Thursday, November 21, 2013

Peyton Manning At Top Of Game

QB still flying high in Denver
Peyton Manning At Top Of Game
Jeff Howe 
FOXBORO — The transition to the Broncos was supposed to stunt his brilliance. The right arm was supposed to fall off. The old age was supposed to land him in a Floridian complex with his wrinkly peers and an endless supply of Scrabble boards.
Yet, at 37, quarterback Peyton Manning has remained upright and in charge on the field, shunning doubters with record-setting performances and an offensive output that might turn into the most productive season in NFL history. He is again leading the most prolific attack in the league, less than two years after his career was in doubt due to neck injuries and his arm strength was doubted.
Nearly as important, Manning’s stability as a locker room leader has kept Denver in good shape as Jack Del Rio serves as the interim coach while John Fox recovers from heart surgery.
Eric Decker, Wes Welker & Demaryius Thomas are
Peyton Manning's prime targets 
“I’m just grateful that we’ve got a guy like that leading us,” Del Rio said of Manning. “He is very competitive, extremely well-prepared and takes this position and these opportunities very seriously. So the work ethic, and the competitive nature, and the toughness and those things, that’s just part of who he is.”
Manning has completed a career-high 69.9 percent of his passes for an NFL-best 3,572 yards and 34 touchdowns this season while the Broncos lead the league with 39.8 points per game. Manning is on pace for 5,715 yards and 54 touchdowns, and the Broncos are in line to score 636 points, all of which would set NFL records.
It might be even more impressive that Manning has led this aerial assault in his second season with the Broncos, who are on their second offensive coordinator in as many years. The latter is because Manning helped turn Mike McCoy into a first-time head coach with San Diego.
The Patriots, who host Manning and the Broncos Sunday night, surely have a challenge on their hands.
“He looks pretty good,” Bill Belichick said of Manning. “He looks pretty good every year to me.”
The Manning effect has completely altered the Broncos, who have already scored more points in 10 games than they did in any of the 11 seasons just prior to his arrival.
Manning has greatly aided the development of Demaryius Thomas (60 receptions, 914 yards, nine touchdowns) into one of the NFL’s most prolific outside receivers. The quarterback helped Eric Decker (54-792-3) transform from a run-of-the-mill receiver into, perhaps, the best third option in the league. And while tight end Julius Thomas (45-590-10) is finally healthy, Manning has turned a nobody into one of the league’s most productive red-zone threats. Of course, Wes Welker (61-648-9) has maintained his success in his first season with the new offense.
“Guys have done a good job adapting,” Manning said. “It is a credit to those guys for kind of learning on the run, and doing and executing the offense in a relatively new system.”
Denver Broncos' version of the Dream Team
Manning has helped other guys look good, too. Running back Knowshon Moreno (600 yards, eight touchdowns) is on pace for his most rushing yards since his rookie season in 2009. And the offensive line, which has three different starters from the unit that closed last season, is second in the NFL with 13 sacks allowed. A major hat tip belongs to Manning’s ability to quickly identify the defensive coverage and unload the ball.
“He’s a great quarterback at knowing where exactly the defenders are, and knowing what routes are being run against the defense that’s on the field . . . so the ball comes out that much quicker,” Pats defensive lineman Rob Ninkovich said.
A record four-time league MVP and presumptive favorite to win a fifth, Manning has the Broncos (9-1) in the AFC’s pole position with six weeks left. The Patriots have to find a way to slow him down if they want a realistic chance to claim the conference’s top playoff seed.
If the numbers hold up over the next month, Manning would lead the NFL in completions for the fourth time, yards for the third time and touchdowns for the fourth time. The question, though, is whether Manning can sustain this success when the temperature drops, and it could fall into the teens Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.
Maybe the downturn has already begun. The Broncos averaged 42.9 points in their first eight games but 27.5 in their last two. By comparison, the 2007 Patriots averaged 41.4 points in their first eight games but 32.3 over their last eight.
While the criticism of Manning’s arm strength was overly dramatic, there is a sense it’s taking a bit more effort to deliver his throws outside the numbers. Add the high ankle sprains to the equation, and the likelihood rises of falling off the pace.
Yet, Manning has swatted aside those criticisms before, and he is at the center of the Pats’ focus this week.
“Obviously, it starts with Peyton,” safety Steve Gregory said. “He’s an unbelievable quarterback.” —  Boston Herald

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