove himself yet. So what’s the hold up?


The Colts’ current #1 guy, Kerry Collins, ranks 29th in quarterback rating (71.4), 29th in yards per attempt (5.62), and is completing only 50.7% of his passes. The Colts offense as a whole has managed only two touchdowns this year, one of which came in garbage time of their humiliating opening-day loss to the Texans. These numbers aren’t bad, they’re Alex Smith-level abominable.


Collins obviously wasn’t brought to Indianapolis to be Peyton Manning. Nobody expected the guy who was summoned out of retirement to play pro-bowl caliber quarterback in an extremely complex System. Collins’ job was merely to keep the team competitive until Manning was well enough to take over again and try to make a late playoff push. Well, The Colts are already 0-2 with a loss to current division favorite Houston under their belts, and Football Outsiders puts their chances of making the playoffs at 2.5%. The two-week old season is already likely a complete loss and it is beginning to look like Manning won’t play at all this year.


Given all of this, why not give Painter a chance? The Collins experiment has failed. The Colts are miserable without Manning and there isn’t anything anyone can do about it. So if you’re going to be miserable, why not be miserable while giving your backup a chance to earn his paycheck? Collins has complained for the few weeks he’s been in Indy that The System is so complex and completely different from what he is used to. Painter has been immersed in this system for over two years. Certainly he isn’t as adept at running it as Manning but he’s got to be better at it than Collins.


The only conclusion I can come to is that Painter must be inconceivably bad. There is no earthly reason for Collins to be under center. There is a reason he retired after last season — because he doesn’t want to play anymore. Painter would relish the chance to get some starts under his belt. Maybe he turns out to be decent, the Colts win a few games, and next year when Peyton is healthy they know they have a capable backup. Or maybe he turns out to be completely incompetent and he gets cut. Either way, the Colts would know, and they would be able to better plan for their future.

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