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Benching a Legend

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is a future NFL Hall of Fame inductee. It's not a bold statement by any means nor can there be much of an argument. He's just that good.

But at the same time, Manning is in the midst of the worst streak of his career with 11 interceptions in the past three games.

How bad is it?

The past two weeks, with four INTs in each game, is the only time in his career when he has posted back-to-back games with four interceptions. In fact, in his 204 starts, Manning has thrown four-or-more interceptions just four times. He's totaled just 27 fantasy points since Week 11 and it's the worst possible time to struggle, with most fantasy leagues heading into the playoffs next week.

The question fantasy owners must ask themselves is "Why is it happening and will he somehow find his game for the first round of the playoffs?"

If we can't see a way for him to return to his usual superstar production, we may have to do the unthinkable - bench a healthy Manning.

There have been all sorts of theories put forth by commentators and "so- called-experts."

Many involve the loss of Dallas Clark and/or the disappearance of the running game. But I don't believe either is the answer.

The Colts running game, mediocre even in the best of times, has not changed Manning's game. In three of the first six games this season, the Indianapolis running game posted less than 60 yards rushing, yet Manning's passing numbers were not effected. He averaged 27 fantasy ppg in those contests. In the three games they averaged 142.3 on the ground, Manning was less productive averaging just 17.6 ppg.

Clark is not the answer either. Though Jacob Tamme is not as good as Clark, he has done an excellent job in the role. In the six games since taking over the starting spot, Tamme has grabbed 42 balls for 416 yards and three touchdowns. In Clark's six starts, he had 37 receptions for 347 yards and three scores.

But I noticed an interesting fact when researching this column and that's the correlation between Austin Collie's play and Manning's performance, particularly his tendency to throw the interceptions.

In the eight games that Collie has played, Manning threw 335 passes and was intercepted just twice or .0059% of the time. In the four games Collie missed due to a concussion, Manning threw 199 passes and was intercepted 13 times or 6.53% of the time. This is a significant increase.

When Collie, possible the team's surest-handed receiver, is out of the lineup Manning ends up forcing the ball into places he shouldn't and the ball gets picked off. It's Collie, not Clark, who is Manning's "security blanket" and when he is missing, Manning struggles.

Now that we have this bit of information, to determine whether to start Manning in Week 14, we need to know the status of Collie's continuing concussion problems.

Collie practiced in a limited fashion on Thursday, but missed Friday's practice and did not dress for the game against the Cowboys. This will likely be a game-time decision come next Sunday which will require your full attention. But if you want to win your first-round matchup, it's possible you will have to sit a legend. If Collie's No.17 isn't visible in warmups, it will be time to go to Plan B.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.


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