When Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning drops back to pass against the Carolina Panthers' defense in Super Bowl 50, his best mode of attack is to avoid the part of the field between the painted yardage numbers. If that sounds like a large part of the field for a quarterback to ignore, you’re correct:
An NFL field is 53.33 yards wide.
The distance from the sideline to the painted numbers is 12 yards.
The distance between the painted numbers on both sides is 29.33 yards.
Converting 29.33 yards to feet gives you 88, 4 feet shy of the length of a basketball court
So imagine that you are Manning and the best path to success when you drop back to pass is to essentially envision the width of a basketball court in the middle of the field. You don't want to throw the ball in that area:
Why should he avoid the middle of the field?
Teams that win the turnover battle in the Super Bowl are 36-5. That’s an .878 winning percentage.
This season, Manning threw 168 passes between the numbers, and he was intercepted 10 times. That interception percentage (6 percent) was the highest in the NFL this season among 35 qualifying quarterbacks. Further, his Total QBR of 53.4 on passes in that part of the field was lower than all but one of the other qualifiers (only Nick Foles was worse), and his completion percentage of 62.5 was worse than that of only Foles and Andrew Luck.
In other words, Manning was terrible, relatively speaking, when targeting the area of the field between the painted numbers.
It wasn’t bad only when compared with quarterbacks this season. His interception percentage is the sixth worst over the last 10 seasons.
This is a Panthers strength, too
The Panthers' defense has faced an NFL-high 385 passes between the numbers this season and has a league-high 16 interceptions in that part of the field. The Panthers have intercepted 4.2 percent of passes, which is third best in the NFL.
Additionally, the Total QBR of 61.7 achieved by Panthers opponents between the numbers was the sixth lowest in the NFL this season.
Their opponents’ completion percentage to that part of the field was 64.9 percent, seventh best by a defense this season. The Panthers' 16 interceptions on passes between the numbers led the NFL and tied for the sixth most in a season over the last 10 seasons.
So when the experts suggest that the Broncos need to get the running game going and minimize the passes -- they should further refine their game-plan suggestion. If Manning is forced to drop back to pass, he needs to find his receivers in the 12-yard spaces between the painted numbers and the sideline.