News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett Opinion

February 6, 2010

MARK BENNETT: Colts quarterback Peyton Manning’s decision-making prowess involves more than sheer intellect

TERRE HAUTE — Peyton Manning only seems like Spock with an $80-million arm.

He stands behind a row of teammates, scanning the alignment and movements of 11 rival defenders. He points and hollers instructions to his fellow Indianapolis Colts. He may change a blocker’s assignment, or alter a receiver’s route. He may see a gap in the opponents’ formation, and call an “audible” — a completely different play, drawn from hundreds in the Colts’ complex playbook — seconds before center Jeff Saturday snaps the ball.

Back in the pocket, with four violently huge guys trying to claw through his blockers, Manning glances at each of his receivers, one by one. Then, with a snarling defensive end closing in, Manning sees Reggie Wayne slip past the safety and zips a pass into Wayne’s outstretched arms for a 14-yard first down. Manning had all of 3.5 seconds to make that decision.

The logical choice? Perhaps. Some form of critical-thinking skill is apparent when Manning tries to see through the decoy moves of linebackers threatening to blitz. Critical thinkers are a highly sought-after commodity in the 21st-century business world. They are skeptical by nature, explained Kevin Christ, who teaches critical thinking skills as an economics professor at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

To critical thinkers, knowledge is always provisional (or temporary).

Manning is skeptical of his foes, and aware that his understanding of their motives must evolve with each game.

But successful NFL quarterbacks such as the two pitted in today’s Super Bowl — Manning and New Orleans Saints star Drew Brees — also employ attributes Spock would find illogical. Gut instinct, and useful fear. (Of course, the $80-million arms help, too.)

Those qualities separate Manning, Brees, Joe Montana and Tom Brady from other pro QBs with perhaps even more athletic talent and intelligence. Trying to decide which receiver to throw to, those quarterbacks may feel slight tinges of fear — the fear of throwing an interception — as they check off those covered too closely. When Manning finds the open man, the sensation is positive, instead of fearful, and the pass is thrown.

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